So far I've only done the simplest head and neck exercises at a stand still, without the whole halter set-up for contact (I'm going to try that this weekend). Those exercises are:
- Cheek Press
- Jaw Delineation
- Shoulder Delineation
Next I did the jaw delineations, basically just running my fingertips around their jaw from the ears down. Coriander said "ho hum," but Gwen had a big reaction- she immediately poked her nose out and started licking like crazy. The next day she licked just a little, and the third day the licking was gone. Interesting.
Neither horse has much of a reaction to the shoulder delineations, running your hand down the line of the scapula. I guess this is a good thing, apparently they don't carry tension in their shoulders. I'll be trying this at a walk next to see if they have any reaction to that.
Then I tried the caterpillars, running your hand along the vertebra up the neck. This exercise is supposed to stimulate the horse to "telescope" their neck, which helps them to raise their back and accept contact. The cool thing was that Coriander immediately telescoped, he obviously doesn't have any tension in his head or neck at all- which makes me feel better, I haven't wrecked him with my shoddy riding. Again, Gwen had issues. She immediately braced against it, which is interesting since I was just running my hand up her neck without using any pressure at all. She finally started to telescope a little bit yesterday- after five days of practice.
Their different reactions to these very simple exercises has been quite an eye-opener. For one thing it seems that you don't have to be very good at doing these things to get a good result, and then there's seeing the affects of how they hold their bodies. Coriander is a very easy-going kind of dude and his body reflects that. He's pretty loosey-goosey in his head and neck (though I'll be interested to see how he reacts when I start with the exercises further along his body, he's stiff through his barrel). Gwen, on the other hand, is quite anxious and tends to crane her head up in the air and invert; she's got a ton of tension in her head and neck.
The other aspect that struck me is how quickly I'm seeing results: Every time I worked with Gwen I'd do a few exercises and then take her for a walk. Even when she was blocked during the exercises she was still better to lead after the exercises than she has ever been before. She walked off relaxed with her head long and low and actually stopped with me instead of running ahead a step or two like she normally does.
Plus- I think I've mentioned before that Gwen is incredibly stiff to the right. When I was mounted and tried to give her a treat to the right I had to impale myself on the saddle horn to get my hand forward enough for her to reach it. Yesterday, after doing these exercises with her for a week, she reached her head around to the right and sniffed my boot for the first time ever (on her own, I wasn't pulling her around). She was happy to take treats from the right and I didn't have to impale myself to do it. Impressive!
I found this video below giving a little introduction to Peggy Cummings and Connected Groundwork. In this video you'll see the cheek press and caterpillar exercises that I mentioned earlier. Give them a try yourself, you might find out something surprising about your horse.
My thanks to An Image of Grace for introducing me to Peggy Cummings. I think my horses thank you too :)