Slowing down a former 'western pleasure' trained horse (I know...)
Ok, I know the title sounds odd, and I wasn't sure which forum to post this in. I'm looking for possible exercises to do with this gelding.
Purchased about 6 months ago, he is about 7 years old and is decently enough built (a little base narrow in the front and naturally has a bit of snappy knee action going on but isn't down hill or anything like that).
This horse had the start of western pleasure training and he moved VERY mechanical (and still does) in the walk and in the jog. He didn't have a true western lope yet. But he also had a habit of going behind the vertical (vs a straight flat and low neck). He didn't want rein contact. The previous owner actually rode him in western spurs and he wasn't forward at all when we test rode him (and pretty unresponsive/phased by a whip).
We put him in a JP D ring french link and spent the first few months doing alternative work with him to address his 'range of motion' in his movement and trying to allow him to move like a horse (vs a rusted up machine). They did a lot of easy hill work, walking over various types of ground obstacles, riding down into and up out of ditches.
Then they worked on teaching him how to lunge (he 'round penned' but not lunged with purpose) and got him in some really light elastic sliding (vienna type) side reins attached high and on the sides (not between the front legs).
We finally got him walking (riding) on a surrendered rein where he'd flatten his neck and lower his poll below his withers, stretch his nose forward and doing a pretty decent working walk.
We then worked on getting him to transition from halt to walk with a light leg aid and no more spurs or kicking.
Slowly he started trotting out more freely and being more responsive to lighter leg aids. THEN he quickly decided this freedom of movement stuff was great and now he rushes in the trot and canter. Be careful what you ask for, eh?
He rushes and then he trips. A lot. He does not trip out in the pasture, I truly believe this is due to a 'oh heck I'm rushing off, freedom! Oh look a butterfly!" and then TRIP.
So. If we try to do traditional exercises like walk jog / walk trot or even jog /trot transitions he just balls up more with his chin towards his chest and nearly jogs on the spot like a hackney (if a hackney would jog on the spot).
We taught him the voice command of 'easy' in ground work for a 'half halt' and he does it fine on the ground and he does it fine/obediently during riding walk warm ups.
Honestly, I wouldn't call him a HOT horse. He isn't uber sensitive to the aids and on a lead, or out in pasture he doesn't show the same personality as a hot horse does (I have arab crosses and grew up with OTTBs).
I guess I'm asking for some schooling exercises to address the rushing and this conditioned response to curl to the bit when trying to apply the physical half halt aids.
Doing reverses (in the walk) tends to get him into the jig state worse. Stopping and backing is something we also can't use because we had a dickens of a time just getting him to freely move forward with any kind of bit contact that he thought bit contact meant "back it up".
I think he is at a cross roads of letting go of his formal 'education' (and all it's restrictions) and not knowing what to do with his body. We've awaken the beast! LOL
I'm actually thinking a lot of time spent on the trail at this point would do him wonders.
They do ground work with him and show him in-hand (in-hand trail /obstacle versatility). While I think there could be more, it isn't totally lacking. We have started introducing turn on the forehand and the idea of taking a few steps sideways (on the ground).
He's gotten a lot better at lunging and actually looks like his balance at canter has improved there. I'm just afraid now if they keep lunging him he'll just continue to get more fit. I've told them to decrease the lunging time and start adding in ground poles to get him thinking VS getting him more fit. ;-)
Would ground driving him be useful? As in a casual, walking patterns, doing stops, kind of way (as well as an enjoyable activity for his owners to learn while he had time to sort this out). I also had a thought to maybe ride him in some kind of english hackamore / padded side pull.
Other wise this horse ties, loads/hauls, is fine around the farm, not overly spookey, has a pleasant disposition to be around, etc. In all other ways a suitable horse for the advanced beginner owner (they've had a good time hauling him out etc). I just think his former riding training left some big gaping holes in his education.
Sounds to me like he is now just bullying through on the forehand and in return you get a rushing off and can result in tripping if he is a stock type horse. Stock type horses tend to trip if you push them forward and the are not using their hind end to lighten the front end so they are weighing down the front and in a lazy type horse this can result in tripping. Ask me how I know lol. Also I'd check his back because back soreness can make a horse trip, again ask me how I know this as well.
What you I'd probably do is start asking the horse to engage and push. Leg on with a squeeze and up motion and hold a shorter contact. At this stage he isn't probably following the contact down like a stretchy trot in dressage, it is probably just easier for him to carry himself low and on the forehand and you are letting him do it. Pick up the contact but don't hold, you have to give and use your leg and seat to push him into the contact. If he is still curling you are 1. Not using enough leg and seat to engage his hind end or 2. Maybe the riders hands are not steady and he is actually avoiding the bit. If he goes in side reins does he still curl? Trot poles are good but from what I've learned on a stocky built or lazy horse that already trips if you are not rocking him back with a half halt and seat and picking him up with the leg he is probably going to trip over them. Leg yields are good to start getting them stepping more under themselves and SI and HI also help. When you pick up that contact hold through your shoulders not your hands or elbows, elbows should flex and move with each stride of the horse, opening and closing so you have forgiving hands.
Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole