Sydney is just too awesome for words. Just six months ago, we could usually get a left lead canter that wasn't an explosion, but not always. To the right, I could maybe get one, but it always surprised both of us. After the first right lead canter, Sydney was a run-away freight train. I would spend the rest of the ride trying to re-establish some sort of rhythm.
My one and only goal for Sydney this summer is to develop a sane, right lead canter departure. I am just over three weeks into my summer vacation, and while I hate to jinx myself, we have very nearly accomplished that goal.
JL is such a great teacher. Once I made the connection with Christian Schacht about how much weight I might need to take in the outside, left rein, everything started to come together. For Sydney to be able to do a right lead canter, we had to fix his roll-over to the right and show him that not only was I able to make a decision, but that he never has to.
So, here are the 10 steps we took to get Sydney's right lead canter.
- Be able to halt from the outside left rein.
- Straighten out his neck and body with the outside rein and leg.
- Make him WAIT for my cue to walk; he doesn't get to anticipate, AND he doesn't get to take the rein away.
- Be able to "crab" him to the right (think of a sideways crawl) by using my outside leg behind the girth with a very strong, working outside hand. The inside rein is there just to support.
- Make him WAIT for my cue to trot; he still doesn't get to anticipate, AND he doesn't get to take the rein away.
- Once he could "crab" sideways at the walk, we crabbed sideways at the trot. Crabbing at the trot requires his nose to be on the rail with his haunches "in" (which is actually just straight).
- Make him WAIT for my cue to canter; he especially doesn't get to anticipate here, AND he doesn't get to take the rein away.
- Be ready to "help" him from the very first canter stride. This means showing him that he doesn't need to run off. I "help" him by IMMEDIATELY slowing him with the outside rein. Before I can use the inside rein for bend, I have to make sure he's listening to the outside "pace" rein.
- Once he's light on the outside rein, I can start to ask for inside flexion with the inside rein.
- Using the outside rein to say no faster, I can then push him sideways with my inside leg and follow that up with a vibrating inside rein to make the turn.
When I rode him yesterday, I put all of this together and got multiple trot to canter transitions that were calm and happy. I was even able to hold the right lead canter while we turned down centerline and then turned back to the rail at B. Rather than make a 20-meter or 10-meter circle, I worked on making the 10-meter bend into a few straight strides followed by another 10-meter bend coming back. We made a long, narrow oval.
After making the 10-meter turns, I asked him to stay on the long side and was THRILLED that he did it with no rhythm change. That was the first time he's come out of the corner on a right lead canter and gone straight without panicking.
I don't know that all of this progress will be easy to access once we leave our home arena, but I now have some excellent tools in my belt that will help him stay with me. Our next attempt at a show might be in August. Until then, we'll just keep polishing that right lead canter!