This is not a complaint; it's more of a think-out-loud.
I rode Sydney last Wednesday night and was disappointed by how anxious he was. I had hoped that by riding him this weekend he would be more relaxed. He wasn't. Here is what I see: He is certain that with an even slightly shorter rein, something bad is going to happen. I wish I could tell him with words that this is not so. But since I can't tell him with words, I am trying to tell him with my aids that it is okay.
My plan on Saturday was to walk, walk, walk and then trot, trot, trot with a big loopy rein. Right away things fell apart. He was so tense at the walk that he couldn't even go straight. He zig-zagged down the long side and and weaved in the circle. When he was as relaxed as I could get him, I let loose the reins and asked for a trot.
Things went okay for a moment or two, but then he started to pick up speed. I used the corners to ask him to slow down and did lots of changes of directions to slow his momentum. He just got faster and faster. Rather than let the tension build, I decided to convince Sydney that nothing uncomfortable was going to happen. I brought him back to the walk.
The walk has been Sydney's strongest gait. He relaxes long and low and seems happy to walk forever. Not now. Now, I am forced to plant my inside hand and bend him around my leg, first one way then the next. This eventually relaxed him and he was finally able to spiral out into his normal, relaxed walk.
I asked again for the trot. Again the tension built. I kept my rein at a slightly longer length and just continued to ride: when needed, I rocked the rein, squeezed him forward, and stretched up tall and tightened my core. Eventually he gave me a lovely, stretchy trot.
We changed directions and had to start all over. Even when he was finished, and he always gets a long, low walk as a reward, it took me quite a few circles to get him to relax at the walk.
I was disheartened. But rather then just throw in the towel, I decided that we will continue to go back to what he knows. All summer he did great at the low and stretchy trot. If that's still where his comfort level is, then I'll go back to there.
I am trying to figure out what triggered his anxiety after so many months of relaxation. Was it simply shortening the reins just those few inches? Was it going off property twice in the last two months? Was it the combination of both those things? I just don't know.