Until now. It's become glaringly apparent that we have got to pull out all the stops to work on his canter. Sure, we could try things like a little shoulder fore in the canter, or maybe some shallow counter-canter serpentines, but his canter is literally such a mess that I can't do anything with it. Cantering more with him splatted on his forehand isn't going to help, so we opted to try about a million trot-canter-trot transitions on the longe line in hopes he would be able to sort himself out a bit on his own, and get a little stronger so that when I'm on his back we don't flail quite so much.
Our first try was with my old stand-by, side reins. When I had Cash, I used to longe him often, just for a few minutes. I wanted him to have a chance to feel the bit contact without the instability of a rider's hands, and over time, side reins definitely helped him. With Paddy, the goals are different - steady rhythm and tempo, and better balance in all gaits but especially the canter.
Paddy in side reins. Note that he's BTV and tight in the base of his neck.
One thing I discovered about using elasticized side reins is that Paddy likes to lean on them. That meant when I got in the saddle to ride him after longeing, he was SUPER heavy in my hand (and having him more in my hand is really not somewhere I want to go). I also tried side reins without elastic, and he sucked back behind the bit the entire time with those. So while the elastic side reins might be OK if I'm ONLY going to longe him, they aren't great if I'm also going to ride.
Based on a little research and recommendations from other bloggers, I decided to try a chambon. The action is entirely different than side reins - it works off poll pressure and bit pressure when the horse raises his head. When the horse lowers his head, all pressure is released. He's allowed to go with his nose poked out or in and his head way down or slight up, and the chambon won't activate. It's only when he flings his head in the air that it kicks in.
Paddy with a chambon. Note how he's relaxed along his neck and top line, stepping under (for him), and has his nose poked out and down. This is actually a GREAT free walk for him!
It took him a few sessions to figure out the action of the chambon, but now he goes in a big, relaxed, swinging walk, and he's relaxing into the trot more and more. It's interesting to see how hard it is for him to balance in a trot over his topline for more than half a circle without anything to lean on, but he's getting better day by day. The canter is still very hard for him, but it's only been two weeks and he's finding his balance a bit more. I'm keeping sessions short, maybe 10-15 minutes total, mostly walking, and it's definitely making a difference under saddle. His walk is much freer and his trot and canter are both a bit more balanced. Yay progress!
Do you use longeing as a regular training aid?