I had a lesson on Monday. Before I could even start, she told me she had read my blog posts about riding Sydney with Christian. Oh, good! was my first reaction followed quickly by great, explain, the parts that I didn't understand! And that's what she did.
First, Do Nothing - she thinks this was Christian's way of showing me the opposite of clutching the reins for fear that Sydney will bolt, rear, spin, etc. By dropping my reins, he was illustrating the point that I didn't die by not pulling back. This also sent Sydney the message that I am not going to fight with him. Instead, I let Sydney pick the fight. Was he going to be a freight train, a balker, a bucker, a bolter, etc? By doing nothing, I only had to eventually work on what Sydney wanted to fuss about instead of everything that I was worried about.
Second, Plant the Outside Hand - In previous lessons with Christian, he had me plant my inside hand to maintain a steady bend. I get that and use that technique with Sydney quite a bit when he's being particularly naughty. It actually helps him to relax because my hand is steady and solid. But when Christian had me plant my outside hand at the withers instead (we actually did both alternately), I didn't understand when it was better to plant the inside or the outside. JL explained that planting the outside hand is like the first half of a pulley halt. It also frees the rider to focus on just one rein at a time.
In Sydney's case, tracking right is where I encounter the most resistance, especially at the canter departure. When tracking right, Sydney wants to lead with his inside shoulder, push his nose to the outside, roll inward, travel with his haunches in, etc. It can be quite challenging to get all of his "parts" headed in the right direction.
So JL had me do some work softening the inside, right rein. I put my left hand (outside rein) at the withers and grabbed the front of my saddle pad so that my hand wouldn't move. We started the exercise at the walk by halting with the inside rein. We repeated this several times until Sydney was sure of what I wanted him to do. Then we moved on to the trot.
Boy howdy did that reveal some resistance. Right away he tried to bolt, but stopped short when I didn't grab him with reins. The planted outside rein did it for me. He had a seriously, WTF just happened? look on his face. This showed me how to work through his go-to trick of grabbing that outside rein from me so that he can duck to the inside and whirl. AHA!
When he tried to do it again, I sat quietly and did nothing. My firmly planted outside rein told him, no!
Once he was somewhat willing to work with me, I softly bounced or rocked the inside rein to say, let go rather than halt. I kept my outside hand planted at his withers and used a lot of inside leg to push him to the outside rein. Every time he softened to the inside, we gave him an immediate walk break. JL insisted that I try to find a place where I confirmed for him that he had the right answer.
When I rode him the next day, things didn't go quite so smoothly. There was a lot of naughtiness in fact. Sydney tried all kinds of tricks to get me to let go of that outside rein. This showed me how inconsistent I have been with the outside rein when it's in my left hand. I stuck to my guns though, working through the exercises like JL had shown me.
Even though it sort of feels like we're moving backwards in our work, I know that honing in on our weak areas will only build us a more solid foundation. So if I need to spend the next few weeks just halting with the inside rein and then asking him to soften to it, I think it will be time very well spent.