Junior has an enormous walk stride. He has long, slow moving hind legs with an overstep of 24 inches. Most people are happy with an overstep of 3-4 hoof prints, but I'm blessed/cursed with 2 feet or more. He has an extended walk for a "9", but a collected walk for a "6". Why? Because rather than shortening and quickening his steps, he simply slows those huge strides down. He braces his neck and back and can become irregular if I'm not really careful. Occasionally, I've received "7's" and an "8" for the collected walk, but those were from judges that tend to love Junior in general and look past his faults.
Of course, with a big, slow moving walk, comes a big, slow moving canter. I've tried many things to get his hind legs moving more quickly with the most effective being countless canter to trot, back to canter transitions. That also improves the swing in his back and makes him quick to my aids. However, the canter pirouettes elude him to this day. I used to think it was just me and that I couldn't train the pirouette, but I can ride them on other horses and I understand the mechanics...so why can't Junior do the pirouette? We can go from medium canter to pirouette canter, but the turn is a disaster. In competition, he's a steady "5" or "6", but that's not good enough. If I try to make the turn small, he's been known to switch leads or stop and rear (that will get me a "2" of course and crush the score for submission). If I make the turn too big, the comment is "more like a circle" and I get a "5". If the judge likes Junior, it's a "6". Unfortunately, pirouettes have a double coefficient, so they absolutely must improve!!
It's very frustrating, because now that we are working on piaffe, Junior can do half steps all day long, but to attempt to come back just a bit more towards piaffe, he's doing the same thing he does in the collected walk and canter pirouette. He braces his neck and back and slows his hind legs down even more than they normally go. Everything needs to get quicker and Junior's tension makes them slower. A ground person causes major upset, work in hand doesn't work either, causing the same amount of mental turmoil. We are looking at the same predicament in all 3 gaits, the highest form of collection (collected walk, piaffe, and pirouettes) all have the same issue.
For 3 years, Pam has told me "you need to get his hind legs closer together." That's a lot of lessons over 3 years. She's given me visual ideas using her own body and demonstrated foot placement, she's given me exercises to use during my training. Get his hind legs closer together!!
Once you have an idea in your head, it's stuck there. For years, I've worked to get his hind legs closer together in the canter. Laterally. I've done countless travers in canter, I've worked half-pass to half pirouette until I was blue in the face and Junior was asleep at the wheel. I've done travers on a circle, spiraling in to pirouette and out again. Nothing changes other than sometimes he ends up crossing his legs in the pirouette and has to leap out of it so he doesn't fall down.
A couple weeks ago, I was working the piaffe. I'm aware it looks as though Junior is half-stepping on a tight rope when I do the half-steps, but his hind legs are laterally closer together, so I leave it alone. Unfortunately, I rarely have the opportunity to watch myself ride since I am usually alone when I'm training. Kelly asked if I wanted her to video me, and I gladly accepted. Since I had her there with the camera, I rode a canter pirouette in both directions as well. Get his hind legs closer together. As I watched the video, I was disappointed to see the half-steps just look like slow trot, with the hind legs moving way underneath his center (like the walk). Then came the pirouettes. Oh my gosh...lightbulb ON! I watched as Junior's inside hind leg came way forward underneath his belly. The outside hind had no place to go because his inside hind is completely unable to support his weight where he placed it. His hind legs are completely spread apart, front to back, not side to side. Get his hind legs closer together meant longitudinally, not laterally! How stupid could I have been all these years??? By watching one 10 minute video, I now understand my mental block that has wasted 3 years of training. For crying out loud!!!
I can't wait to tell Pam how foolish I've been. It was stuck in my head and I never asked the question! Even with everything she showed me, I'd let nothing work its way into my confusion. If you're not sure you understand what your trainer is saying, ask the question. Watch videos of your training sessions as much as you possibly can. A picture is worth more than a thousand words (and dollars!).