Using the side reins gave me a new understanding of Speedy's natural desire to bend right. It's so easy for me to feel that he is being naughty in his resistance rather than that it is just hard work for him. Speedy is so smart and communicative that I frequently give him far more powers of reasoning than he probably has!
Watching him on the lunge line with the side reins attached, I could see that he was trying to work it out. He tried really hard to tip his head to the outside, but each time he caught the inside rein. As he circled, I watched him tilt his head this way and that searching for the release. it took a few days, but I think he finally figured it out.
I also figured it out. He was only able to do so because the rein was STEADY. When I ride, I have to have hands that act like side reins if I really want him to listen to my inside leg.
I rode him for the first time in a week on Saturday. He had been worked in the side reins for the week, but I hadn't ridden him because I wanted him to feel a fixed inside rein. I lunged him again on Saturday, but then I put him back in his stall while I lunged and rode Sydney. This served two purposes: first, I wanted him to have time to process what he might have learned, and second, I wanted him to work twice in a day like he might at a show.
As I knew he would, he came out of the stall eager to get to work. At a show, he knows what's coming for the second ride and doesn't find it stimulating. At the barn, he never knows what we're going to do when he comes out of the stall so he's always eager to find out.
Since he was relatively warmed up, I skipped the long rein walk and put him straight to work. While walking the arena's perimeter, I had him bend his neck and asked for some sideways steps. Step, step, step ... forward. After one lap, I asked him for a trot, but I was vigilant about the inside rein AND my inside leg AND the outside rein AND the outside leg.
As I asked him to pick up the trot, I insisted that he move OVER as he picked up the trot. I recently discovered that I have been letting him fall in when he takes his first trot or canter step. I have let him do the same thing in the downward transitions, too. No more.
I don't know how many dressage riders it would take to screw in the light bulb that appeared over my head during that ride; it was huge. I finally, finally felt how I need to coordinate my inside leg to my outside hand while using my inside rein and my outside leg. Oh, and my seat.
In order for Speedy to hear my leg, there has to be a steady bend and a FIRM outside hand. When I use that inside leg, I have to MAKE SURE that he moves away from it and NOT forward. And in order for that outside rein to be heard, I HAVE to use my outside leg to keep his haunches from falling out. Seriously. I could hear puzzle pieces clicking into place almost in fast forward.
So what happened? Why did I all of a sudden get it? I am pretty sure that the main problem has been unevenness in my reins. I've learned to keep steady contact, but it hasn't been even. If I had a good bend, I threw away the outside shoulder. If I was strong on the outside rein, I lost the inside bend. Seeing Speedy in the side reins really helped me visualize what needs to happen to get him to bend his body around my inside leg.
We don't have it mastered of course, but once I really "feel" something, I can't un-feel it. I am eager for a few more rides to really cement this learning!