I shared my tests with my trainer on Monday before we started to ride. For the last few weeks, we've been trying to turn up the volume a bit so that Sydney can learn how to better deal with his anxiety when we're at a show. I was proud to tell JL what exercises I had used at the show to turn a score of 51% into a 63%.
- lots of changes of direction
- turn on the haunches by lifting the outside shoulder up and over
- riding a square at the walk or trot by turning from the outside rein and outside leg
- canter spiral in that asks the outside shoulder to lift and turn
- asking him to step sideways without getting stuck
Sydney is very comfortable working at the end of the arena closest to JL's barn which means he now gets to work at the away end. We started out walking with his neck like a giraffe's. I was glad for the anxiety as it's hard to work on reducing tension when there isn't any!
When Sydney's head goes sky high at a show, I keep my hands low. JL suggested I actually brings my hands up a bit and try to stay better connected. As my hands come up, I should also lengthen my spine and sit back while adding some leg. Once he figures out that he can't get away by cranking his head up in the air, he'll bring his head back down to a more normal position.
So that's what we did. My hands weren't exactly high, but I tried to follow him wherever he went, and sure enough, he eventually settled down and found comfort in the contact.
When we're showing, the trick will be to know how much I can insist on. For example: he always gets a few minutes to gawk. After that though, no more. Once he's had a chance to look around, I will insist that he keep his nose pointed in the direction that I am asking for. The same goes for the head in the air: I can't force his head down, but I can stay with him and encourage him to lower it.
Even though he was a bit anxious working in the away end of the arena, I was able to encourage him to lower his head and accept the contact. After he lowers his head, his second evasive maneuver is to bounce the bit in my hands. JL picked up on it right away and said that means I need to change something. Since he hasn't done that in awhile, I had kind of forgotten about it, but I now see it as a display of anxiety.
When he's bouncing the bit, it means several things. First, I am not being steady in my hands, and second, he's anxious. There are two things I can do to resolve this. The first is to either hook my pinky around my bucking strap to stabilize my hand or just visualize that I've done so. Once I've steadied my hand, the best way to ask him to stop bouncing is to open the outside rein slightly, pulse the inside rein, let it go, and add inside leg. It might take several efforts, but this usually gets him on my outside rein solidly. Which then makes him feel safe.
My homework for the next few weeks is to try and find moments when he's tense and resistant and work through them by being very, very consistent. If he always knows what I am going to do, then he will learn to trust me even when he's anxious, like at a show.