I hate but. Isn't that dressage though? No matter how well you do, there's always something that could be better.
Speedy and I have certainly had our ups and downs. I was tempted to give up on him there for a while. He was a butt-head, a smart fart (as JL refers to him), a regular stink pot. For a while, he simply refused to get it, or at least that's how it felt. I know it was mostly me not giving clear aids. We worked through it though, and now we're like an old married couple. I ask, I tell, I yell, I plead, and he thinks about whether or not he's down with my plan. Even when he flips me the bird, I know he's committed to me, and eventually I can almost always talk him into seeing it my way. He doesn't weigh his am I better with her or without her options. He doesn't think about life with someone else. He knows he's stuck with me, and it's for better or worse, in sickness or health, 'til death do us part.
With Sydney, it's not working out that way, not yet anyway. Every single ride is a challenge. It seems as though we have the same exact discussions ride after ride. Please bend your neck. Please get off my inside leg. Please maintain the pace. Please get off my hands. Please stop trying to bolt. Please MOVE! There is no partnership between us, and he definitely seems to be weighing his options. Yeah, this lady feeds me well, but I am not sure I'm stickin' around. Been down this road. She'll ride me for awhile, get tired of me, and then on to the next gig. Yada, yada, yada, I swear I can see it on his face. He is not yet committed to this relationship.
When I rode on Tuesday evening, I decided to utilize TB's dressage court since Sydney has said quite loudly that he is bored in our own arena. I knew a new riding space would shake things up so I did some walking and let Sydney rubber neck for a few minutes. After a few laps around, I started asking for softness and bend. Nope. He wouldn't have any of it. His body was as stiff as a board with absolutely zero bend. His head was jacked up in the air, and his neck was set in a rigid line. He jerked his head forward to loosen the reins. As I scrambled to recollect them, he used my lapses in control to run off. I regathered the rein, he braced his neck and shortened his stride to this horrible choppy thing that rattled my teeth. It was truly frustrating.
Not knowing what else to try, I sat the trot, added leg, and started swinging his neck from side to side. I diligently kept contact with his mouth so that the rein never got slack. My intention was to loosen his neck. Little by little it started to work. He would stretch down to the bit and I would relax my seat and shoulder blades and soften my hands ever so slightly. A stride or two later he would brace his neck, dive to the inside, and try to bolt. I persisted with the gentle rocking until finally I had him moving around in a semi-round circle with his head and neck sort of reaching down.
After he was able to complete one full circle with his neck reaching, I asked for a quiet halt. He wasn't light in the bridle. He was quite heavy, but at least his head wasn't sky high and he wasn't careening around in all directions. I pat his neck and told him he was a good boy. We spent the rest of our ride time at the walk. I asked him to reach forward and down with my seat and legs by squeezing as I gently rocked both reins. It took some time, but eventually he was definitely reaching and relaxing. I just kept asking for long and low. Every time his head popped up, I squeezed with my legs and pulled my shoulder blades back. As soon as he reached and lowered, I softened my legs, seat, and shoulder blades.
We had a lesson last night. Before we started I explained to JL what was happening and whether or not I was on the right track. She confirmed that I was doing it exactly right. In fact, we spent the whole lesson doing more of it. We did lots of counter bending, lots of rocking the rein, and lots of slow trot work. She praised my seat (woohoo), confirmed that I am now riding with it, and said we now need Sydney to get off my hands and loosen his neck. She felt that we were ready for total softening which meant getting Sydney to r-e-l-a-x.
With all of this neck rocking business I was afraid I was back to riding with my hands. Nope. She explained that I am letting him know that I am not holding him up or carrying him. I am simply telling him to get off my hands and carry his own bad self.
I just need to convince him that for better or worse, in sickness and in health, I am in it for the long haul. He better get on board!