I desperately want to explain exactly what JL taught me, but I just don't think I have the writing skills. So please forgive me if this comes out as unintelligible drivel!
When I showed JL my tests from the weekend's show, I pointed out the judge's comments about how I was restricting his energy. We discussed the idea a bit and then compared how both of my boys move. Speedy G wants to avoid the contact by sucking back and moving behind the bit. She actually called him a Smart Fart - yep - that's him! When he moves behind the bit, I shorten my reins to maintain the contact (in error). I then restrict his forward movement because he doesn't have anywhere to go. Sydney, on the other hand, resists by simply leaning on the bit allowing me to carry his big ol' noggin. Or, he raises his head sky high and gets so far in front of the bit that it becomes a battle of who's stronger. No contest there. He is.
JL pointed out that I will need to ride both ponies in a different way. Since Sydney was there for the lesson, we worked on his avoidance issues. Speedy G's turn will come next time.
As I stated earlier, words may fail me here.
JL used two metaphors to explain building the contact. The first one didn't work for me, but you might get it so I am going to leave it in. The second one gave me an AHA! moment, so JL stuck with that one.
She had me squeeze Sydney into a walk with my rein loose. As soon as he moved off, I gently squeezed my shoulder blades together which started the contact. And I held it. She called it putting money in the bank. Any half halts or rein squeezes were considered withdrawals and should be avoided at this point. The metaphor was lost on me. Okay ... Try this: picture a roller coaster climbing the hill. We want the coaster to crest the hill. If we apply any brakes, the coaster never makes it to the top. AHA! So I held the contact. I squeezed. Right leg squeeze. Left leg squeeze. Right. Left. Right. Left. He softened. I let go. He carried himself. Woohoo!
We repeated the exercise again and again. At the walk. I finally felt "it." My reins were long, but not draped. I squeezed him forward to the bit, and once he was there accepting the bit, I quit squeezing, but I expected him to stay there. When he didn't, I squeezed again. After enough repetitions, he started to soften and reach the second I put my leg on him. Oh, joy! That is NOT riding with your hands. That's riding with your seat and leg.
And then we did it at the trot. I was pleasantly surprised at my own ability to take this new concept to a new gait. The trot work was easy. I had him stretching to the contact in no time. He was rhythmical. He was balanced. He was lovely to ride.
As the lesson ended, I expressed some disappointment to JL. I told her that it felt like I was going backwards at every lesson. Why couldn't I advance? JL smiled, and then slightly amused at my dorkiness, corrected me. I wasn't going backwards. Quite the contrary. We were going deeper! JL was actually pleased with my progress. Oh.
Look out Speedy G - I think you're about to meet steady contact!