The only way I can simulate the tension that Sydney shows me in the show ring is to find places near home where he feels the same tension. So far, that appears to be most anywhere outside of the arena. As he gets comfortable in each place, I have to keep stretching to find a new place that causes tension.
My plan for Wednesday, which was still hot as holy hell by the way (99℉), was to skip the neighborhood loop and go straight to the grass field. I again gave Sydney a quick shower, saddled him up, and left the barn area. As anticipated, he dove for the grass, but this time I said, no, and urged him forward.
We passed the two barking labs with a small spook, but he came back to me very quickly and we continued on. Once we arrived at the field, I sent him in a circle in the grass. We road a circle or two at the walk, and then I let him graze. We did this a few times, moving down, and further into the field, after each circle.
When I thought that he was relaxed and listening, I asked for a trot. It wasn't great work, but at least it wasn't a hell bent for leather kind of thing either. He wasn't super round or completely on the bit, but his mouth was dripping foam, and he gave some really good stretches. There were also a few tense moments where I had to make the circle smaller and remind him that my spur was there, and I was prepared to use it!
We worked for a good twenty minutes and then made the turn for home. As we entered the last grove of trees, I have to duck a bit, Sydney saw an opportunity and threw a small fit that involved some crow hopping. Drat! I righted myself and sent him in some circles that required a ton of effort on his part. It seemed to send him a message. As we entered the driveway, I spent some time working on halts.
Each day, Sydney has shown drastic improvement. My secret goal (although not so secret now), is to work him in the field at walk, trot, canter without feeling like an explosion is imminent. At the walk, check. At the trot, mostly check. I don't know if I can get to the canter before Sunday's show.
We've made a ton of progress in a week, but I just don't know if it's enough.