Over the past 18 months my horse has been in almost weekly (correct) dressage training; I started riding him about 6 months ago. He was ewe-necked and older and hadn’t really been ridden in over 2 years.
It has been slow work. And the trainer I have is amazing. He made major gains every single ride, but it was only once a week due to time and money. After 6 months I could sense minor changes in his body. After about a year I could definitively see the difference in his muscling and now 18 months later he is at a point in his training where he can reliably use his back come up underneath at all 3 gaits.
At almost 20 years old he is the happiest and healthiest he has been in his entire life. He looks so good, like a real horse, with strong shoulders and a (relatively) cresty neck and a broad back and a muscled butt!
We never used draw reins, we put him in a super fat loose ring, and it’s purely from the correct dressage techniques my trainer used that he has come this far. And her patience. Oh, her patience was key. She first had to convince him he was capable of say, moving laterally off her leg, or bending to the inside, or that contact with the bit was NOT her pulling on him.
He would lock up and not even try to do what she was asking. I’m assuming he assumed he couldn’t do it, because he never had done it, and yes it was hard and maybe even hurt a little (tight muscles stretching will do that). But as she helped him realized that she was asking for reasonable things, he started to grow quickly and kept trying (though it was very. slow. going.). Now he volunteers to stretch his neck and back at the end of a ride (or when he thinks it’s time for the end of a ride), going long and low and with a lovely pace and a nice step underneath himself.
Truly, the mental game is just as important as the physical one in some of these. He used to evade her riding by trying to take off when things got hard or he was off balance (so… like all the time). And pulling stressed him out more. I remember the first time that taking off wasn’t his go to “I’m confused” response- we both got a little teary eyed when instead of taking off he just kinda came to a stop as if he was suggesting “Hey, I need to regroup a minute”.
I digress, though.
The point is, be very very patient, and get someone very very correct to work with you. I wish I had before/after with this horse, because it’s almost like a miracle. If you had told me even 2 years ago that my horse could go like he does now… I wouldn’t have believed you.