Even though I was busy showing Speedy a week or so ago, Sydney still got his 5 rides last week, including a lesson on both Friday and yesterday. Somehow, riding Speedy with Chemaine's coaching helped me develop a new level of feeling on Sydney. It could also have been just taking a three day break from riding him enabled a few things to really settle and sprout.
In any case, I had a huge AHA! moment on Sydney when I rode him on Monday after the El Sueno show. I suddenly realized that while tracking left, he was hanging on my inside rein and wasn't filling up my outside rein. Which means that to the right, he wants me to hold him up with the outside rein. In both cases, it's always the left rein that's bearing the whole load.
I say it was an AHA! moment because not only did I become aware of this un-evenness in the rein on an intellectual level, but I knew how to fix it! It took a day or two of Sydney fussing about it, but by the end of the week, JL was very impressed with the results of my new "feel."
1. Tracking left at the trot, I made it unpleasant for Sydney to lean on the inside (left) rein by flexing (rocking, sponging, pulsing) the inside rein. If he has nothing to lean on, he must carry more of his own weight.
2. I kept the outside rein steady and firm so that he had a secure place to go. JL calls it helping him to stay on the balance beam. In order to get off that inside rein, he has to trust that the outside rein will truly be there to help him balance.
3. I also added inside leg. The goal is to "push" him into the outside rein so that he fills it up. He needs to engage his inside hind leg so that he's reaching farther underneath himself which sends his barrel farther out which allows more bend (sort of).
4. Once I could feel him taking hold of the outside rein, I could now use my outside aids to lift his outside shoulder and make the turn. As I felt him fill up the outside rein, I used Chemaine's tip of releasing the inside rein while scratching his withers with my inside hand.
Tracking right was a totally different story. For some time now, JL has been telling me that Sydney is falling off the balance beam to the outside. To help him, she has described it as riding outside leg to inside hand. I've nodded my head, yeah, yeah, yeah, but really, I've been trying to figure out how to actually do that.
As I was riding those first few days after the show, it hit me like a ton of bricks: by keeping a strong hold on the outside rein and keeping him straight through the bend, he is able to balance on the beam. I imagine myself to be like the woman above holding the girl's hand. I am helping him to NOT fall off.
Since he needs an inside bend, I flex the inside rein steadily to ask him to soften his hold on the outside rein. At the same time, I am using my outside leg to turn. Outside leg to inside hand. Sydney hardly needs any inside leg, as he's already moving out onto my outside rein, too much so. Instead, I have to catch him with my outside leg and asked him to bend into the turn.
It's an odd way to ride a dressage horse: both directions, I need to be very supportive with my left leg and left hand. Chemaine kept pointing out that I need to sit more on my left seat bone when tracking left and add slightly more weight to that same seat bone even when tracking right. In other words, my whole left side needs to be a lot stronger!
At yesterday's lesson, I was able to demonstrate to JL how much better I was able to keep Sydney balanced in both directions. Seeing that I finally was able to keep him "up," JL challenged us with several good exercises. More about those tomorrow.
By the way, do you remember my elephant named Fear? I haven't seen him in a really long time, which is a great thing. I am pretty sure he has completely given up on me since this is what I saw him trying to do the other day. :0)