Since Sydney holds so much of his tension at the base of his neck, he really can't shorten his neck, nor draw it in and up. To release the tension, JL has had me stretching Sydney's neck from the saddle like you would do in carrot stretches.
We've done this on the ground a million times, and he can easily touch his sides with his nose, but with me on his back, there is a level of tension that he just doesn't feel while he's naked and looking at a carrot.
Once I felt that Sydney was comfortable with the stretching at the walk, we moved on to the same stretch, but at the trot. By the fourth day, Sydney was offering a stretch with the first pull, not to my knee, but at least he was giving immediately.
After we went through the stretches, I tried another exercise that I saw in Dressage Today. The exercise was designed to help horses with too much uncontrolled power. As I read through the article, I kept thinking, uh … yep, that's my horse. In Sydney's case, the too much power comes when we transition from trot to canter; he's completely balls to the wall.
It goes like this: do about a million walk to trot transitions (yeah … got that), but as you transition from the trot to walk, leg yield into the walk as you ask for the downward transition. This helps put the horse on the outside rein so that you can ask for a quieter transition. Sydney LOVED the exercise. We've been doing lots of tiny trots that end in a leg yield to walk. This sends his inside hind leg deeper while also asking for some inside bend, which is what we really need to the left.
So when I combine the carrot stretches while mounted with the leg yield into the walk exercise, I am finding that Sydney is freer through his neck and back. When I ask for the canter departures, they have been quieter, and he's slightly more uphill in his balance. When I feel him stiffen his neck, I can now rock the rein and get some release from him, which allows me to shorten his frame a bit. With a shorter fame, I can also add more leg to get him to take off more like an airplane rather than a wheelbarrow nosing into the dirt.
I finally feel as though we are matched in our ability. For so long I felt out-horsed. Not any more!