Lightbulb moment: when your warm-up isn’t enough

I had a little lightbulb moment yesterday after tumultuous lunging session. Johnny is not exactly the most civilized horse on the longe, and I’m not a big fan of wearing a horse out on a 15 meter circle, so we haven’t put in a whole lot of hours in that department. But, since we’re still struggling with acceptance of the bit, I decided yesterday to begin incorporating lunging with side reins into our training regime. As I expected, he immediately reverted to OTTB neurocracies: spontaneously rushing into a trot or canter, ignoring my aids, head up in the air and hollow… I decided to take him off the line and let him sort it all out, so I unbuckled the longe but left the side reins on. For a solid five minutes, he careened back and forth across the arena at a full-out gallop in sheer panic mode. I worried about him crashing through the fence, but at this point, there was no way I could stop him anyway, so I let him go. After he’d thoroughly winded himself, I clucked to him, and he sauntered over as if he’d done all that craziness on purpose. I put him back on the line, and we proceeded to have a fairly productive workout. I then removed the side reins and hopped in the saddle. I pushed him into the trot, and then I really pushed him. I kicked him forward while holding the contact and asking him to step up into the bridle–the same thing I’ve been doing, but usually results in inversion. Instead, this time, he quietly accepted my restrictive hand and stepped deeper underneath his body–I now suddenly had the appropriate weight in my hands as he pushed into the bridle. I rode that for only half a 20 meter circle before I rewarded him, dropped the reins to the buckle and immediately jumped out of the saddle. What I realized at that point was that I have not been allowing his back to thoroughly warm up before I begin asking him to use it. Much like when I go for a run in the cool weather and my ankle feels like it might just break into pieces, his back needs a longer than average warm-up before he can begin to use it. So, now my task is to develop a thorough warm-up plan that doesn’t wear him out. So far, our warm-up has consisted of 5-15 minutes of walking on the buckle and then with very light contact, 5-10 minutes of walk-trot transitions/trotting, then some turns on the forehand and haunches and a couple of loops around at canter on a loose rein. I think I’m going to go back and add in longing for warm-up until he can learn to use his back as he warms up–really stretch at the walk and trot. We’ll see how it goes.

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