How could I have done this better?

Woolly Hat n Wellies

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My 15.2h 16 year old gelding is a project. He's a lovely boy, but he's got some seriously ingrained bad habits. I've been working on him for about 2 and a half years, removing his gadgets, getting his respect on the ground, then sorting out his horrendous posture and resulting physical problems. It's been a VERY long road, and now we're on the verge of reteaching canter - so my homework from my instructor is to fine tune the brakes. He gets excited and anxious at being asked to canter in anything more confined than several acres, and gets into a horrific flap and we end up performing the 'wall of death' around the arena. Still, we've had success hacking out to the places where he thinks he ought to canter and usually lets his bad habits get the better of him, and then we run through our 'stop and think' exercise: walk or trot - halt (one ask and then two sharper pulls if he doesn't listen) - give the reins at standstill without moving off - back up a few steps - stop and give again without rushing off - collect up without moving off - then straight back up to walk or trot. We practice this around the hack and then deploy it tactically when he thinks he ought to be cantering, and it's REALLY worked!

I was so pleased with him this morning as we managed to trot up a certain field without tanking off. Normally at this field the choice would be stick to walk, or let him canter. Trot would be impossible as he'd get tetchy and strong and impatient. So I was thrilled. Everything went swimmingly until we were almost home, when we spotted some other riders a short distance ahead. They were wandering slowly and chatting, and we were catching up quickly, despite slowing to walk so as not to come charging up behind. I planned to call out and ask if it was ok to pass. Billy was a little bit keen to catch up, but it only took a couple of little spongey feels on the reins to get his attention back. Then, without a backward glance, the two riders set off in trot just in front of us, and his concentration flew out the window. I kept up our exercise from walk, turned him and walked back the other way a little bit, asked him to yield across the track and back, to try to keep him focused on me. He didn't jog or trot off after them, as he once definitely would have done (without a second thought!), but he was on the brink of jogging and our beautiful, back lifted, hind end engaged walk was toast. I got him back to me as we got back home, but it was a good ten minutes of hard work when I really planned to spend that part of the ride relaxing and stretching him, so I was a bit disappointed.

Is there anything I could have done better, or could do in future to keep him focused? I was a bit miffed at the other riders, but you can't control anyone else's behaviour, only your own, and (ideally!) that of your own horse, so that's what I would like to improve!
 

Micropony

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Sounds like a bit of a success story to me, to be honest! At the end of the day, he did exactly what you asked him to do, improving the quality of his paces while he does so would just be the icing on the cake, surely? Well done with what you've achieved already!
 

Pearlsasinger

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You did what was required/effective at the time. I think you both did very well, yes it is shame that you didn't have the nice relaxed end to your hack that you had planned. Look on this as another step along the way for your horse, he will only learn to ignore others by being able to practise the skill. You are both doing fine!
 

EQUIDAE

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What Micropony said - bloody well done! I'm so chuffed that you have done this with schooling rather than bitting up as so many would do. You should be really proud of yourself!
 

Red-1

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I would see it as a success. You had a FAB trot up the field, a FAB ride, and right at the end the circumstances meant you also had a chance to keep sane while two horses trotted off.

Even with my Jay Man, I would possibly have had to turn round and do a few hundred yards the other direction so he did not be anxious about being left behind.

Well done.
 

Woolly Hat n Wellies

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Thank you. I've welled up a little bit reading those responses!

It's been a very long road to get this far and I think it makes little difficulties feel like huge steps back. (Not to mention comments about old dogs and new tricks!)

EQUIDAE, the first thing I did was remove his running martingale and Dutch gag. The first thing he did was come within a fraction of a inch of smushing my nose into my face with the back of his head! I was told he had to be ridden with a single rein on the bottom ring, there were murmurings about flash nosebands and standing martingales, but I wanted to get him round a dressage test, so they all came off. Turns out being restricted and pulled down makes him almost panicky and he tries to run away out the front. It's very sad, because he can produce some very nice work now, thanks to all the work my wonderful instructor has put in to help me. If only he'd had someone like her years ago he could have been really lovely (but then he would have been way out of my budget!)
 

Red-1

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I am glad the comments helped.

I have had a few project horses, Jay being one, as although he was schooled and talented he also reared really badly, and was explosive even at home. What changed my outlook was changing the focus.

I used to think it was about making it all "right" for the horse. As in, I would have been upset if the other horses upset mine. Now I realise it is about helping your horse realise that whatever Cr@p goes off in life, you are there to guide them through it.

Of course, I do take care not to totally overwhelm the horse, but in the situation you describe, the two horses were a blessing. Your horse now knows you know what to do, peacefully, if he is left behind by the heard.
 

J&S

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I agree, you did really well, your end result would be a definite win. You executed the text book procedure!
 

Pearlsasinger

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Thank you. I've welled up a little bit reading those responses!

It's been a very long road to get this far and I think it makes little difficulties feel like huge steps back. (Not to mention comments about old dogs and new tricks!)

EQUIDAE, the first thing I did was remove his running martingale and Dutch gag. The first thing he did was come within a frasction of a inch of smushing my nose into my face with the back of his head! I was told he had to be ridden with a single rein on the bottom ring, there were murmurings about flash nosebands and standing martingales, but I wanted to get him round a dressage test, so they all came off. Turns out being restricted and pulled down makes him almost panicky and he tries to run away out the front. It's very sad, because he can produce some very nice work now, thanks to all the work my wonderful instructor has put in to help me. If only he'd had someone like her years ago he could have been really lovely (but then he would have been way out of my budget!)

it is lovely to read a account of someon taking on a project horse and giving it time to develop. So many people take on a project and expect to turn it around in a couple of months. Unfortunately horses that have had a poor experience take time to rebuild their trust in the people around them, not everyone seems to understand that. So well done on all fronts,OP
 
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