But I am making incredible progress with The Big Bay!!
Like...We are t.r.o.t.t.i.n.g. in the round pen...slow, steady, consistent circles...both directions...and he is NOT freaking out and wanting to take off or setting up and throwing his head up and getting rigid like he is about to lose his mind.
The secret, as I discovered...is contact. Lots of contact. Contact with the reins and contact with the legs. I'm literally driving him forward into the bridle, bumping and kicking almost constantly and he just loves it.
Now I don't just think it...I know it...This is quite possibly the strangest horse I have ever worked with.
I discovered his penchant for contact when I went back to ground work on him and I think just plain old longing is pointless, so I set up some ground poles and started working him over them. I was aghast at how clueless this horse was about something as simple as figuring out how to step over a pole on the ground. He never attempted to run around it...He'd walk right up to it and then have to stop and stare at it for a little bit before it clicked in his mind HOW to pick up each foot and get it over the pole. I mean, I know the horse was uncoordinated and moved as if he was always a little unsure of what his feet were doing....But I had no idea it was this bad.
Once he got to the point where he could navigate over a series of poles, I moved him to a cavalletti. Same thing. He had to really stop and t.h.i.n.k. about how he was going to accomplish stepping over that.
I also worked him in side reins, starting with setting them so he had to give a little bend to the inside of the circle. First we walked, got good at that each direction and then we trotted. He loved it. He just totally relaxed into it and got comfortable.
I decided to see if riding him was any better, so after he had been worked in side reins and over some poles and was very soft and relaxed, we went back to the round pen. I started out riding him the way I normally ride a very, very green horse, especially with one who is prone to wanting to blow up, which is with plenty of rein so they can move forward and not feel restricted. He started out feeling pretty good, but as he moved and realized he had total freedom, he started to get freaky again. Let me tell you...'freaky' on this horse is NOT a good feeling. I did some bending and flexing to get him to soften back up and he did, so I quit.
The next day, we did the ground work again and this time when I was watching him move, it dawned on me...I wonder how he would do if I rode him with this much contact under saddle. So I tried it. He was unsure at first, but slowly got more and more comfortable and then he just totally started relaxing and stretching forward and walking out.
The next day we repeated and this time I asked for some trotting steps. Again, hesitancy at first, but once he realized I wasn't going to 'throw him away'...he relaxed into the contact and really tried to maintain a nice, steady trot.
Day 3-I started to add a lot of leg bumping and asking him to round his body, while still moving forward. He does not understand that. The kid that started him changed directions by pulling him back through his body (hence the sore hocks that caused the blow-up). He was very unsure and wanted to resort back to being 'freaky', but the steady contact on the reins reassured him and pretty soon he figured out he could just walk forward and change directions. He gave a big sigh and totally relaxed.
He got a few days off after that and I just got back to him tonight. He was pretty 'up' about being saddled, but I took him for a short pony in the desert and then left him tied to the trailer while I rode Little John. When I came to get him, he was relaxed and ready to work. A little ground work to get him ready and I stepped on. I expected to have to start from scratch, but nope...he was even more relaxed and willing to move out than the last ride I had on him. I bumped and kicked his sides and worked a lot on lateral softness...He is sooo very stiff in his sides. But he finally made a nice trotting circle with a softly rounded body in each direction and we called it good.
Watching the sunset from between the ears of a not-so-freaked-out Big Bay horse!!