But I digress ... this was a brilliant lesson as JL rode for the first half of the time while I was able to watch, listen, and video. With JL aboard, she helped me discover a few things: yes, his neck is stiff, especially to the left; yes, he is heavy, but only because he really hasn't been asked to go lightly; and his whoa! is woefully inadequate. I watched her school through some of these issues, and then I hopped on (after switching out her saddle for mine - she's a hunter/jumper, not a dressage trainer) and went to work.
One of the first mistakes JL helped me to correct was what to do when Sydney's nose popped into the air to evade the bit. Before, I had been alternately rocking and squeezing the rein to ask him to lower his head. Nope. Instead, she had me pull both elbows back, hold the rein steady to create a "fence board" and add leg to push him forward. He either ran into the "board," or learned that the release came from softening and lowering his head. I had to learn to be patient and stick with the firm hold. It took about half the circle before I felt Sydney start to soften and lower. Once I felt him start to give, that's when I started to gently rock or pulse the rein. Somehow that conveyed to him that yes, lowering your head is the right answer! And because you did, I am now going to soften my hands.
Fortunately, Sydney gave me several opportunities to practice this new way of asking for softening. Much like I've done with Speedy G over the last month or two, our focus now is on asking for soft with a light contact. Eventually we'll move to a firmer contact, but for now, it seems as though both of my horses need to trust that I can be softer than they are. I think I'll call it the "Who Can be Softer?" game.
Here's the video of JL schooling Sydney. If you don't have a regular trainer, you'll probably enjoy watching her work. Remember that she's a hunter/jumper trainer so her riding style is going to be quite different than what you might be used to. Softness doesn't come from the saddle in which you ride. I am learning that instead, it comes from how you use your seat, legs, and hands. Enjoy!