I start every ride, lesson or not, the same way. We do a nice bit of walking on a loose rein. As I am thinking about getting ready to trot, I gather up the reins and ask for a nice medium walk with the horse "on the bit," or at least something close. Once I feel he's listening, I squeeze for the trot. Speedy needs a squeeze or two and sometimes a tap with the whip. He knows exactly what I want, but he tries to act tough about his resistance with a pinned ear and a swish of the tail. A thwack with the whip and suddenly he's all about yes ma'am! Sydney, on the other hand, acts completely ignorant of the squeeze. I squeeze a second time more firmly. If there's no response, I haul off and kick him like I mean it which always gets his attention. Wednesday was lesson night and since Sydney's been getting a little dead to my leg when I first ask him to trot off, I decided to ask only once. He didn't get a second chance. When I didn't get a reaction after that first ask, I kicked, and he shot forward.
JL laughed at his response. I guess he's awake now, she said. Neither of us knew how awake he was! Sydney was fully awake and rather peeved. As I asked for the turn left, he bolted to the right and refused to bend his neck to the left. I pulled left, but he threw his head into the air and just got faster. I could hear JL calmly telling me to hold the bend and ask for forward movement with my outside leg.
JL's arena is filled with jumps, and I was just too afraid of crashing into anything as Sydney bolted. Instead, I pulled him right and got a whoa. I tried several times to turn him left, but each time he threw up his head violently and bolted even farther across the arena. JL continued to school me through his tantrum, but I just couldn't get over the fear of crashing through the jumps or the arena fence. JL told me to hop off. Crap. The first time that I couldn't do what she asked ...
Rather then let him continue to win the battle, JL had a trick in mind to show Sydney that yes, he could (and would) bend to the left.
We pulled Sydney's saddle and put him in a stall. JL braided his tail and threaded a lead rope through the braid. She tied it off and attached the clip end if the rope to the left side of his bit. She walked out of the stall and let him stand a minute or two to figure out what had happened. He took a few steps and started bending to the left. Oh ... Once he seemed relaxed, JL said that she was now going to be my right leg. She carefully stepped into the stall and whacked Sydney's right hind end with the whip. He immediately resisted the left bend and tried to bolt right as he had done with me in the arena. Instead, he felt his tail pull on the inside rein. It took less than five minutes for him to give left when she tapped his right side. OH ...
JL quietly asked him to whoa and removed the lead rope. She told me to re-saddle him and act as though nothing had happened. He wasn't stressed or fussing, but he did have a pretty interesting look on his face. I hopped back on and JL had me immediately ask for the look at my left knee exercise. As expected, he bolted to the right. JL had warned me that he might do that. She confidently assured me that he wouldn't crash into anything and that at worst, he might knock down a few rails which would hopefully scare the bejesus out of him.
It was extremely scary to do, but I held the left bend firmly and tried to send him forward with my right (outside) leg. While my leg was ineffective, I was strong with that inside rein. I didn't let go. He didn't crash into anything. He bolted all the way across the arena, and I could see jump standards flying by us, but he stopped just short of the fence. He bent to the left, and I patted his right shoulder. Good boy! I sent him forward. We returned to the working end of the arena and JL had me repeat the look at my knee exercise. This time, he bent left. We did several circles and then JL had me send him faster. Pretty soon he was bending to the left at a quick-step trot, trot, trot.
AHA! We widened the circle and got the most uphill, balanced, and collected trot work to date.
Sydney is bigger and much more powerful than Speedy G. It felt like I was riding a knight's charger from King Arthur's court. Holy guacamole can that boy move! JL actually looked sort of stunned. Her comment to me was that this horse is an athlete!
Once we had him on the bit and moving in a round frame, we worked the circle a few times focusing on maintaining a steady rhythm. And then we were done. It felt like a two hour lesson, but when I looked at my watch, I was shocked to see that the whole thing only took 48 minutes. Those were the most learning-filled 48 minutes I've ever had!
Today I am taking Sydney on a field trip. We're doing a Ride-a-Test with a local USDF L Graduate serving as our judge. I hope that I can pull together all that we learned at this week's lesson. This boy can definitely do it if I ride him correctly. Wish us luck and I'll share the results with you later this week.