The original reasoning was that while he is *very* light in the bridle, he went from soft soft soft to grabbing the bit and having zero mouth in about .2 seconds.
This was especially true in the lines - where we also weren't exactly eating up the ground (recall in Germany he was almost always on an add stride.. and they were baffled when we said that wouldn't fly in the US..)
Anyway, in an attempt to get him a bit softer, have some communication we fiddled around.
More bit just backed him off and made him super empty in the bridle - so that wasn't a great solution... but the German Martingale (not sure why I keep capitalizing that) had just enough added leverage to get some softness when we wanted it, but then be mostly neutral when we didn't.
Anyway, so all the while, progress has been made both on getting up the lines, and holding leads, which was great. One consistent point that we weren't really making progress on was getting Winds to really reach for the bridle. There is also something weird about how he carries himself, so that when you are on him you think "wow gosh, he's so open and stretched through his topline! this is great"
But from the ground he's still at, or just behind the vertical. I have literally never ridden a horse where the perceived carriage, and what you feel in your hand is so different from the ground.
So last week, I had been thinking that perhaps the "weight" of the martingale was enough that Winds didn't really want to reach forward, so we took it off.
And, whaddya know. He happily stretched his frame a bit more, poked his nose to (or just in front of) the vertical and raised his whole balance a smidge.
Over fences it was a different horse.
(he was also a bit... excited for the fences that day, but still... different horse)
We didn't drill him much, but every.single.fence. was good. And he held every lead. And never landed cross once.
So. the German Martingale had gone from being a useful tool - to being inhibitive.
Which sparked a philosophical discussion in the barn as to how you identify that change as soon as possible.
Obviously it was never my intent to keep him in the GM forever, but when do you assume the gimmick, (or whatever) has done it's job and is no longer needed?
On a horse like Windsor (who wasn't in need of brakes, or any restriction from a safety standpoint) perhaps we could have taken it off once a week. But we didn't. mostly because it didn't feel like it was restricting progress..
But it was.
Or rather - it was restricting information. Because what a few rides without the martingale told us was that Winds was (much) happier and (much) more comfortable when he could pick his own balance and poke his nose a tad.
When he was being bridled more, he wasn't able to adjust properly and was popping off leads and whatever else...
Vet thought that was a good indication that something was up in his neck (facepalm) so Friday we took a looksee and, sure enough - found some arthritis in a couple spots - most notably C3/4.
After the ensuing rage blackout of "WTF we x-rayed that and it was clean sweet jesus does it ever end" (answer: no. no it doesn't).
I came around to (finally) understanding that the x-rays don't really show any degeneration on the transverse process, so we had to ultrasound (ugh) in order to see the inflammation that indicates it.
Anyway, so buddy boy got another couple injections (on the left side only) - and the more I thought about it, discomfort in his neck makes a lot of sense.
It explains his stiff direction
It explains why he wants to grab the bit and stiffen his neck in the lines
It explains why his RH is a bit tricky to gather up
It explains the rough landings/lead popping
It EXPLAINS ALL THE THINGS.
So, from that perspective I guess I'm grateful that we had something straight forward to address that (hopefully) will benefit all of the things we have been chipping away at.
I should have also taken a picture when he was under sedation because when he is totally relaxed his neck is SCREWED UP. the muscling is so uneven from left to right it's absurd I couldn't see it before (or while I'm riding and staring at his little neck..).
But - again, super consistent with the info from the gal who does bodywork said. tightness indicating discomfort on his left side... tight nuchal ligament, tight pecs and left shoulder...
So I'm left with the residual guilt for a) schooling the tar out of him on some of these things (in which he just smiles and says "ok mom. I'll try harder") that he really couldn't do anything about.
And also the residual guilt for not pulling the martingale sooner and starting this process more swiftly.
So. I'll pose the question again - how stagnant is your setup? When's the last time you changed bits/boots/saddles/anything. Is there anything in your regular tack you assume you still need but might not?
I'll hack him lightly tomorrow to see where we are, then I'm out of town and Trainer takes over for the week, but hopefully I'll squeak in a ride or two next week before he ships to Cali that weekend!