Or, rather, a little observation from my side!
As a part of my horsey life, teaching and showing and training my horses and those of clients, I get to sit on many horses to get a feel of what they are doing. I am constantly amazed at the difference in what the rider tells you and what the horse tells you when you sit on it. Not that the riders tell you all good or all bad things mind you - sometimes they can be quite complimentary about their long suffering steeds. Once you get on, however, the story can change quite a bit. This tells me a lot about FEEL. That elusive gift that all good riders possess and that all riders strive to develop. Being able to sit on a horse and just feel what it is doing is a gift that I find leads me to developing a training schedule for the horse that will not only yield positive results, but usually they come quite quickly.
One of the most common issues I deal with on most horses I ride is educating the shoulder. When you control the shoulder, the rest follows. Not very easy to do! The horse needs to learn to lift the shoulder so that he can bend correctly, take a bit of weight through the back onto the hindquarter and stay in control of his body. The bigger, short coupled horses find control of the shoulder a lot easier to develop than their more lanky cousins. Where they often struggle is in relaxation and softness through the body however they more than make up for it because once the shoulder is controlled, they find long and low quite easy which will supple and soften them in no time at all. The longer coupled and tall horses will often be more supple but not as strong, so they can really struggle with the strength that is required to lift the shoulder. They will often fall over themselves through corners or lose balance in transitions. one of the important factors when it comes to teaching the horse to use his shoulder is by using the outside rein. Too many riders pull their horses around on the inside rein not realising that bend needs to be maintained with the outside rein first. as soon as the horse is pulled onto the inside rein, it falls onto the inside shoulder, losing his center of balance and the purpose and use of the bend is lost.
Long and low work is vital in the development and training of any horse. I use it daily to relax, stretch and supple the horse. When you advance in your horse's training, work in long and low at different paces and through transitions is a fantastic way of progressing your training. the big issue I see with riders in long and low is that they simply throw the reins at the horse, who will typically 'plank out' his neck and run along on the forehand. That is not true long and low work! The horse should lift the shoulder up, extend his neck over and out to the front and most importantly, stays on the contact throughout. you can ride simple lead changes in long and low, for example, because the horse is still carrying hihimself and is still on your contact. The horse should follow the contact when you ask - but should still stay between your hand and leg. I do walk trot halt transitions through long and low, canters with simple changes and so forth. The most advanced work in long and low that is quite a powerful tool but is very hard work is long and low over cavaletti. The effort of lifting the legs combined with stretching over the back and neck is monumental.
The second issue I often encounter with many horses is that they are never allowed to move! Many training hurdles people encounter is that the horse seems stubborn, won't move off the leg or remains stiff. This is mostly because the horse has never been allowed to actually go forwards. I find this true for many of the really big horses - the really wide ones - the ones that really can actually move! When you sit on a horse in canter, come down the long side and say, "Ok! Now you can go!" this horse will go "huh?" and stay shuffling along. The horse is not dead to the leg (ok, yes they are in a way i guess!) they are dead in the HEAD! These horses need get out - long rides out where they are allowed to just move and have canters out and just have fun. At some point they will suddenly realise that there is something more fun than a shuffle down the long side of the arena. These horses have often been worked to death in the arena and have no more inclination to even try to enjoy their work. Working outside is also a great opportunity to add litttle training exercises like lateral work, halts, transitions etc which the horse will find playful and will benefit from. The big training problem with these horses is that the rider is usually a bit nervous and wil often try to solve the problem with even more schooling inside which just makes the problem worse. Another thing that i do with my horses is to take them out on non-show excursions. going out on a fun adventure with no pressure to behave! All my horses get to go out to training eventing courses to have a gallop, take some small jumps and just have a chance to pig around. We travel to outride venues, go on hunts and keep them busy with all sorts of excursions. These trips keep things fresh, keep them forward thinking and really develop rider horse relationship.
Clients are often surprised when I tell them that riding should not be hard work. Sure, there is some work involved, but if you are finishing a 30 min ride sweating, huffing and puffing, and your horse has barely broken a sweat, something is wrong! The less you do with your body, the more responsive your horse will get and the bigger pleasure he will be to ride!
So if you are a bit stuck with your horse, or he is just not progressing - give these things a mull over and maybe you will find something you can do to get your training on track again!