Speedy G - holy heck is he coming right along! Honestly, six weeks ago I was ready to ship him off. Something just clicked though and now we're really getting into the groove. Thanks to a tip from JL, the new trainer with whom I am working, I am able to maintain a steadier contact. Here's what she suggested: When he pokes his nose out, I make sure that "fence board" stays firmly in place. He doesn't get to pop his nose out. When that doesn't work for him, and he tries to suck back or get behind the bit, I just widen my hands to keep the contact steady. Sometimes this looks pretty awful and not at all "dressagey," but it does get the message across.
JL refers to the contact as a conversation. Speedy G and I are talking. When he pops his nose out or brings it behind the vertical, he's trying to avoid the conversation, so I have to do whatever it takes to keep him listening and talking to me. Not letting him escape the contact by being behind the bit has made a huge difference. He's still fussing, but it's much less and there are more and more moments where we're having a very intimate "chat."
Speedy's canter is also coming along. Some days there are bucks, like on Thursday, other times there's just a funny hop into the canter, and occasionally the upward transition is delightful. On Thursday he kept giving me a buck when I asked for canter to the left. I pulled him up firmly, told him wrong answer, and sent him back into the trot. It took three or four attempts, but eventually he cantered with just a hop up into the canter. I actually don't mind this for now since it feels as though he's pushing off from his hind end as opposed to falling into the canter through the buck. I could be wrong about this analysis, but that's what it feels like.
When we worked to the right, I got a beautiful upward transition that was well-balanced and soft. The return to trot was just as balanced and earned him many good boys! We then returned to the left where I got a pretty passable canter transition that was buck free. Again, lots of good boys and we called it a day.
Sydney - The first thing to note is that the Jekyll/Hyde thing hasn't shown up in quite some time which is a bit of a relief. There's been no more lunging, no side reins, and no wild galloping. I've also been doing ground work exercises with him - asking him to yield his hindquarters and turning to face me. When he's turned out and starts to get too wild, I just redirect him and send him the opposite way. It only takes a few turns and he starts to tip an ear my way. Once he's finished with the bigger gallops, I ask him to look at me before I put the halter on. Then I start moving his hindquarters away. He has picked up this "trick" very quickly and is very careful to keep his eyes on me. Clinton Anderson, of Downunder Horsemanship, refers to it this way, "Two eyes are better than two heels." I agree.
Under saddle, Sydney has started to develop some respect for my left leg. I can now push him off of it without too much effort. We do the "look at my knee" exercise where I bend him around towards my knee until I feel him soften through the neck and jaw. Then we move back out away from the leg. This exercise has helped tremendously. The problem I hope to work on during Friday's lesson is getting him a bit lighter in my hand. Man, he was h-e-a-v-y on Thursday. So much so that my triceps were sore when we were finished.
Sydney doesn't try to avoid the contact like Speedy does. He just leans into it. Since we're still getting to know each other, I've been reluctant to really get after him. JL showed me some good exercises on Monday that helped move him off my leg. I had to get pretty firm with him, and it gave all three of us a few scary moments. Once he knew that I meant business, his panic subsided and he found the release. I am hoping that during our Friday lesson, JL can give me some tips for getting him off my hands. He's simply too big for me to carry around. But really, aren't they all?
So that's our status update. Overall, Speedy G is more readily accepting the contact, and Sydney is learning to move away from my leg. I feel happy with the direction we're heading.