Right away I got the feeling that he was still up and could go either way - relax, or let 'em rip. I sat up tall and immediately started asking him to go long and low without a single moment of popping above the bit to gawk. Basically, I put him straight to work.
I kept my mind on the job at every moment and didn't let his attention wander for even a second. Every stride I asked for softness or bend or more forward … something. And you know what? It really worked! I got some nice trot work out of him that was relaxed, supple, and willing.
The first thing I asked for was some counter bending work. I counter bent him at the trot for half of the circle and allowed him to be on the correct bend for the second half of the circle. We repeated the counter bend/true bend exercise for several minutes and then changed direction. I finally started to feel some real lift in his shoulders and the bending exercise helped him to loosen up.
From there, we went right into some left lead canter work that was soft and light. We cantered a 20-meter circle, then went down the long side, and then repeated the 20-meter circle. It was effortless. We took a very short walk break and changed direction.
As soon as we were tracking right, Sydney tried to come above the bit, but I insisted that he keep his down and that he wait for me. No rushing, no hurrying, and no looking around. I asked for a right lead canter and got it with no fussing. He was a bit strong in his first few strides, but I insisted on softness and he came right back to me. We did a few more right lead canter departures, each one better than the one before it, and then called it a day.
For the whole ride, I just kept telling him that I had all day. There was no need for tension on his part because I was there to do the thinking for both of us, so his best choice was to just hand over the metaphorical reins and enjoy the ride. And that's what he did. I always ride with a purpose, but this felt even more purposeful than before.
I really think I am onto something with this idea that I am not on an amateur friendly horse. Not that I am anything but an amateur myself, but recognizing that my horse isn't going to fill in the blanks for me gives me a whole new purpose.