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FlashGordon
Feb. 13, 2011, 06:18 PM
Update:

I am so proud I had to update! Friend and mare have made great strides and went to their first show ever today. It was just a local open H/J show but it was very well attended and they came home with several ribbons. More importantly put in a beautiful performance!

She mounted and immediately tensed up, and there were a few harrowing minutes in the warm up..... I don't like to step in but I threw out a few familiar instructions to her. Then all of a sudden she remembered everything we'd been working on the last few months and the whole picture changed! The mare was forward as always but relaxed and my friend RODE her instead of freezing up and panicking. I felt like a proud parent on the rail!

Anyway it was amazing to see the culmination of her work today and I'm so pleased for them!

****

Any suggestions for a rider who wants to brace, stand, and pull in an effort to get a horse to stop or slow down?

It developed out of fear/panic as the horse was an OTTB who had been poorly re-schooled and had a tendency to pick up speed and/or ignore the aids. The rider as a result kept increasing severity of the bit and developed the brace/tense/pull thing.

The horse is kind and honest and tries hard. She wants to please, doesn't get frazzled, and in all honesty has done a good job trying to figure out what her rider wants. But now she is starting to pop her shoulder and go sideways as she can't go forward with the combo of the corkscrew bit and the rider's hands. IMO she is lucky the horse has not learned to go up.

If it were my horse I'd slap it in a french link and be soft soft soft with my hands and relax my seat and stay as quiet as possible. Work at the walk and the trot for weeks or months doing transitions, gain control of the shoulders and the haunches, then start some canter work again. I'd also be drilling "whoa" on the ground.

But it is not my horse and she is the one riding and I'm trying to find some ways to help her relax. We are doing this cowboy ghetto style, no access to a trainer as the good H/J trainers are in FL and there are no decent dressage instructors available in the immediate area.

I'm not a riding instructor or a trainer and while I have lots of riding experience, little formal training myself. So I'm lacking in my ability to communicate how to ride this horse. I thought of longe lessons but this horse is a freak on the longe and while my gelding would work, he has a HUGE stride and my friend is equally nervous on him.

Any exercises or ideas would be appreciated. Kudos to anyone who made it through this novel.... ;)

Carolinadreamin'
Feb. 13, 2011, 06:39 PM
Does she have a place where she can just go out on trails or for a nice quiet and relaxing hack (instead of "training" for right now)? It sounds like she is expecting the worse out of this horse and she is going to be getting it sooner rather than later.

Can she just forget working the horse "dressage" for right now and instead just learn to let her walk and trot out with a loose rein? Your ideas were very good, have you suggested those to her?

classicsporthorses
Feb. 13, 2011, 06:43 PM
As an instructor all of my students, young and older, learn to ride from their seat. Remember the engine in the horse is in the back. I have had a rider just like the one you describe but she owned a mare who fed into her nervousness to get away with more devient behaviors. It took a lot of time and patience on my part but finally things clicked.

Flash as you had said, have her ride at the walk and start to talk to her about closing her seat bones to slow the movement of her body and then her horse. The mouth and then yanking she does, is the last part of the horse you 'use' when riding/halting, turning a horse.

Teach her a 1/2 halt, which is NOT a yank but basically a squeeze of the reins. Put your hand over hers and squeeze her hand to let her feel the tactile sensation.

I also tell riders who are yankers, "Every time you move your hands like this you are banging your horse in the mouth. Would you want to have a piece of metal in your mouth with someone pulling on you?". Honest it makes them think. I tell little kids this.

Don't cut yourself short about your abilities to teach this person. Ask her what type of direction helps her learn-some are visual learners, others tactile learners others verbal learners.

Get on your horse or her horse and demonstrate! Or send her down the highway to me! LOL

Keep us posted.

Carolinadreamin'
Feb. 13, 2011, 06:52 PM
This may sound totally stupid, but it helped me visualize, relax, and ride (or attempt to!) from back to front, the Sally Swift "Centered Riding" was enormously helpful to me.

Reddfox
Feb. 13, 2011, 06:53 PM
I've worked with a number of horse/rider combos with tension...

Having her think about breathing in time with her posting helps...Just the act of remembering to breath helps with tension.

I also use the longe as a way to retrain responses...I'd suggest putting your friend on a reliable longe and just do walk - trot and lots of transitions until she learns to relax and keep breathing. You mention that your gelding has a huge stride and this makes her nervous....This response makes me think that she is afraid of any forward at this point...not just getting run away with, and needs time to feel and be comfortable with a more forward feeling stride.

At the same time, I'd be teaching her horse to longe or at least get him really responsive to voice commands.

Anything that helps keep the horse in a steady tempo and uses the walls to help the horse think slow so that your friend doesn't resort to the reins. I really like serpentines, but not coming straight across - make the serpentines look like a lightbulb so that the horse is constantly bending and changing track. If you leave out the straightness of the traditional serpentine, it will prevent the horse from going full steam ahead.

But, to me, it sounds like she needs to take a break from riding this horse and get confidence in her position and in feeling something more forward before she attempts to ride her horse - especially if she's got a strong bit. And I would not be cantering with her until she relearns how to manage tension in her body.

Melissa.Van Doren
Feb. 13, 2011, 06:58 PM
I'd put her on a longe line or in a small area so she feels secure and have her drop her stirrups. Can't brace against them if they're not there. Walk, halt, walk, halt... until it's comfortable. Then just ask her for a FEW steps of trot before coming back to walk. (When I have a real nervous nellie, I ask them to count the 3 trot steps so they stay aware.)

As for the pulling hands... Stand in front of her and hold the reins near the bit, then ask her to show you how much pressure she uses to slow down/stop. Then tell her, "Less, less, less..." until she gets to the pressure you feel is reasonable.

It's likely the mare will be slow to respond to lighter pressure initially. It might help if you get on first and school her with lighter aids for a warm up before putting the owner up. Hint: use your warmup to demonstrate the horse is not going to kill you if you ride without stirrups. :)

FlashGordon
Feb. 13, 2011, 07:03 PM
Thanks guys!

CD I actually spent the afternoon just trying to get her to "let go" of the horse and allow the horse to go forward on a loose rein. I figured that was a start! Good to know I was headed in the right direction with that one.

CSS those are great suggestions, thank you, and good point about asking her how she learns. I'm half tempted to start riding the horse myself (she has already asked me to.) I figure maybe if I can get on and talk through it she will see the response and I will be better able to communicate what it is I'm doing to get the horse to relax.

The mare is really a neat little horse, incredibly wonderful mind and a real good egg. I quite like her and the rider/owner is one of my best horsey friends so I really want to see them succeed.

FlashGordon
Feb. 13, 2011, 07:06 PM
I see a few more responses popped up while I was typing, thanks all!

My theory is always that if you want the horse to respond to less you have to ask as quietly/small as possible. Not sure if I worded that correctly or if that made any sense...

I'm going to try and dig up some reading material for her that may better verbalize what it is I'm trying to say... lol.

PenelopesGrl
Feb. 13, 2011, 07:08 PM
I found Jane Savoie's first Whoa & Go tape in the Happy Horse Course helpful when working through similar problems myself. Could be fun to check out, if you have access--though Classicsporthorses has said much what Jane says, and everyone's advice seems really helpful, too.

Something that's helped me is really making a conscious effort to think of work on slowing down or halting as a fun game--instead of an anxious drama. (Obviously this is easier to do starting with walk-halt transitions.) The game is to see how subtle you can make your aids for the halt, recognizing that you may need to make corrections initially as your horse gets the idea. I've gone from being a tense, inveterate puller to just visualizing an imaginary door shutting in front of my horse--and voila!, a very soft halt. It's also helped me to think of exhaling as I halt, both an aid in itself and a way of releasing the tension I've let build up.

Sorry if this is all totally obvious. I thought I'd throw in my two cents as a dressage newbie who's struggled recently with your friend's problem, and made a little progress.

coloredcowhorse
Feb. 13, 2011, 07:19 PM
Tell her to wriggle her toes...really hard to keep a stiff leg/ankle if you are making squiggles with your toes. Breath in time with posting the trot also helps...if she's focused on breathing she'll let some other things go. Teach riding without stirrups so she can't brace using them. When I got tense on a cutting horse (guaranteed to have you eating their ears!) my trainer told me to envision my tailbone joining the spine of the horse....cutters ride a lot deeper/butt tucked under position than English/dressage riders but the idea was to sit deep and to recognize when I wasn't and to fix it. I practice "whoa" cues while driving or riding in the car....every stop sign become a cue to "sit DOWN"....I'm sure other drivers think I'm something really weird as I sink into my seat as the car stops...who cares?..it has become second nature, almost a reflex, to tuck under/sit down when I'm stopping the car or the horse.

Can the mare be controlled on verbal cues from the ground? Esp. "whoa"? How about a really small working area (round pen?) so that speed can't become an issue?

IF the mare can be relied on to maintain speed (fairly slow...start this at a walk) take the reins off the bit (and go to softer bit..harder, nastier bits can only go so far to getting control...the horse just learns to ignore it eventually) and tie a loop of sewing thread between bit and rein....pulling too hard will break the thread (if you use nylon thread it actually takes more than it looks like it will...another alternative is fishing line...maybe 5lb test).. or at least she will think that and lighten up her hands immediately....remind her that a horse can feel and respond to a fly landing. Teach her a one rein stop so if she does get too anxious and the horse gets excited or a bit out of control they both have a way to stop things. Last but maybe not least...teach her an emergency dismount/tuck/roll so that should she fall, get tossed she can be confident in how she lands and won't get hurt as bad (a gymnastics class, tumbling or vaulting teacher or martial arts person can teach her this)

Schiffon
Feb. 13, 2011, 07:30 PM
You sound like a sweet friend and compassionate horse-person!

In working with your friend, consider that it takes many, many repetitions of a new action to replace the old habit. I've heard it can be as many as 10,000.:eek: I always tell students about this fact of neurophysiology and that I won't get frustrated saying the same thing multiple times for months and they shouldn't get frustrated with hearing it. Another concept about our brains and conditioned responses is that if you tell her "don't pull", her brain will hear "pull". The brain ignores the negative modifier and these kind of instructions from you or in her self-talk will actually be reinforcing of pulling. Therefore, you need to find things for her TO do rather than NOT do. Your first lesson of "letting go" is on the right track in this regard!

So much of riding is mental, I also suggest she look into some sports psychology books or tapes. Sally Swift is good about imagery and playing videos in one's own head showing only positive experiences (and teaching one's self to "rewind" if the negative creeps in there), I think Jane Savoie also has some, and there are many others.

BaroquePony
Feb. 13, 2011, 07:52 PM
There are a lot of good suggestions already.

Can she ride with double reins? I would dump that corkscrew bit immediately, and get her a french link pelham (the curb rein is for her security and should be loose OR tie a knot in the curb reins so they rest up on the neck, then if she feel she needs them she can grab them). If she can handle it.

Whatever you do get rid of the corkscrew. You can't do anything with that bit but cause pain. Horse won't relax, rider won't relax.

MelantheLLC
Feb. 13, 2011, 08:01 PM
Something that's helped me is really making a conscious effort to think of work on slowing down or halting as a fun game--instead of an anxious drama. (Obviously this is easier to do starting with walk-halt transitions.) The game is to see how subtle you can make your aids for the halt, recognizing that you may need to make corrections initially as your horse gets the idea. I've gone from being a tense, inveterate puller to just visualizing an imaginary door shutting in front of my horse--and voila!, a very soft halt. It's also helped me to think of exhaling as I halt, both an aid in itself and a way of releasing the tension I've let build up.


This is a great approach. One reason riders end up hanging in spite of ourselves is because the horse doesn't respond to the first light aid, or responds only briefly and then speeds up again. So the rider uses hand again, and again, and again--never really getting an honest clear slowing response, and incidentally teaching the horse that the hand aid doesn't really mean slow down.

Once the horse and rider are both very clear on the aid itself, it becomes easier to relax and trust one another. Starting at the walk/halt, use this "how soft can we be together?" game.

The side box for this game says in big letters, "No using hand to create a head set!" Make it clear to the horse that a light hand aid means slow down, and only that, and it must be FULLY released as soon as the horse transitions downward.

Once the hand aid is clear, and both partners respond faithfully--the horse by slowing and the rider by asking lightly and releasing when the horse does slow--then the rider can deliberately begin to precede the hand aid with seat aids for slowing. The horse will quickly learn this sequence, and begin to slow on the seat aid even before the hand.

If the rider also uses the hand to create head set, the horse has every right to be confused about what the hand means. This mare already believes it means "Mom and I hang on one another," so she has to learn a new belief along with the rider.

MelantheLLC
Feb. 13, 2011, 08:32 PM
Also, just as it's not fair to an energetic dog to try to train it to sit when it hasn't had a chance to burn off some energy first, it might be worthwhile to make certain the mare has 15-20 mins of time to really move out, preferably free lunging, before she's required to slow down in response to aids.

Or if that's not possible, due to weather, etc., I've found it useful with a very very forward horse to just hand walk him in halter for about 20 or even 30 minutes before a ride. This seems to really help relax the brain and body, and mentally prepare for a relaxed ride. Doing this regularly instills a habitually relaxed mindset, too, without making the horse fitter and fitter the way lunging or just burning off energy might do.

It takes more time but re-training always takes more time.

Bogey2
Feb. 14, 2011, 06:14 AM
As an instructor all of my students, young and older, learn to ride from their seat. Remember the engine in the horse is in the back. I have had a rider just like the one you describe but she owned a mare who fed into her nervousness to get away with more devient behaviors. It took a lot of time and patience on my part but finally things clicked.

Flash as you had said, have her ride at the walk and start to talk to her about closing her seat bones to slow the movement of her body and then her horse. The mouth and then yanking she does, is the last part of the horse you 'use' when riding/halting, turning a horse.

Teach her a 1/2 halt, which is NOT a yank but basically a squeeze of the reins. Put your hand over hers and squeeze her hand to let her feel the tactile sensation.

I also tell riders who are yankers, "Every time you move your hands like this you are banging your horse in the mouth. Would you want to have a piece of metal in your mouth with someone pulling on you?". Honest it makes them think. I tell little kids this.

Don't cut yourself short about your abilities to teach this person. Ask her what type of direction helps her learn-some are visual learners, others tactile learners others verbal learners.

Get on your horse or her horse and demonstrate! Or send her down the highway to me! LOL

Keep us posted
Classic said it all! I have followed the above with a couple of bracers in my barn.

lorilu
Feb. 14, 2011, 12:07 PM
It may all stem from trust. (BTDT).
I am sure your rider does not want to pull - it's automatic, her brain trying to take care of her. No matter that she believes it is not the thing to do, her automatic systems will do it until they are reprogramed.
For me, the secret to not pulling and yanking was developing the trust in him that he wasn't going to bolt off, and if he did, I would not fall off.

We did lots of ground work, both in hand under saddle and in hte barn aisle, and lots of work under saddle getting him to pay attention to me.... not detail work, but easy stuff with me requiring he pay attention. This all built my confidence and also built his (which built mine... it's circular). LOTS of trust building stuff.....

When I got tense, I got off. Each time, the "gotta get off" point shifted further...... and two years later, I am a differeent rider and he si a different horse.

Perhaps trust building could be part of your solution.

L

PenelopesGrl
Feb. 14, 2011, 03:06 PM
This has been such a helpful thread for me personally! Thanks, FlashGordon, for asking your question and thanks everybody for so many good ideas. MelantheLLC, you've helped me think more clearly about how to play the halt/slow down game--many thanks! :)

meaty ogre
Feb. 14, 2011, 03:53 PM
I'm a recovering nervous rider, and I'm teaching my niece who is a nervous/tense rider.

It helps me when I'm nervous/tense or preoccupied to have an instructor who is giving constant tasks to do. It is hard to be tense when you are constantly focusing on transitioning to the next movement. I would try this with your friend - start talking from the moment she steps on the mounting block - "Today we are going to work on bending. We will start with serpentines at the walk to warm up, and then we are going to do some spiraling in/out at the walk and then trot..." and keep talking the whole time. Talk about using the inside leg to get bend, talk about where the hands should be and why, point out when the shoulder or hip fall out or in, yada, yada, yada.

Every stride you're saying something. Stretch the leg down, lift the toe, look up at the sky and roll your shoulders back, stretch your ribs as far away from your saddle as you can, put your hands together, bend your elbows, thumbs on top....(most of what I repeat over and over is very elementary because I'm working with a 4 year old and a 10 year old, but my point is for the really nervous ones, it is soothing (as long as it's not being yelled in a shreiking voice!) and it breaks the silence where their nervous little minds can run away with them and convince themselves that the slightly fresh pony is really ready to explode any second!

My niece especially does better when I keep her busy. No time to get nervous, and I'm working in things that will help slow the pony down (serpentines, small circles around a cone here and there). We play red light/green light on the pony (which is just halt/walk and walk/trot transitions but she doesn't know that!), and we play "I spy" to keep her looking up and around. Your friend may find those very basic and too childish, but maybe not.

It is very frustrating. Just yesterday, I yelled at her (she always flops heavily into the saddle...I remind her every time, and every time she still does! ARGH!) which made her very tense so I spent the whole lesson trying to get her to relax. It makes me never want to be an instructor, but I'm not satisfied with any of the other local lesson barns we have tried and it's cheaper if I do it myself, so I totally understand where you are.

GraceLikeRain
Feb. 15, 2011, 07:41 PM
As a tense rider who tends to grab at their hot but incredibly forgiving horse's mouth I can totally relate.

Everyone is an individual so I can only speak to what has worked for me, but personally I need a positive running commentary.


If someone tells me to "go leg yield" within short order I am going to internally start think "okay leg yield, crap. she is running through my hand. HALF HALT. HALT HALT. why aren't we rebalancing... oh my gosh we are going to kill ourselves. why can't I leg-yield. why isn't she saying anything!!!!"

Instead. I do very well with someone who gives me a request and then backs it up with honest and positive encouragement. i.e. " leg yield. AWESOME! feel how her should is drifting. half halt. good. breathe. great impulsion. another half halt. AWESOME. and ride forward. give her a pat"

This is a bit exhausting for the person helping but sometimes it can be a great way of breaking that internal negative commentary that results in tense riding.

By concentrating on my strengths I have found it much easier to take criticism without feeling defeated or upset.

Obviously everyone is an individual but my trainer uses this method with all of her student back home and it is amazing how quickly her riders progress because they feel confident.

FlashGordon
Feb. 15, 2011, 08:08 PM
If someone tells me to "go leg yield" within short order I am going to internally start think "okay leg yield, crap. she is running through my hand. HALF HALT. HALT HALT. why aren't we rebalancing... oh my gosh we are going to kill ourselves. why can't I leg-yield. why isn't she saying anything!!!!"

Instead. I do very well with someone who gives me a request and then backs it up with honest and positive encouragement. i.e. " leg yield. AWESOME! feel how her should is drifting. half halt. good. breathe. great impulsion. another half halt. AWESOME. and ride forward. give her a pat"



Funny you should say so, as I've found similar with my friend. If I keep the running commentary going and try to walk her through every step in a positive manner she doesn't have time to get nervous. I think it also helps her feel more in control, via my instructions, if that makes any sense.

So many great suggestions on this thread, thanks to all. I enjoy helping her, she is the kind of rider with a lot of natural talent... more than I ever had... she just hasn't had the opportunity to ride or lesson or own a horse until now. Her and maresy had a rocky start but I think they will get beyond this. I hope at some point she seeks out real instruction, I think she could go very far with the right guidance. I love being her cheerleader, groom and occasional instructor but she deserves a "real" trainer!

narcisco
Feb. 15, 2011, 08:32 PM
My gut instinct is that you are going to have to get on the horse. When you have a rider who doesn't know how to half halt and horse who doesn't respond to half halts, they will continue the cycle of abuse.

Get on, do a lot of halt, walk, trot, upward and downward transitions. Figure out exactly how you have to use your seat to make them happen.

Then teach the horse the half halt. In cases like this, I think it's fine to work in the walk (yeah, yeah, the walk is the easiest gait to ruin, but you are working on a relationship here, not heading for the Olympics.)

Teach the horse to shorten the walk from your seat and to lengthen the walk from your seat. Really break it down in your mind into 3 or 4 simple steps. Those depend on the horse. On my horse, it's close your inner thighs, pull your shoulder blades together, stretch up, exhale.

Once you break it down for the horse and she responds, put the rider back up and have her do the same thing.

I would also teach the horse to halt from your seat and voice, on no contact.

Once the rider sees you do it, she will relax. And once she feels the horse respond, her patterns will change. It's nice you're helping her.

PS I just read the post on do you have an instructor like this, where he says "teach every rider as if they are going to the Olympics." That can be true, after you establish relaxation. It's the same on the training scale for people and horses.

FlashGordon
Feb. 15, 2011, 08:43 PM
Narcisco I think you are correct, it may come down to me riding said pony.

It is ironic really, as I've had no motivation to ride for quite some time, but put a problem like this in front of me and I'm salivating to get on and try to fix it. What is wrrrooooong with me. I like the puzzle, I think, and I know this is one I can handle so why not. And at the end of the day I think it will help her to see the response as opposed to feel it.

BaroquePony
Feb. 15, 2011, 09:57 PM
Narcisco I think you are correct, it may come down to me riding said pony.

:yes:

A *picture* is worth one thousand words :yes:.

FlashGordon
Mar. 26, 2011, 02:08 PM
Great update first post!