Sydney is back to work - woohoo!
We were two weeks without riding. But after Monday night's lesson, I feel pretty good about where we are. I had been so worried about all of our recent progress just slipping away while he was sidelined with a hoof injury. I needn't have worried.
Sydney was still lame as of Saturday afternoon, but by Sunday, he looked sound enough for a let me check kind of ride. I couldn't have been happier with him. After two weeks of no work with only two or three turn outs, Captain Awesome was present and ready for duty. He didn't squeal, toss his head, or resist in any way. He seemed very happy to be back under saddle.
I asked for some simple trot work without a lot of contact and then asked for a walk to canter transition in both directions. The departures weren't great, but he did do them. With that, I called it a day and decided that he was sound enough for a lesson the next day.
JL is great about letting me tell her where our sticky spots are. I am sure she has some kind of outline or plan, but since she only sees me once a week, she does sort of leave it to me to let her know what I want to work on. Right away I told her about wanting to improve our walk to canter transitions. It turned out to be a really great lesson.
We warmed up with some suppling exercises; bend your neck this way and so on. From the trot, I asked for a left lead canter and then worked on softening him and having him round up without transitioning to the trot. Once we were good there, JL brought us back to a walk and asked for another canter departure. For the rest of the lesson, we worked on really slowing down Sydney's front end so that he could coil up his rear end for the canter departure.
The number one problem I was having was letting him hurry into the canter from the walk. When the walk is hurried, it sends him the message that the canter must be hurried. He then leaps into the canter and begins to gallop. So to improve our canter, we improved the walk. I struggled with feeling confident in saying NO to his quick steps. JL repeatedly reminded me that I am not hanging on him nor am I pulling back. It was okay to ask for lightness at a collected walk.
If I insisted that he get light and wait for me at the walk, it only improved his canter. JL also had me think about where the canter comes from. I need to slow down the front because the canter is coming from the hind legs. If he is "running" with his front legs, his hind end has to work much harder to catch up which is why he departs at a gallop.
Once I "got it," I was super vigilant about slowing down the walk by gently working both reins by sliding or sponging. As he leaned into my hands to "run" I just pulsed the rein and added leg. My message to him over and over was to slow down the front end but move it with the hind end. Once I felt him light up front and coiled behind, I softly ask for a canter departure.
We had a few, very wild departures on the wrong lead. It took JL a few times to see what I was doing wrong. I was worrying about the inside bend so much that I was forgetting my outside rein. Sydney was leading through his outside shoulder which caused him to pick up the right lead. When I straightened him up with the outside rein, it sent him into the circle on the correct lead.
When I was done with the lesson, I realized that Christian would have probably had me think about shoulder in rather than moving into the circle like JL did. I think it's the same concept, just different vernacular.
Once I had Sydney's shoulders in front of his hind legs, he was able to pick up the canter from the walk. The second element we had to fix was the immediate transition to gallop. While he was picking up the correct lead, he was leaping into a wild gallop that included head flinging. To fix it, I quit using the inside rein to get a bend and focused on protecting that outside should with the outside rein. Bingo - we had it!
When we got one really nice departure without the wild galloping, we ended the lesson. JL was really pleased with how calmly Sydney had dealt with the repeated mistakes. In the past, he would have been so anxious about doing the wrong thing that he would have checked out in self-defense. For this lesson, he stayed in the game and kept trying. That wasn't to say he wasn't a bit tense, but I could feel that it was more about trying really hard to anticipate what I wanted. As my aids became clearer, he was relieved to let me be in charge.
Our homework is to improve the walk by removing the hurry. Sydney and I have definitely come a long way!