And truth be told, I am not 100% sure that Lois would have characterized the last lesson quite that way, but that was my take-away. Sydney needs to maintain the rhythm that I establish with my posting. He needs to maintain some bend, and I need to be sure to ride the figures with accuracy; no deep corners followed by shallow circles.
To achieve "all" of this, I've been playing the speed up and slow down game while really, really focusing on riding a correct circle. Boring! To the left, Sydney has been pretty solid; to the right, I've struggled with him rushing (ignoring my half halts) and falling in on his inside shoulder. Since left was fairly easy, even at the canter, I've been doing a short warm up to the left followed by a ton of work to the right. I think my work is paying off.
When I rode on Tuesday, I was able to change the game up by riding a figure eight. I can honestly say that riding a figure eight in a steady rhythm with a loopy rein is pretty challenging on an OTTB who wants to rush. I couldn't have been happier with how he worked. If he started to rush the circle to the right, I just repeated it while sending him forward and bringing him back, all without pulling back.
The most gratifying thing he did was to anticipate whether or not we were going to continue on the same track, or whether we would change direction. He never acted on his anticipation, meaning, he never turned on his own, but I enjoyed that feeling of readiness that I got from him. It really felt as though he had shifted some of his weight back in preparation for a change of direction. Every time he made the change with that lightened feel, I gave him big, vocal atta boy!
Once he felt warmed up, and was maintaining some bend, I asked for a left lead canter, which he did effortlessly. That boy can really canter. We spiraled in, spiraled out, shortened his stride, lengthened his stride, and then came back to a trot.
I was feeling so good about his adjustability that I decided to once again try for a right lead canter. A week or so ago, he fell apart at the request, and I felt as though we lost ground, so asking for it again felt a bit risky. Even so, I helped him re-establish a steady rhythm, and then I gently scooped my seat and added a little leg. Even though his frame was quite long, he picked up a soft right lead canter without all of the drama that has become routine. Woo hoo!
I let him canter the circle two or three times, brought him back to a trot, and then asked for a walk to halt. I praised him enthusiastically, and called it quits. I felt as though the ride had been quite successful. Shortening and lengthening Sydney's stride with a loopy rein has been demanding, but I can see the benefits it will bring us in the end. Even so, I am missing riding with at least some contact. I have a lesson with Lois on Saturday; I hope we move on to something a bit more interesting.