First off a little background about my horse. Indy is a 21 year old dutch warmblood. He was imported from Europe when he was younger, and lived mostly at big show barns doing hunter shows. When he was about 15, he was sold to a middle aged woman who had little horse experience. After a horrible year with him, in which he walked all over her, bucked her off constantly, and was just an overall terror, he was sold into the lesson program of the barn I was at. He was perfect there for about 6 months (long enough for a 14 year old me to fall head over heals for the fancy boy!) before he had a mental breakdown and completely refused to continue jumping. He stayed in their program, but was barely used for lessons and pretty much became my play horse because no one else wanted to ride a horse that wouldn't jump. For the next 4 years he stayed there, barely being used in lessons and gained about 300 lb. I messed around with him as much as I could between my lessons and working, but he certainly didn't get the attention or work that he needed.
In 2011 I left the barn due to a bunch of drama. I was unhappy and since I still had friends there, I learned that Indy was being left in his stall (a 12x12) for 2 weeks at a time, never being actually worked with, and was still gaining weight. I was able to convince my parents to buy him for my senior project in school, and our true adventures started there. In 6 months he had lost all the weight he had gained (my vet said he had developed a metabolic issue and pointed me towards some helpful supplements) He was jumping again for the first time in 4 years, and was going on trail for the first time in his life. We even rode in my town's fourth of July parade (oh did I mention he used to be afraid of his own shadow?)
So that brings me to now. Indy does everything I could dream of in the saddle, but when I try to teach him tricks or anything out of the ordinary, he doesn't seem to understand it at all. I don't think he was ever worked with on the ground until I got him, and he is definitely a senior horse. I decided I wanted to attempt bitless riding, but quickly learned he doesn't respond at all to voice commands, which is pretty import to make him stop! The past few days I have been attempting to teach him that Halt means to stop. Woah has always meant slow down for us, since I use it while jumping. I work with him in a round pen, and have been working on walk to halt transitions, but after working on it for a week I don't feel that he has progressed at all. In order to get him to halt I have to practically move in front of him, and even then he acts like he has just shut his brain off. It has been that way with every trick I have tried to teach him. If treats are involved he is even worse, since all he focuses on is getting the treat.
My trainer told me he may be too old to learn something like that since it was not something instilled in him during his younger years. After so many years of just sitting as an unused school horse, I kinda think if she is right. Does anyone have any suggestions about how to train voice commands, or even how to work on bitless riding without voice commands. I haven't even started to think about how to approach bitless riding once the voice commands are down. Thanks for any advice!