When I saddled Sydney on Sunday to repeat Saturday's work, I had a good feeling. He marched right past the spooky place near the brick wall which put a smile on my face. Aha - maybe we are on the right path!
I started our trot work with a single focus: maintain the rhythm that I determine. I asked him to play the Speed up and Slow down game and was over-the-moon at how quickly and accurately he responded. Here are the rules, in case you missed it.
- Game is played on a 20-meter circle
- For one half of the circle, trot slowly
- For the second half of the circle, increase your posting height and rhythm to increase his stride.
- For the next half of the circle, slow your posting rhythm to shorten his stride.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat
I added two variations: when I felt him anticipating where we were to slow down or speed up, I adjusted my start and finish by a quarter of the circle, or I simply held the same rhythm for the entire circle.
The other element that I added was to focus on how slowly I could build to the next "speed." In other words, for the slow down part of the circle, I tried to get a "slow down" per stride rather than a quick slow down. And when I wanted him to lengthen his stride, I tried to get it to build rather than happen instantly with a lurch.
I was stunned at how well he was listening. It was as though I had my foot on a gas peddle, I could shorten or lengthen his stride at will. And that's when I started to get a little greedy.
We haven't been cantering this past week or two so I decided that we ought to give it a try. Once we were in a trot rhythm that I liked, tracking left, I scooped my seat and asked for the canter. He was a bit sluggish to respond, so I added some leg. After a few strides, he was finally able to pick it up. I played around with cantering on the loopy rein, slowing his stride down until it was rocking horse easy.
I should have just stopped right there.
But, I didn't; I got too greedy. I decided to try it to the right, his more difficult way. Getting a smooth, right lead canter has been a problem from the beginning, but I thought this might be a way to get it since he was balanced and carrying himself more efficiently. Nope.
I spent the next however long trying to return to the relaxed rhythm I had established earlier. Rather than rolling into the canter, he had returned to his habit of grabbing the bit from the inside, flinging his head up, and falling in. I finally got the canter, but it wasn't particularly balanced, and we never got the same level of relaxation that we had earned earlier in the ride.
I went back to the ten-meter circle, and was vigilant about not pulling back, but I also refused to let him rush off so there was a lot of hard, one-stride halts. He finished the ride by moving off my inside leg and doing changes of direction at the walk. I don't think either one of us was particularly happy, but no one was angry either.
Ah well, tomorrow is another day.