This has been a long week. Yes, I know it's only Monday; last week and this week are just running into one another making it a VERY long week. Being at the CS clinic last weekend meant that I didn't get my weekend chores finished (laundry, grocery shopping, etc). That meant that I crammed those things into a week that was already jammed to the rafters. I followed that clinic with another weekend out of town. An all day jaunt to Horse Expo and a Sunday afternoon filled with pigging out with friends in front of the TV meant minimal chores done this weekend either. Oh, and I have a show out of town next weekend, too.
All of that is to say that I only rode Speedy at his Monday lesson which wasn't really a problem since I thought he deserved a few days off anyway. Unfortunately, with Expo on Saturday and me just plain needing a morning off from EVERYTHING, he won't be ridden again until tonight. Yikes.
That doesn't mean Sydney got all the riding time either. I took last Tuesday "off" from the barn in order to set things right here at home, at least partially, and to smooth over any rough edges with Hubby that might have been created from so little at home time. I mean really ... three weekends in a row horsing around is asking a lot of even the most tolerant husband. I did ride on Wednesday and Thursday, which is the real reason for this post, but a required trip to the feed store put the kibosh on any saddle time for Friday.
Yeah, yeah, we're all busy. Get ON with it!
Okay. So you've read over and over and over about Sydney's tension and my fear (haven't seen the elephant in a LONG time). Even though I only rode twice this past week, they were GREAT rides! If you haven't been to a clinic, I strongly suggest you search one out. I learned far more than I thought I did, and more importantly, I was able to apply what I learned right away.
When Sydney first starts out at the walk, I try to squeeze him forward into a long and low frame. I am usually pretty successful at it. If he's having a bad day because it's too late for his taste or there's too much after work traffic whizzing by, I can't spend as much time long and low as it's simply better to just go forward at the trot rather to mess with any attempt at bolting.
My mid-week rides were like any other; Sydney was relatively relaxed, but he was looking for a way to be "naughty." Rather than give in to the let's hurry up into the trot, I planted my knuckles near my knees as Dr. Schacht had instructed me to do with Speedy G. At the time, I didn't quite understand the purpose. JL later explained that by planting my hands, I was forced to use only my seat and legs (eliminating that whole over-use of the inside rein thing). There was an added benefit, however. Planting my hands also created a sort of low side reins. Sydney responded so well to the exercise that I almost laughed out loud.
As we warm up, he almost always goes through a head bouncing routine which is very difficult to resist. It makes it very hard to establish steady contact because I just can't keep my hands quiet enough as he's bouncing against them. Eventually, I just shorten the reins and push him forward which usually results in a very heavy horse.
Planting my knuckles into my thighs changed all of that. As Sydney "bounced" his head and neck, all he found was an ungiving bit. It took him all of about 2 minutes to find the release. Once he figured it out, he was long and low and clearly happier. JL has had me focus on keeping my hands low and very quiet. Sydney perceives everything as yelling so I am working very hard to make everything be a whisper. Instead of visibly rocking the rein to get him off my hands or to soften his neck, I am just squeezing my fingers to make a request or a correction. Sometimes this takes longer, but there's less drama involved. Planting my knuckles lowered the volume and forced my hands to remain low. Win, win.
Once Sydney was long and low at the walk, I shortened my reins just a bit but kept my knuckles firmly planted into my thighs. We started on a 20-meter circle, but after just a few times around, I took another page from CS's playbook and asked him to lengthen down the long side and then did a change of direction across the diagonal. We repeated this circle, circle, go big routine for a few minutes with my knuckles still pressed into my thighs.
Once I could really feel some activity from behind, I quietly picked up the reins and shortened them as I asked for a canter. Oh my! It was really nice. We did some spiral in and I was shocked at how small of a circle he was able to do. We spiraled back out and returned to the trot work and again went down the long side. I asked for a small half halt at the corner and laughed out loud when I felt him shift his weight back and collect ever so slightly.
Both days that I rode with these exercises, I was able to get him light in my hand while still moving forward in less than 10 minutes. After a total of 20 minutes, I hopped off and praised him as though we had just won at Aachen. I can't wait to get back on him this week!