So, yesterday after one of my students finished their lesson riding Cass in walk and trot working on concepts of straight, forward and bending; I noticed at two specific areas in the arena Cass was very resistant on the left rein due to fear of those two areas.
I hopped on and rode on the left rein and sure enough Cass was bulging his left side and so were his eyes (how I knew it was fear.) I tried forcing the issue of getting him straight by using strong left aids, all this did was exacerbate the issue and caused him to raise his head higher (more fear.)
So I worked him on a 15 meter circle having a portion of the circle intersect with one of the areas in the arena he was really bulging. This I did to get him to release tension in his ribs, by being really strong in my aids so he had to try, it was a lot of pressure, he did comply, but, not with softness. So, to try to alleviate this, I rewarded his effort at the point in the arena and on the circle he was most tense. I did not just stop for a few seconds. I waited as long as he needed. How did I know? He let out the biggest exhale and lowered his head. I still did not move off. I stayed with him and patted him and told him through touch and voice how proud I was of him to let it go. See, Cass was convinced a life threatening entity was on the other side of the wall. I let him see it wasn't and I also rewarded his try on the circle at the point he applied all sorts of pressure to himself. I helped him see that this spooky place is a relaxation place.
The greatest part was when I asked Cass to try again and viola he was soft and engaged with me and his head was low. We tried in the walk trot and canter.
I did the same exercise at the other end of the arena and it took 1/3 the time and we worked in the canter. He asked for his head and lowered and cantered so relaxed.
So waiting to exhale is all it takes, we breathed so much better together:)