Sydney had that really long lesson on Saturday, and I knew his lesson with Lois on Monday was going to be a lot of work as well, so I decided to give his brain a short break by heading back out on our neighborhood trail.
Right from the very beginning he was much more relaxed. As we walked along, I kept everything from Saturday's lesson in mind. As we passed JL's house, one of her neighbor's horses came running up. Sydney's head shot up and his back hollowed out. I kept my hands steady and put my spurs into him. Within moments, his head came back down and we continued on our way. Once we were clear of the neighbor's house, I shortened my reins a tiny bit and asked for a halt and then followed it up by asking him to back up. He fussed a bit, but he marched backwards with no rein pressure.
When I got to the end of the road, I decided that Sydney was ready for more. Rather than turn right down "Dog Alley," our normal route, I decided to ride through a property easement that would bring me out to the next road which I could then turn down. The difficulty with crossing the easement is that it requires climbing a somewhat steep rise (it's about 5 feet high and 10 feet long).
The easement itself is about 8 feet wide with apple and other fruit trees immediately to the right; I can pick fruit as I walk along. To the immediate left is a cyclone fenced yard with a very aggressive dog who leaps to the top of the fence, snarling as you pass. I've learned to call out, hey dog! before I even start the little climb. He's not always in the yard, but when he is, he likes to sneak up and fling himself at the fence just as you crest the rise. Even on Speedy G it scares the crap out of me.
I wasn't sure how Sydney would handle Sneaky Snarl Dog, so I called for the dog several times before I sent him up the bank. Luckily, no dog appeared and Sydney motored up the hill on a loose rein. His head was a bit high as he walked between the trees and the fence, but we made it back into the open without the need for any schooling.
As we continued on, I worked on getting him to lower his head by gently suggesting he do so by flexing him softly to the left and right. I also added leg when I felt his back hollow. At one point, there was a barking dog, low hanging branches, a donkey, and every other distraction that you can imagine. I took a deep breath, kept my hands in a neutral position, and allowed my seat to sink softly down and really follow Sydney's back. I kept talking softly to him and just reveled in how rhythmic his stride was.
We made the turn towards home and my smile just got bigger and bigger. It came back to me that the reason my endurance horses trusted me so completely was because we had spent so many hours on the trail together depending on one another. Remembering that feeling of riding through the dark over unfamiliar terrain in total harmony with my horses helped me see that Sydney needs more of those opportunities himself.
I asked him to leg yield across the road to a large patch of grass and dropped the reins so that he could he graze. Even when his head shot up over an unfamiliar sound, I sat there calmly scratching his withers while reassuring him that I was on patrol. He returned to grazing. Rather than be in a hurry to get back home (to safety), I sat there enjoying the sounds of munching and crunching.
A few minutes later, a woman I know casually from work drove by and stopped. She asked a few questions about Sydney. We sat along the road chatting like I was on a dead broke trail horse. Sydney ambled from one grassy spot to another while I kept the buckle hooked under my fingers. I have never felt so throughly relaxed while riding him.
We continued on our way, working on lowing his head and maintaining a nice marching rhythm. There were a few places where he wanted to get fussy, but I just held my hands neutrally, and added leg. We eventually came to the big field, and I felt his body tense. Hey now, Dude, no reason for that.
I didn't think it was necessary to trot as I was just focusing on working at the walk while staying on the bit. We did a few circles and then made some loops. When he was able to halt and march backwards, I dropped the reins and encouraged him to drop his head and graze. This time through the field was different than from the week before. While he had worked in the field for me before, this time I had a deeper sense of being in control.
I finally pried his nose out of the grass and asked him to march forward. As before, I insisted that he walk with his nose below his withers without being heavy on the reins. We passed the neighbor's two boisterous labs with only a small look in their direction. And then we were home. He was calm and relaxed; I was calm and relaxed. It was the best trail ride we've done!
I couldn't be prouder of him or me!