When I first started with Sydney, he was able to canter, but I didn't have the skills to control his canter, which meant that it always spiraled out of control. He either launched himself into a full rear, or he bolted sideways with me clinging on in terror; sometimes he did both. It took a full six months for me to realize that I needed to learn a lot if I was going to keep and ride him.
I spent the next year learning how to manage him at the trot. I had to learn to keep the contact steady: not too heavy, not too light, and definitely no pulling back. For the most part, that went pretty well. There were still moments of out of control bolting and some rearing, but those moments grew farther and farther apart. I began to feel relatively safe while riding him.
Over this last year, we've begun the canter work. We started to the left, Sydney's stiff side. For the left lead canter, I really just needed to gain control of his outside shoulder to keep him from fleeing the scene. Once I understood that it was the outside rein and leg that made the turn possible, we were well on our way. We can now do lovely canter work to the left. I know how to use the inside rein to soften his neck and poll while keeping him on the circle with the outside rein. He picks up the left lead consistently, sometimes from the walk if I've prepped him correctly, and he's learned how to rock back on his haunches carrying himself in a more uphill frame.
While our trot work and left lead canter work are getting quite solid, there are still some gaps in our training as none of this happens once we leave the property. There is no relaxation in an "away" venue which makes showing more than a little difficult. I am working on this, but my opportunities for working somewhere else are limited.
Our other huge hurdle is the right lead canter. I have to stop and remember that we have improved in that area as well, but we still have a long way to go. We are at the point now where I can get a right lead canter, but there may be some ugly steps while we do it. When he's relaxed, there is no issue, which in and of itself should be seen as a positive. Three months ago, I couldn't get a right lead canter departure unless it was by accident.
Now, I can feel exactly what he's going to do before he does it. I can feel the tension in his body, and I know that he's about to rear or pivot to the inside. When he's stiff to the right, I simply plant my outside hand and gently work the inside rein until he softens. This is relatively easy. But once he's soft to the inside, the real trouble begins.
Once I can get an inside bend, I then have to guard the outside rein as he will gladly snatch it and whirl to the inside. This combination of stiff-to-soft is a recent development. Now, I have to ride both evasions at the same time: nose bent to the outside to avoid bending and whirling to the inside to avoid stepping under with the inside leg.
My trainer's explanation is that Sydney has developed a liking for doing what he wants to do and is less than thrilled with doing what I want him to do. Great. I understand that as I close each escape door, he will ultimately be left with one route, but learning how to effectively shut those doors is extremely hard work.
Here is where we used to be; all ugly with lots of escape routes. Who wouldn't want to flee this scene?