That's because you keep changing your story, and you tell me 20 different things.
That was his response. I reminded him that I had said that Speedy wouldn't be going to any more shows this year. I didn't say anything about Sydney. That's different. Semantics? Anyway ...
I mailed in my entry for Tehachapi, a CDS-rated show being held on the 23rd of September which is less than two weeks away. Truthfully? I am a little excited. Sydney and I have come a long way, and I am eager to see just how far. I am also quite anxious as I don't know how he'll behave in a show atmosphere. I have only taken him off the property a handful of times although he was a perfect gentleman each time.
I had a lesson a week ago. JL was moderately surprised with how relaxed Sydney has become. My reins were still relatively long in the trot work so she suggested we start shortening them. I told her that when I shortened the reins, Sydney would get heavy and tense. Her response was, Don't let him hang on you.
Hmmm ... That was a rather eye-opening suggestion. You mean I have a say in it? My instructions were to keep my body soft, loose, and always moving. I know that sounds ... wrong, but it worked. As we track left, I have to rock both reins (inside, outside, inside, outside) at every stride. When I rock, there's nothing for Sydney to lean on; it worked like a charm. I can now shorten my reins a good six inches which in turn gives me far greater control. He's also softer and feels more relaxed with these better defined aids.
I had a follow up lesson last night. When I picked up the trot, JL sat quietly and watched. I kept waiting for instruction. Her first words to me were these: Now you're riding your horse. Yes, finally! With shortened reins and a better feel, I am able to "catch" Sydney before stuff goes haywire.
JL explained it like this: when Sydney feels strung out or if his butt isn't following his front end, he thinks there must be a problem which scares him. His reaction is to run (bolt) away from the problem. To the left, that happens if I lose the outside shoulder. Now that my feel is getting better, I can tell when I am about to lose that shoulder. I start rocking the inside/outside rein like crazy, and I add LOTS of outside leg. This tells Sydney that I am in control and that there isn't anything for him to worry about.
We had another brief Aha! moment last night. As we were tracking right, Sydney gave a small squeal and tried to "bolt". It was only a small attempt, and I quickly had him back under control. I asked JL what caused the "panic." Apparently, I had made the turn too quickly. I had allowed him to pivot on his hind end instead of having his back feet follow his front feet. This made him feel out of control The solution? As we track right, which is his limp way, it is my job to really push his hindquarters over, over, over. I had to really exaggerate the motion so that I got tons of sideways movement from him. Almost immediately his ears got floppy and he gave some of those nice grunty, breathy whoofs of air.
We spent some time riding random figures - serpentines, loops, 10-meter circles and half circles all the while switching from the left bend to the right bend. This gave me time to practice keeping his outside shoulder in check while tracking left and sending him sideways as we tracked right. It was an excellent exercise.
Once we were finished, JL gave me some good tips for the show. Number one is that I have to "win" if anything goes wrong even if I have to blow the test. That means that if he panics and tries to bolt, I have to put him in the small circle that we've taught him means safety. I have to keep him there until he gives and relaxes. At home, that is never more than a couple of times around my inside leg. At a show of course, that would be a pretty substantial "off course" point deduction. Walking out of the dressage court with a relaxed horse is more important than finishing the test. That's how I will win with Sydney.
It's such a friendly show that if that happens, no one will be upset. The judge will be friendly about it, and show management will know that they've provided a safe environment for me to school my horse.
I am looking forward to giving all of this a try. I'll keep you posted!