One of Sydney's naughty and evasive maneuvers is to bolt sideways away from the bend when he's grumpy with my requests. I haven't quite figured out what sets him off, but when he gets a bee in his bonnet, it's quite a sight. When he bolts, I am supposed to hold the inside rein tight against my thigh, knuckles down, while I kick with my outside leg to send him forward. I'm also supposed to look to the inside (where I wish we were going) instead of looking where Sydney is going (which is usually somewhere quite scary and filled with things that could impale me or split me in half). Looking inside keeps my body bent in the correct direction.
Uh-huh ... except it's not quite working ... yet.
When Sydney bolts sideways, I am very firm in holding his neck bent, but my puny little outside leg seems to just be flapping around like a wet fish. Sydney doesn't feel it and it certainly isn't sending him anywhere. In all honesty I can't say for certain that it is doing anything other than maintaining a death grip. So, our compromise has been that he crabs sideways while I keep his neck bent. No one is actually losing, but I am not exactly winning either.
Which brings us to Wednesday's lesson. I learned a lot of new stuff which will be in a follow up post, but for this particular post, the drama started at the end of the lesson when JL asked for one more time. Either I asked too hard, or Speedy G's version of the siren's call finally lured Sydney to his doom. Sydney launched himself forward in a thundering gallop. Pause here ... it felt thunderous. It felt huge. It felt as if we were levitating straight out of the arena. In reality, it was only about a 100 feet and there is no way that Sydney's 16'1 frame had time to reach maximum speed. But still ...
I was scared, but not scared enough to bail off. I was scared enough to think crap, it's gonna hurt if I do fall off. And I was scared enough to wail, quite loudly, J a a a a a a a a a a a e e e e e e e e e L L L L L L L all the way down to the other end of the arena! But then I found myself reaching forward to plant my left hand, knuckles down, into the crest of his neck and jerk the heck out of the right rein. Pulley-halt to the rescue (courtesy of Cha Ching's Mom).
Everything came to a halt - my little-girl wail, the rider at the end of the arena, Sydney, JL, even the air sat motionless. And then Sydney shot sideways to the right, trying to get away from the inside bend. By that time I had managed to get a bend into his neck and I held it with my floppy, fishy, outside leg doing nothing. But I did hold the bend even as he careened around oxers and verticals, mounting blocks, and fence rails. Each time I got a halt, I grabbed a breath and readjusted that inside rein. Pretty soon I could hear JL telling me to hit him in the neck. What? He's already peeved! JL insisted so I half-heartedly pat his neck. HIT HIM came the reply. OH! I opened my palm, leaned forward and SMACKED the outside of his neck. And then I did it again, harder.
The smack did what my pathetic outside leg couldn't do - get some movement back to the left. And then I got mad. All of the fear drained out through my toes, and I took control of the scary monster. I lengthened my leg, planted my butt, and started smacking the side of Sydney's neck to send him back to the left into my bend. It didn't take long. His defiant attitude began to melt away and he started showing a nervousness that said holy crap, I think that lady up there is in charge!
As soon as he offered to stop, I released all of the firmness from my body and reached out to gently pat his neck. We returned to the working end of the arena and I asked for a nice trot. And would you believe it? He bolted again. But this time he didn't get far, and I was ready with the bend and a SMACK before he made it out of the circle. And that was the end of it.
We finished the lesson and moved to the middle of the arena to stand and blow with JL and the other rider. I continued to pat Sydney's neck in a friendly way and all of the anxiety drifted away. I am not sure I've won this battle outright, but I think I have some tools for minimizing the explosiveness of his outbursts. And if not, I've discovered that my new dressage saddle has awesome grip!