After last Thursday I think Pilgrim had some kind of epiphany. I rode him Friday, Saturday, gave him Sunday off and rode him again on Monday. He had dramatically improved! He seemed much more willing and forward, stopped running me to the center and allowed me to straighten him out. We rode all over the arena and for once I was smiling and having a great time riding! It's been a while and it felt great.
I finally had my lesson! Trainer came out today and met with Pilgrim and I. We started out lunging, she put us back in side reins and worked on getting him more forward right off the bat. Then it was time for me to mount up. Once on board she immediately adjusted my stirrups up a notch and changed my leg. It's a big adjustment for me, I am struggling with not wanting to cram my heal down. I have been trying to level my foot out just by feel, but she actually showed me that when I feel like I'm toeing down my heel is still below my toe. Man, I need a mirror! A lot of minor tweaks here and there with me, but will take me awhile to get the muscle memory and make me comfortable with the changes. Things like pressing my leg back from my knee not my hip. All in all, very helpful and I am working on it. A big call out on my part is she immediately noticed that I have a habit of "nagging" Pilgrim all the time with my leg. I am always worried about him stalling out, sucking back, etc..., that I keep just nagging with my leg trying to keep him forward. So, I quickly fixed this bad habit and noticed an immediate change in Pilgrim. Much lighter off my leg when I just squeeze once, no forward movement then a quick tap with the whip. He actually was so great after a few minutes of this that I could just brush my leg on him and he would start his trot! It was awesome!
Pilgrim did show his naughty side, which I was actually happy about. She needed to see the true problems I was dealing with. She had me start to really create contact and then ask for forward. Pilgrim quickly picked up running to the center and sucking back. When I squeezed and tapped with whip I got 3 pop ups in the front right in a row followed by jigging in place for a few seconds. Trainer decided this was as good a time as any to hop on and take him for a spin. She didn't have much better luck to start as I watched from the center of the arena contemplating how long it would take me to call her emergency contact. Fortunately I didn't need too, although he was particularly nasty for several minutes, even running backwards and sitting on his butt and doing about half a rear. Continuously working through it, quiet and soft, it was like the brick wall he kept running into finally crumbled down. I saw a beautiful 15 straight minutes of trot work! I finally saw the horse he could be!
After getting off, we had a long talk. She likes Pilgrim and thinks he definitely has potential. He has his problems. He definitely has issues with contact and is scared of it, resists it, and doesn't feel like he can move forward when he has it. She said it will take finesse and patience to work through it, but definitely can be fixed. I felt so much better after talking with her. I now know I was right about his problems, what I need to work on and what he does too. She was super nice, informative and explained everything thoroughly in a way that is easy to understand.....everything a trainer should be! I am going to continue lunging him in side reins to help him accept contact for the next week and maybe work in a few simple rides working on me and him at the walk, trot, and halt transitions. Then we are going to schedule the first week in November for her to come out and work with us and ride Pilgrim again. I am also going to schedule for me to go out to her and ride one of her school horses to work on me. She would like to take him for 30 days but can't take him til Dec or Jan and is concerned about him getting consistent work through the winter, so we may wait til spring and then hit him real hard with training. We will cross that bridge when we get closer to December. Til then I at least have a plan! I am so relieved!