The second time I rode, I focused really hard on being as quiet with my arms as possible. JL said it might take more strides than I want to get the response that I am asking for; I finally see what she meant. Following her advice meant that my corrections took longer to work, but once I got the desired response, I was able to repeat the request more and more quietly while still getting a positive result. Aha!
When I ride Speedy, I am on the second "button" on the reins. That's what I call the rein grips. When we're working on the canter, I am between the first and second button; in other words, my reins are short!
For quite some time, I've been trying to get past the fourth "button" on Sydney. If I shortened the reins beyond that point, he got stiff and tense. And while Sydney is a bigger horse, Speedy has a very long neck, maybe even longer than Sydney's. Even so, Sydney just wasn't happy with a shorter rein.
While riding on Friday, I looked down and realized that I was holding the reins between the second and third button. Huh?! This means that I had shortened my reins by a good six inches, and Sydney was perfectly happy.
I worked him to the left like I always do, but I was very conscious of riding with my core and quieter arms. I asked for a canter and was rewarded with a soft and quiet response. Instead of rocking the inside rein to get some bend, I tried just squeezing my fingers instead. Success! When Sydney transitioned back to trot, he was soft and round and very relaxed.
Tracking right wasn't perfect, but it was much better. I strove for a solid feel in my outside rein while lifting with the inside. Every time he lifted and braced his neck, I lifted the inside rein and made the circle smaller. The work wasn't perfect, but he seemed much happier and he felt much more upright. We picked up a clunky right lead canter, and I tried to apply the same aids: steady outside hand, lifting inside hand. It was far from perfect, but I felt a lot more try on Sydney's part.
Since things were going so well, I decided to try and put some of it together in test-like patterns. This is not something I've done with Sydney as he loses his balance when I do too many changes of direction. I could tell that now we were ready. I did a 20-meter circle at A while tracking left. We then crossed the diagonal to H for a 20-meter circle at C, tracking right. He fell apart in the corner so I repeated the circle, making it smaller and larger as necessary. When he felt balanced, I repeated the pattern: circle at A, change rein, circle at C.
When I felt like he was between all four aids and balanced, I crossed the diagonal coming from M and picked up the left lead canter at K for the circle at A. It was AWESOME!
Here's to intimate conversations between friends!