When we got home from the show on Sunday night, I made sure to unload everything carefully and completely as I had a lesson on Sydney on Monday morning. Our goal has been to stretch Sydney's comfort level enough to get a bit of a rise from him. We're not trying to irritate him, but we do need to challenge him enough so that he learns to work under pressure; Last Monday's lesson accomplished that.
It felt like a simple concept.
- While tracking left (or right), put him in a counter bend.
- Restrict forward movement with the new outside rein (left).
- Use the new inside leg (right) to send him left.
- He should rock back onto his haunches slightly so that he can lift his front end enabling him to pivot left.
After working at the exercise for a while, it became clear that Sydney was becoming frustrated, no doubt caused by my inability to correctly coordinate the aids. We moved on to the trot, but he was tense and stiff. In many ways, this is what we were hoping for. This gave me an opportunity to work on softening and suppling when he's tense and rigid. Within a few minutes, we had a rhythmical trot that was quiet and balanced.
The next morning, I started our ride with the same lift the front end exercise. We worked at it for 10 or so minutes and then moved on to our trot work. Each minute that I rode him, his energy level rose until he was nearly frantic. I spent the next 40 minutes trying to get some level of relaxation from him. I used every exercise I know: canter, swing/rock the rein, a quick halt, transitions, etc. Finally, he just sort of gave in and let loose of the tension. I called it a day and quit.
I gave him Wednesday off to think things over, and then did a very quick and stress free ride on Thursday doing only some basic walk, trot, canter with no tricks. On Friday, we went back for another lesson. I explained to JL what had happened, especially while trying to pick up a right lead canter: so much resistance that he just wouldn't/couldn't get the lead until the very, very end when he had "given up."
After a bit of a trot warm-up, she told me to pick up the right lead canter. As I knew he would, he went back to his old trick of collapsing his body and pivoting to the right. I straightened him out and tried again. He got the lead, but it was ugly. Right away JL could see where the problem was.
To the left, Sydney is "easy" to ride because he's stiff. I can push him out with my inside leg, use the outside rein to lift and half halt, and pulse with my inside rein to ask for some softness. To the right, I've been using the same aids which work if he's relaxed and balanced, but when he's tense, it feels as though I am riding a rolling log (we roll right and left).
Since he's very limp to the right, JL suggested little or no inside leg; I already have more bend than I know what to do with. Instead, I need to help rebalance him with lots of outside rein and outside leg. The outside rein holds him up so he doesn't fall off the balance beam (since he wants to fall off to the right). My outside leg keeps his haunches from falling out and helps make the turn. When he's feeling more balanced, I can start asking him to let go through his neck with a small amount of inside rein. To the right, it becomes inside rein to outside leg.
Within a very short time of riding with little to no inside leg, I finally got a relatively uphill, right lead canter. He was so light that I could drop one rein at a time and he was able to maintain the bend and carry himself. What a lovely feeling!
We have a follow up lesson this morning.