I`ve been working with a Welsh cob, Llani, who has done a fair bit of showing a couple of years ago and has some issues to overcome, and the last couple of days he`s really started making big steps forward.
He`s quite a forwards, spirited horse but he feels like he has been ridden with the handbrake on – from hand to leg as opposed to leg to hand. Initially I spent a couple of weeks lunging Llani naked, to let him feel free and unrestricted as well as improving his balance and suppleness. The first few sessions he trotted with his head in the air in a disjointed trot. You could see the muscles in his neck starting to relax and work properly, but when you reached his back the ripple of muscles stopped. I`ve only concentrated on walk and trot, with the odd canter to loosen him up, but also letting him trot over random poles to encourage him to lift and flex his back a bit more. Yesterday we had a breakthrough. Llani gave a snort and let his breath out, showing he was actually relaxing, and then his head dropped and the wither lifted. His stride is already very floaty, but it changed in cadence as he engaged the correct muscles. Finally, you could see his body rippling down from his ears to his dock. He only managed to keep this position for a stride before losing his balance and raising his head.
Today Llani settled quicker into a steadier rhythm and started lifting and working over his back a bit quicker and holding the frame for longer periods, which is great news. The next task I have is teaching him to change the rein easily. As a show horse he was never led from the off side and when I turn to stand on his right, he spins on the forehand to look at me. It`s very frustrating because he doesn`t seem to learn! Once I can stand just behind his girth I can usually send Llani away from me, but timing is of the essence because if I spend too long by his side he reverses to look worriedly at me. I`ve taken to leading him from the off side too, to try and desensitise him. He`s getting better and tonight he keenly walked by my left shoulder, instead of dragging himself behind and to the right of me.
In terms of riding Llani I`ve been doing a lot of hacking to encourage him to take a more even rein contact and to be a bit straighter through his body. I`ve been getting him up in front of my leg so that he is less likely to spook at any ghosts, and this is also helping him take the contact forwards and stretch at the base of his neck. I`ve done bits and pieces of schooling with him, focusing on his rhythm and suppleness by riding hundreds of circles.
Below are some photos taken on the ground, at the beginning of the last schooling session, in the middle and then you can see Llani starting to stretch at the base of his neck in the last photo. He`s used to being held together in quite a collected outline, so all of this is very alien to him, but after the last couple of days work I`m hoping he`ll start to understand what I want from him more.
Llani before being worked.
Slowly thinking about taking the contact forwards in walk.
The first trot, when he likes to put his head in your face.
Cooling down and learning how to stretch slowly.