I have so much to say about this transformation that it would probably be easier if I start at the beginning...
When I first went to look at Izzy a year and a half ago, the one thing that I wasn't so thrilled with was his movement. I felt like his gaits were choppy, and he carried his head quite high. I didn't hold it against him though because while he'd been started as a four year old, he then spent the next 18 months in pasture doing nothing. I am not an expert at judging conformation, but I instinctively liked Izzy's short back and how his neck tied into his body. I figured with some work, his gaits would improve.
Since about February though, I've started to see some real changes in his movement. For one, he's actually starting to bounce a little when he trots in turnout, and he can actually trot a straight line. Instead of galloping, he now picks up a pretty quiet little canter. And even more amazing is that he is now picking up a RIGHT lead canter. And all of it is looking so much more relaxed and comfortable - for him.
This change is not due to a week's worth of lunging in draw reins, of course. It's clearly the result of a year's worth of (at least somewhat) correct riding. While things have been progressing well, we had kind of hit a glitch though when it came to relaxing over the topline. Chemaine suggested lunging with draw reins as a way of teaching Izzy how to stretch his back under saddle and accept contact.
I don't know how it worked so quickly, but after only a half a dozen short sessions, Izzy gets it. On the lunge line, he is now quiet and soft and stretches down in the trot. When he starts to get quick in his stride, I simply say, easy and lower the whip. He immediately slows himself down and rebalances.
Our lunging sessions take 11 minutes: 5 minutes per side with 1 minute to change the lunge line to the other side. I have him walk for 1 minute, trot for 1 minute, do walk-trot-walk transitions for a third minute, and then I ask for a canter. He now picks up the correct lead every time. I let him canter for a 4th minute, and then I ask for a couple of trot to canter to trot transitions before we switch directions.
For those of you who are interested in trying the draw reins/sliding side reins, I wanted to share a quick how-to-build-your-own for about $5. They're not pretty, but they get the job done and are very adjustable.
You'll need a length of ¼" - ½" diameter rope about 18 feet long. I bought some cheap poly rope at Home Depot a number of years ago. You'll also need a trigger snap and two bolt snaps.
I checked with the 2016 USEF Dressage Rule Book and found that this type of "draw rein" is legal for the warm up.
DR 121 Saddlery and Equipment
Double sliding side reins may be attached to the saddle or surcingle and girth as pictured below, or both ends of each rein may be attached to the saddle, surcingle and/or girth. Only one lunge line is permitted only while lungeing.
If you end up trying these, let me know what you think.