Lateral flexion: While Diego will yield very soft and willingly on the ground in both directions (no matter which side I stand on), he can still be a bit resistant under saddle. He's softest when I first mount up, but then, after we've been doing a lot of forward motion, when I ask him to yield, he's still pretty stiff through his neck. I've noticed that as we turn, he will somewhat give to the pressure, but is bending more at his withers/shoulders than he is through his neck. If I ask for more bend, then it tends to become a one-rein stop type of maneuver, where he collapses in and will more often than not pivot around several steps before he softens and gives. I need to find that middle ground, the bend without the collapse. Also, he still is very stiff when nervous and I've noticed that I'm a little hesitant to try to flex him when we're not in our comfort zone.
GOAL: Work on riding 10 - 20 m. circles with Diego, establishing a soft bend throughout his entire body, but focusing on his neck for now. Continue to work on flexing to the side at the halt (a la one-rein stop type), especially in new places/situations. Goal is to have a soft downward and directional tip of his nose in response to light rein pressure. Thought: "I wonder if riding an outward directional spiral will help? Establish the bend in the neck through the tight circle he offers and then gradually expand and loosen the shape, while maintaining the bend...."
Facing my fear issues: I'm sure this will continue to be a long process, but continue working on the small bits. I was making some saddle modifications and didn't have any stirrups on the other night, so I hopped on bareback. My first intent was to just SIT on him, which went well, so I thought, "Might as well walk around the corral once." I survived that, so we did another lap, then I asked for a change of direction, a halt, etc. Soon I went from being nervously perched on him - still holding onto the corral panel with one hand and a toe on the fence, to riding around without holding onto his mane or anything asking him for lateral flexion and working on yielding his hindquarters. =) Something very important I discovered - when I was focused on a very specific task, I didn't worry about other things and what was going on. I had a specific maneuver I was looking to accomplish and that was where my focus was.
GOAL: Hone my focus while riding. Start each ride with a particular goal(s) in mind and some specific tasks that I want to accomplish. Be willing to adjust and change my plan as need be, but just transition from one maneuver to another if the first is beyond our current abilities. At the end of each ride, evaluate what we were able to accomplish and what to work on for next time. WRITE THIS DOWN. Continue to take small steps with my riding and realize the little accomplishments.
More exposure on the trail: This one is pretty basic. Get him OUT. Make plans with friends, since I'm not brave/stupid enough to go it alone right now, and get him out and going down the trail more. Aim for once a week at least if possible.