Tonight I had a great ride on Phil. We seem to be really clicking the last few rides. After a week of trying to desensitize him to my hand movements I took a week off to let him relax. I didn't want to make every single ride stressful and full of fear for him (although I will return to the desensitizing). So this past week I have been toning my hand movements way down. But I'm still releasing with my inside rein, it's just very subtle. And he seems to be okay with it.
He's starting to be more consistent with his rhythm, and is more willing to go slow and not rush off so much. Our contact is also getting more consistent, but still needs work. One new thing I've added is trying to get him to stretch down.
You know what I'm talking about - that dreaded "stretchy circle" where you make your reins long and allow the horse to stretch it's head forward and downward. I feel like so many people try to gimmick their way into this movement, but there is only one real way to make it work every time in the test - you teach your horse to stretch into your hand and seek the contact.
It's been a struggle with Phil, for two reasons. First he was taught to back off of the bit, so no matter how long my reins were he wanted to "set" his head in a position and not move it. Once I showed him that I wanted him to make and maintain contact with my hand, every time I made my reins long he would go faster, causing me to shorten my reins and half-halt to slow him down. This was actually making it a little worse, because he would get scared when I took up on my reins and would then go even faster.
I had to think for a few rides about how to handle it, and here is what I came up with. I started him on a ten meter trot circle, and then let my reins out. Even though he wanted to speed up, he couldn't get much speed going in such a small circle. I continued to try and keep contact, keep him calm and slow, and encourage him to stretch down. Every time he even thought about stretching down I praised him a lot. After a few circles one direction I changed to the other direction, still keeping a small circle.
A few rides later and I'm able to make larger circles, and he's actually stretching down into the contact. We're not up to 20 meters...it's more like 12-15, but I think we are making progress. The biggest challenge, after actually getting the stretch, is going to be for me to be able take up on my reins without Phil getting scared of my hands moving around.
But we're working on it, and he's trying. And making progress. I can't ask for more.
And Kaswyn is just a peach. That horse is worth his weight in gold. He is still giving lessons and allowing me my rides too. Heart of gold, that one. I love him so.
Oh, and just as I was leaving the barn this evening I heard a huge banging. I ran down to the stalls just in time to see Phil's door go flying off the track. I heard wood splintering and saw his stall door hanging from one track. I ran to his stall and found him standing there, scared but okay. He was covered in sawdust so I'm guessing he rolled and got himself cast, panicked, and thrashed until he got his feet under himself, kicking his door off in the process.
I got the door open and moved him to the only empty stall in the barn. He seemed okay, no blood or big bumps anywhere. We'll see how he is tomorrow. But this better not be a habit cause I don't want him to get hurt. I'm just glad the door gave before his leg did!