Dodger is a dark bay, 16.1, TB/Hanoverian cross, approx 15 years old. At some point in his life (probably as a youngster) he suffered a rather severe injury to his right hind leg that resulted in a bowed tendon and some internal damage. I have owned him for 6 years.
We had wandered over into h/j land before settling on dressage as our main focus.
After two years of pretty intense dressage training, Dodger had some physical issues that were starting to flare up and I was starting to wonder if we were headed in the right direction for him. He just didn't seem to be enjoying the work anymore. This is a horse that never says "no", that likes to work. When he started getting resistant and opinionated, I knew something was wrong. A vet check, and a visit to the clinic, confirmed that his right hind just couldn't take the level of work he was currently being asked to do. Long story short - we parted ways with a trainer that didn't agree with the diagnosis.
So, it was the perfect time for a break and a change. I had been watching a western oriented trainer at the barn and really admired how well all of horses went and looked - relaxed, quiet, happy. Just what Dodger needed.
October 2015 to January 31, 2016
First step - learning to relax.
I set aside the dressage tack, bought western tack and started the road to relaxation. We do lots of ground work combined with lots of walk work under saddle.
Our usual ride (and I try to ride 5-6 times per week) is about 30 minutes - that includes some groundwork before, or after, the mounted portion.
Being that our main focus was flat work - we generally worked at that end of the arena. And because the indoor is so large we could generally avoid that bay horse eating ALCOVE.
Now, when the jump end of the arena is open we venture down there to look at the spooky stuff. (Which is actually kind of silly because he used to jump that spooky stuff!) In any event, if he tenses up approaching something "spooky", we stop and stand until he drops his head and readily takes a step forward when asked. This took a LONG time at first! (Dressage horses aren't generally asked to "halt" for extended periods of time :) ) I try to get down there a few times during every ride. On days when multiple things are really scary, I pick one scary thing to work on. Once we succeed, we had back to the "safe" end.
I am starting to tackle the ALCOVE by bits and pieces. Since the stuff in there changes on a regular basis - I do what I can, when I can. Some days, we can walk right up to it - other days not so much. Again, I listen to him. If he tenses we stop and stand and then proceed when he relaxes.
"Whoa" is really coming along, as is standing quietly when asked. Ground tying has been interesting. He gets it - depending on where he is. Great in the indoor, great facing north in the barn aisle, but facing south in the barn aisle is just too spooky for words. He'll be fine for a minute or two and then suddenly, the lead rope or reins, are the spawn of the devil. (Believe me, I've had his eyes checked numerous times - this seems to be a quirky Dodger thing!) So, we work on that a little at time.
I feel as though we've made some steady progress. We participated in trail obstacle night and actually had fun! He seemed to enjoy some of the challenges - others not so much. He is not sure about side passing - esp over a pole - those are for jumping Mom!! (We're working on that too and it's coming along.)
I have started incorporating some trot work - but only after he is totally relaxed and focused on me. My main objective is a nice even rhythm - that he maintains on his own. He seems to appreciate the cue and big release approach - he no longer works with his mouth open. Hmm, I guess that means, as I suspected, that a tighter flash was NOT the answer. (Why, oh why, do we not listen to that little voice in our heads?!)
My first lesson, with the western oriented trainer, is on Saturday, Feb 6. I can't wait to get started!
And here's a pic of my handsome boy at the last dressage clinic we did (Aug 2015). Clinician is aboard.