If by massage the reins, she simply means squeeze them like a sponge, I agree. If she means any visible hand movement which results in alternate pulling on the mouth, I disagree.
Too bad you have no trails. That's always my first line of defense for a bored, stiff horse. I would suggest a few things. Before the ride, and little neck message to get the ball rolling. He can't stretch out his neck if it's locked up. Gently palm and scrunch up his neck as if you were putting mousse is his mane. Don't apply any pressure unless he starts pressing back into you asking for it. If he likes it, he'll lick his lips, yawn or put his head down.
When you begin your ride, on a semi-loose rein, supple his neck by asking for very shallow changes of flexion bordering on shallow serpentines. Just enough inside rein to see the inside nostril and rein, back to straight and then a few steps flexion the other way. Make sure to walk a good 5 to 10 minutes before even thinking of trotting. If he leg yields, do some shallow ones at the walk, throw in a few circles, anything that bends a body part and supples a muscle.
When you trot for the first time, be careful to take a feel of the reins, but not TAKE the contact if that makes any sense. Think horse reaching for the bit, not the other way around. Since he's stiff, let him trot for the first 5 minutes or so with you in half seat so you're off his back and then move onto posting. Try and keep consistent inside flexion by massaging that inside rein as your trainer suggested. We're talking just squeezing it like a sponge, no actual movement. Just enough to see that inside nostril and eyelash. Lots of large circles and changes of direction. Again, leg yield if your horse knows it.
If your horse finds obstacles fun, put some ground poles all over the place and trot over them in no particular order. Keep it interesting in him. Just keep thinking forward. Make sure you're posting lightly and not slamming down on his back. If he repeatedly braces against the bit, transition down for a step or two and immediately back up. The transitions alone will help unlock his stuck parts and it might get him interested in what he's doing again.
Hope this helps.
Thanks so much for that post!
Well my instructor has always said massage the reins, but it didn't click until right now. Yes she means squeeze like a sponge.
I rode him today and because he doesn't like to move forward we worked on that. We started out trying to do serpentines and circles but he just got stiff so we went straight. We actually had a couple breakthroughs at trot and quite a few at walk.
It will take some time because once he starts to put his head down he kind of backs off. So I have to remind him head down and legs under you!
And thanks for mentioning the half seat thing. That will give me an excuse to work on my thing and calves while also helping him!
Just to add on Puck's excellent post, and I think she may have noted this in there but to make it clear - Don't allow a loop to form in your reins. That doesn't mean to pull back, but always allow for an elastic, giving contact, making sure he knows that there is a contact there.
If you try to encourage a horse to reach into the bit, but completely throwing your reins away up their neck, they have nothing to reach into.
You will see in a dressage test, some will ask for you to give the reins for a few strides allowing the horse to stretch down and out. Some people throw their reins up the horses neck and the horse's head will stay where it is. The riders that get god marks for the give of reins, are the ones that prepare prepare prepare and then gently let them out to allow the horse to follow the contact.
Thanks for the contact advice. After our work out today something finally clicked in my head and I think I have figured out the contact thing.
A couple more months and hopefully he will have a nice developed neck and relaxed not so hollow back!