I've been working with JL since last summer. She has helped me enormously with Speedy. I started taking Sydney to her last July fully expecting to show him late that summer. That, of course, didn't work out. In fact, the longer I took lessons, the worse he became until finally, it was just too dangerous to ride him in a lesson setting. The pressure and "noise" of the lesson were just too much for him.
I shed a few tears and then devised a new plan. I've spent the past three months teaching Sydney (and me) to just relax. Nothing else. Thoroughbreds are not like Arabs. I've since learned a little about how they think. They don't like to feel pressured and they don't like making mistakes. So, I took off the pressure and gave Sydney many, many opportunities to get the right answer. I learned how much I can push him (not very), and how to reward him when he gets the answer right.
I am happy to say that he is now quite the happy fellow. I took him to a lesson a few weeks ago. JL encouraged me to start turning up the volume, but slowly. Turning up the volume means go a little faster and tolerate the whip and firmer leg pressure. So I did all of those things. We played "Race Horse" - slooooow trot to go, go, go fast trot back to slooooow trot. I started tapping his shoulder with the whip when I needed more go or when I need him to move over. I also started getting firmer with my leg which he learned doesn't always mean GO! Sometimes it means move sideways.
I took Sydney to see JL on Wednesday. I think she was quite impressed with how tolerant he has become. I ride him with quite a loose rein which has encouraged him to go deep and low. JL liked this. He's much looser through his back and swings nicely. Now that I can turn up the volume a little, JL thinks he's ready for more contact. But instead of forward into the contact, which is stressful, we're going to work on sideways to the contact.
We started with the lesson on the pulley halt. This went quickly as I just had that same lesson on Speedy. We started at the walk. Sydney understood it almost immediately. We worked on getting the halt with as little pull on the outside rein as possible. Even if he thought about stopping, he got a release. We then moved on to the trot. Again, piece of cake. His halts started getting quicker and sharper. He understood the purpose of the outside rein. Since he was able to get the right answer right away, he was happy to play the game.
The pulley halt lesson is all about teaching the horse to respect the outside rein. Rewarding even the thought of stopping lets Sydney know that he has the right answer, something an OTTB wants. I could tell he liked the exercise. Once he was stopping smartly with the quietest aid possible, we worked on moving off my inside leg just like we had with Speedy.
The exercise goes something like this: inside leg tap, outside hand squeeze. There can be no forward movement. At first, just Sydney's hind end moved. He still earned a good boy. Next, just his front end moved sideways. He still got a release and a good boy. Little by little I was able to time my leg, seat, and hand aids so that I got a fairly correct lateral movement that included his whole body. That earned a very good boy, and the lesson was over.
My homework is to continue with the pulley halt practice each time he gets ridden. If he responds quickly the first time, move on. If not, continue until he gets it. Then we're to move on to sideways movement until I can continually get the sideways movement while walking in a small circle, spiraling out.
On Thursday morning, I gave it all a try. I could not be happier. The pulley halts went perfectly, even at the trot. The sideways movement was not so easy, so we did a few attempts with some sideways movement, and then we took a nice walk break with some trot circles. After working on the pulley halt and sideways stuff, his trot work was much improved! We then returned to the sideways stuff where I got a decent spiral circle at the walk. Sydney got numerous good boy pats and that was the end of the ride.
What will make this work for us is that I won't take Sydney back for anther lesson until I either feel stuck or ready to move on. With Speedy, I feel like we get it so much faster and are ready for the next week's lesson. Taking away the timetable from Sydney's progress removes the pressure. If it takes me three months to get a good spiral circle at the walk, okay. Interestingly, we actually did two or three decent ten meter circles after the sideways exercises. I think we might be onto something here!
Definitely a two-steps forward kind of day.