Sydney has been so good lately that I've inadvertently gotten a bit lazy or lax with my outside rein. Or rather, my left rein; it's a problem both directions. When I give that rein too much, everything falls apart. So, I put my bucking strap back on so that I could remind myself how firm I have to be with that left rein, especially to the right. I hold it and the rein in my left hand.
During Monday's lesson, JL had me go through my regular walking warm-up, trot work, and then we picked up a left lead canter. During the canter she had me flex him to the outside to see if was willing to bend his neck to the right. All of that work went well with no tenseness or resistance. And then we went to the right.
JL could see that I was not supporting Sydney enough with my outside (LEFT) hand, so she showed me a new game that I can play with him. While holding the rein and the bucking strap in my left hand, I asked him to look at my knee with my inside rein. At first, there was no movement and I questioned whether he was able to bend to the right with the left rein so firmly fixed.
JL pointed out that if he rocked back a bit, yes, he could flex his neck. She was right. So now, the game is to ask for inside flexion at the walk and trot while fixing my left hand firmly so that I don't give it away. She even suggested I keep a treat or two in my pocket so that I can make the game a bit more fun for Sydney.
Once he was willing to flex his neck with the fixed outside rein, we went to the canter. I kept hold of the bucking strap and gently rocked the inside rein as I asked for a canter. It wasn't perfectly smooth, but he did pick up the correct lead and after only a stride or two of argument, he settled into a nicely, rhythmic canter that was balanced.
Over the last few weeks, I have been so focused on getting the inside bend that I have been giving him my outside rein, which leaves him off balance. When Sydney is off-balance, he gets very anxious, and his go-to response is to run fast and far. So now I am left with the task of reminding him that he is balanced (if I am doing my job correctly) and that he can canter to the right.
My homework for the next however long is to play the flexing game (along with all of the other suppling exercises we've learned) and to work on firming up my left hand. It felt good that I knew where the problem was, (left rein), but it feels better to have a very concrete solution. Yah for good trainers!