Aside from the excellent under saddle stuff, he has turned into a total snuggle bunny. When I pull into the driveway, he starts hollering for me before I can even get out of the car. And if I pat Speedy's neck first, Sydney practically quivers with anticipation.
While I am tacking up, tightening his girth, or loosening his girth after riding, he tries to rest his muzzle in the crook of my neck, in the small of my back, or on my chest. He lips my zippers and sleeves and nuzzles my hair. It's like he can't get enough of me.
While I've been hand walking Speedy G this week, Sydney has been throwing little temper tantrums in his stall/turnout. He bucks and rears and then throws in this little squeal as we pass by. He kept at it for nearly 30 minutes on Tuesday evening. When it was finally his turn to come out, he eagerly ran to the gate and popped his own nose into the halter.
But this is supposed to be about Monday's lesson.
I hand walked him down to JL's just like I do every Monday, and he followed smartly along side, eager to get there. I ambled over to the mounting block like I always do, and he sidled up to the block making it as easy as possible for me to get on. He always tries to get positioned just right; he likes to make it easy for me.
I sent him to the far end of the arena on a loose rein; this used to require so much work as that end is "scary." I turned to see that JL had sat on the mounting block and was watching us as Sydney and I talked about stretching his neck and stepping under deeply with the inside leg. She was grinning at us; I am sure she was laughing at our conversation.
When I finally got back to JL's end of the arena, I gave her a quick recap of what's been happening. I sent Sydney into a warm-up trot with me up/up/downing and him just stretching and listening. We picked up a right lead canter - no big deal. We came back to trot and did a change of direction. We picked up a left lead canter, also no big deal. Our warm up was done.
We decided to get right to work on trotting a perfectly round circle with no hurried steps. That also meant no rearing, whirling, or any other shenanigan. And that's what we did. We trot that circle several times without anything happening. JL couldn't find anything to say other than, good!
She asked for another right lead canter, but this time she asked me to not let him go on a "loose" rein but to help and support him through the transition. And when she said that, I felt what she wanted me to do. I shortened my reins, took a deep breath, put my outside leg back, put my inside leg on at the girth, and then asked for the right lead canter. Without allowing Sydney to fall apart, I worked both reins keeping the contact firm and steady. I could feel myself asking him to lift into the canter rather than to scramble into it.
All of my hard work, both on myself physically, and on him, is really starting to pay off. I gave him an excellent ride with contact that was supportive and friendly. I took away the guesswork. He didn't need to guess at what I wanted to do. He didn't need to panic at the lack of direction. I told him exactly what to do, where to go and how fast to do it. He positively reveled in the safety of of it.
The whole process took less than 20 minutes. I could very clearly see him thinking about what was happening. This is a brand new thing for him. For two and a half years he has either been dull to what I was asking, or completely over-reacting to what was happening. In the last few weeks he has started thinking about what to do, and he is making decisions rather than just reacting. We are definitely becoming a team.