I realized yesterday that I haven’t lunged Dixie yet and don’t even know if he lunges. He is so grown up about everything that I haven’t felt the need to lunge. With most young horses I like to teach them how to lunge. This is a great way to get them comfortable with your body language, teach them to move forward, establish whoa and give them an idea of what contact feels like. I am not overdependent on lunging but it serves many purposes in retraining horses that have incorrect muscling. I use either vienna reins, side reins or a chambon based on the horse and their way of going. It’s really rewarding to watch horses that come in traveling like giraffes discover how to relax their back and start to seek the contact. I may use lunging in between rides or lunge for 5-10 minutes before a ride to get them relaxed in the back and going forward. Some ottb’s can be coldbacked and lunging allows them to stretch themselves without having to stress about the rider. Of course lunging is always a way to let them get the feel good behavior out of the system but I am careful not to let them think lunging is a free for all session. They always wear a lunge cavesson, surcingle and vienna reins (most of them).
Dixie does not feel like a young uneducated horse and I would have to say whoever broke him as a baby and rode him at the track did a great job. I have increased the technical aspects of our riding since the basics are already in place. I am not starting to ask him to work into a bit of contact. He figured out how to move off the leg in about one day and he comes nicely from behind. I have been working at the walk to ask him to start to soften the jaw and have a little inside bend. He is stiffer to the right than to the left. To the right I will open my inside rein with soft pulses and make sure I am soft with my outside rein so I allow the neck to come around to the right. His reaction to the soft squeezes and opening rein is to open his mouth and chew which is not at all a bad thing. He wanted to escape the pressure he felt by pulling down with the open mouth. I would add a bit of leg and keep asking. As soon as he softened I would soften and allow my hands to follow his mouth. We worked on our spiral circle at the walk and I kept asking with the opening inside rein that he supple his neck to the right while using the inside leg to ask him to slide his body left. He is a quick learner and was figuring this out.
He wanted to go really low…in a way he’s trying to escape but I reward any attempt they make at stretching. The main thing I think about when riding is to make sure I always have a feeling hand. It’s okay to give soft squeezes or maybe a little pulse to ask them to soften the jaw. You never want to hang or pull because they find that easy to pull back on. You will never be stronger than a horse but you can be quicker so if they start to take a hold I just very quickly will do a squeeze and soften and repeat as needed. This keeps the jaw from locking up. Don’t get crazy and start see sawing or flexing them left and right. It’s very subtle and you keep asking them to move into the contact with the leg.
Going to the left he likes to over-bend so to the left we worked on a slight counter-bend again making sure the left rein was soft and the right rein was asking him to stay straight. We won’t always do the counterbending but I find using square turns really helps them become straighter and then over time you will be able to be more subtle but still keep keeping the shoulders and hind end straight.
As he has gotten stronger the trot to canter transitions have smoothed out. They aren’t perfect but are not something I worry about at this stage of training. He has a nice canter and is now starting to enjoy cantering again. I actually saw him canter in the field the other day which was cool (he was too scared to move in the beginning :))
I took him out for a trail ride by himself on Sunday. He looked at things and we would stop and let him take it all in. He’s more curious than scared so he would look until he felt comfortable and then I would ask him to walk by. He did a great job and is so brave for a horse in a new environment. I love the way he thinks about new things and does not panic. I would take the stop and stare over prop and run any day!
The goal this week is to keep working on the bending and baby lateral work which allows him to start to unlock his body. We will also be introducing a few more jumps and adding some rails 9ft out to help him understand what his body should do.