Sydney and I had arrived at a place where I felt good with everything JL has asked me to learn. There's no more bolting or rearing. I have (nearly) total control of the right shoulder. We can spiral in and out (to the left) which requires Sydney to move off my inside leg to my outside hand and then to come in off my outside leg while giving to the inside rein. All in all, I've been particularly happy this last month with where we are. Except ...
If there wasn't an except there would have been no need for a lesson. The first problem is with the contact as we start out. Sydney bounces his head. I am certain the fault is mine, but figuring it out has been beyond my knowledge base so I called JL and asked for a lesson.
The lesson was scheduled for Thursday, but she saw me warming Sydney up on Wednesday and drove over and asked if I wanted to do the lesson right then. This is the first time I've had a lesson in my own arena!
We talked about the two issues I was having: the bouncing in the contact and Sydney's habit of "rolling in" while tracking right. Think of sitting on a barrel that is being speared by a pole. Everything is straight, but you can't stay upright. I have been trying everything I know to keep him upright, but he continues to roll in, especially at the canter.
JL addressed the "bouncing" first. Now that I have more control and never pull back when Sydney is nervous, she had me shorten my reins. Isn't that the answer to most of my issues? Since I am very light with my hands, I tend to err on the side of caution and give too much. Since JL knows that I never hang on my horses, she thought Sydney could handle the shorter rein length finally. The next thing she suggested was that I work hard on quieting my arms. This requires some explanation.
Long ago, I rode with my wrists "broken" and my arms stiff. In order to help me, JL encouraged me to bend my elbows and move my arms, especially when Sydney wanted to hang on me, which is quite often. In the beginning, he would hang, and I would brace my arms which fueled a nasty cycle that ultimately led to the rearing and bolting. By swinging my arms, Sydney couldn't hang on me or grab the bit and bolt. It was a good solution, but it seems that I am ready to refine the contact.
Now that my arm and hand position, and especially feel, have improved so much, I don't need to move so much. With my rein a little long and my arms moving to try and maintain the contact, the "volume" has been a bit too loud for Sydney. To turn down the volume, I shortened my reins and focused on using my core more and my arms less. JL asked me to focus on smaller and smaller movements to quiet the conversation between Sydney and me, kind of like leaning in to hear someone speak. Instead of swinging through my shoulders, she asked me to think of just a finger squeeze so that my end of the conversation couldn't be heard/seen by anyone else.
Doing this requires more patience on my part. I might need three or four strides before I get the response that I want, but it will encourage Sydney to listen more closely since I am asking more quietly. I was really pleased with how well it improved Sydney's way of going. He got much steadier in the bridle with the shorter rein length and didn't hang on me like he has done in the past. When I felt him hang, I just squeezed my fingers quietly instead of rocking so "loudly" with my elbow.
When we picked up the left lead canter, JL was quite pleased and could find nothing to work on except to remind me to also quiet my arm while at the canter. Her over-all impression was that Sydney enjoyed the canter and was very happy with my contact. Sweet, sweet, success!
More tomorrow ...