What a beautiful boy! And he sure does have a lovely forward, opened trot! Cept the behind bit thing, lol - which is totally understandable due to his past predicaments.
Nelson does the same thing when I ride with too low of hands. I get a lovely, lovely forward trot from Nelson, meaning rhythmic but tracking up and under himself - but he goes behind on me.
What fixes that, is picking up my hands and lifting him back up which leads to your question
my question is at what point do you think he’d be ready for a more traditional contact and start getting him to bring his head up? Just keep riding with more leg/less hand (i need more leg than I was using today and I need to make that a primary focus - more leg even though he feels forward, he’s not truly engaged) and then as he gets stronger let him tell me? I’m not sure if I should try to get him to elevate his head as I add more leg or just let it come with time as he loosens and gains strength? Any input would be greatly appreciated.
I will tell you what my coach told me. Nelson and I are in kinda the same boat as you two are.
Nelson has had pretty much a year off. Give and take. He and I have gone through allot of trials and tribulations with people in our lives which prevented Nelson and I from being able to train and ride - but now that we are at a real facility and started back at square one under a very reputable coach, we are taking it 1 step at a time.
My Coach wants no contact at all. Nelson has no body tone. No topline. No lung capacity. We are both out of shape. We are also dealing with back issues because of poor saddle fit *chiro, massage therapy and saddle searching*
Anyways, to sum it up, we are both out of shape and are in desperate need to getting back to where we were last eventing season.
What did my coach tell me? Hack. Hack, hack, hack, hack, hack. You know very well what many benefits come from hacking to help start the building blocks of obtaining a balanced, conditioned horse all round.
During our lessons, once a week - he demands a long rein, with contact. You know what that means. Outside rein in contact with his mouth, inside rein slack and soft. Driving inside leg into that outside rein.
Forward. Not speedy gonzalus forward, but rhytmic and controlled. Via seat into leg and into the outside rein *yadda yadda, you know this*
When Nelson searches for the contact, which he does - keep things as they are with your seat and legs, soften your inside rein.
When Nelson goes behind, use more seat, use more leg while lifting my outside rein up. When Nelson goes back to where he should be, soften again with lots of praise.
Right now, I'm not allowed to carry my hands where they should be, I'm not allowed to shorten my reins.
The key factor is, tracking up, lifting back into my seat and allowing him to reach down - but NOT under.
We want the back end to build. We want the back to strengthen. We want the tracking up. We want our horses to open up, up front and move under themselves.
The moment I try to collect Nelson up - we loose it. We loose the forward momentum. We loose the tracking up. We loose his back - it drops, his head throws up in the air and we have to start all over.
Try to pick him up with he does go behind on you. Lift him up with your outside rein, see what happens.
I think it'll take time. You are on the right track.