Lunging to Build Topline and a Weak Back
Ok so here's the story. This is my 14 yr old Appendix QH gelding that I am currently doing 1st level on and schooling higher level movements. He used to do hunters and loves to jump as well but we are focusing on getting into Eventing and his dressage needs the most work currently. The odds are against him however as he has some physical flaws; huge body and short legs, a little long in the back and an old back injury that he likes to pretend is still there. He tweaked something in his hips/back a few years ago and was very stiff, sore, etc for a while. After vetting him to the nth degree, getting massages, chiro etc done. He was pronounced 100% fit and able to return to work. He then spent a few years being my trail horse, low level jumper, fun horse while I was busy with school and didn't have the time to get him going consistently again. Now I have more time and want to really get him fit and muscled correctly.
His biggest problem is that he still protects his back and will brace, evade, throw his head in the air and do the speed up/slow down/speed up routine. Consistency in his frame, gaits, speed, etc is nearly impossible without riding him very strongly up into your hands with your legs and holding him where you want him to be. This is of course not where I want to stay...So I have been doing long lining and lunging in side reins to get him to move out without weight on his back and to lift up through his back and over his poll. He needs to build the muscle before I can ask him to engage and with his bracing, evading, etc when riding it's very hard to get him muscled correctly. I think if I can get him moving right, building the right muscle, etc it will make the riding problems lessen. He is in between being fit and in shape and not right now. So I think when I ride I am asking for a bit too much in the form of engagement and stretching into the bit than he can comfortably give so we have plateaued and I can't seem to move forward.
So my question is... Does this look right? Is he really stretching over his poll and raising his back or is he in some way faking it or evading or using weird muscles? He has moments when he looks like this then he goes hollow again, then he gets this way again. I realize it is hard for him to do and gets tired quickly but I am very afraid of training the wrong muscles. He's the king of doing what is hard in order to avoid doing what you want. Like counter cantering just because, or doing piaffe when he's pissed and doesn't want to move forward when I ask for some collection. He's also the master of the Levade for the same reason...So any advice, comment, critique, other exercises or techniques I could use would be greatly appreciated! I also attached a crappy confo shot that I found so you can see what we're up against and to use as a visual for him lifting his back...
this looks like a good start to me. and let me say i feel your pain! i have a horse that has had several severe back injuries that have resulted in torn ligaments along the spine. he's about to be started back into work now that the weather is nicer, and i'll be doing pretty much what you are for several weeks to build his muscling so he can be ridden without an issue of back pain.
just keep in mind two things.
1- trot, trot, and more trot. then trot some more. keep canter to 10 min or less total (5m each dir) IF THAT. trot more. and then some more. trot builds muscle so that's what you want to focus on. this is true both on the longe and US
2- when riding, forward first, contact second. send him forward and let him figure out where to carry himself. if you've done the work correctly on the longe, just ride on a long rein, nothing for him to brace or lean on. ignore where his head is. headset means a LOT less than people think. if a horse is moving correctly he will put his head where it needs to be. if you need to ride him strongly forward into a contact to "hold him together" he's not moving properly. so when you do ride - ignore the reins. trot trot and more trot (see reference to trot above lol), and don't let him canter, but don't let him plod around. working trot on a long rein and he'll start stretching and reaching for your hands. it's fine if his head is a little too high or low right now - the focus is to get your horse to seek out the contact as he learns to move correctly and comfortably.
Kudos on using the correct side rein length! Your horse has something to stretch into instead of being pulled back. It's a great start.
he looks great to me! good luck!
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