View Full Version : Help for a super strong horse - frustrated

Jan. 18, 2010, 08:01 PM
I just got done riding my mare, Cali. She's been mostly off (as in vacation) this winter. I've ridden her three times this week trying to get her back in shape. I've ridden about 30 minutes each ride. I was quickly reminded how STRONG this mare is. All last summer I tried to just work on getting her quiet doing lots of trot work, transitions, ground poles. She would have good days, and she would have STRONG days where she just wanted to GO.

Does anyone have any good ideas on what I can work on. I use half halts as much as I can, and give her some freedom when she responds. I think I'm a strong yet quiet rider, but she wears me out. If I canter her, she typically gets stronger and faster. Today we did some walk/trot/canter/walk-type transitions. It was all I could do to get her to transition down. I even lunged her a bit before I got on. Again, even in regular work this mare is strong. She is not mean-spirited at all. She's a doll on the ground. But she's been like this to ride since I've had her (few years).

I wish I had video of today's ride. I have a clip from a show we went to last year. I ended up not even showing her, but used the time as a schooling session. I'll try to get current video so I can get some feedback. If you see the video, you can see she is a pretty BIG girl, so she's stronger than I am!


The other day when I rode her we were just trying to trot some ground pole cavaletti. I had a tough time getting her to not want to try to take canter strides or just adding a stride into the trot poles. I would love for her to just RELAX some. She has a somewhat short stride, and she's not a beautiful mover, but she can jump beautifully. And when she's paying attention and listening to me, we do some jump work (not this week, however). I love her jump. I just wish I could put it all together. I haven't done much in the way of course work, just gymnastics, etc. When we jump, I will take a fence or gymnastic, and make her halt. That seems to help sometimes. But today it was simply riding on the flat that was tough.:confused:

Any advice would be appreciated.

Jan. 18, 2010, 08:25 PM
One rein stops. I would do these until she understands that when you ask her to slow down that she either slows down or "pays this price". It will work if you are consistent with it. You can use it between fences, between ground poles (not ones tho that are spaced one stride apart, too dangerous that they could trip).

I just watched video after writing the above. I do still suggest this BUT this horse seems to have no idea of what flatwork is. I would compltely forget about jumping for now and work on a TRUE RELAXED trot rythum. If I had this horse I would take her back to the round pen and teach her to focus more on the person working her. If you watch the video she is paying attention to EVERYTHING but the rider, to her that's just an annoying fly! She needs to understand that she MUST focus on the job, not race around with her head up and back stiff. When working her on the flat I would INSIST on a slow trot rythum, as soon as the rythum quickens AT ALL I would do a one rein stop, hold the rein until her feet stop moving, count to three and then begin again. She will begin to clue into the rider then and not everything else going on. Once you have a CONSISTENT slow RELAXED trot rythum, which may take weeks, you can progress to ground poles and working on the canter. This horse NEEDS lots of flatwork, transitions and ground work.

Jan. 18, 2010, 08:30 PM
Thanks. We'll work on that. And really, we are really trying to work on the flat work. That's what I was doing this past summer. (The show was the fall prior, so over a year ago.) Some days she gets it. Other, she does not/will not. At that show, she was NOT paying attention at all, I admit that.

I'll try to get a current video, too. Maybe that'll be more indicative of her current state.

Jan. 18, 2010, 08:30 PM
Take her back to square one. She hasnt the foggiest what you want, and YOU need to learn how to relax down your leg. YOU are very tense and enabling 50% of it.

Put her on the lunge and commit to it for the next 6 weeks. lunge her over ground poles, put her in side reins, TALk to her, get her thinking and responding.
No horse should ever be sat on if it doesnt understand whoa. It's not fair to either of you.

Jan. 18, 2010, 08:33 PM
Ditto. Also, a few comments about position. The rider in the video looks very much perched on top of the horse, and looks to want to be a bit too forward seated. Some horses need a more connected, deep seated rider at one point or another. I'd suggest dropping your stirrups 2-3 holes so you can get your leg around her. It's hard to half halt well when you don't have good contact through your thigh. I'd also suggest bringing your upper body back to the vertical and your seat down into the saddle. While soft and light is the ideal, it seems like you need more aids to get this horse paying attention- so why not take advantage of your seat and weight to balance her back over her butt.

Jan. 18, 2010, 08:35 PM
Maybe the tenseness was because of the show atmosphere (on my part). But maybe not. Hard to critique myself.

Maybe this is a silly question, but how do you work on relaxing when your horse is not totally paying attention? I don't FEEL tense.

But I understand working on the ground (lunge/round pen). I can work on that.

Jan. 18, 2010, 08:38 PM
Yes, that was me riding. She's the type of horse that when I ride her I really feel like I'm having to go UPHILL. So she's more difficult for me to sit back on. Because I FEEL like I'm sitting back, until my husband yells at me ;-) telling me to sit back. But I hadn't thought about dropping the stirrups. Should have been obvious. I have ridden her in my dressage saddle a few times over the summer. I don't recall if I felt better in it or not.

(And thanks to all of you who are responding...I know I'm not a perfect rider, but I'm trying to improve all the time.)

Jan. 18, 2010, 09:36 PM
Is there a dressage trainer you can work with? It looks like both you and your horse could really benefit from some basic dressage training.

My mare can be a little fizzy like this when I first get on. With the proper warm up, she's on a loose rein with a hunter stretchy trot 10 minutes later. I think it's totally going to depend on the individual horse, but I'll give you an idea of what I do.

I warm up walking on a loose rein but don't try to pick up any contact in the walk or do any tight turns. My mare instantly gets tense when I try to get her into a working walk so we save this stuff for later in the ride.
We start the trot on a figure eight with lotssss of half halts and transitions. This is where a dressage trainer can really help teach you the correct way to half halt and to teach your horse to respond. With my mare, the figure eight really keeps her changing bend and paying attention. I know its hard at shows, but you need to add some variety in your warm up-- you do not want straight lines with this type of horse. I'll also add some serpentines and random turns and circles and whatnot in here, just keep things unpredictable.

Right after we pick up the trot, I'll do some big and imprecise half halts to get her to almost walk and then trot again. You can also add some full transitions to the walk and halt. Once my mare is thinking about downward transitions, I use smaller half halts for smooth transitions between a shortened trot and normal trot, and occasionally I'll let her out for a lengthened trot and then back again.

Next I will do some circles to a leg yield to a circle. Then we'll go on a circle and do some trot-canter transitions, and then we'll alternate canter circles to simple changes through the trot across the diagonal, back to a few circles on the new lead.

Usually at this point we'll go back to the walk and I'll do transitions between a free and working walk and some other walk work. By now my mare is normally relaxed and focused so I'll switch to hunter-y mode and let her stretch down and out on a loose rein. If she gets speedy, we do an almost-walk transition and then back to trot. Even in hunter mode, be sure to keep things interesting and stay off the rail. Incorporate big loops and designs and whatever you want-- spell your name on horseback or something xP

This was probably unnecessarily long for what I was trying to say, sorry. Basically, downward transitions and lots of circles/serpentines/loops/etc!

One more thing I forgot to add- I do lots of suppling with my inside rein throughout all of this to get my mare to lower her head and relax. While keeping contact with my outside rein, I'll squeeze and release the inside rein a few times, or I'll rotate my hand for an indirect bend to very slightly overbend, and then release (horse will usually take the bit and stretch down on the release). Be sure you have a clear release, even on a fast horse, because you don't want to hang on the mouth or be heavy with your hands.

Some good resources: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2PNXXo5TFV4
http://chronofhorse.com/article/edward-gal-shares-his-training-secrets (lots of transitions in his warmup)

Jan. 18, 2010, 09:48 PM
Hi ParadoxFarm, the one thing that kept coming up for me, you have great tight legs, but wondering if they might be a little to tight, knee and almost pushing her on from your own strong leg., she could be confussed about what you are asking. I wondering if dropping your stirrup hole one, perhaps toes out a bit more might relax her to listen and focus more on accepting, rather than running, reacting...

Just a thought to share.

Nice mare, paradox....

Jan. 18, 2010, 09:56 PM
My horse has been recently very strong due to riding less, footing issues - when I am able to work him this winter after days off, and when he does get in the ring in nice, soft footing, he is ALL go. I am no expert but I can tell you what has helped us.

My trainer feels I need to ride "heavier" a.e. not perched, not in a light seat. I am small compared to my horse, and she wants him to FEEL me posting, sit deep and not perch up in a half seat...as in, make sure he feels me on his back.

Secondly, I notice your warmup was on the rail, no change of direction (unless I missed it) and your mare is on what I call autopilot. I agree about the transitions - LOTS of them. Do not let her anticipate what you will do next - my horse is a BIG anticipator. Just because we tracked left trotting and picked up canter in deep left corner, doesn't mean we will do the same thing the next time around the ring. My riding always starts with gait transitions.....walk/halt. Walk/trot/halt. Trot/walk/halt. That is on the way TO the ring. I keep him guessing. Then when we arrive in the ring, I use anything and everything I can to change direction. I circle jumps, change direction, back up, figure 8's. You can use cones, rocks, heck - manure piles! I used to board at a place with 2 nice fenced rings. Flatwork REALLY changes when you move to a place with an unfenced ring. I realized how little control I had over my horse.

I am also a big fan and user of the one rein stop. If your horse continually changes gait without asking, she will learn quickly that doing so is the wrong answer. Better yet, ORS and immediately put her to work - trot small circles, yield her HQ, back her up 20 yards. She will soon learn it is much easier to stay in the gait asked. You could also do a "passenger" lesson in a fenced ring. You set the gait - no steering. Her job is to stay at the gait you set. If she changes gait or gets too strong at the canter, ORS. Back to work.

Good luck!

Jan. 18, 2010, 10:18 PM
I agree with the changes of direction, circles, and serpentines to make her think. When my hot little mare is being spooky or wild I do make myself "heavier" on her back and post in a more distinct rhythm with a little more pressure through my lower leg and thighs. I get her bending and paying attention to my inside leg and doing a lot of direction changes, shoulder in, haunches out, side pass, half pass- just a few steps of each to get her to pay attention to me. One trick a trainer told me when I used to retrain OTTB's was to slow my post down slower than the horses rhythm and they would usually slow down to match.

ex-racer owner
Jan. 18, 2010, 10:33 PM
Congratulations! You were actually brave enough to post a video of yourself riding!:) That being said, I agree with the other COTHers about you needing to work on yourself, as well as the horse. I wanted to focus on the horse, but was drawn more to the rider. It just looked like the rider's leg wasn't as far under them as I would like it, and that the posting was more "mechanical" rather than being with the horse's motion and with almost a chair seat. Having ridden a lot of "problem type" horses myself, I know from my own experience that sometimes just the rider's position can contribute to problems, especially creating a more tense, resistant horse. I think the rider's lower leg looked very tight, and I would just prefer to see the lower leg come back a bit. I do realize that a lot of times when working with a horse that is less than compliant, your position can suffer and I know that I am guilty of it from time to time also! I also second the slow down the posting. I have found that horses will generally match their pace to yours. slower posting= slower trot

I have to agree, again, with the recommendation of some basic dressage lessons. The horse is totally in his own world and looks inverted to me. I think if you could work on teaching the horse to stretch and begin seeking the bit, it could help you both a lot. Ask me how I know ;) Also, relax and breathe!

I think the two of you have the potential to make a very nice team, so please go get some professional help so I can feel good rooting for you :lol:

Jan. 18, 2010, 10:40 PM
How much turnout does she get?

Jan. 18, 2010, 10:46 PM
...I know I'm not a perfect rider, but I'm trying to improve all the time.)
Sweety, nobody is! so at least you aren't alone :cool:
drop those stirrups a few holes and think about relaxing all the muscles in your legs, from your crotch to your toes. Think "drunken rider" or "sloppy butt" and breathe, relax and slow your posting til you feel a little behind the motion.
The most important muscles to relax are your inner thigh, and that can take some practice, especially coming from huntseat.

And dont expect a night and day fix. Every attempt to comply should be met with praise. it's going to take her a while to get a clue.

Jan. 18, 2010, 11:03 PM
Ask for bend (make sure you use your legs, not just hand). Soften when she softens. Lots of circles and figure 8's. I personally don't like lots of rapid transitions on a horse that is a little hot...just seems to rev them up more.
Agree w/lengthening your stirrups and slowing your posting. But try bending and circles.

Jan. 19, 2010, 12:56 AM
I would really suggest some dressage lessons for both of you. It appears the mare has no understanding of flatwork at ALL. I'm not meaning to sound harsh, its just what I see.

Lunge in side reins - let her fight with herself instead of pulling on you. Do lots of bending.. spiral circles, etc.

Fairview Horse Center
Jan. 19, 2010, 01:11 AM
I am sure this is not the main the problem, but you are riding totally with your weight over your right leg and seatbone, and drawing up your left leg, Not sure if this is an issue both directions for you (inside-outside) of if you are always shifting to the right.

Work on stretching down into your left heel.

Jan. 19, 2010, 02:30 AM
Hi! I'm very impressed that you posted a video of yourself riding :) It is so hard to do that!

I'm not going to comment on your ride. You are actually doing quite well with what you've got, and it's hard to relax and sit back when you feel like you're being run away with at the trot :) I can give some constructive help on two fronts: relaxing your horse, and equipment.

Your horse seems only a little bit amped up (but behaving quite well, I might add).
The way her body is moving suggests to me that she is quite tight in her back and neck--and she seems to be holding her breath some, as well. She's going a bit hollow in this video, and you can see that she's not using her full reach of stride in front or behind. That comes from tight muscles, which can be both physical and from emotional energy. I've had this same problem with my horses. Some things that can help: First, make sure she doesn't have any back or neck discomfort by having her checked by a chiropractor. Once that's good, you can either have her massaged by a pro, or do it yourself with either your hands and a book, or a hand-held massager that you can get from Walgreens for about 25 bucks. I'm betting she will like that, and she will associate you with calm, good feelings. Second, try starting her on Vitamin B1 Crumbles. The smallest amount (ie about a tablespoon!) fed as a treat to my thoroughbred literally sends him into a stupor of relaxation, within about 5 minutes. It's unbelievable. I was not a believer until I tried it on my own horse.

If you longe her, I would suggest using side reins and a surcingle, set so that when her neck is outstretched, the reins have just fully straightened. You will want guidance in learning to use side reins so as to encourage her to lower her head and use her abs, pushing from behind while stretching over her topline. If you make the reins too short, you'll encourage her to tighten up even more, which is what you don't want. It will take her a while to realize that it feels good to drop her head. When she does, her stride length will improve--she'll take bigger steps, rather than fast, choppy ones.

When riding, keep your hands/arms wide (about 18 inches apart) and low (about 8 inches below where they are now.) This will encourage her to drop her head because the wide "V" formed by your arms will give her a clear signal that you have contact, but are not pulling back (green horses have trouble with this, so tend to carry their heads high out of confusion)--it forms sort of a chute for the horse to go forward into. With your hands being lower and steady, she will start to drop her head to look for that contact. Go ahead and let her do that. If you have a trainer, there are two pieces of equipment I've found incredibly helpful: a chambon and/or vienna reins. You do need someone to teach you how to put them on properly and use them properly.

To keep her from getting speedier and speedier, practice working her in just a corner of the arena, using only about a 20 or 30-meter circle or figure 8. By keeping her in this small "world" she'll learn to be calm while working. You can gradually make her world larger as she remains calm. If you can work with a trainer who can teach you lateral work, that will be great for both of you guys, and will help her stretch out those tight muscles.

First thing: get those vitamin B1 Crumbles. Then go from there. Good luck! Will you post a progress report?

Jan. 19, 2010, 10:59 AM
Thanks all. I will consider everything that was said here, and definitely put some tips to work.

As a side note, I do more circles and figure 8's at home. It was just too hard at the show with all the pony riders in the ring taking the cross rails. ;-)

I have taken some dressage lessons, but not with this horse. I will do that. And ride longer. Several of you mentioned that.

Thanks, and I'll keep you posted. It was actually hard to "put myself out there" on the board.

Jan. 19, 2010, 12:45 PM
What I saw here looks very promising. The mare is cute, and obviously willing, and you've got the basics of your leg and position down. I agree that you look tense. The horse isn't being allowed to stretch into the bit and work through her back, which will definitely help her relax when she gets there. Your hands look like they're holding on for dear life, and that could be the major source of her tension.

I agree that working her in side reins will help her accept contact and develop through the back so that she's not going in such an upside down way, fighting against the rider's hands. Ironically, a horse like this needs you to soften your fingers, keep your leg on and to stay with her motion with your seat. Let your seat follow rather than tense up and panic. BREATHE! Sit up as tall as you can. Stop worrying that you're not strong enough. You are! In fact, you're trying to prove it to your horse, and ironically, it's backfiring.

While you're schooling her, try not to worry about her being quick for short periods of time--five strides, then ten strides, then once around the ring, etc. See what happens when you trust her completely. Experiment with loosening the reins. It looks to me like she's reacting to the ride you're giving her, which I'm sure is in reaction to what she's been doing with you. This, though, seems like a case of nervous tension for both the horse and rider rather than an instance of being over-horsed.

Jan. 19, 2010, 01:07 PM
It just looked like the rider's leg wasn't as far under them as I would like it, and that the posting was more "mechanical" rather than being with the horse's motion and with almost a chair seat.

Agreed. The legs are tight, but very clamped on tight, not relaxed and in proper position tight. This is going to send a hot horse through the roof. Lengthen the stirrups and get the legs under the rider will be a large portion of the battle.

One exercise that can slow and relax a trot is the up for two beats, down for one posting. It's a similar theory to posting the canter and it does really work at relaxing the trot into a nice steady rhythm.

Jan. 19, 2010, 01:12 PM
Something I noticed, and something I have had problems with is the how tense your arm is. I don't mean in terms of nervousness but the muscle is flexed and tight (I am sure trying to hold onto those reins!). I recently helped a girl understand how to relax the hand and arm, when you hold onto the reins use your thumb and first finger to hold them, many people tighten the lower fingers to keep the reins from sliding through their hands. If you just try that now without reins, if you clinch with your lower fingers your whole forearm which makes your whole upper body stiff. You can keep just a good hold of the reins with your thumb and index finger then you have some play with your fingers below. If you can learn to do that your whole body will relax some, so no you are not tense in the nervous way, but using your muscles all over too much.

Also do try riding on a loser rein and let her stretch into your hand some. Let her trot some and if she won't slow down shes got to work at the walk, then ask her to trot again repeat until she gets slower she will learn it is easier to go slow than not. The biggest thing with ones like this is to not get frustrated and get in a pulling battle with them.

Now many people do not like this, but this is what works best for me. With ones like this I often up bit so that they listen to smaller pulls, and I ride with a loose rein and then only have to make small movements and lessen the chances of getting in a pulling fight with them. I ride like these a few rides then go to a much softer bit, and 99% of the time they understand better and never have to go back to the stronger bit. Good luck. I know how you feel :)

Jan. 19, 2010, 01:38 PM
Yes, I think it was a little more tense at the show than it is at home. But we often get a similar ride at home. Sometimes better, and sometimes worse.

A little background on the horse. She used to belong to a professional rider who rode at the grand prix level. (No, NOT with this horse, haha). This horse was ridden in the level 3 jumpers. I saw her being ridden by two girls. One maybe 17 years old, the other maybe 21 years old. This mare rushed her courses and I do not believe either of the girls were riding. They seemed to be passengers. (as a side note I often heard the trainer telling them to SLOW DOWN and then with the next breath he'd say LET GO OF HER FACE...how does one do that?) That being said, I have seen the trainer ride her. He rode her MUCH better. I'm not sure if it's the professionalism, or the fact that he's a male rider. Maybe a little of both. Unfortunately due to some hardship and tragedy, this trainer is no longer working with horses.

Anyway, with a long and somewhat complicated reason, we ended up with the mare. My husband also rides, and he rode her the first year and did show her in lower level jumpers one time. Then I passed one of our "babies" on to him, and decided to take over on Cali to work on her being QUIET. And at times it really does work. Sometime I think I expect things too quickly. I won't give up on her as she's a sweetheart, and even though she's difficult right now, I do still like the mare.

Oh, and she's turned out at least 8 hours a day. More in the summertime.

Spartacus, I have heard of trainers using the Vita B Crumbles but I had never heard if it really worked. I will try that. Anyone else use them?

Thanks, again.

Jan. 19, 2010, 01:42 PM
lunge line lessons are your best friend in these situations. :D

Meaning, that once you can get her relaxed on the line without a rider, ask a trainer, or even just a rider friend you trust, to lunge the two of you.

The theory is that she'll be paying more attention to the lunge person than you, so she'll go into her "soft quiet lunge mode". At the same time, you can learn to trust her, let go, and finally feel the ride you want and how to adjust your body to get that ride. It also will help you knowing that steering and speed are being regulated by your lunge buddy, giving you the confidence to relax and focus more on yourself.

Of course, if you get a tense, high energy friend to lunge you....well :uhoh:....you'll go back to where you started. So it's important that your lunge-er is quiet yet assertive, and most importantly relaxed.

You are not alone in this quest! I've done countless numbers of reschools with horses and clients in the exact same situation as you and your mare. They all come around, it just takes time and hard work! :winkgrin:

Jan. 19, 2010, 01:55 PM
(as a side note I often heard the trainer telling them to SLOW DOWN and then with the next breath he'd say LET GO OF HER FACE...how does one do that?)

And this is where I think the disconnect lies.

With a "hot" horse, the more you hold and less leg you add, the more they are going to run away from you. As much as it hurts people to hear it, the real problem is the rider.

Do the lunge line lessons and see what happens when you add leg, slow your post down (the two up/one down will probably help you if you can't regulate your post size and speed well), and let go of the face. You might be surprised.

Where do you live? I might have some contacts that could help you.

Jan. 19, 2010, 01:56 PM
I have a similar horse, though probably not as extreme. Some times I would go days without getting a good flat-footed walk from her. She now goes very nicely.

The most important thin is not to tense up on her. Hard to do when you are worreid about "what is she going to do next", but essential.

With a horse like this it is important to be able to SLOW DOWN and LET GO OF HER FACE at the same time. Just like a race horse, the more you "hold" the more she is going to pull and go faster.

It isn't easy, but is essential to making progress.

As one of my instructors says "you can pull as hard as you need to, but you MUST NOT HOLD". If you need to pull on thre reins to slow her down, make sure you release (really release) AT LEAST once per stride. It is on the release that she will respond.

We also spent DAYS when all we worked on was transitions between walk and halt, without her (or me) taking hold of the bit. Sometimes I would start to ask for the halt, and we would be 3/4 of the way around the ring before she actually halted, but we did it without pulling (either of us). Once we mastered that, it helped a LOT at all the other gaits too.

In terms of jumping, you would be surprised how much they WILL slow down if you get out of their faces. I was in a Lucinda Green clinic where a couple of (very experienced, upper level) riders had horses that were rushing their fences. Lucinda had them ride the approach with a loose rein, and the horses SLOWED DOWN on their own, because there was nothing to pull against.

Jan. 19, 2010, 02:03 PM
englishivy, I don't doubt the problem in most part is the rider. :) I'm okay with admitting that. If I don't admit it, I won't improve. When I heard those comments, they were about other riders on her, not me. BUT, I'm sure I'd have the same problem because I don't understand, yet, how to let go and control pace when the horse is so strong. And I can't/won't jump her at a show like this. It would be bad for both of us. That's why the day we took that video I did not show her. She was SO not ready. I just asked my husband to get video to see what I could see what I was doing and what she was doing. She seemed much better at home during that period or I wouldn't have even taken her.

I'm in Middle Tennessee.


Jan. 19, 2010, 02:09 PM
I will add that, in general, a hotter horse goes better with "more leg". but it needs to be a STILL, consistent leg. If my leg starts moving around when I am not intending to give an aid, it drives my hot horse crazy.

Jan. 19, 2010, 02:18 PM
Hi, just a quick response, everyone is really adressing this well.

You need to get back down on your horse's back. three quarters of your communication with her is inacessable because you aren't even in your seat.

You HAVE to sit down! I mean DOWN! Where your seat doesn't come off that saddle, because if you have your SEAT and SEATBONES you don't need to have your leg on her the way you do!

You are TELLING her to go, with that leg, it needs to be relaxed, so when you apply it, it means something.

Right now, you are telling her to look for a jump, and go go go, because that is how you are positioned on her.

If you need your leg like that in order to stay on her, you aren't riding her effectively, you're just hanging on. Your seat can tell her to stop and come back, but not if its up in the air.

The way you are riding, the only thing you have to tell her to come back is hauling on her mouth. You are missing the whole communication with your seat! Its your seat which tells her to stop, slow, gather energy, move out, come back.

If you don't understand how, a dressage teacher will have you two walking quietly in three lessons, and you will see it happen in the first lesson.

No trotting until you are walking and working quietly. No canter until you are trotting effectibly.

Small Change
Jan. 19, 2010, 02:21 PM
To me, the mare looks quick and worried, but not forward. I'd like to see her ridden with more leg into a soft hand - with consistency, I bet she'd soften and relax. It can be hard to put your leg on a horse that already feels fast, but you're doing it to achieve balance, impulsion and forwardness, not pace.

Jan. 19, 2010, 02:25 PM
With a horse like this it is important to be able to SLOW DOWN and LET GO OF HER FACE at the same time. Just like a race horse, the more you "hold" the more she is going to pull and go faster.

It isn't easy, but is essential to making progress.

As one of my instructors says "you can pull as hard as you need to, but you MUST NOT HOLD". If you need to pull on thre reins to slow her down, make sure you release (really release) AT LEAST once per stride. It is on the release that she will respond.

:yes: Even fairly quiet horses can get strong and rushy when you hold on to much. Slow down and let go ARE NOT opposing ideas. You need to use your reins, but you cannot hold onto her mouth and expect her to listen. You must use them and then let go...use them, let go.

Also, a lot of slow down is accomplished with your seat/body. A more upright body, a deeper seat that doesn't follow the motion, and legs that aren't gripping are what is necessary to accomplish the concept of Slow down and let go.

Jan. 19, 2010, 02:26 PM
Haven't really read any of the replies, but you need to relax. If you want her to slow down, you need to slow your posting down. Also, transitions like you're doing will help her, but make sure not to do the same transitions in the same spots over and over again, or she will just anticipate them.

Exercises like circles and serpentines will help her. If you are on a circle, figure eight, etc. she has less to think about going forward like she would if you were on the rail.

When she gets faster than you want her, ask for a half halt. If she doesn't listen, let go of one rein and do a one rein stop with the other. Do NOT let her walk forward until you say so, and make her stand for a few seconds. (and make sure to alternate between both reins). She will learn that listening to the half halt is much easier than having to go through all of that.

Hope that helps

Jan. 19, 2010, 02:27 PM
Also, another thing is, when she gets rushed, it may help to actually let go of the reins and put her on some type of bend. That way she isn't focused on rushing forward without the rein contact and you dont have to worry

Jan. 19, 2010, 02:35 PM
I don't have a lot of good advice to give, but I can sure empathize. I have the same horse (albeit a gelding and a different color). I bought him in May of last year. He is go-go-go all the time. He is also older (11) so this is years and years of questionable training. If you just let him go, he would exponentially increase his speed until you are flying around the ring at a gallop. He may give some of the racing TB's a good run for their money :)

I have been working very very hard on this. I typically ride 6 days a week. It is 9 months later now and I am just beginning to scratch the surface of seeing results. It would be nice if there was just one simple thing to change in my riding or his bit or his feed etc but really all it comes down to is a LOT of consistent riding.

I'd first look at the horse's schedule. Be honest about how often you ride (and how serious your rides are). Could she stand to be worked a little harder/longer? Is she getting too much high energy feed? Does she get enough turnout? Is she sore? Does she need to see a chiro? Does the saddle fit? Those are obvious things, but important to check before you beat yourself up about an under saddle issue.

I've tried a slew of bits on my horse and found what works best is just a rubber mullen mouth bit. He had a really hard mouth when I got him (which was a great combination with the speediness!!) I literally could only canter around the ring ONE time before he'd completely wore me out. Swapping to an easier bit lessens the fight for us as he is more willing to accept contact.

I have probably done more transitions in one year with him than most horses do in their lifetime :lol: I try and always keep him thinking, listening. Me trotting him for 20 minutes doesn't do us much good. However, going from trot to walk to halt to trot to halt etc etc does. Add in some side passing, leg yields, turns on forehand & haunches, and he really starts listening. If he is not paying attention when I ask for collection/lengthening, I just half halt...a little stronger each time so he gets the point. If he just blows through the bridle and ignores me, I halt and back him up to put his attention back to me.

A big thing for me that I still struggle with is learning to trust him and let go. Since he wants to go fast (and is also kind of spooky) I do tense up and keep him on a shorter rein than I mean to. But I am really trying to ease up and trust him more...he is more relaxed when you stay out of his face.

We also do a lot of circles, serpentines, figure eights, etc. I had to teach him how to do ground poles too - he would grab the bit and fly at them. A ground pole! Looking back he was pretty awful when I got him. Sometimes last year I would just fill the entire arena with ground poles. Everywhere. Once he was going over them every few strides he decided they were not terribly exciting anymore. :)

When I felt we had a better handle on the flat work I picked up jumping again, starting with trotting cross rails. One helpful piece of advice I got from Anna White Mullins book was stopping a horse in front of a fence if they are bolting to it, and patting them. Sounds counter intuitive but it works. I think my horse just has a ton of anxiety about jumping from past riders, he just wanted to get over it as fast as possible and be done. If we trotted to the crossrail and he started to drag me or avoid contact, I'd just pull him to a stop, pet him and tell him it was ok to try and get him to relax.

After that we worked up to some grids/gymnastics which were also helpful, since they have a hard time just blowing through those like they might a vertical.

Today he's much much better than he was, but still not perfect. There are still days where he's off in la-la land and wants to drag me around, but at least it is not an every day occurrence any longer.

Hang in there...if you're dedicated you'll get through it. :) I feel your pain!

Jan. 19, 2010, 02:35 PM
I have ridden horses that are very similiar to this. There seems to be a lack of communication. It takes two to carry on a conversation, or communicate. In order to communicate clearly you need to trust one another. She seems to be shut down, not listening or paying any attention to you up there.

Here are several things that seem to work for me.

Sing Row Row Your Boat or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star out loud as if you were trying to put her to sleep. This gets you breathing and sets a rhythm for you to post. Your breathing in rhythm and posting the same rhythm will help her to understand you better.

I agree with other posters in that your leg and hands look tight. You look as if you are ready for the explosion. Your horse takes those cues and begins looking for the reason why you are so tense. Try to be a bump on a log, dish rag, or whatever. Once your horse relaxes, then begin riding actively, but still softly. Try getting something from the least input. Increase your aids in a predetermined pattern. This way she will know what to expect. The increase in aids should be predictable. Reward any slight movement slower, even if it was just a momentary hesitation. Then build on that.

I would do all of these things on a circle, no straight lines until she gives you relaxation. Circles are your friend. Also I wouldn't ask for the circle in a tense or mad way. Remain unemotional. If you go slow/relaxed you get straight easy work. If you give me tense/fast you get circles and harder work. Don't think of going to a circle as a step backward or failure, think of it as an opportunity to work on flexibility. You can also use them to work on lateral movements by spiraling in and out of circles. This way the horse learns that leg means more than just faster.

I have found some horses do well with walk, trot, walk, whoa, back 3-4 strides, whoa, repeat...... This gets them tuned up for the whoa, so that when you ask for a half halt, they are thinking I'm gonna have to back in a second, so I better be ready.

For some really energetic horses, I have found that they need to learn that they should conserve their energy, it could be a long go. Trot with out too much contact ( on a circle) until your horse tries to slow down on her own, then push for another few strides to keep the same pace trot she picked, then ask for a slower rhythm (still trotting), then push back to the faster trot for a few, then back slower, repeat..... sometimes you have to go a while until she is ready to listen to you. The important thing is to not hold her back as long as she is trotting.

One rein stops are important to know how to do and important to know how your horse will react when you use one, but as a matter of training, I don't like to use them. I want my horse to trust my hands and that it will be a life or death situation before I would purposefully induce pain. If you use them as a matter of course, I think you will find your horse will become less trusting and more tense.

This process of training will take a lot of time, a lot of focus and will have forward progress in small steps somedays, leaps and bounds others, and unfortunately sometimes there is regression. The most important thing is for you to remain neutral/low with your energy when she is quick and reward the calm when it comes.

Best of luck.

Jan. 19, 2010, 02:42 PM
Several posters had said the same sort of thing.. but having been through this with multiple horses this is what I have learned.

The mare is probably not hot but she is worried which equates in horse to run from what you are worried about which is being pulled on. You need to learn and trust (as hard as it is) to ride her with very little contact at first teaching her to go long and low. Once she is convinced that her mouth will not be pulled on you will be able to move forward with picking up contact. We have had horses that have figured this out in a few rides and some that have taken a few weeks to figure out we are not going pull on them. We teach them to half halt using very little if any rein. Then as someone mentioned above work with a "good" dressage trainer if at all possible that will teach you and her the correct way to go around in a frame (which is from back to front).

Jan. 19, 2010, 02:43 PM
Question. Is that an elevator bit you are using. Or gag? (Or Myler with the hooks?)

Jan. 19, 2010, 02:44 PM
And this is where I think the disconnect lies.

With a "hot" horse, the more you hold and less leg you add, the more they are going to run away from you. As much as it hurts people to hear it, the real problem is the rider.

Do the lunge line lessons and see what happens when you add leg, slow your post down (the two up/one down will probably help you if you can't regulate your post size and speed well), and let go of the face. You might be surprised.

Where do you live? I might have some contacts that could help you.

This is EXACTLY right.

Paradox, I give you full credit for posting a video here. What you have really done is struck "the Devil's Bargain" with this horse. I am well-acquainted with it myself, having spent years and years riding hot horses exactly like you are doing in this video. Here's how it works: You agree not to touch the horse with your legs, and the horse agrees to not gallop away (most of the time). It is an un-win-able position that then relies on the horse's good graces and temperment of the moment, and even then only produces results akin to "survival." Its not riding. Its survival.


You have gotten suckered into riding this horse with all hand and no seat/leg. What you really need is MORE (and different) LEG! You need to stretch your leg down and use your leg and seat like a securing hug. My suspicion is that when you apply your leg now, you get one result: Immediate forward. But there is so much more you can do with your leg and seat! Namely, exactly what this horse needs: you can get her to stretch her topline, seek the bit, and RELAX! yes, believe it or not, you CAN HELP her relax.

Believe it or not, she needs to go MORE FORWARD. She's racing around with a quick pace, but she's taking short little steps and her back is tight (and she's braced against your hand, which is why you're so exhausted). The start of this fix is to ride her really forward and give her a steady (but soft) rein to go into. But truthfully, you REALLY REALLY need to go take some dressage lessons. They will pay you back ten-fold. Trying to implement this advice on your own will NOT work, because so much of it is a matter of degree... and a matter of riding "tact" that you haven't developed yet.

But this looks like a really nice mare. The lunge lessons (and/or the lunging in side reins) will help some... but you really need someone with a good eye to give you a real lesson on this mare.

Good luck to you. You look like you have all the right tools... you just need someone knowledgeable to help you take this "next step" in your riding development.

Jan. 19, 2010, 03:22 PM
Why do I feel like the OP isn't interested in the responses about riding her horse differently?

Summit Springs Farm
Jan. 19, 2010, 03:35 PM
Most on the posts are right on, I'll try to explain in another way.
Think of the let go part as you do when you lead a horse, you know when you lead a horse the lead rope is loose and if the horse speeds up you just give a good pull then let go for him to slow back down, its the same principle.

Jan. 19, 2010, 03:50 PM
I don't have advice for you as much as enouragement, and my own story.

My horse was a little like this - a bit bracy, a bit rushy - not out of control, but not adjustable either. He'd lean in the hand if you let him and plough along on his forehand (yes, OTTB). He wasn't out of control to the point of being unsafe, just unfun and I was beginning to be a little frustrated.

I simply did not have the skills to get him over this plateau myself, though with other horses I did not seem to have the same problems. Everyone could point out our problems, but attempts to fix them had very unevent results. A more accomplished rider could produce a slightly better result, but he was unhappy, because he thought that what we did together was the right way. After all, it was what I had been reinforcing with every ride.

So I needed some better communication skills, or we would be locked in a dysfunctional relationship forever. My progress had three distinct components, with hep from others, but mostly a lot of homework and self-analysis.

The first was learning to use my leg.

I was auditing a dressage clinic where the very German clinician said to a rider, "the problem is, you Americans are afraid to put your leg on your thoroughbreds." I'll admit, my nostrils tightened in annoyance.

I went home and rode, thought about that one, and realized that he was right, my leg was not relaxed and communicating with my horse most of the time, just sort of braced there. I started touching with the inside leg at every stride - just a little tickle, and holding with my core, asking that energy to come up instead of forward. This took some nerve as yes, I often felt I was being run away with at the trot. My horse, however, began to somewhat respond to this constant gentle reminder. Other times he would push against it. So we did turns on the forehand. No response to the leg = reminder with the whip. Every time. It was about training myself to be consistent but fair.

The second was lightening the hands.

Having ridden with my seat most of my life and never really learned what true contact was , I was also getting sucked into the arm brace that several posters have discussed when he bore down into my hand. Lifting my wrists a little so that the line from hand to bit was straightened helped. The lean into the rein was mostly fixed by the inside leg, along with letting my lower fingers converse with the horse without moving my hand.

Instead of trying to regulate every stride, we did endless "shorten on the short side and lengthen on the long side" trots. There was no arena - we were riding in a field marked with cones, but we still tried to work with precision and a plan.

The third step was fixing the seat - possibly the hardest.

Over a few months, my horse really changed shape. But there was still work to do. I moved to a barn with an arena, took some lunge line lessons and did seat exercises to really bring my seat bones under me, and to help all my parts work independently and more effectively, because in focusing so much on the leg, I had become grippy in the knee. That last piece really unlocked the puzzle for me.

I still had varying results, depending on the adrenaline levels, but a year later he is much softer in the hand and pretty consistently a pleasure to ride. I can even put him together on the trail if he gets a little nervous and we get that old, horrible, jarring trot. Dong correct work actually seems to soothe his mind rather than make him tense - it has become the familiar comfort zone that leaning on the bit used to be.

The canter is on its way to being adjustable too. I think someone else might have reshaped the horse in much less time, but the changes I have made and am still making to my own riding and understanding give me much more satisfaction.

So I can't tell what it is you need to do, but the horses that start out a little frustrating are the ones that help us the most.

Jan. 20, 2010, 08:51 AM
englishivy, I don't doubt the problem in most part is the rider. :) I'm okay with admitting that. If I don't admit it, I won't improve.

And that was a general comment, not about you specificlly ;). In my experiences, people come to me with "problem" horses. And i have to be the one who says, "um, you're the problem". Most don't like to hear it, some refuse to hear it, and a few just deny it and make excuses (he was abused/needs more treats/a better bit/that $500 specialty pad). :rolleyes:

If you want to improve your relationship with this mare, it will be hard work and require some outside help. I'll do some research as to who I know in that area that could work with you.

Also, truely riding correctly is very rarely taught. I didn't learn it until college. So I was just like you, with a mare just like yours, where we just never seemed to connect. Just when I had her "fixed", she had a career ending injury. :( But I've successfully started and trained two of her three kids, and I owe it all to the trainers who *enlightened* me.