Where to go with my horse
I think I've posted on here before that my 19-year-old mare doesn't really seem to be enjoying her work these days. I'd say this has been happening to various degrees over 2-3 months.
Here's our typical riding routine: I try to ride 3-4 times/week for 40-60 minutes at a time. I ride her in a properly fitted dressage saddle, primarily in the arena. Our barn is primarily a therapy barn, so each day, there's usually some kind of obstacle course or something like that set up in the arena, which gives us different options for practicing bending, riding off seat contact, walking/trotting over obstacles, etc. So, even though we're in the arena, and do work on school figures, I think there's some mental stimulation given these different obstacles. We don't show, I just enjoy working on my own riding position and trying to help her use her body correctly for fitness purposes.
Isabel does NOT like trail riding. I've been trying to work on this slowly- we usually end our rides walking around outside the barn (varied terrain, small hills, etc.), and while at first this freaked her out, she know seems to look forward to it and relax. But, she doesn't like riding out on a true trail alone, and I rarely have anyone to ride with.
Here's where I'm worried- she just feels completely dead under me from the moment I get on. Her walk is slow and shuffly. Her trot can be expressive, but I feel like I'm pumping her to get every single stride. Her canter is really unbalanced and unwilling, and I've noticed her recently not really engaging her hind end, almost trotting in back while cantering up front. She's generally very tensed and wants to hollow out unless I work every stride to ask her to move forward correctly.
On the ground or in the pasture, she generally has a bright, kind eye. When I look at her in the mirror while riding, she just has a sad expression on her face- can't describe it any other way.
She's been vet checked, sees the chrio, and nothing is physically wrong with her. Her feet are looking a little flared right now, and farrier comes next week, so maybe that explains some of the recent balance issues at the canter. But this attitude has been around independent of her feet.
The only other thing that's changed during this time is that I switched to a new bit- a double jointed D-ring with a copper lozenge- and I don't think she likes it much. She has a fairly petite face and muzzle, and I think it's too thick for her and maybe adding some tension in her mouth/jaw. I'm going to switch to a D-ring Happy Mouth and see if she likes that better.
So, I'm not sure what I'm really asking for here, other than thoughts on where to go with her. She's a great horse overall, and probably wouldn't mind just standing in a pasture somewhere rather than being ridden (she's never been the kind of horse that "needs a job")- but still, she's young enough to be ridden, she needs to be ridden to stay in shape, and selfishly, I want a partner to ride. Any advice on getting her mentally reengaged and working through this slump?