I hadn't seen her a few weeks due to her vacation and a ridiculously hot day that forced us to cancel a lesson. Even so, she was eager to hear how my lesson with Lois went and she happily watched my video of the T1 test.
Rather than being critical, she pointed out every positive aspect of the ride that she could; his walk was lovely, his halts were nice, there were moments of roundness, we got the canter departs (mostly), I kept my sh*t together when he wanted to toss me around, and so on.
Her analysis was that it is now time to get really, really picky about lightness. No more am I going to do the carrying. Lois described it as Sydney being the strong partner while I am the smart partner. Someone other than me needs to start doing the heavy lifting. I was relieved when JL mapped out our new strategy since it was EXACTLY what Lois had described. I ride with Lois this next Monday which means another field trip for Sydney - just what he needs!
The first thing JL and I worked on was getting some yes, ma'am! kind of halts. JL wanted him halting and backing off the bit in one stride with as little pull as possible. We started with a pull of 7 or 8 (a made up number to reflect "volume") followed by quick pulls of 8 and 9 until he finally halted. We did that over and over until he started offering halts that required pulls of 5 or 6, and then we aimed for a halt that took just 2 pounds of pressure. We got it, too!
Once he was listening to my halts, we worked on softening by maintaing the 2 pounds of pressure with added leg. And when I say leg, JL kept repeating, spur, spur, spur, spur! Whenever he made me hold more than 2 pounds of pressure in my hands, I halted him hard enough so that he started thinking he better back off the bit quickly! Little by little, he got lighter and lighter in my hand.
When I say 2 pounds in my hand, that's just the number that I assigned to what felt like a light contact. Once he passed that amount of pressure, the number goes up. If he's really heavy, we call it a 10 even though I am probably really holding 50 pounds in my hands!
After he was trotting with a light contact and moving forward from my leg, we worked on backing with the leg from a standstill. I held the two pounds of pressure, but kept spurring until he backed up. To both JL's and my surprise, he did it perfectly the first time we asked. Frankly, we were both shocked!
It's a tricky exercise for me as I really want to pull back. Instead, I just kept my hands steady and bumped his sides with my spurs until he backed up away from the bit pressure.
Riding him is such a different thing from riding Speedy who is NEVER EVER heavy. I can ride Speedy with just my pinky fingers; he's that light in the bridle. This of course comes with its own set of challenges, but at least he's never the freight train Sydney can be.
So for now, my homework is to get him halting quickly. Once he is no longer hanging on me, I can ask for roundness by using leg, leg, leg to get him to back off the bit.
Oh, and another bad habit that both Lois and JL have called me on (having several trainers kind of stinks when they're BOTH picking on you!): I keep a continuous squeeze going rather than bumping with my legs. When I do that, Sydney just ignores me. So an additional piece of homework is to ask with my legs and then release and then ask again more firmly, increasing the "volume" of the thumps until I need to do a barrel racing whack, whack, whack kind of thing.
This new approach feels good. I don't feel like it's a step backward. JL and Lois both think I'm ready to step it up a bit. Okay, ladies, bring it on!