The funny thing is that in an effort to nail down the right lead, the left has just turned into butter. With what feels like no effort on my part, the left lead canter is light, balanced, and extremely adjustable. Our walk to canter transition is smooth as silk and the downward is just as pretty.
So here is what happened on Thursday, but first, let me set the scene: both gardeners were in full work mode next door. The weed-wacker was screeching, and the riding mower was rumbling along. The bug guy was creeping around the property spraying in all of the dark, scary places and popping into view randomly. The neighbor was bustling around the barn doing this and that.
I walked Sydney into the arena shaking my head no. Just, no. It would be best to just skip the ride and try again on Friday. In the past, all of this activity would have caused a nuclear melt down. Sydney was looking, and his body was pretty tense, but I decided that this was a perfect opportunity to try out what we've been schooling for: tension at a show.
He was so tight through his back that as I asked for the trot, he almost felt lame. Instead of worrying, I just asked for more trot and started rocking the inside, left rein. He continued to giraffe his neck, but I took a firm hold of the outside rein, added leg, and ROCKED the inside rein. Within a minute, he put his focus back on me, and started to relax.
I sent him into a left lead canter where the last bit of tension fell away. We came back to a walk, I praised him, and then asked him to pick it up again. He was still listening to what was going on all around him, but my attitude was this: I am here to make sure you are safe. There is nothing to worry about it. He decided that it was all no big deal.
Without delay, I changed direction and went to work softening the inside right rein while keeping him straight. JL had suggested I do some 10-meter circles before the canter to remind him what it feels like to bend his neck and let go through the poll, so I did a few of those.
When I felt like I had a good feel in both reins, I gently the rocked the inside to remind him that we were going right, and I cued for the canter. He picked it up right away and was light and soft and listening.
After a short walk, I again worked the inside rein at the trot and did some more 10-meter circles. At one point, he tried to volunteer the canter, but I quietly asked him to wait for my cue and had him come back to the trot. I felt like it was taking a bit of a risk, but I decided to ask for the canter in the first corner.
I say this is risky because cantering into the corner requires more bend than picking up the canter in the second half of the circle at A. It is also a tighter space with less room for shenanigans. When I ask for the canter away from the rail, we have more room if something goes haywire.
As I was doing the 10-meter circle, I followed my little mental checklist. I made sure he was solidly on the outside rein, I rocked the inside rein so that I couldn't see his left eye, and then I sat up and quietly asked for a right lead canter.
BOOM! There it was. Light as a feather with no resistance or any tension. We cantered for a few moments, transitioned quietly to the trot, and then I asked for a walk. As soon as Sydney halted, I leaped off him and gave him a huge hug. I was so proud of us both that I was nearly in tears.
Sydney loves whole head hugs, and will happily lean into my chest as I kiss the top of his head. I know he knew how happy he had made me. He stood there for the longest time just basking in my gratitude and praise.
We may not get any of this fine work at Sunday's show, but that's okay. It will happen eventually, and now that I have the correct feel, I can be of help to him rather than feed his worry.