I am now putting more pressure on Sydney during our non-lesson rides which means I am skipping all of the long stretchy warm up stuff. Not that he doesn't need a warm up, but in the interest of time (less daylight) and because I am trying to "test" him a little bit I am not doing such a long warm up. Instead, we do some quick trot work where we do some changes of direction across the diagonal which are mostly for my benefit as I am firming up my leg position by doing the up, up, down exercise.
After the changes across the diagonals and a 20-meter trot circle here and there, I pretty much send him into a right lead canter, which we are now getting evey time. This is a great thing as a month ago I was lucky to maybe get something that resembled a canter but which was more like a duck, twirl, and spin.
The problem is that after I get one or two canter departures, Sydney starts to realize that we're actually schooling the right lead canter and he gets tense. He's fine with doing a couple of departures until he realizes what we're doing. Weird, but true!
Anyway, JL's suggestion was to work the right lead like I have been doing, but then I need to change the conversation and start working to the left before he gets tense about it. We don't want him to worry about cantering to the right; we want him to feel successful about it. I wish I had thought of that!
The second big take away was how to (more effectively) deal with the tension to the right when it does appear. When he simply won't or can't track right, I already put him in a very small circle where I ask his inside hind to step deeply without losing the outside shoulder. As he gives even a little, I begin to spiral out. I have this part of the correction down.
What I've been missing is that I nag him to finish letting go of the inside rein but either holding him up myself or then asking too softly. Instead, JL had me really work that inside rein at every step so that he absolutely can't hang on it. If he's trying to let go, I bump it softly, but if he's really hanging, I need to really bump it to say, LET GO!
We worked on this for what seemed like forever, but finally, I felt a HUGE release in his neck that went from poll to tail. His whole body just turned to Jello. With that particular release, the lesson was over.
So now I have some new strategies: right lead canter to left lead canter to change the topic of conversation, and then be hyper vigilant about NOT allowing him to hang on my inside right rein for even an instant. I love having homework!