Keeping in mind what I had learned form Lois in the previous lessons as well as what I had worked on with JL, I asked Sydney to walk to A so that we could enter the arena. Lois's barn is behind C and A feels like a long ways away from the safety of the barn and other horses. Sydney thought so, too.
As we made that walk, he tried to pick up speed and his head was sky high. I refused to get in a tug of war with him. Instead, I suggested he lower his head by doing some small flexions while adding a bit of leg. His head came down and his stride got long. We entered at A, and I immediately sent him into a leg yield left. I then changed the bend and asked him to yield to the right. By the time we arrived at C, his head was low and his ears were flopping to the side. Lois agreed that the whole picture was much improved.
For the next hour we worked on helping Sydney maintain his rhythm without me pulling back on the reins. At first, I really struggled with riding with no contact. I think that I use the contact a little bit to help balance myself. Once Lois took that away from me, I opened up my chest more and was able to reestablish my own balance. I may not be the world's best rider, but even Lois agreed that my position is pretty solid. At least that's one thing going for me.
Throughout the lesson, Lois had me send Sydney forward and then slowly bring him back. For a while, we used the 20 meter circle at C: I rode him forward for half the circle, and brought him back to a slower pace for the second half of the circle. I used the first quarter of each half circle to make the change in pace and then maintained it for the second quarter only to change again in the next quarter.
Whenever Sydney ignored my half halts or just got out of control, Lois had me use a strong outside rein to get him to slow down or halt. Eventually, I was able to catch the change in rhythm in only one stride. As long as he was maintaining the bend on his own, I gave him the rein. As soon as his nose drifted out, I flexed him to the inside and then released the rein. Sometimes I had to flex, release, flex, release, flex, release, but eventually he understood that his job was to maintain the bend.
The same was true of his pace. His job was to maintain the pace according to my posting rhythm. If he tried to make me post faster, I used the outside rein to give him a firm, no!, but then I immediately released the rein to let him hold the pace. Lois explained that I need to give him the opportunity to do his job so that he feels confident that he can do it. If I am always holding the reins tightly, he never gets the chance to learn to do his part of the work.
The work we did made a lot of sense. It also required a lot of trust. Letting go of the contact gave me a sense of being out of control, but I can see that in the long run, it will be much easier to ride him. Thinking about riding this way makes the idea of self carriage much easier to understand. It is only when he isn't bending that I use the inside rein (flex, release), and it is only when he wants to quicken his pace that I use the outside rein (pull, release) - for now. We'll re-establish contact later.
Everything about our way of going was much improved by the lesson's end. I was able to ride a figure eight with the lightest contact, and I was able to ride the whole school (ring) on a fairly loopy rein without him running off. We rode it both directions without his haunches trying to race around to beat his front end. We can do this at home, but it was the first time I've been able to do it somewhere else.
I don't have another lesson with Lois on the schedule yet. She really wants me to do the clinic in October and has already committed to being there if I go. She really feels this clinician could make a huge difference in the way I ride. While I really don't want to pay for two clinics, I am feeling like it might be worth it. Lois seems genuinely committed to my success; so much so that she wants to be there to support me. That kind of dedication deserves a great deal of respect.
We'll see what happens.