While Sydney is stiff, he enjoys being loosened up and gets a lovely swing through his back once he relaxes. I am finally realizing that his shape and build make dressage easier for him than for Speedy. He is built more uphill and has a better top line than Speedy does. He is also much more willing to accept contact and actually enjoys stretching out and down.
When I first get on Sydney, we always walk on a loose rein. This week, I’ve allowed the rein to be fairly loose, but I’ve tucked my fingers under the strap. Within a minute, Sydney lowers his head and neck and walks along very relaxed. He no longer starts out with a giraffe neck. The strap helps me keep my hands low and quiet which tells him to go low and quiet.
When we pick up the trot, I also keep my fingers tucked under the strap. For the last two months, I have started out with my knuckles pressed into my thighs to keep my hands quiet as well as to encourage myself to ride with my seat and less with my hands. The strap serves the same purpose, but it allows me to keep my hands in a more natural positon.
As I feel Sydney get more relaxed, I slowly let go of the strap, but I focus on maintaining contact with it so that my hands, particularly the right one, don’t get too high. If Sydney starts to resist, flip his nose, or root, I re-establish the steady contact by slipping a finger under the strap and adding leg. As we continue our warm up, I also slowly shorten the reins. This usually causes Sydney to tense and bounce his nose, but as soon as I tuck a finger under the strap, he actually reaches and accepts the shorter rein length.
On Wednesday night, for whatever reason, Sydney had a bee in his bonnet and couldn’t relax. The strap was extremely helpful when tracking left. I tucked my left fingers under and was free to focus on slowing down the outside shoulder without losing the inside bend. The next night I did the same thing while tracking right. The strap is really giving me a better feel as to what steady really means.
And then there's Speedy G ...
Speedy is so heavy on the left rein that while the strap is very helpful, it is physically difficult for me to maintain my hold on the strap as he resists the left bend; he’s that heavy. JL suggested I put him in a bitting rig for a few days with a slightly exaggerated bend to let him work through the problem without fighting me in the process.
Several times this week I did just that. Speedy’s a smart boy and while he wasn’t thrilled to have his neck bent in the side reins, he didn’t fuss or throw a tantrum. It took him a bit to trust that he could go forward even though he couldn’t stretch his neck out. I tend to be overly cautious with the side reins, so I know they weren’t too short. To prove to him that he would get a release by softening his jaw and poll, I left the outside rein fairly long and shortened the inside rein to where I have been holding it with the use of the strap.
The first day we tried this exercise, he resisted the inside bend, but by the second day, I could see a little slack in the inside rein and I was able to push his body away from the whip’s tip much more easily. I paid special attention to the inside hind leg and really asked it to step up and under himself (to the best of my ability). By the third day of the exercise, the lunge line was slack as Speedy trot around me without falling in or tugging on the line. We did a series of trot to canter to trot transitions that I was really happy with.
On Saturday, I lunged him one more time before riding. I know that it will take him a while to build up the outside hind and really learn to stretch his right side. Now that I understand his stiffness, I can help him loosen up.