I am actually smiling because of the work that Sydney did the very next day. Yep. He had a lesson on Monday. If Speedy has a show over the weekend, I generally give him a lesson-free Monday as I don't feel as there is anything to gain by it.
With Sydney, going straight back to work seemed like a very good way to reinforce the idea that he has a J-O-B and must leave home to perform it. At JL's and spent a few minutes walking the whole perimeter of the arena, not something I regularly do. At the far end, he got a little high headed and tense, but I saw it as an excellent schooling opportunity. I added lots of leg and leaned back. As soon as he stretched his neck forward, I softened my hand and leg pressure and allowed him to really reach down into the bridle.
JL met us at the working end of the arena where we discussed the show and came up with even more strategies for dealing with Sydney's nervous and anxious attitude. She put it like this: we need to really start putting some pressure on him so that he'll know how to react at a show. He'll be used to the "loud" exercises so he won't be scared of them when I do them during a warm-up. Her strategy sounded a lot like school a higher level than you're showing. Sure enough, that's what she had me do.
Before we really started working though, I showed her where we are. She had nothing to add or correct. He worked beautifully at the trot and canter in both directions stretching into the contact with a nice bend. I was so proud of him, and me too, frankly.
In order to show off the trot and canter that we have developed, we need to accustom him to harder work. The first exercise was to lighten his front end. You'll remember that JL is a hunter/jumper, and not a dressage trainer. I am guessing that thinking of lightening the front end is much the same as having him collect himself more by using his hind end.
To achieve this, we went back to the 1-2, 1-2, 1-2 canter (two counts neck bent in, two counts neck straight, two count neck counter flexed). Once we had that rhythm going smoothly, she directed me to shorten my reins and and ride the canter with only the counter bend. As we circled, she had me make the circle smaller and smaller. It took me a few tries to recognize that doing this takes a boatload of outside leg to lift the outside shoulder with just as much inside leg to keep the canter going.
Once I could coordinate both legs and hands, we got some really small canter circles. When he would get stuck, I had to really shorten my reins so that I could rock, rock, rock him past the stuck spot. Eventually, I aimed for just a few strides where he was really light in my hands and lifting his shoulders. As soon as I felt that softness, we returned to a normal bend for a few strides where I sent him back out on the circle. We then came right back to being counter bent on the small circle and then back to the regular bend.
JL summed up Sydney's training like this: I need to get him to let go and move forward, and that's basically it. So from here on out, everything I do will be with that in mind: forward and let go. That was the problem at the show; I had the forward, but he wouldn't let go through his poll, neck and shoulders.
The second exercise was virtually identical to the first, but it was done at the trot. This version felt harder for me as the canter has more jump to it. But we did the same thing; counter bend in a small circle to pick up the shoulder for a few strides, but then back to a regular bend and a large circle.
By the time we finished, he was so light and responsive. He made me feel like such an accomplished rider. I really think he has a lot of buttons already installed; I just need to learn how to press them correctly. I see a lot of road for us to travel. He definitely has a lot of potential that I haven't seen yet.