I know I've shared this about a billion times, but just in case you missed it, Sydney is very tense. His neck is tight which means his back isn't loose and swinging. Each time he gets a lesson, which is usually every other week, we work on teaching him to be freer in his neck, shoulders, and back. At our most recent lesson, JL had me try something new. New is probably not the right word. It's not as though she keeps trying new fangled tricks. I guess I should say she added a new element to what we've already been doing. And in truth, maybe she hasn't added anything at all. Maybe I am just gaining a deeper understanding of the tasks that she assigns.
But I digress. For this lesson she had me plant my inside hand on my thigh so that I would quit asking for a leg yield by pulling back with the inside rein. She doesn't call it a leg yield. She calls it moving sideways. As in, start moving him sideways as you come to the corner. We need more sideways here. And now ... sideways.
She finally made me understand that moving away from my inside leg has nothing to do with the inside rein. Understanding it, and demonstrating my understanding are two different things. So, in order to keep me from pulling his head around in my effort to go sideways, she had me plant my inside hand which made me utilize the inside leg and the outside rein.
We started with a pretty small circle which meant my inside rein was fairly short. I tapped Sydney's ribs with my inside leg and at nearly the same moment, performed a half halt with the outside rein. This was supposed to tell him, not forward, but move away from my leg. Coordinating the outside rein with the leg tap was difficult for me. Even so, little by little I started to feel the sideways motion.
JL feels that it is important to let a horse know when he has the right answer. With her coaching me from the ground, she would call out when we had gone sideways for a few steps, and then tell me when to stop asking for sideways so that Sydney had a break. And then we did it again. We repeated the motion over and over and then changed directions. Eventually we moved to the trot where we had to start the concept again as it was difficult to feel the sideways motion at the faster gate. And if I wasn't consistent with the outside rein, the sideways motion didn't happen. Instead, Sydney would just go forward. Once I could feel the motion again, we worked on sideways while doing figure eights.
By the end of the hour, I was astonished at how loose and soft Sydney was. He was making the turns without tossing his head and his neck looked as though it had grown at least a foot. He was grunting, sighing, and hurumping all at the same time. His ears were flopping like a puppy's and he kept taking deep, sighing breaths. It was the most incredible feeling.
On my walk home, I felt terrific about what we had accomplished, but I knew the real test would be whether I could accomplish this looseness on my own.
I did a walking ride the first day which was fairly successful. The next day we worked at the trot, and I was able to achieve some of the softness from before, but not to the same degree. On the third day, I nearly gave up. Nothing was working. Speedy was calling from the barn which served as a serious distraction. The neighbor was running a mower which served as a second distraction. The arena across the street, which was empty, turned out to be a third distraction. The whole thing was looking like nothing short of a disaster.
I took a deep breath and came back to the walk. I quit worrying about the sideways motion and just tried to bend Sydney's neck. I pulled him left. I pulled him right. I tracked left and bent him right for a counter bend and repeated the bend to the other direction. Before too long Sydney's neck began to feel softer and his neck began to lengthen.
Ultimately, I am proud to say that I was able to soften and lengthen Sydney's neck without the aid of my trainer. I was so proud of Sydney! Now I really know what inside leg to outside rein really means. Let's see if I can keep the feeling.