When I first get on, I start by letting him look around. So many trainers discourage this insisting that you should get the horse to focus on you instead. I totally agree, but Izzy seems to need just a minute or two to stare. At what, I usually don't know, but it seems to help if I let him just get it out of his system.
The next thing we do is walk at least ten minutes. During that time, I start out by weighting my inside seat bone until I either feel his back swing away from my seat bone or until he drops his head. Then I ride with both seat bones evenly weighted for a few strides forward until he drops his head. Then I weight the outside seat bone until he either swings away from it or drops his head.
Once I have him listening at the walk, we pick up the tiniest trot and repeat. When he's particularly tense like he was on Sunday after having several days off, I keep the trot as small as he needs. With his back so tight, he can't stretch into a bigger trot.
As I loosen his back by weighting one seat bone and then the other, he starts sneezing and breathing and asking to stretch down bigger. When he does, I encourage a longer stride and then do a change of direction to work the other side. If I think he's feeling ready, I'll also ask for some shallow leg yield as he stretches down.
On Sunday, Izzy was super tense and mad about something that happened while tacking up. I don't know if you've seen the movie Memento, with Guy Pearce, but in it, he suffers from a rare form of short term memory loss wherein he will forget what happened ten minutes ago. I have finally realized that Izzy suffers from the same condition.
He gets mad, but after a few minutes he can't remember why he's mad. I've taken to pretending that instead of mad, he got scared, and I comfort him. All of a sudden, he's thinking I am his best friend instead of the one with the dressage whip who just took him to a come to Jesus meeting. Even though Izzy started the ride tense and worried, in no time at all he was working with me and asking to stretch and lengthen his stride.
I've been keeping his rides as short as possible, around 25 minutes, to show him that he is making great choices. I don't want him to feel tired or resentful or burned out. Instead, I want him thinking, wait, that's it? That's all she wants?
I am so excited about the progress we've made in the last few months. A switch has definitely flipped. I am hoping that maybe we will get to start showing this summer after all.
Let me know if you try this warm up with your hot, tense horse or if you've done something similar. I am probably just a really slow learner and everyone else already knows how to do this!