If you've been reading for all of 45 seconds, you know about the trouble I've had with Sydney to the right: canter, trot, straight - whatever. It's been a long slow road. This horse is teaching me how much I really don't know. But, after this week, I can add a new "feel" to my repertoire.
A few weeks ago, JL figured out from where our biggest issue was coming. We weren't straight. Now, most lower level horses probably aren't straight, and we all know that straightness is nowhere near the bottom of the training pyramid, which is mostly where Sydney and I have been hanging out.
Once JL could really see what was happening, she got to work "fixing" us. Unfortunately, fixing straightness is not easy to teach as it requires the rider to have a very good sense of feel. The rider needs to feel where the crookedness is, correct it, maintain it, and then ride it. So she started with my biggest weakness, the outside rein.
The first thing I had to do was to teach Sydney to wait for my cues so that he didn't rush into the trot or canter. When he did that, he was already off balance. So JL had me work on teaching Sydney to wait for me. That meant I had to be very honest about the outside rein. I couldn't just let him take it and leave. I got pretty good at saying, no … wait for me.
Next, JL had me work on getting Sydney's hindquarters behind his shoulders. She described it as though his hindquarters were trying to pass his front feet. I could stop the front feet from moving, but the hind feet just passed us on the outside.
To get his butt behind his shoulders, JL instructed me to keep Sydney's nose on the rail. If his nose came off the rail, his hind end had drifted to the left. This took a lot of effort on my part. Each time his nose came off the rail, it told me that I had let his shoulder fall into the ring. This is why he whirls and bolts when he is unbalanced in the canter. His butt is pointed out and his shoulders are pointed in; what choice does he have?
So how did I keep his nose on the rail while tracking right? I used a lot of outside rein and outside leg. I rode the circle with no bend. For every single step, I pushed his outside hind in while keeping his nose pointed at the rail. Periodically I would ask for a halt, making sure that his hind end did not fall out. Over the last two weeks, Sydney has gotten stronger and straighter and can now halt without falling over.
We did all of this at both the walk and trot. My goal was to keep his hind end behind his shoulders and still move forward. Little by little, I began to see that I also needed to keep an eye on the inside rein so that Sydney didn't get bent to the outside. That's when I really began to feel whether or not he was straight.
Yesterday's lesson sort of put all of this together. We worked to the left a little bit. We cantered a bit, loosened up his neck, and then I asked him to work to the right with his butt behind his shoulders. The more I focused on keeping his nose on the rail, the more I realized I really needed to ride every outside hind step. Before long, I was using my reins to ride his back end. It was the first time I truly, truly felt him connected back to front.
What stood out the most dramatically for me was the connection I could feel from his outside hind leg to the inside front leg. They were working together perfectly. The sensation that it created was a feeling of moving diagonally. I can only imagine what a half pass feels like!
I also finally, finally got the sense of really needing my inside leg at the girth to give him something to wrap around. And as he got truly light on the outside rein, I could feel when I needed to ask for some inside flexion. Not only could I feel that he needed it, but he was finally in a balanced enough frame to be able to do it.
We literally glided around the arena. I felt as though I was placing each foot where I wanted it to land. Sydney has been so out of balance that he and I were both just frustrated by the image of riding inside leg to outside hand. He was just too crooked to offer a true bend. He couldn't do it. Now that I know how to really get him on the outside rein, and keep him there, I can start to ask for a little bit of inside bend.
And the canter departure to the right? It's getting there. We haven't had a whirl and bolt in several weeks. As I prepare for the canter departure, I remind myself to send him "crabbing" into the direction of the lead I want him to take so that he has weight on his outside hind. And most importantly, if he launches into the canter, I am right there, ready to
"help" him remain balanced on the outside rein.
I cannot wait for the next Christian Schacht Clinic. I think Sydney and I have made a lot of progress in the last six weeks. Good, at-home trainers are worth their weight in gold!