Forming a Partnership
Well, it only took a year, but we're FINALLY making progress!!! Bullet seems to have spent most of his life learning to avoid contact with his riders. Considering most of the Old Guard are men who have never ridden a horse prior to military service, that's not surprising. Men tend to use force to overcome fear, so Bullet would naturally have developed a tough mouth. Additionally, he is single-stepped by choice and double-jointed in his jaw!
Prior to spring of 2012 I honestly don't think Bullet had willingly made contact with a bit. He knew every trick in the book (and some that were new!) for evasion; he did what I insisted he do and no more. Drafts are naturally cold, and they know how big they are. They know darn well no person on earth can make them do anything they don't wanna do! So, how to make Bullet WANT to communicate with me?
I began by getting him a new bridle and a better bit. I'm using a Kimberwicke snaffle with a Western curb chain. Sounds weird, but it works for us. I ordered the burgundy bridle off ebay and should have ordered blue! It arrived and, much to Bullet's dismay, is a plum colour just this side of pink. Poor manly baby! I am the only person who does anything with Bullet - ground work, feeding, moving pastures, riding, treats, etc. This helped me form a bond with him (I don't think he had ever been handled by a woman and he neither listened to nor respected me).
I am now the ONLY pair of hands in Bullet's mouth, and I took a very different method from any horse I'd trained before. As crazy as it sounds, I kind of let him be in charge for awhile. As long as he kept moving forward, and what we did was mostly my idea, I let him have his own way without much movement of the bit. We started with no curb chain and the bridle tighter than I would normally go so that he couldn't slip the bit. I just wanted it to sit in his mouth. We stayed in the round pasture with the gate closed. It took about 4 months for him to get comfortable. Then, suddenly, he picked up the bit one day and asked for contact!
I still didn't ask for much, but we began stretching and working on some lateral flexibility and rounding. He's not a well-balanced horse and it's much tougher for him to step under himself for tight circles and things than it is for the TBs. It amazes me how simple movements are so difficult for Bullet. However, he does have an AMAZING slow trot that I can't wait to develop!! Piaffe and passage, here we come!
It's difficult for me to get impulsion out of him. He swings along with his natural "doing just as much as I have to" attitude, so I started using blunt spurs. This is bad for me, because with him being so wide my own laziness kicks in and I have a tendency to use my heels first instead of my thighs. But we'll get there. It's easy to sit Bullet's slow trot, but his natural trot catapults me out of the saddle!! Posting to the extreme! We haven't quite gotten our act together and I think I've bumped him in the mouth a few times. :( But we're getting there!