I bought Willo about 8 months ago. He was a showjumper, reschooled for eventing. The plan was to find a horse that I could start my first year of British Eventing with, and Willo seemed to tick all the boxes. However, he's an exceptionally smart boy, and clearly sensed that dressage was new to me (I'm a sj and xc junkie by heart!) and he was not going to do anything he didn't have to. We have spent approximately the last 8 months gently cajoling and encouraging, trying to get Willo to work correctly (which we knew he could do) and more importantly teaching me how to achieve that - but also struggling with the fact that he is very fussy in his mouth, and he can object quite strongly to a firm contact - often with huge bucks and lipzzaner leaps!
The trick has been trying to establish an elastic contact that he didn't object to, not hanging on his mouth, but also not leaving him without support and dropping him on his nose. Having not had a lesson for a while had given my trainer Sharon Kilminster time to reflect, and she concluded that Willo has had things his own way for far too long! He had ample opportunity to comply, so now it was time to get tough - no more asking, now we were insisting. Oh and just to warn you, says Sharon, you might need to sit up in case he starts to object! *Gulp*
So what was the end result? Well, win number 1 was no objections from Willo. No chomping furiously on the bit, no nose poking, no grunting, no bucking or leaping - and actually not angry at all! Result. No flying dismounts required, happy Willo and happy me. Win number 2 - an entire lesson working correctly in an outline, hocks underneath him and working over his back. Oh, and not just a token gesture, a few steps then drop you and hollow, or a slight softening, I mean the full monty walk trot and canter on both reins, even maintaining through transitions and changing the rein! Wow, what a feeling.
I know this is just the start and there is heaps more to work on, but without having achieved this correct way of working our progress has been slow in this area and our scores poor, so now we can really build and hopefully progress through the scales of training. To a dressage diva I'm sure this would have been easily achievable, but there is no learning in having someone else hop on your horse and showing you how it's done!
That was revelation part 1. Part 2 came the next day when I followed up with a jumping lesson. I hopped on, and to my astonishment, there he was, immediately soft and round and easy - exactly the same as the previous evening, proof that it wasn't just a fluke! It's like the penny has dropped. Sharon said I was looking a little bit Cheshire Cat up there I was smiling so much. It got even better though, we cantered round the school on both reins, flying changes where they needed to be, and every fence he really popped in a way that I've not felt before. For the first time I felt like I was sat on that talented showjumper I bought, his performance was 100% better, and he was really pinging - all because he had been working correctly! This was all the proof I needed, flatwork definitely is the key to everything, and maintaining this new way of working is a priority.
Here is a taster of the pre-revelation bay giraffe I used to own warming up for our 1st ever dressage test. The professional pictures were so awful I couldn't even bear to look at them! The one on the right is the 'new Willo' who is hopefully here to stay!