I am not exactly sure what has happened, but it seems as though my hard work is paying off. In just this last week, Izzy has really turned a corner. That doesn't mean that he's "broke" and moving up the levels or anything, but he is definitely showing a whole new level of confidence.
My heart simply swelled.
Since the canter issue was not resolving itself, I decided to just back burner that idea and focused on getting a truly relaxed trot. So that's what we've been doing. I can now trot all around the arena doing shallow loops and serpentines. I've been playing around with changing the bend just by weighting the other seat bone, and he's really starting to tune in.
Right now, I don't care about getting things perfect. What I do care about is developing a trusting relationship with him where we are both willing to keep trying without having fear be an issue for either of us. If this week is any indication, then I think we're "there." He still spooks and gets a giraffe neck, but I am not feeling any fear. His "naughties" are sluggish, and he keeps me on his back.
I think he's also gaining confidence in me as well. After a pretty solid ride on Tuesday, I took him out into the neighborhood for a hack. When we got to the first corner, he refused to move forward and instead started to scramble backwards. The neighbor's alpacas were scampering around.
As long as he was standing still, I rubbed his neck and told him it was all good. The instant he started backing up, I kicked him and smacked his neck and withers with the reins. As soon as he stepped forward again, I was his best friend.
It took a while to get past the alpacas, and I did consider getting off and leading him, but his antics never once made me feel unsafe. I just took my time, encouraged him, and praised the heck out of him when he finally mustered the courage to walk by.
Izzy planted his feet at the top of the road and asked me if I was really sure that I wanted to go that way. I patted his neck and leaned over so that he could see me. I gave him lots of encouragement and then squeezed him forward. He walked by all of it with his head pretty high, but he never stopped.
After that, the rest of the walk was super easy. By the time we got home, he was relaxed and happy and looking forward to a nap. I know we're still going to have some two steps back days, but he is getting a really solid foundation built that is supporting us when we run into problems.