I think I have spent the last three years listening, reading, and watching such a huge volume of stuff that it has taken until now for it to start to come together. It's like I've had all of these puzzle pieces floating around in my brain, some of them connected, but most of them just flipped upside down. Somehow, I must have connected enough of them together that it enabled me to see the picture that was forming, and now, I am grabbing pieces from all over the place and linking them together.
As I was riding Sydney, I really focused on using my inside leg to outside hand. I had just read one of Courtney King-Dye's articles about over using the inside rein. She said, Keep the inside leg honest. A clue that tells you you're not using your inside leg enough happens when you feel like you want to pull your inside rein to the outside. In essence, the inside rein is trying to do the job of the inside leg.
How many times have I heard (or read) that we ride inside leg to outside hand? How many ways are there to explain such a simple concept? Apparently I needed to hear it 1,001 times because all of a sudden, as I was approaching the corner, I added my inside leg and gave a half halt with my outside rein, but this time, I could see/feel/hear/grasp the WHY of that combination of aids. Had anyone driven by at the exact moment, they would have seen an enormous lightbulb flashing over my head.
I took a short walk break to let Sydney know that he had done a great job. Sometimes these walk breaks backfire because Sydney often thinks it means he's finished. Saturday's ride was no exception. When I asked for some more work, he got very resistant and we lost all of the swing from earlier. He was so naughty that I had to go back to planting my inside hand on my thigh so that I could send him out, out, out with the inside leg while slowing him down with the outside rein.
Once I had him back in some sort of a working mode, I spiraled out at the trot but was having a heck of a time getting any bend. All of a sudden, something Christian said hit me, Give him the inside rein. Suddenly, that statement took on a whole new meaning. JL frequently has me rock or sponge a rein when Sydney is heavy on it. That has always felt like taking the rein from him in a somewhat punitive way. But the idea of giving the rein sounded more like assisting rather than correcting.
So as I rode around with a stiff, unbending horse, I heard Christian softly telling me to give him the inside rein. Yes, give it. Give him the rein. Inside rein, give it to him ... And with that, I realized that by changing my understanding of the purpose of the aid, I was giving my horse a chance to soften and bend and carry himself. It wasn't about taking anything. By rocking the rein and then releasing it, which was giving him the inside rein, I was allowing Sydney the opportunity to find his own balance and bend.
As we continued working, I rocked the inside rein softly, but as I did it, I could feel myself encouraging Sydney to let go and swing. And then I discovered that I was more effectively working both reins: the inside one was giving Sydney the opportunity to soften while the outside rein was saying not any faster. And just like that, I became aware of a new level of feel.
I am probably completely misinterpreting Christian's intent, but I don't care as it helped me shift my understanding of what I am trying to accomplish out there in the dressage court. I much prefer the idea of giving than taking. Sydney gets to go to a lesson today. I am really eager to get JL's feedback. I think she's going to be pleased with what I've done with him since she last saw him.
Here's to more lightbulbs!