He has trouble understanding pressure and release, so I have been doing a lot of exercises to try to help him make the connection of giving and softening to pressure.
I think he is starting to understand, but I think it has become habitual for him to lean into or resist pressure, so some of what I am doing is overcoming a bad habit. I know for people it is supposed to take 3 weeks for someone to develop a habit, so if that translates the same to horses, you will likely have to continue working on this with him once he goes home, since he is only here for 2 weeks.
Some things I've noticed about Duke:
- if you touch his flanks to ask him to move his hindquarters away, his first response it to lean into it or step toward you. He will usually swish his tail in irritation. A couple times, initially, he even raised his leg like he was thinking about kicking, but he hasn't done that recently.
- when I touch his shoulder to get him to yield his front end away, he usually locks his front feet in place and will sometimes start to swing his hindquarters toward me. The first day he snapped at me, but I didn't feel he was too serious about it and he hasn't done it since.
- I think in the past he has been successful with using his size to push people around. He is more pushy on his left side than his right.
- On the plus side, after doing these exercises a couple times, he starts to comply better and he seems to start thinking more and to begin to relax.
- He is doing well at transitions (stop, walk, trot) -he'll often slow/stop for me just off my exhalation and relaxation.
- He is pretty responsive at a walk but needs to work on staying on, and moving with, my line of focus.
- Once you start trotting, he is much stiffer, he tends to stretch out his neck and brace against a direct rein, especially circling or bending to the right. I'll continue to work on softening him. He has a fairly soft flex at the stand still and walk, so I think it will just take a little time.
- His lope is really nice, but so far I have mainly tried to focus on softening at the slower gaits. I find that if a horse is bracy at the trot, it just gets worse the faster you go. I hope to work more on his lope next week.
- I'm also working on his "stop" and "go" (at the correct speed). Initially he seemed to want to ignore my requests to pick up speed or slow down right away.
- He wants to keep coming back to the fence line by the other horses, so I've been allowing it, but then doing a lot of bending and drilling him next to the fence and then reducing the pressure away from the fence. He is starting to be more willing to leave the other horses.
- The last two days, I side passed him to open & close a gate. He showed improvement from one day to the next.