The first difficult thing that I asked of him was to load up in the trailer in the near dark at 5:30 in the morning. He didn't exactly barge past me to load up, but it didn't take much to convince him that yes, I really did want him to step on.
It's a two hour drive to the Hansen Dam Equestrian Center. It's a steep climb on California's busiest freeway. It's loud, and since my load is pretty big, I am required to take the truck bypass lanes which means the vehicles traveling around me are, well, trucks. Big, loud, long trucks. Sydney rode quietly and even ate half the hay in the bag.
When we pulled in, he unloaded politely, although he quickly realized that we were parked away from the action of the barns and arenas and quickly became anxious. I've dealt with anxious endurance horses, and they can be a serious pain in the butt. Sydney's version of anxious is to call loudly, listen for a reply, take a few steps to the left, grab some hay, and repeat.
No point in making a novel out of a crappy test so I'll keep it brief. To Sydney's credit, he actually "warmed up," meaning that we could walk, trot, and canter without any wild shenanigans. If you've been following his progress this year you know that's an improvement.
The test itself rode much like the few before. He was tense, but he was also listening and trying very hard. Even when he was disobedient (check out movement 12 down below) he got over it and came right back to me. Even when he reared and whirled at A, he halted calmly as I reached down to pat his neck. (The audience sits at A at this dressage court and when he whirled and reared, they gave a collective gasp and deep sigh when I got his feet back on the ground).
I suspect that my showing confidence is really growing because I feel no pressure to hind my corrections from the judge or audience. This was a schooling show so I felt perfectly comfortable stopping his forward movement before it got out of control. In movement 7, the judge commented that he was running, cantered, and halted. The halt was me saying no faster, let's regroup.
What I learned from this test, which is really the same problem we've had at each show, is that since he is so tense, the canter work puts him over the edge. You can read what the judge said at the first canter, "some resistance in transition, problems on canter circle."
After the test was over, I went back to the warm up and CANTERED. A lot. It was hot, but he needed to release the energy. I finally figured out that he was negatively anticipating the canter cue. When I asked for the canter transition this time, I asked with as quiet an aid as possible. And then we cantered and trot. Cantered and trot. Cantered and walked. Canter spiral in, canter spiral out. We cantered so much that eventually he picked up the canter when I thought the word canter.
Here's the score sheet for Introductory Test C (a lot of 4s!). Tomorrow, the Training Level Test. Not to give away too much, but we rocked it!