I zipped out to the barn last night in an effort to school Training Level Test One before needing to ride it today at the Ride-a-Test. Riding Sydney in the late afternoon requires adherence to one rule; he gets to eat dinner for a few minutes first. The purist out there would probably scoff and tell me to be in charge, but I have found that allowing him those few minutes of chow time eases a lot of his late afternoon anxiety.
Even with the waning daylight hours, giving up those few minutes of sunlight is worth it. On Friday, I put the time to good use by watering the arena and loading up some of this weekend's gear (more on where we're going tomorrow). By the time I was finished, Sydney had eaten for a solid twenty minutes and was ready to get to work.
My plan was to walk a lap, trot a lot in either direction, and then go through the test in a fairly long frame, and then repeat in a shorter, rounder frame. As soon as we started the walk, a large truck roared by and Sydney spooked pretty hard. He decided that he had permission to jig and dance, but I reminded him that no, we would walk in a nice frame. I was delighted that he settled back down and we continued on; this is big progress.
As we were doing the warm up laps, the truck that had roared by turned into the property immediately across the street and began backing and turning and positioning itself; the gardener had arrive just minutes before dark to mow, edge, and blow the neighbor's front yard. Seriously?!
I took a mental pause and thought about my options: there was no way I would get any good work from Sydney right then, but on the other hand, working at home through a stressful situation was just what we needed. I put my leg on and asked for roundness.
We did a trot through of the entire test. While he wasn't relaxed or supple, he also wasn't a freight train; success! I shortened my reins and repeated the test, but the second time I planned on walking and cantering. For the most part, the work to the left was oaky, meaning there were no explosions and we rode each movement. The walk work was pretty nice, and we actually cantered, but it was a bit crazy. I had to pulley halt him to get a transition to trot and there was only one or two strides of a stretch during the stretchy circle.
As I tried picked up the trot to the right, Sydney spooked hard and immediately stiffened. I was actually okay with his goofiness as I was able to regain his attention by insisting that he keep some bend to his body. When he resisted, we made the circles really small and gradually drifted out. I did have him pick up one right lead canter, which went okay, but when I asked him to canter the long side, he fell apart as he was expecting to make a circle.
Rather than fight about it, I just put him back on course and we worked on suppling his neck and back to the right at the trot. Throughout all of this, the gardener's mower and blower kept up a steady roar which was a siren's call for my boy. He desperately wanted to keep his eye on what was happening across the street. I simply insisted on an inside bend and bumped him every time he even thought about looking to the outside.
With only enough daylight for a 20 minute ride, I halted as close to the noise as possible and patted Sydney's neck. I hopped off and rubbed his face, loosened his girth, and ran my stirrups up. As we walked toward the gate, he tried to lead (charge) in front of me, but I corrected him sharply.
My whole attitude as the gardeners worked was business as usual. I refused to let Sydney use the noise as an excuse for naughty behavior. While he wasn't perfectly relaxed, he was a thousand times better than he would have been just six months ago. Either he has more confidence in me as a leader, or I am just becoming a stronger and more balanced rider. Or maybe, it's both!
We'll be leaving in a few hours for Confetti Farms; here's to a good day!