The first thing JL addressed was my confusion about the purpose of the 1 ... 2 ... Let ... Go. I thought it was a softening technique. For several weeks I've been practicing the hold and release to soften Sydney's neck. It hasn't been working too well. My complaint to JL was that Sydney would just get slower and slower until I had to really whack him in the sides to get him moving again. That's what he's supposed to do, came JL's reply. Uh-oh.
After a quick explanation, I finally understood the purpose of the exercise: The hold and release is not to soften Sydney in the way that I thought. Instead, the hold and release teaches Sydney that I will not hold him in order to maintain our rhythm. I am to establish a rhythm and it is his job to maintain it without speeding up. Once he can maintain the rhythm on his own, then we can get to work on lengthening his top line and developing his stretch. If I am constantly pulling to slow him, his neck will remain braced and he'll never learn to reach. AHA!
Once I understood the purpose of the 1 ... 2 ... Let ... Go, JL and I got to work. She would ask, is he accepting the rhythm? Not yet. Keep working. Little by little my pulls got softer and Sydney settled into a rhythmical trot around the circle. There! He's accepting the rhythm. Okay, now we can work on that outside shoulder. Any time Sydney would speed up, I worked the hold and release until he accepted the pace I was trying to establish.
The outside shoulder ... does anyone like the outside shoulder? That thing is such a pain. It never goes where I want it to. It's usually trying to jump out of the circle in an effort to grab a rest break on the bench. As many riders probably do, I have a tendency to over-use my inside rein to make the turn. JL pointed out that pulling on the inside rein actually achieves the opposite of what I really want. When the neck is over-bent to the inside, my leg can't push the rib cage over as it has nowhere to go. The ribcage is already pushed out as far as it can be. Pause here and visualize ...
Hmmm ... that actually made sense. Instead of bending with the inside rein, she had me use the outside rein to slow down the outside shoulder, which tries to get ahead of the inside shoulder, and apply my inside leg to push him over. Inside leg to outside rein. I have read these words so many times, but I never felt what they meant. Now I get it. I am sure most of you are saying, thank goodness she finally gets it. How long has it taken her?
There was one more part of the lesson that I'd like to share. I was finally promoted to the status of "ready for the crop-to-feel-level" exercise. I don't know if this is just a hunter/jumper thing or if all English disciplines employ the same technique. Here's how it goes: the rider bridges the reins and holds a crop in the horizontal position with both hands. It's a bit like holding the handlebars of a bicycle. The point of the exercise is to teach the rider to keep her hands level and to not over-use one hand (for me, that would be the right). Let's just say that I am not particularly coordinated and have difficulty isolating body parts for independent use. To my credit, I didn't drop the crop even though I had difficultly holding the reins steady. They kept slithering out of my hands as though purposely trying to foil my attempts at some semblance of competence.
Round and round we went. Me, cursing my stupidity, Sydney seizing the opportunity to surge forward. Me, grappling for lost reins, Sydney continuing the power trot. Me gripping the reins, Sydney slowing down. And finally, me, bending my elbows to "steer" around the corner. Tracking right, I pulled my left hand back to slow the outside shoulder, right hand doesn't pull on the inside rein. AHA! ... and yet another exercise understood.
I am thrilled to be learning so much, but I am also overwhelmed by how much there is to learn. Sometimes it feels relentless, but most of the time it's exhilarating. Bring it on!