Courage is a challenge, plain and simple.
|but a pretty one|
He's also a horse who is VERY tight in his back.
So how do I mechanically explain to him from the ground that I need him to give through his entire topline?
I started by putting him on the lunge in his vienna reins on a 5m(ish) circle. I asked him to come forward and give to the bit at the same time in the walk.
|surcingles for lazy days|
For my specific horse and his specific conformation, this means AT LEAST tracking at the walk and trot with his neck actively reaching down and his poll comfortably below his withers.
I really like the lunge line for this stuff--horses learn from the release of pressure, and it lets me release the instant he gets something right. I keep him in vienna reins to limit his range of "leaving" responses. We work in the indoor to limit distractions. Our first session was short and just w/t.
The picture above shows exactly what I'm trying to achieve--hips lowered, bigger angle in his hind legs than his front, soft through his entire topline. It's just a stride, but this is a weight lifting exercise and he needs time to understand the concept, then more time to get stronger.
He's not being naughty. He just found a response that I couldn't/didn't correct and since that meant there wasn't pressure, it must be right. I mean. It's the path of least resistance.
|not always the path he chooses|
This is tricky with Courage. I don't lunge him with a whip because to this point, whips haven't added to the conversation in a constructive way. He's sort of okay with the stick, but likes to overreact to new things to see what happens.
|I have an impossible time capturing good media of ground work, so you get this sub-par picture.|
First, he got a "stop and take a break" full release for walking calmly with the stick on his shoulder.
Next, he got a full stop and break release for putting his head down while walking.
Then it got tricky--he was tentative about the whole stick thing, so he REALLY didn't want to give through his topline, which he has to do to use his back end correctly. I switched to taking pressure off/giving him a slightly bigger circle to reward the release of putting his head down.
It took a while, but he started to give me the same stretch and engagement in the walk that I had been getting the week before, but now less the "throw shoulder in and speed around" response.
Trotting was the next puzzle--I wanted him on a slightly bigger circle but I didn't want to chase him.
However. He's sensitive and the concept was starting to make sense. I was able to put him on more of an 8-10m circle and just point the stick at his shoulder to keep it out. That also transferred well to pointing at his hips to ask him to move them out.
And when we switched to the other side, it was even easier.
That was our entire session for the day. I immediately dropped the stick, pulled the vienna reins, and loosened his girth.
|pictured: a different day|
This works for him not because I am a ground work goddess, but because I've slowly built it up, piece by piece. A couple times a month, we take a fun day and do simple ground work in a rope halter. He has clear, consistent boundaries and he understands what I'm asking. I try to only add one new skill at a time. It's never about getting after him or wearing him out--it's a way for us to work together and get on the same page.
It may. It may not.
I do like how enthusiastically he participates when he understands what I'm asking. I'm curious to see where this takes us.
And let's be real. I love the challenge.