I haven't really shared much on the Sydney front lately as we've just been motoring along pretty steadily. Some days I am frustrated by his inability to relax, and other days I am encouraged when I recognize how much better I am riding him. I know that our problems are actually my problems. Sydney doesn't just give it up; he makes me earn every balanced step.
I can't say it enough times; that simulator changed the way I am riding. My sense of feel has gone supernova. The stiffness in my right wrist is disappearing and my elbows have finally moved to center stage. My core is way more engaged, and I feel like it is stabilizing more and more each day.
This new body awareness has helped me ride Sydney much more effectively. We now canter every ride. We're better to the left, no surprise there, and even though it's not even close to pretty, we're also working on the right. Fortunately, Sydney and Speedy G share the same body issues. Both boys are stiff to the left and limp to the right. This is a god thing as what I learn on Speedy G can be used with Sydney.
Over the last month, my rides on Sydney have gone more or less like this: walk on the buckle one time around the arena. We then begin our trot work with a fairly loose rein, although the rein length is getting shorter each day. Our warm up includes a trot lap in each direction with a change across the diagonal. After the perimeter work, I do a three loop serpentine in each direction. I follow that with a couple of repeated passes across the diagonal and then a canter circle in both directions. By the end of the canter circles, Sydney is usually moving more forward and is ready to start bending.
I spend the rest of the ride asking him to supple his neck and ribs by doing a variety of exercises: random loopy circles, spiral in and out, 20-meter circle with a 10-meter circle at the top, and so on. On Wednesday, I decided to try some canter work after our suppling exercises. I haven't done this with him before as he tends to be anxious about the shortened rein already, and I know asking for anything else leads to blow ups.
I started left and was delighted that he picked up the canter without any fuss. This was a huge accomplishment. For me. He obviously just needed me to ride him better.
On Friday, I decided to test my new-found skills. We started as we always do: walk, loose rein trot, canter, and then on to more connected work. This time, I started shortening the rein early into the warm up. I focused on keeping my fingers closed, especially my ring finger, and I made sure my elbows were moving at my side. I also focused on moving from the elbow as opposed to moving my hands or wrists.
Right away I felt more balanced and much more secure in the saddle. As we rode, Sydney did his usual sometimes balanced, sometimes flipping his nose routine. I continued to move from the elbow asking him to soften to the inside while moving him away from my inside leg. All the while I paid close attention to supporting him with my outside rein; no running through the outside shoulder, please.
As we were nearing the end of the ride, I again asked for the canter. He made the transition willingly. But as I asked for a slightly more uphill canter, he gave a squeal, tossed his head and blew through the outside shoulder. For about three steps. I slid my inside hand down the rein, pulled straight back with my elbow, and bent him around my leg while insisting that he go forward.
My new found strength and balance surprised him and energized him at the same time. All of a sudden he rocked back on his hind end and gave me the most fabulous uphill canter. He also started giving the most adorable race horse snorts. Frankly, he rocked the canter! We made a few circles and transitioned down to trot. I immediately did a change of direction, which when he's anxious is a guaranteed way to get a blow up, but I brought him to me and sat deep on the pull. He made the turn and then gave me a brilliant and connected trot. He was uphill, on the bit, and fabulous. I just sat there supporting him.
We came back to a walk, and I praised him hugely. I hopped off and gave him a big smooch, which he loves, and hoped he felt as good about his work as I did. I wish I could convey how frustrating it has been to have a horse that I can't ride. Oh, don't misunderstand; I ride him all week long. I mean really ride him and make it look pretty.
Every other week I decide that I should just sell him to somebody who can do a better job with him. Then we have a decent ride and I think, well, maybe I can do this. I hope this is more than one of those times. I hope this is me really getting good enough so that he is hearing me and working with me. Either way, my elephant is a pretty distant memory, and Mt. Self-Doubt is looking smaller and smaller.
Can I get a hallelujah, Sister?!