While things hadn't deteriorated beyond all repair, Izzy and I were heading down the wrong path. It became painfully clear that it wasn't him; it was definitely me. I was being way to "handsy" and wasn't letting him go forward. That's what they call riding front to back. Guilty.
What I am seeing from the ground is that Izzy needs help maintaining his balance, especially when asked to move out big. As our relationship developed, I never let him move out big. Frankly, I wasn't sure he could stay on all fours. As he has gotten stronger, I've continued to keep him in a very short, compact frame, but I've been revving his motor up and not giving him a place to go. The dude was about to pop out of his skin.
As I lunge him, I can see his unbalanced moments, which from the saddle feel like spooks or naughty behavior. When I felt those moments of unsteadiness while riding, I was always quick to shorten his stride and package him back up. Now I can see that he is not being naughty, he just needs to develop his coordination to handle his bigger stride.
Either way, I am doing what I can to help us both. He is a much, much happier horse when allowed to move out big. Once we finish out lunge work, I hop up, but I am being vigilant about my hands. I am keeping them low and steady and resisting the urge to sponge and pulse and get his head down. Instead, I am riding him more and more forward until he brings his head down on his own. D'oh - back to front ...
If he gets too silly, I just set my hands like side reins and let him bump into them until he softens on his own. If he picks up too much speed, I think shoulder in and spiral in a bit to help him rebalance himself. He has quit squealing and trying to bolt.
On Sunday, he picked up the canter both directions easily, and while I had to do some pretty strong half halts to the right, he didn't drop the lead behind, and he didn't exit stage left.
It's clear that the problem has been with me. Once I allowed him to move out big (as intimidating as it is), he loosened up through his back and has been much happier. I am riding in another clinic with Dr. Christian Schacht (the German trainer whom I adore) this upcoming weekend. I hope, hope, hope I am on the right path.
As always, dressage has humbled me yet again.