I've been spending quite a bit of time with Ben trying to re-develop his trot transition. Lots of things mulling about in my mind about why this has turned into such a big pile of crap for him- soundness, saddle fit, tension, rider (me)...among the top few.
I've come to no solid conclusion as of yet, but I can tell you that it has gotten a helluvalot better. Not everything has gotten better, but it seems like we're on our way. Gone are the canter/tranter/hop/skip/jump thing into trot transitions. That alone is great, because let me tell you, it was really not fun to ride. Gone is the pulling, yanking (on ben's part), and ginormous faux-passage.
Here is what would happen, for lack of video: I'd ask Ben to trot. I'd get the aforementioned tranter/hop/skip thing. We'd then go balls to the wall trotting down the long side if he somehow managed to put his gear into trot vs a pace or canter or whatever combination. Then on the short side he'd faux-passage until coming out of the corner at which point he'd throw his head up, rip my right rein away and just go for it - sucked on to the wall, no steering. Then, if I'd ask him to, oh, perhaps NOT do that, he'd duck behind the contact and appear to rollkur himself into oblivion - eventually getting so tense he'd grind on his bit. and not be able to handle life at all.
Sounds like fun, eh? Jiminey Crickets.
So here is what we've been doing. #1 lots of walk, responsiveness to my leg. I've been focusing on the last month on strengthening my core (off the horse - crunches, blank, leg raises, etc). Free walk on a loose rein to picking up contact with out freaking out. I've had to adjust my seat so that I am sitting way way up (I have myself looking up into the far rafters so I don't collapse the chin), focusing on opening my hips, and holding my hand a bit higher - (feels like grand-prix high but the mirror says otherwise), doing nothing else with them hands. I basically try to get him to walk into that open space I created in front of me. I believe the effect is that he's not driving himself into the ground. Then I can ask him for more forwards, and that hind energy goes level vs down. From there, when I ask for his trot, he has the space to do it. So I ask for a trot, and let him go until I know it is going to fall apart - could be 3 steps, 10 steps, a lap...bring him down, do it again. Over and over. Rest breaks galore.
So once I had that going for us, I then had to address the outside rein issue. The thing is, it has been pretty easy once we got the above sorted. He is listening better to both legs, and can connect my inside leg to the outside rein. We still do have minor blips - but in general, it is happening. So much so that I've been able to get him half halting a bit.
So now, I can get a solid transition, and a respectable trot and even some adjustability in there- I can slow it down, smaller steps, or I can ask for bigger steps or bigger movement and voila- I get it. I can do all shapes of circles. Small trot is the hardest for Ben - it is counter intuitive to his breeding. Small trot requires flexibility, softness, articulation. But with all of the above, we're doing bits of it and I think it is coming along.
The things we continue to struggle with: contact/relaxation. He's good for the first part of the ride. He's got his game face on. However, I'm detecting a pattern here. About mid way through the ride things start to fall apart after that 2nd/3rd walk break. Tension takes over. His desire to curl behind the contact increases. He begins to grind on his bit. The quality of his work deteriorates, and his focus shifts to being "done" vs working with me. Part of me feels like it is a bit of a habit wrapped up with a physical tiredness. The thing is, it doesn't matter much what we do, it always happens. So, I could do the whole first part of his ride on a loose rein, he will still shut off mid-way. It doesn't matter if he works hard the first half and the second half all I want for him is to walk. Any combination of work does it. I'm not discrediting the idea that there is pain/physical tiredness, but I'm wondering how "mental" the issue is. Case in point, the other day I had some time so I decided to ride through it - however long it takes. I'm not getting off until he's quiet, relaxed, and not grinding. And you know what? We got there. He does stop...eventually. So maybe it is something I just have to "ignore" - aka wait for him to come back 'round and then end our ride on the relaxed note.
More to come on that as I continue to experiment.