An explanation is needed. Mt. Self-Doubt is always in my vicinity. It looms large and in charge when trouble rears its head. It's a steep climb filled with narrow ledges, and slippery sides. There's the I Am an Idiot Step, I am a Terrible Rider Face, and the always terrifying I Hope No One Can See Me Zone. On Saturday however, I zipped right past each of the obstacles and made it to the top without a single mis-step.
When I saddle and bridle, Sydney is always relaxed. He lips the bit into his mouth and sighs. He stands rock solid while I mount. He enjoys working. Keeping that in mind will help me defeat his demon.
I started Sydney out on the same loose rein trot and once again had to kick, kick, kick him around the arena. We did the long sides both directions and 20-meter circles both ways. I kept it in my mind that he needs to feel a sense of well-being with no pressure. While he was still relaxed, I asked for a left lead canter and was rewarded with a nicely controlled gate. We went around once and then walked. All of this came with lots of praise and neck pats.
I then shortened my reins just a bit and started in on the 20-meter circles with a light to medium contact. The demon resurfaced, but I was prepared. No matter what Sydney tried, I was ready for him. When he reared, I cranked his head to the side and gave a loud, NO! I rocked the reins so that he had nothing to lean on, and I kept my legs on him so that I could control that outside shoulder.
I've ridden horses my entire life; I don't remember my first ride. This ride, I'll remember. I had the most amazing sense of feel that I have never experienced before. I knew exactly what he was going to do before he did it. As JL said later, I kept him in the conversation even though he wanted to leave in the worst way.
Throughout the ride I kept picturing what my core and seat should be doing. My rib cage was knit together, my knees were bent, and my heels remained low. My seat was as solid as it has ever been, and I was glued to his back.
This was the first time that I have been able to analyze his scary behavior while also riding. What I saw was that he was certain something bad was going to happen when I shortened his frame even that tiny bit. It seemed as though he was sure I was going to cram him up to the bit in order to "soften and round" him. I could feel that that was what he thinking.
When he tried to speed up, I added a ton of outside leg and rocked the inside rein to get some bend and the outside rein to slow him down. As soon as he slowed down, I stopped asking. When his head shot int the air, I sat up tall and rocked the reins all while keeping my legs on. The instant his head came down, I quieted my hands and opened my legs the least little bit.
In half the time that it took on Friday, I had him going around nicely to the left. His trot was very slow, but it also felt very balanced. As we circled, the worst of the tension left his body. When he was very quiet, I asked for a halt and praised him. When we changed direction to track right, I expected to repeat the whole process, but he surprised me by being much more willing. It didn't happen right away, but within a few minutes, he was accepting the bit and moving better than he ever has.
We finished the ride with a walk on the buckle and then lots of walking while I bent his neck in each direction. He looked tired when we were through, but he was happy and relaxed. I hope he gives me some trouble today so that I will once again have all the time in the world to work on it.
It's much harder to fight a demon as the dark approaches!