I started out showing JL how much better I was at firming up the left rein, whether as the inside rein or outside rein. We were able to pick up a canter going both directions without a meltdown. I also shared with her my thoughts on pulling back, or NOT pulling back. I then asked JL what was next.
It's a bit gratifying when your trainer has to really pause for a moment and think about where we should go next. That doesn't mean that she doesn't have anything left to teach me or that I've mastered everything. It simply meant was that there was no huge glaring issue. Yah for us.
JL decided we were ready to ramp it up yet another notch. She calls it getting him more broke. He's broke to ride of course, but what she means is to get him closer and closer to push button. Oh, wouldn't that be fabulous?
One thing she noticed while I was warming up was that we need a lot more bend to the inside, especially tracking right. So our exercise for the day was to almost over exaggerate the inside bend and make the circle quite small. Every time Sydney softened to the inside rein, she had me release with the outside rein and pat his neck. This felt counter intuitive to me, but it was amazing how happy it made him. He relaxed his neck even further when I released with the outside (left) rein.
Once he was soft and giving at the trot, we went back to our old frenemy, the right lead canter. I wrote the other day that I was just on the edge of putting some big pieces together. A few of them snapped together during that lesson. I finally had a solid feel for how much contact I need to maintain with Sydney so that he feels supported when I cue for the right lead canter.
As I cued for the canter, I could feel him trying to snatch the outside rein so he could duck and whirl to the inside. Without much thought, I kept the contact very solid, but rocked the rein enough to say no you don't. He picked up the correct lead, but then I dropped the contact and he fell apart, scrambling back to the trot.
After a brief explanation from JL, a few more pieces of the puzzle slipped into place. Sydney really needs strong support from me during the departure and then through a few more canter strides before he feels balanced enough to maintain the canter on his own.
When I cued for the next canter departure, I could feel all of the steps coming together. It wasn't the prettiest canter departure, but I could finally feel what I needed to do to help balance my horse. I had to do a lot of rocking of the rein, but we finally got a correct canter while he was anxious. This is a big deal for us.
After cantering for a bit to get him even softer and more balanced, JL had me release with the outside rein again (like at the trot) and pat his neck. Sydney nearly drooled. We repeated the exercise a few different times: pick up the right lead canter with a lot of rein support, and then when he's soft to the inside, release with the outside rein and pat his neck. Sydney simply melted with that outside rein release. We're definitely onto something good!
At the end of the lesson, JL and I talked about the why of Sydney's right lead canter issue. She thinks that part of it is really just a learned habit on his part (in response to me, no doubt). Now that I can feel what needs to happen to balance him, she feels that this issue will slowly fade away as his confidence in me increases. I may always need to give him more support to the right than the left, but hopefully the worst of the worst is behind us.