Even though I was dog tired on Monday (after the show), I took Sydney to a lesson. I took Tuesday off, but then we had another lesson on Wednesday, and I also rode him on Thursday. By Friday, I was completely wiped out and took that day off too.
JL wanted to focus on our canter to trot transition. We're not sure what has happened, but Sydney's right lead canter is now far softer, rounder, and much prettier than his left. It could be that we just improved the right lead so much that it's giving the left lead a bad name. Whatever the case, the downward to the right is pretty decent, but to the left, we go completely downhill in the transition.
Every time we move to something new, Sydney takes a step backward. This week was no exception. After about the third downward transition, Sydney threw in the towel and quit. Interestingly, his tantrum was so obviously just that, that JL was actually laughing about his shenanigans. Six months ago, she would have been quite concerned for my safety, as would I have been, but this week, she giggled every time he squealed and shook his head.
And to my credit, I just shook my head and RODE HIM! My confidence level is getting higher and higher on this horse, some of which is certainly due to my recent success with Speedy G. In a discussion after one of the lessons, I asked JL how much of Sydney's tension is because of me. She made it clear that it's not me; this horse just has baggage. He's still the same horse he was three years ago, but I have become a much stronger rider, and I have helped him by explaining things to him so that he understands what I want.
I say all of this because I had a break-though of sorts when I rode yesterday. I wanted to work on the left lead downward transitions, but after one or two, Sydney decided that it was too hard, and he didn't want to do it. He got super tense and stiff. The kind of tense where he is trying to bolt and has his head jacked up in the air to avoid the contact.
JL's words rang in my head: he will be as heavy as I let him be. And somehow, a massive light bulb went on. This had nothing to do with a downward transition and everything to do with being heavy on the forehand.
I abandoned the canter work and decided to get him off my hands, carrying his own weight. For EVERY SINGLE STRIDE that was heavy, I rocked the rein and sat tall while adding leg, lots of leg. And I rocked it firmly. If he would let go for even an instant, I softened. I don't know how long it took or how many times we rode that 20-meter circle, but little by little, he let go of that inside, right rein and started to carry his own head. He got light on the reins and his whole body turned to putty.
I rode him counter flexed for half the circle and then put him on a true bend for the second half of the circle. We did it over and over. I realized that when we track left, I have been losing his outside shoulder by letting it bulge out. When that happens, my outside rein is useless. And if I ask for any flexion with the inside rein, it just sends his shoulder out further. By doing the counter bending, I got control of his shoulder which then allowed the outside rein to go through. Epiphany!
By the time we finished, we were making ten-meter turns, figures of eight, and doing a variety of changes of direction with absolutely no tension and zero moments of hollowness. He was long and low and chewing the bit softly.
I was so incredibly proud of myself. It was the first time that I have been able to supple him so completely by myself. In fact, he was the most supple that I have ever seen him. His whole body moved like warm taffy. It was absolutely delightful.