My newest endeavor with the horse is introducing him to lunging with side reins. I feel that it is a really useful tool for any horse but just hadn't ever had a reason to try it with Boomer until I got pregnant. Now I feel that it is a great way for us to still learn and progress without me having to ride on days when I just don't feel up to it.
Basically, I started Boomer off slowly lunging without the side reins attached to the surcingle. The I attached them as loose as they go. I gradually tightened them up a notch each time we changed directions. On the first day, we spent about 40 minutes at the walk and trot just getting used to the reins. It was uneventful and a good introduction. I decided to go with solid leather ride reins instead of reins with elastic or rubber inserts as I feel those with too much 'give' encourage a horse to lean on the contact. I would also like to try balancing or vienna side reins at some point.
The second day, I walked him without the reins attached, then attached them at about half tightness and worked there for a little bit. He showed resistance until I had the reins tightened up to a proper setting. I think he appreciated the contact once he had it, but I couldn't rush giving him that contact for fear of him feeling trapped. After I got the reins to a good setting, I made sure that the inside reins was about 2 holes tighter to encourage bend. Once at the level I liked, we spent about 5 minutes trotting in each direction to make the total exercise about 30 minutes. In the future, the warm up will be shorter and he will accept the contact more readily.
It was very interesting to see him balancing and figuring out the reins. I had to watch for very subtle signs that he was using himself correctly with he reins and not bracing against them. The signs I looked for showing him bracing were: wrinkles at the base of his neck in front of the withers, his under neck bulging out, and tightness in his jaw. The signs I saw when he was relaxing and working over his back, accepting contact were: the wrinkles at the base of his neck were gone- he was lifting his neck, the under neck was curved up, and he would relax his jaw and lick and chew.
I have noticed the he has started responding very well to verbal praise. I give him a long, low GOOOD when he gets it right and he really keeps and ear turned to me at all times trying to figure it out.
I was really pleased with his progress and am looking forward to seeing how this helps him improve. We have not started cantering yet, but I have a feeling it will really help his under saddle canter work in the long run.
One thing I noticed was that going to the right, it is much harder for him to unlock his jaw. He gives a nice bend, but doesn't bend laterally at the poll. When tracking right, I should be able to just barely see his forehead. Instead, he almost cocks his head to the outside and I end up seeing between his jaw bones. It is very slight, but probably has something to do with the fact that it is almost impossible to get him to foam on the right side of his mouth. I am going to experiment with having his inside reins shorter going right. I did some manual flexions of his face to see if there was resistance to flexing right and he didn't resist me at all.
Long term goals for using side reins include progressing to the canter and lunging over ground poles.