Oh, and did you just ask how well it went? It went so well that I laughed and giggled about how much fun Sydney was to ride!
Yep. You heard me. He was FUN! When we finished, JL couldn't get over what a different horse he was from two weeks ago when she last saw him. He was friendly to her, eager to be scratched and pet, his ears were floppy, he got right to work, and there was none of the tension in his body that's been present since day one.
I wish I could pinpoint the exact reason for his more relaxed attitude, but I know it started with the Acepromazine. The Fluphenazine has certainly had its effect as well. I suspect the pharmaceutical help created an atmosphere that allowed me to lose my fear, which in turn helped Sydney relax. Smartpak's daily calmer pellets might also be having an effect other than creating expensive poop. And to top it all off, feeding him while tacking up in the afternoons seems to have removed any of the last of his anxiety. Whatever the reason, we can now really get some work done!
Before we started the lesson, I explained to JL what I was seeing in the canter and what you all suggested. She nodded thoughtfully and had me try an exercise designed to get Sydney off my leg. She had me trot in the smallest circle that I could manage (to the left), so small that she could touch my boot the entire rotation. The point was to keep Sydney's nose to the inside with my inside rein while still allowing him to bend on the outside which meant my outside hand had to move forward - think bicycle handle bars. I also had to bump, bump, bump with my inside leg while keeping my outside leg ready to keep his hindquarters from popping out.
Once I had this under control, we went to the right. OHHHHH! I had to use LOTS of leg to keep him moving forward and then to keep his butt from swinging out.
We moved to the left lead canter where JL had me try a second exercise. For every two strides I was to rock, rock the same rein. Think about rowing: two strokes on the left, two strokes on the right. Rocking the rein on the inside was easy, but when I tried to rock the outside rein, he turned right. This revealed that I wasn't using my outside leg or seat. Repeat. I rocked left side, left side, right side (add leg!) right side (add leg!). This is when the lesson got fun. Feeling the rhythm of the canter and asking him to swing his neck helped us both immensely. We both got more and more balanced and Sydney got pretty darn quiet.
When we moved to the right, it only took several starts to pick up the canter without him falling completly into the circle. The third "exercise" wasn't really an exercise as it was more about my body position. I have a tendency to "help" my guys pick up the canter by leaning forward. Big no-no. JL had me focus on staying tall in the saddle as I cue for the canter. That helped a lot.
Not only is Sydney stiff, but he also tilts his head to the outside which allows him to escape the bend. To help with this, JL had me lift with the inside rein to keep him from twisting his head to the outside. AHA!
That helped almost more than anything.
The final piece of the canter lesson had to do with NOT over bending. As Sydney leans on my inside leg, I have a tendency to increase the bend in an effort to get him off the leg. Nope. This just causes him to fall in even more. That's where the rocking motion comes in. JL gave me two choices: rock the inside rein, or give him a big upward pull to say, HEY! LET GO!!!!! And if that still doesn't work? Stop him hard with the inside rein and regroup. I had just been pulling harder and harder to the inside which wasn't getting us anywhere.
I had the most fun riding this horse. He has a really nice uphill canter that feels powerful with lots of lift and impulsion. Now that we've fixed a bunch of tension/anxiety issues, we're going to be having a lot of fun!