Taking two lessons a month rather than one every six weeks has really helped me tackle Izzy's special ... uh ... "needs". If Speedy and I see Chemaine for "marriage counseling," Izzy and I see her for behavioral therapy. His, not mine!
In a nut shell, we did one exercise for the entire session: bend for lateral flexion, half halt for vertical flexion, wait until he begs for a stretch down. Here's why we needed to do that.
It's such an ugly picture that I hate to even show it. As Chemaine Hurtado, owner and trainer at Symphony Dressage Stables, explained it - the movements are easy for this horse. Stretching down is not. She's not kidding; he can do anything you ask. Lateral movements are cake for him. Collection is a walk in the park. Shoulder in, haunches in ... to where and for how long? However, letting that neck get long and low is not in his play book.
While I cringe when I do this exercise, lateral flexion with vertical flexion, it has become very easy to see why it works with this horse. I know it always looks as though I am jamming Izzy's nose into his chest, and you probably thinks that's why his stride is so short and choppy - let the horse move out! - but it's really him putting himself into that jammed up neck frame. I can drop my reins, flutter my reins, shake my reins, and he keeps his chin to his chest.
To get Izzy to want to stretch forward and down, Chemaine had me over-flex him to the inside while firmly half halting on the outside rein so that I created a boatload of vertical flexion. Think rollkur flexion. I know, ugly, right? Stay with me though.
The outside rein did four tasks: 1) it slowed him down, 2) brought his outside shoulder in, 3) it got him round over his back, and 4) it helped him focus. Stride after stride I asked him if he wanted to stretch forward. The moment he said yes, please let me stretch, I fed him as much rein as he would take.
Since Izzy is so powerful in his hind end, the canter work is much easier. We worked on much the same thing, but at that gait it's more about telling him that he doesn't get to "take me," - I'll let let him know what pace I want. Enter the outside rein. As in the trot work, I flex him to the inside, but then I take that outside rein to slow him down, tuck his shoulder back in line, get him round over his back, and redirect his attention back on me.
So that's my homework for the next week. Over bend, half halt, and ask him if he wants to stretch down. When I rode him on Monday, he gave the stretch down immediately. Now, we just need to get it when he's excited.