Pie and I have been really working together on our canter. Saturday and Sunday, due to the Thanksgiving weekend, we were able to have the indoor arena to ourselves, and some very good work got done by both of us. His walk and trot work are now consistently soft, and he's able to track up and bend well to both right and left, which means we can do good circles and corners.
After a good bit of very nice canter work on Saturday, our canter work on Sunday was the best we've ever done. On the left lead, he was offering softness for long stretches, and bending well and carrying himself around the corners and around large circles. On the right lead, he still tends to invert his head and neck and pop his shoulder to the inside - essentially maintaining a left bend - but we worked hard on getting him to bend into corners and on circles to the right, and we got some good softness at various points. Now we need to get that going consistently - I need to do more massage on the left side of his neck, which tends to get tight, to help him with the bending to the right. I also need to improve my breathing and thinking light footfalls, to help him lift and engage from the hind end. And most importantly, I have to ride him the way I want him to go. But what does that mean? In this case, on his right lead, I need to continue to offer him the feel of cantering correctly with a right bend and softness. This means I have to carry myself as if that is what he were doing - so, instead of following with my own body his tendency to drop his inside shoulder and bend left, I need to position my seat, legs and shoulders as if he were bending right and offer him softness when he gets there.
This is one small example of riding the horse the way you want him to go - it has application to everything we do together and really comes down to offering the horse the feel you want, mentally and physically, and allowing the horse to find and stay in that soft spot. A part of this involves ignoring the things you don't want - if you focus on that, you've taken your eye off the ball - and focussing on offerting and getting what you do want. Easier said than done, of course . . .
Pie's and my warm up at walk and trot, doing small circles with good tracking up and bend, as well as some leg yield work, made a big difference to the canter work. Pie was right with me at every moment - while we were halted, resting, we did some lovely sidepass, turn on the haunches and turn on the forehand work - he was like butter and there was no hesitation - everything was soft and delightful.
We finished with some figure 8s at canter, with a simple change in the middle - he's not quite ready for a flying change but we're close, and then some sitting, collected trot serpentines. Just plain wonderful - that's my Pie!