As we were warming up, I gave JL a run down on where we are.
Just as an aside … Even though I ride with her every week and her barn is just 100 yards from my own arena, she doesn't see me schooling during the rest of the week. For me, this is a good thing as it allows me to work on my "homework" with the freedom to make mistakes and try again until I am able to get the feeling on my own.
For this lesson, my homework had been to school the canter to trot to canter transition (right lead). For the most part, I was pleased with what we had accomplished. Even though our canter departures still contain some wildness, I don't back off the request, and I keep the contact until Sydney feels supported enough to make the transition. Sometimes, he canters off on the right lead promptly and correctly. Other times, there are some funky scrambling steps while he's trying to decide what to do.
Once he's cantering obediently, I release with the outside rein and pat his neck in rhythm to the canter. This always gets some extra relaxation. For the downward, JL has really helped me to coordinate my aids: sit to the outside, firmly plant the outside rein (or just hold it especially steady), and rock the inside rein as firmly as necessary to get the trot. Our transition to trot from the right lead canter now actually happens!
As Sydney gets more and more responsive to my aids, he should start making the downward transition with just the weight of my outside aids and less from my inside hand.
For Monday's lesson, JL said I was ready to move on and start getting stricter about where we canter. Up until this point, simply getting that right lead canter and then transitioning back to trot and then picking up the canter again has been the focus. Sydney is now ready to canter exactly where I ask.
The exercise we worked on was cantering on a very prescribed circle. Since we work around jumps, there's not a lot of room for error. If the circle gets too big, we're likely to run into a standard or a pole on the ground, so even though JL doesn't have a dressage court, there are still ways to work on geometry.
We started on a very clearly defined circle making a few transitions from canter to trot and back again. There was one quarter of the circle where Sydney was being resistant. I had to use a lot of inside leg and worked hard to maintain the contact no matter where he flung his head. There were many moments where he was balanced and working in a lovely frame, but then he would decide that he was "done."
During the I'm finished, now moments, he would throw little to big tantrums that included bucking, some rearing, head flinging, and so on. I just kept my eyes forward, jammed my spur in, and insisted that we maintained that exact circle.
When the exercise was finished, JL was very complimentary of my riding and said that the timing of my corrections was perfect, and that nothing I had done to keep him on the circle was random or wrong. Wow, high praise indeed.
Nothing comes without a but. In this case I was happy to hear it. All along I've tried to explain to JL what it feels like when Sydeny dives to the inside of the circle during the right lead canter. She has yet to really see it as he seems to only do it while really anxious, like at clinics and shows. She finally got a glimpse of it during this lesson.
In order to get an inside bend when Sydney just refuses, I pick up my inside hand and move it towards my outside shoulder while adding inside leg. He might not like it, but this fixes his desire to jam his ribcage into my inside leg while he juts his head to the outside and he will move sideways.
During that "sticky" spot on our prescribed circle, I used this technique to get him around. At first, the maneuver worked, but as we continued working, he got so resistant that he managed to dive into the circle anyway. Once JL saw him in action, she was finally able to help me differentiate when to plant which rein, inside or outside.
When he is already bent to the inside, like he was, lifting the inside rein actually pulls him into the circle. It is then that I need to plant the inside rein (he already has an inside bend), and rock the outside rein to slow down the outside shoulder while I use my inside spur to push him sideways.
When he refuses to have an inside bend, that's when I firm up the outside rein, or even plant it, and rock or flex the inside rein to say, hey, let go of your neck!
At the most recent Christian Schacht clinic in December, he had me alternate which hand to plant, but I never understood why he had me switch "planted" hands. Now I get the purpose to that exercise.
We had cantered a ton by the time I understood this technique, so we worked on the sticky spot at the walk and trot. I had a big AHA moment as I could feel how the over-bent neck allowed him to dive in, which required the need to slow down the outside shoulder to straighten him up to get a sideways movement.
So that's my homework for the week. We need to work on a very prescribed circle going exactly where I direct us to go. If needed, I will slow down that outside shoulder so that Sydney stays where I tell him, hence the yes, yes you will!
Bring on the temper tantrums; I can handle it!