From problem horse to gentleman
Today I visited Paddy for a lunging session. Paddy is a 17 year-old, Irish Draught cross and as his owner has a full-time job, I see him twice a week, once for a lunging session and once for a lesson, unless it is too windy. In that case the lesson tends to be a lunging session, as well.
I've known Paddy for nearly ten years. He was bought to hack and for light schooling. When I saw him work the first time I could see he more or less knew all the tricks, but also that he was not supple, very lazy and with a tendency to shy when pushed a little more. This work pattern was established at his previous home as he had not been here long and his new owner had only hacked him as she did not have a huge amount of experience doing flatwork.
As we started the regular lessons it became obvious to me that this horse was virtually beyond ring sour. He was brainwashed and so depressed that he couldn't even be bothered to nap. He would go on the vertical but with a neck so straight and horizontal that he was blocking his own shoulder completely. Whether it was the chicken or the egg, I do not know, but he tended to move on three tracks, as well. This looked more and more like a problem horse.
The first couple of years we kept it simple, pole work; lunging without side reins and just about going forward and hacking. Once every two weeks we met up for a flatwork session. gradually he was cheering up a bit, but he did have an issue about softening the poll and was still blocking his shoulder far too much. Also, although he would appear lazy on the lunge, if you dared to touch him with the lunging whip he would have a fit to the point of nearly falling over.
I love a challenge and that was a good thing in this case. A major accident on the road turned Paddy into one frightened, but not very little, bunny. It was impossible for his owner, pregnant at the time, to cope with this and so we had to make a plan.
I decided on lunging twice a week and schooling once a week. As Paddy lived out most of the time that could possibly work. The only thing that bothered me was the fact that he had been brainwashed before and I worried about him becoming ring sour again. This was not the case, as a matter of fact the opposite. He became more enthusiastic, gradually got used to the lunging whip and when schooled, started to love his lateral work and we managed to move from a perfect simple change onto a flying change!
By now his owner was ready to ride again and things went well for a time, until disaster hit again. This time a tendon injury, having played too rough when out in the field. After sufficient rest he was put to work again, however, there was more lameness, on different legs without really being able to pinpoint exactly what was going on. By then a vicious circle was established as Paddy was virtually spending most of his time indoors for worry of more injuries, which made him go even more crazy when he did go out. In the end between owner, farrier and trainer the decision was made that Paddy was going to go to his field and time would tell.
After several months Paddy seemed sound again. I suggested that I would be able to set up a remedial lunging plan and was fairly confident that this would be successful.
A few years on and we are still going strong. It blew a gale today, but Paddy did not mind. We've moved from lunging without side reins to fixed draw reins running through the bit rings behind the poll, to only one side rein on his stiffer side and on to the current situation: side reins attached higher to the saddle so if he wants to, he is able to go above the bit. However, he is so happy and forward, that he is up in the shoulder but round and softer in the poll than ever, looking for a light contact on the side reins and also my hand. The lunging whip is not needed other than the odd small flick under his belly, in order to remind him to use his core strength. I barely need my voice, it's all body language.
Paddy's owner rode him the other day and, although occasionally he will try to fix his eyes on some fictive ghost at least a mile away, the two of them did a solid bit of well-balanced work with some shoulder-inns, great simple changes, finishing up with his party piece, his trot extensions.
Woaw, I was so proud. This horse is having fun and it looks like 17 year-old Paddy might just be on the way to finally becoming a gentleman heading for a sound retirement!
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A SOUND NEW YEAR!!
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About Liz Barclay
Her love for horses together with her dedication made her into the trainer and dressage rider she is, today. She is versatile and inventive and likes a challenge; whether it is a technical training question, a confidence issue or a problem involving the management of the horse or pony.
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