The lesson ideas were still with me, allow movement with my arms, but keep it as quiet as possible and lift the inside rein to roll him back over. Those ideas were working, sort of, but it was taking too long to get him soft and relaxed. So instead of saddling up, I turned Sydney out and ran up to JL's to see what her lesson schedule looked like.
I was in luck. A rider hadn't shown up, and a small slot had opened up. I zipped back to my own barn, saddled Sydney up and walked back to JL's arena for some quick lunging before hopping up. I am so glad that I decided to lunge Sydney at JL's instead of my own barn. JL showed me a neat trick that really helped Sydney with working with a shortened rein. Here are some photos. Click to enlarge.
During the lesson, JL had me do a few new things: first, I shortened the reins to gripper number two. If you look at the second photo, go from the bit to the second rein stop - that's where she had me shorten to. Last spring, I was at the fourth rein stop. Over the summer, he finally let me work on the third rein stop. The second thing she had me do was to put my hands just above his withers and LEAVE THEM THERE. For Sydney, raised hands are LOUD. The third thing she had me do was lighten my seat by leaning forward slightly and putting a small arch in my back. I know, freaked me out too.
The point of the lesson was to show Sydney that he could work shorten his spine with constant, STEADY contact. I had to show him that I would not hang on him, and I would not send him mixed signals. I rode with the shortened rein, but I did not let it go as he got upset. If he was fussy, I squeezed my ring finger slightly. If he got really upset, I rocked my arms more to show that I wouldn't hang on him. I was really pleased with how uphill he got after just one lesson.
I repeated the work the next day and went AHA!, AHA!, AHA! at least a half dozen times. The shorter rein length helped me keep him in balance so much better than when I had those extra six inches. I could feel each quick-step, which makes Sydney nervous. If he is allowed to hurry, he gets upset and feels out of control. With a shorter rein-length, I could catch these quick-steps much more quickly and give more frequent half halts. I also felt how lightening my seat quit giving him the move your butt cue that I use on Speedy.
When Speedy drops behind the vertical and loses his impulsion, I add leg and lean back to drive him forward. When I do that with Sydney to maintain the contact, he wants to throw his head up and rush forward. JL's suggestion that I lighten my seat keeps Sydney from being confused. By leaning forward slightly and arching my back, I can still engage my core and use my back and shoulder blades to help him stay up.
I had a great ride on Sunday. Sydney fussed and tried to crab away/canter and buck, but with the shorter rein, I had so much more control. And with my developing feel, he never felt trapped. We are starting to really pull this thing together!