I am trying to be more creative with the work that I am doing with Big Guy. It’s rather hard because it all needs to be done at a walk and he’s still building himself back from his injury (pelvis fracture). We have been doing a lot of arena work these last two weeks and frankly, the circling and walking is getting boring. Today I decided to mix it up and advance the training a bit.
Big Guy generally wears a bridle with a bit, though I would like to experiment with a bitless headstall when we go back to riding I will most likely combine the two until he learns the signals from the bitless headstall and the Balance Rein before removing the bit from the equation.
We have already been working with using the Balance Rein (others have called this a cordeo) where a low pull back is a signal to halt. One thing with Big Guy is that it takes him a few moments to actually halt after you asked. It’s not that he is being disobedient; it’s a fact that his body is long and it takes a moment for the train to become fully stopped.
As his hind end becomes stronger, he will be able to stop quicker – moving more of the stopping action to the back will naturally lighten the front end so the exercises I’m discussing here would be good for the “heavy on the forehand” horse. Until the horse can shift weight at the walk, he will not be able to do so at trot, and definitely not canter, let alone during circles and changes of direction.
Back to the Balance Rein – a few things I have learned from the in-hand work is that once he picked up on what I was doing as soon as I approached to lift the BR, he would stop. But this was not in actual reaction to my request, so I would ask him to move forward at walk, while holding up the BR and then pull back low. When he gave the halt, made sure I released quickly.
I also found that if I pulled up on the BR that signal to stop did not connect. Linda Tellington-Jones talks about the horses base of the neck being where you want the BR to connect and as you play with the BR you will see that an up signal doesn’t make as much contact as a low (towards withers) pull signal does.
With the bit, I wanted to play around with what I saw in Phillippe Karls’ dvd (The Philsophy of Ease Dressage he teaches) where he wiggled the bit ring but in an upward motion – not a back motion (which most riders give when they ride).
When I pulled on the ring bit in a backward motion (towards the tail), Big Guy naturally backed. He knows this aid request. However, what I noticed was that there was no change in him lifting the front, neck, poll or head, so though he was activating the hindquarters, was he actually lightening the front? I suspect not.
When I wiggled the bit ring updward, pulling it towards the ears, the neck changed as well as the lift in the front. This is a feel so I may not explain well here – experiment and see if you can feel the difference with your own horse.
During the best results of the upward bit wiggle, Big Guy shifted his chest weight back, and the base of the neck to the poll lightened, rising higher. Of course, when he reacted strongly he backed, but I mostly was looking for that subtler shift of weight where all four legs would be square and his lean (if viewed from the side) would be from the front to the back.
By working this way I noticed too how stiff he is in the neck. When he was massaged here, nothing showed up, however, I know from riding him that when he becomes heavy on the forehand, the head becomes heavy and the feeling in the poll and upper neck becomes rigid.
We will continue to play with this seeing where it goes…