I had another lesson on Wednesday afternoon, the last for two weeks (more on that in a day or so). JL wanted to see how far I had gotten with the stretching exercises. Pretty far, I thought! She was satisfied with our progress, but wanted to push us more.
As I suppled Sydney's neck, she instructed me to start really watching the outside shoulder to be sure that the bend didn't come from a drifting shoulder. When Sydney is really tense and stiff, that kind of stretch is okay, but if I really want to get him light, I need to do it with his shoulders in front of his haunches.
As we trotted, I held the outside rein very steady, and brought my inside hand straight back in a rhythmic pull … hold, hold, hold. Then, I held the inside rein, and repeated the pull … hold, hold, hold with the outside rein. I got a lot less give, of course, but JL pointed out that the give was worth a lot more.
Slowly but surely, I felt Sydney's weight start to shift back. Not only is he getting more and more supple in his neck (how fast was THAT?), but my feel for heavy and on the forehand has gotten MUCH better. Now, I can feel when he's leaning on my hands, and more importantly, I know how to "rock" or "slide" to get him to let go. That's the whole purpose of our most recent work: get this horse to move his neck and let go of the tension. He wants to brace against whatever may be coming.
After we had done a bunch of suppling work, JL again asked for the canter. She kept reminding me that the more uphill we get him, the easier the canter departure is for him. At first, he fussed and tried to run through my aids; he knows when we are about to canter. But since I have an improved feel for heavy, I just worked the reins and insisted that he soften his neck before we canter.
The moment that I felt him let go, I quietly asked for the canter. It wan't a perfect departure, but I was grinning from ear to ear. It was definitely uphill, and his croup was lower than his withers. And oh man, was he light! It wasn't every stride, but it was darn close. Every other stride I had to remind him to get light, but after a minute or so, he cantered that 20-meter circle so light that I was able to hold the reins with just my thumb and first finger; that's my gauge for lightness.
It was by far the best canter work we have done. JL was quite proud of the moment too. She knows we're onto something, and I think she's just as eager to see what Sydney can manage in the show ring. The work that we're doing right now is to help me (and him) deal with the tension when we're away from home. I can't wait to see how far we've come either!
This is getting more and more fun!