In the months that I've owned him, I've worked on polishing up a bit of the rough edges before moving on to riding and schooling. Most were simple things, but until your horse does them correctly, they're annoying and slow down the process.
Lowering his head was the first thing that needed to be tackled. His go-to avoidance was to simply raise his head as high as he could to avoid whatever it was that was asked of him. And at 16'3, he can get his head much, much higher than my vertically challenged body can reach.
When it came time to bridle, the lower your head cue was well imbedded. It took one or two lessons to teach him how to drop his head to be unbridled, but now, as soon as he walks into the cross ties after being ridden, he has his head dragging on the ground because he knows that's how the bridle "falls off."
The first time I tried to put on the fly mask, his lifted his head with a concerned look in his eyes. It took me two mini-training sessions to show him that the fly mask is his friend. Just like everything else, he now lowers his head on command.
In truth, I don't he think he's much of a reactor anyway. Speedy on the other hand is all about protecting his assets, so if there is any question about his perceived safety, he exits the building. Seven years later, he still panics over plastic bags touching his body, being girthed up too quickly, or anything else that makes him feel attacked or trapped. Not Izzy. He's proven to be pretty spook-free.
When I first started riding him, I was a bit surprised that nothing spooked or distracted him. Cars roared by on the road, a group of teenagers went barreling by on a "Mule" blasting music, the neighbor working loudly in his yard ... none of it even caused Izzy to look up.
While I think he just has a very tolerant personality, I suspect that at the beginning of his under saddle work with me he was so wrapped up in his own head that he wasn't even aware of what was going on around him. He has since started to wake up a little and be more expressive in how he communicates. He actually gave a bit of a buck the other day, and he's now starting to rubber neck a bit.
When I first started riding him with tack a few weeks ago, he started to show some real anxious behavior - flinging his head, tensing his body, hollowing his back. I was only asking for a walk, but when he offered a trot, I let him thinking that he needed to use up his energy. I also had no contact thinking that he should first learn to carry himself. It turned out all of that was too much too fast without enough direction.
The first time JL came down to work with us, she had me make the lesson as simple as possible: walk in a circle, stop, walk in a circle, stop. Izzy needed a simple task that he could understand. JL had me take up a light contact and insist that he keep an inside bend - no looking to the outside of the circle. The purpose was to show Izzy that nothing bad was going to happen to him.
I did that lesson for a day or two, but then missed a week when I got sick. As soon as I was well enough to ride, we repeated the circle walking. When JL came down for our next lesson, she was very pleased with how much improvement he had shown. Izzy was much more confident and was ready to move on to the trot.
While I hope to get Izzy out on the trail soon, I'm focusing on teaching him to accept the bit and listen to my seat aids. As we work, I keep a light feel of his mouth and simply follow wherever he goes. If he leans on me or tries to hurry, I just resist with my upper body. I never pull back, and if I really need to slow him down, I just bend him to the inside with a one-rein stop.
We are now up to twenty minute rides that include three trot sets of five to seven minutes each. He is a delight to ride. His trot is elastic, he's naturally uphill, and he loves to maintain the rhythm. He listens really well to my seat, which make my half halts feel as though they're getting through.
He doesn't travel around the circle perfectly yet though. There's still a fair amount of testing: head held high, head dragging on the ground, head shaking back and forth - all in an effort to avoid the contact (or the conversation, as JL puts it). No matter where he goes with his head, I just follow him.
Each day it seems as though he accepts the contact a bit more than the day before. When we have those few strides of happy contact with rhythm and relaxation, I can see the wonderful horse that he will become.
Rather than feeling rushed to get this "done" quickly, I am relishing the opportunity to work one stride at a time. Sydney taught me so much about riding difficult horses that Izzy's little tantrums simply make me laugh out loud. And when I feel a resistance, I have the tools to address it all thanks to Sydney.
Here's to riding the ribcage, feeling the steps beneath you, and raising happy horses!