Originally Posted by eventerwannabe
My god he looks amazing! What is your secret? I mean it, I need some help in the muscle department. ;]
I think he could still stand to have a bit more muscle in his butt and back (wither area), but he besides that, he looks amazing. He is happy, healthy, and fit.
The muscle change in him is a bit exaggerated because he was started with rollkur and therefore was never ridden with true contact/active topline muscles, but I would be happy to share my muscle tips.
First of all, I established what side was his "stiff" side and what was his "hollow" side. The stiff side is usually the side that they lean on. For him, he was stiff on the left side. I then started working on getting him to move off his left shoulder and hind (I would post the trot slightly to the right to help this as well) and getting him to give in the left poll. For his right "hollow" side, I got him to stretch his poll/ neck to the left and not letting him escape out his shoulder or hind. The most important of working on the sides is to establish straightness. I like to keep him moving and bending, working on 2-3 loop serpentines helped me. Freeing up the hind legs is critical.
The other important key to muscles is working in the long and low frame and using your seat. Your seat must relax and allow the forward motion of the hind to flow through his body and down his neck, which makes him round. Holding your inside hand higher helps to flex their poll. Allow him to stretch down on a longer rein at all three gaits if possible by holding your reins up and out to let them stretch down onto the contact after you have done a few minutes of "working contact". Make sure you have contact, but also you want to have soft giving elbows and wrists. Don't try to force his neck into any position, your main focus is on his hindquarters and shoulders being in place and then you can think of his neck.
For my horse, I lunged him with a cavesson. This helps him learn to stretch his nose down. The important part for him, with or without a rider, is to get his back swinging with the motion and that his muscles are relaxed.
Kayty- don't get me started on the contact problems I have had with him ;) he started out being way above the bit and basically had a fear of being on the bit, and if I asked for contact like a normal horse he would dip behind the bit like you said. When I gathered up the reins he would tense up and run away from my seat and hands because he was expecting me to "crank and spank" (the method the barn he came from used, pulling hard on the mouth and driving them into the hard contact). I had to gather the reins up in a period of 3-5 minutes at first, just trying to get him to relax his muscles. The very way he holds his head has changed, not just with a rider on him but just standing around (you can somewhat tell from these pictures) he has improved a lot!
Thank you to everyone for the encouraging words!