Well, yeah, that's how you ride a horse who doesn't try to turn himself into a pretzel. Sydney is a two-for-one deal; I got two horses for the price of one. I have a normal, decently balanced horse to the left. To the right, I have a totally different horse. That horse can barely walk straight when he's tracking right, and cantering? Aye yay yay!
This is what's been holding up our right lead canter. It takes a lot of coordination on my part to get him to straighten himself up to actually canter. He wants to carry his haunches out while dropping his inside shoulder. Sit hard on your outside seat bone and collapse your right side. That's what it feels like I am riding.
To fix this, as I've shared many times already, JL has had me "crab" Sydney into the circle by pushing his haunches in so that they track behind his shoulders. This gets him on the outside rein and lifts the inside shoulder. Put more weight on your own inside seat bone; it's hard to collapse your right side while weighting your inside seat bone.
Some days I can ask for a little bend by holding his haunches with my outside leg and gently sponging the inside rein. This kind of pushes him up to my inside leg. It's almost like doing a half pass (but totally not).
We had a rodeo of a ride on Monday. He just would not soften. That right lead canter just had him so tense and stiff that I went back to straight and crabbing with no inside bend. Eventually, we got a right lead canter that was acceptable, and I called it a day. He had the next day off.
When I rode him on Wednesday, I decided to try a new strategy. It has been hot as blazes and ridiculously humid so getting any forward energy has been really hard. So to wake him up, I skipped most of my regular warm up stuff and went straight to the left lead canter. But instead of staying in my dressage court (made with poles), I cantered the entire perimeter of my arena. He thought that was fun and within no time, I had him in front of my leg, relaxed and happy.
At the end of my court, there isn't much room between the poles and the fence, so this is really a test of whether I can make the turn without losing the canter. To do this, I have to have my outside leg firmly on with a solid feel on the outside rein, while I ask for some flexion with the inside rein. When I feel him start to get long (which means he's going to trot), I have to add some firm inside leg to let him know to KEEP cantering.
In all, I spent a solid five to ten minutes cantering on the right lead doing 20-meter circles in various places in my court while returning to the bigger long side of the arena's fence. He did fall back into the trot a time or two, but since we weren't stuck in a 20-meter circle, I just re-cued the canter and kept going.
He only got tense and quick for a stride or two, but then for the rest of the work he was uphill, light in my hands, and very relaxed.
At my last lesson, JL made the comment that she could clearly see that I had a great feel for when Sydney's haunches weren't behind his shoulders. She followed that up in the text by stating that I had a "good handle on it." Since she felt I could do it alone, I just assumed she was right!
I did have a ride or two that didn't go so well, but I really appreciated having the time to work on improving my feel for the right lead canter. I get it. I know what I have to do to help Sydney get it and keep it. It's not perfect of course, and I will certainly be glad to have JL back, but it's been a confidence booster to work through this on my own.
With that said, I am definitely looking forward to Monday's lesson!