One of the nice things about horse blogging is being able to share horse news with people who understand what you're talking about . . .
Tonight was a very big moment with Pie. I had come back to the barn this evening to ride him, since there'd been a big jumping lesson in the late afternoon that kept me from riding him then - Dawn and Red had their regular (very good) rides before that.
Pie, when I got him, was very much on the forehand, and also was "upside-down" - he had a neck that was shorter on the top than the bottom, with an over-developed under neck muscle, and he tended to go around with his head up in the air, chin elevated and his neck and back very short and stiff - and his gaits were short and stiff, too, as a result.
Tonight, for the first time ever, as I was trotting him on a loose rein, he actually stretched his head and neck down without my asking for anything - the top line of his neck had a lovely curve and his face was slightly in front of the vertical with the head relaxed at the poll. His trot was forward, engaged and had beautiful rhythm. This stretching down happened first when tracking right - without my even asking for anything except a nice forward trot. Oddly enough, tracking right has always been harder for him. Tracking left, we had to do a bit of light rein contact for a moment or two, but then he was just there in that wonderful place - forward trot, lifting from the hindquarters, with a relaxed top line and engaged core - there's nothing in the world that feels better. We did this for a bit in both directions - his corners were perfect even on a loose rein - that problem's completely fixed, and then I just halted him and got right off and put him away, telling him what a wonderful horse he was.
This sort of change doesn't happen overnight - no gadget - no draw reins, bitting rig or other device - will get you there - what it takes is lots, and lots, and lots, of consistent softening work - which really isn't about head and neck position - it's about the total posture of the horse and how the horse is using its muscles, and it all comes from the hindquarters and the rider not being in the way and consistently offering the horse a soft place to be. The horse has to understand what you want, and has to then slowly develop the muscles that are needed for this to become the natural posture - and Pie, due to his slightly downhill conformation and predisposition to upside-down carriage, proves the point if any horse can. The most important thing is that Pie chose, on his own, without constraint, to carry himself with that posture and way of going because it was the most comfortable for him. This is huge. Correct work builds correct muscles builds correct carriage - that's how self-carriage comes about - the real thing happens in no other way. And it takes time. We really started this work in the spring of 2012 and it's now coming to fruition - and it's so exciting!