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View Full Version : Horse avoids contact, upside down neck--Update w/Photos



alg0181
Mar. 9, 2011, 08:37 PM
Sorry it's long!

I have started riding a gelding who has a NON-conformational ewe neck. He has been ridden by the same (bad--admittedly bad) owner/rider for years. The rider allows him to hollow, trail out behind, avoid contact, etc. He is also behind the leg...Rider likes "how slow he can trot." (Jog is more like it.)

But I see potential and I like his conformation and mind and we just click.

I have ridden him 3 times. The first couple times (evaluation ride type thing) was with the owner's setup, regular eggbutt snaffle with a hugely too big bridle (bit hanging in horse's mouth, noseband loose and floppy). Saddle that didn't really fit, with an old riser pad. OK, so he's probably uncomfortable, I figured once the lease starts I'll get him set up properly.

I bought a used Courbette and it fits him like a GLOVE. I took the bridle home and punched more holes in it, dusted off the flash noseband and put holes in that. Bought him a loose ring French link. Today was our first ride with everything comfortable and fitting correctly.

He went better than previous rides, by a mile. So I'm not complaining.

But I am wondering how best to fix his neck/contact issue. Because of his bad muscling and training his head movement is strange, and I can't get a consistent feel of his mouth, because he pops his shoulder around turns and does the giraffe thing.

What I did today was just very lightly follow his head movement as best I could, and ask for more energy in the gait, and lavishly reward him whenever he accepted my hand steadily (even just a stride or two). I tried bending him but he is very stiff and out of shape. So I would release for a very short, shallow--but correct--bend. At the end of the ride he surprisingly did work long and low for me at the walk for about 3 minutes. On his own. Meaning I dropped the reins thinking "that'll do for today" and he followed the bit all the way down and stretched himself. So I gently picked the reins back up and we did a little bending that way too.

Is this an OK plan? I hate to turn to a German martingale or other device but I am not sure whether my "reward for contact" riding plan will do a lot of good on its own, because his neck is soooo poorly muscled. I am also afraid that a gadget will fizzle him out even more and discourage him from moving forward.

Anyone who has had this problem please, all advice is welcome!!

princessfluffybritches
Mar. 9, 2011, 09:07 PM
It sounds like a good plan. I wouldn't use any gadgets. With my mule, I usually do alot of circles, serpentines, figure 8's, with my hands still, just squeezes to soften, and try to get her to work off her hind end into my hands. Good luck!

kinnip
Mar. 9, 2011, 09:19 PM
If you can get a Happy Mouth mullen mouth bit, it may help. Really any straight mouth bit may help, but I find HMs to be very quick and easy. Of course, working the school figures will always help.

partlycloudy
Mar. 9, 2011, 09:33 PM
Also longeing will help a lot. Use sidereins and gradually tighten them to get him to accept contact and then lengthen them again to get him to follow the contact down, Take lots of time....you are re-shaping the muscles...and his brain!

TickleFight
Mar. 9, 2011, 09:40 PM
He sounds like a good candidate for longeing. I would buy some Vienna reins (they're pretty cheap from Dover Saddlery) and use them a lot for the first couple months. They really allow a horse to stretch over their top line toward the bit, and develop muscles properly.

Make sure you keep the horse as forward as he is strong enough to handle. Good Luck!!

alibi_18
Mar. 9, 2011, 10:03 PM
Just be sure to take small steps! A horse that has been muscled like that can take up to a year to come back normal 'straight'!

In the saddle, I suggest you do lots of flexions and leg yields because before being able to put him round thru the bit, you'll have to gain back his suppleness thru the jaw, the neck, the poll and his whole body as a matter of fact!!! Then he will give up his mouth properly!

Do lots of transition and muscle is back and behind first.

alg0181
Mar. 9, 2011, 10:09 PM
So that's 2 votes for longeing.

I was worried that longeing in side/vienna reins would teach him to suck back. I have ridden lots of horses that were "trained" this way (probably too tight of sidereins) who had a real problem with BTV (which their owners thought was pretty of course). I would much rather deal with above than behind the bit.

I guess it could probably work if I push him for more & bigger so he learns to move into the contact. This is my first dressage project and I do not, NOT want him afraid of contact!! I guess I am just paranoid!

Thanks very much for the suggestions. I'll keep you all updated. I plan to take video once or twice a month to show his progress and so you all have plenty of footage to pick to pieces ;)

alg0181
Mar. 9, 2011, 10:15 PM
Just be sure to take small steps! A horse that has been muscled like that can take up to a year to come back normal 'straight'!

In the saddle, I suggest you do lots of flexions and leg yields because before being able to put him round thru the bit, you'll have to gain back his suppleness thru the jaw, the neck, the poll and his whole body as a matter of fact!!! Then he will give up his mouth properly!

Do lots of transition and muscle is back and behind first.

The problem with leg yield and bending is that the owner has a terrible chair seat (said so himself) so where the owner's leg rests for lateral is where mine rests for GO. Does that make sense? My leg is under me while owner's leg is out in front. The horse is very sensitive and quick to learn, so I am trying to slowly re-teach him leg cues to suit a normal rider.

Owner "turns" horse with his legs, but the horse just swings his hq out. Does a spin on forehand basically, doesn't bend through his body at all. So he is re-learning all of that.

I know it sounds crazy for me to be tackling all of this but like I said, the horse learns VERY quickly. Today was our 3rd ride and I didn't even need the whip this time, he knows that I can ride the big trot (not jog) and that he has freedom to move out.

We did LOTS of transitions today because I would like him to be more prompt anyways. So we did like 6 strides trot, 3 strides walk, mix it up, for most of the ride. Helps him focus too because he is a rubbernecker, always got his ears locked on something. Which doesn't help with his neck issue :lol:

I have been stretching him and it seems to be helping. Anyway baby steps is right, thanks again for the help.

alg0181
Mar. 9, 2011, 10:21 PM
After writing the last post about the horse knowing he is free to really trot, I was thinking. What if he is naturally forward (he is in a round pen) but owner gets scared of the big gaits, and catches him in the mouth? That could be the source of all his problems. Because he acts hesitant when I ask him for a more energetic gait, but not lazy.

Hmmm. Food for thought. It's amazing how writing things down is so helpful for thinking through an issue. :D

LegalEagle
Mar. 9, 2011, 10:32 PM
Probably if the owner rides in a chair seat and lets him get away with carrying his body incorrectly, she probably DOES get in his mouth too much. I would vote for longeing with side reins also. Send him FORWARD into the contact just like you would if you were on him...that is the key. No hands to mess it up, he will figure it out himself.

Poody
Mar. 9, 2011, 11:16 PM
I second,third or fourth the longeing with some side reins. slide them low along the sides. Keep momentum forward so he doesn't get behind the bit or get where ihe wants to totally lean on it (and get too on forhand) topline muscles take time..LOTS of long and low stretchy walking too.
Guenter gets all his stretching down in the crossties,great release for their backsand works those muscles. start with some treats,stretch down and forward then down and under themselves (like working on a bow)
keep the other person OFF that horse (or make them ride with the reins in their teeth instead of their terrible hands)

alg0181
Mar. 9, 2011, 11:20 PM
I second,third or fourth the longeing with some side reins. slide them low along the sides. Keep momentum forward so he doesn't get behind the bit or get where ihe wants to totally lean on it (and get too on forhand) topline muscles take time..LOTS of long and low stretchy walking too.
Guenter gets all his stretching down in the crossties,great release for their backsand works those muscles. start with some treats,stretch down and forward then down and under themselves (like working on a bow)
keep the other person OFF that horse (or make them ride with the reins in their teeth instead of their terrible hands)

Yeah I have been doing stretches with carrots. The topline stretch made him bend his knees to get the carrot instead of stretch his back!! He couldn't lengthen his back at all, he would try and then pop his head back up immediately. That's how tight it was at first! He is getting better each time though.

That other person is unfortunately his owner. Very sweet and kind man, just a beginner and totally overhorsed on this guy. Luckily he only rides 2-3x per month. I can't exactly tell him to stay off his horse.

He has asked me to give him lessons though, we've talked about trading lessons for the (very minimal) lease fee. Maybe longe lessons are in order.

alibi_18
Mar. 10, 2011, 07:06 AM
That is why legs yield are important, to teach the horse leg cues properly. You start at the walk of course, and can stick to that for a moth or so before doing them at the trot.

You said the owner has his legs in a chair position (for leg yield) where you would put yours to Go? No, it doesn't make sense unless your cue for going forward is in front of the girth? Neither leg yield and Go cue should be done in front of the girth, which is where legs go when in a chair seat. Legs should be at the girth or behind.

Anyway, doesn't matter how the owner rides, if you are 'in charge' of training this horse, those are the basics to obtain some sort of supplesness and put the horse on the bit.

Spirales are good too. and yes, lungeing is a must!

alg0181
Mar. 10, 2011, 09:33 AM
Sorry, I meant the owner brings his leg "back" (from in front of the girth) to ON the girth for his weird stiff turny thing. It isn't really bending. I'm saying my leg ON the girth makes him want to swing his hindquarters out.

I am not trying to bash the owner, he means well and loves the horse to death. It has just influenced the horse and I thought it was relevant.

I'll pick up some side reins and see how it goes!

alibi_18
Mar. 10, 2011, 10:18 AM
ok! :)

Looks like you have some good work to do!

At least the owner is trying and seems eager to learn!

Eclectic Horseman
Mar. 10, 2011, 10:32 AM
Longeing, yes, particularly spirals. The horse cannot bend in the ribcage if his back is locked in a hollow position. Think "Turn on the Forehand in motion" to get him to step underneath himself with the inside hind. Long lining or longeing in a round pen is helpful to keep him straight.

Vienna longe reins are better than side reins for this problem because the horse can brace his neck to a certain extent with sidereins. You want him to relax and extend his neck. The best longeing device that I have found for this is the chambon. It does not use force, it simply encourages the horse to drop his neck.

The tough part about this problem is getting the cow muscle under the neck to atrophy as well as changing the horse's "muscle memory."
It takes some time, but can be done.

Hampton Bay
Mar. 10, 2011, 11:32 AM
If you're leasing, is horsey just going to go back to owner to be "ruined" again?

I would seriously consider riding in a chambon. It's a very gentle reminder to get the nose out of the sky, while still allowing th ehorse to stretch his neck and thus his back. It has done wonders for my naturally-upsidedown greenie. With some of them, there is only so much sending them forward into a soft hand that you can do, because they just don't get what you want. The chambon helps show them without being harsh, and without having to go back and reteach them to stretch (like a german marty, draw reins, etc).

Valentina_32926
Mar. 10, 2011, 11:46 AM
...hollow, trail out behind, avoid contact, etc. He is also behind the leg......I am wondering how best to fix his neck/contact issue. ... I can't get a consistent feel of his mouth, because he pops his shoulder around turns and does the giraffe thing.

...At the end of the ride he surprisingly did work long and low for me at the walk for about 3 minutes. On his own. Meaning I dropped the reins thinking "that'll do for today" and he followed the bit all the way down and stretched himself. ...!!

So first thing is to get him in front of the leg. As soon as you lightly ask for trot he should trot - if not strong tap with the whip allowing him to go forward at ANY gait - idea is ask for forward get it and allow him forward (even a gallop) to inform him that he responded correctly. Slowly over time you should be able to back off on the tap strength as he responds to the light leg.

After he is forward and in front of the leg you can gradually (over MONTHS) shorten the rein and establish more contact. In fact if ridden correctly he will "offer" it by raising his head making the reins looser, so you can shorten the reins to re-establish a nice steady contact.

So now that you have forward and a steady contact it's time to work on the giraffe (hollow, not through) issue. I rode my mare who liked to do this for 6 months with Long and Low interspersed between working gaits. Every time she'd loose contact, giraffe, hollow and/or get behind the leg I'd boot her forward and re-establish long and low. The L&L also allows him to stretch his back muscles which will get achy as he uses them more and more - so LOTS of stretching.

The key here is doing a proper long and low. Horse needs to be forward and on a long contact, but to demonstrate that the horse is not on their forehand the rider should see a "bulge" in the horses neck.

Lastly to fix the shoulder pop - outside rein should be carried AWAY from the neck and contact kept on that rein (inside leg to outside rein) to prevent the shoulder from popping.

meupatdoes
Mar. 10, 2011, 11:52 AM
But I am wondering how best to fix his neck/contact issue. Because of his bad muscling and training his head movement is strange, and I can't get a consistent feel of his mouth, because he pops his shoulder around turns and does the giraffe thing.


Fix the feet before you fix the topline.

If he pops his shoulder out, ride a few steps counterbend. Use your bending hand more opening rein, less pulling back rein.

Use true bend and counterbend as necessary to keep the shoulders in front of the hips.

Fix the feet, THEN worry about the topline.

TickleFight
Mar. 10, 2011, 12:10 PM
The nice thing about Vienna reins is that the really encourage the horse to stretch toward the contact and use his back muscles. However, you must be sure when you adjust them that they are long enough for the horse to stick his nose a little above the vertical. It may seem counterintuitive, but it helps assure that the horse doesn't just curl-up and evade the contact.

I used to have a horse very similar to the one you have, and after spending a month or two in Vienna reins a few times per week I could really see a big difference in the horse. She was stronger, and her muscle development allowed her to use her hind end and back correctly.

With the stiffness issues a good place to start is proper bending on 20 meter circles and corners. With horses like this corners are your best friend. My horse used to swing her hind end out too when asked to bend... you will have to learn to use your outside hand and leg to prevent this. It will not happen overnight.

VCT
Mar. 10, 2011, 12:16 PM
I didn't read everything, sorry. But I just wanted to say... with a horse like this I would not really ask for real contact right away.... I would ask for long and low... stretchy topline. Think hunter frame... do suppling... and after he is confirmed in that frame, then slowly start to ask him to really accept contact and a more dressagey frame.

EasyStreet
Mar. 10, 2011, 02:40 PM
Jane Savoie teaches in her Riding In Your Minds Eye DVD, A "connecting half halt" done at the walk. I found this to be very helpful with horses that had contact issues. Best if you could watch it but... While walking in a marching, purposeful walk...do a proper half halt, ie; ask for inside flexion, close borh legs, close outside hand for 3 seconds...then soften outside hand and allow the horse to chew the reins down and out to free walk. (You'll be amazed how readily they agree to this.) Next,do a H/H again,then slowly inch up the reins to regain the contact. Always be mindful to keep your position and contact correct, soft, following to insure that you keep the walk forward and a clear 4 beat! Good luck!;)

cb06
Mar. 10, 2011, 02:52 PM
Jane Savoie teaches in her Riding In Your Minds Eye DVD, A "connecting half halt" done at the walk. I found this to be very helpful with horses that had contact issues. Best if you could watch it but... While walking in a marching, purposeful walk...do a proper half halt, ie; ask for inside flexion, close borh legs, close outside hand for 3 seconds...then soften outside hand and allow the horse to chew the reins down and out to free walk. (You'll be amazed how readily they agree to this.) Next,do a H/H again,then slowly inch up the reins to regain the contact. Always be mindful to keep your position and contact correct, soft, following to insure that you keep the walk forward and a clear 4 beat! Good luck!;)

^This technique (or very similar) in walk and trot, is what I have found to be successful also with a horse very similar to the OP's. :yes:

alg0181
Mar. 10, 2011, 03:42 PM
Wow, lots of great advice here!

As far as the owner "ruining" the horse again--this is a long term thing. And the owner is very open minded about learning how the horse should be going.

The HH I have been doing intuitively I guess. Kind of a "Hellooo hind end...Are you listening?" It does help.

Another thing that helped him yesterday was a posting exercise. He has a rhythm issue (obviously, not forward). So I just counted out loud and posted the rhythm *I* wanted the trot to be. And eventually he matched my posting and stayed synced up with me for several laps. So he does learn quickly and is in tune with what I'm doing up there.

Someone mentioned teaching forwardness and I just want to make sure--I should NEVER EVER punish him for moving forward when I ask, right? Meaning, if I am asking for an energetic walk, and he trots (or something similar)? Because he's been doing that, so I just gently bring him back down to walk and ask again. I figure eventually he'll get it, without having to discourage him from moving forward.

ETA I think Edward Gal taught a masterclass in which he said to never punish forwardness even if it's the wrong gait.

Eclectic Horseman
Mar. 10, 2011, 04:02 PM
Wow, lots of great advice here!

As far as the owner "ruining" the horse again--this is a long term thing. And the owner is very open minded about learning how the horse should be going.

The HH I have been doing intuitively I guess. Kind of a "Hellooo hind end...Are you listening?" It does help.

Another thing that helped him yesterday was a posting exercise. He has a rhythm issue (obviously, not forward). So I just counted out loud and posted the rhythm *I* wanted the trot to be. And eventually he matched my posting and stayed synced up with me for several laps. So he does learn quickly and is in tune with what I'm doing up there.

Someone mentioned teaching forwardness and I just want to make sure--I should NEVER EVER punish him for moving forward when I ask, right? Meaning, if I am asking for an energetic walk, and he trots (or something similar)? Because he's been doing that, so I just gently bring him back down to walk and ask again. I figure eventually he'll get it, without having to discourage him from moving forward.

ETA I think Edward Gal taught a masterclass in which he said to never punish forwardness even if it's the wrong gait.

Absolutely. Never punish for forward, just correct. FYI, that is where your work on the longe can be really helpful. If you have audible (voice) commands for walk-trot-canter on the longe line and the horse becomes proficient in obeying them, then in your mounted work, you can use your forward aids and the voice command at the same time and the horse will have a clearer understanding of what you want. I.e, more energetic walk not trot or trot lengthening not canter.

scubed
Mar. 10, 2011, 04:03 PM
Really love this particular "gadget" for horse with these issues (I had one):

http://www.abbotdavies.co.uk/

alg0181
Mar. 10, 2011, 04:30 PM
Really love this particular "gadget" for horse with these issues (I had one):

http://www.abbotdavies.co.uk/

140 pounds plus shipping?! Sorry there's no way.

MelantheLLC
Mar. 10, 2011, 05:48 PM
Don't worry about the owner having different aids. An animal can learn to do the same response from different cues. (Like a dog can learn to sit in different languages.)

What an animal can't be expected to do is learn two different responses to the same cue. (As a dog could not be expected to learn to either sit or bark to the same cue of "Sit" because it would always be guessing which one was correct.)

So be very clear with this horse. One way would be to "re-start" it, from the very basics of stop, go, turn with direct rein, turn with indirect rein. Teach each of those separately, being careful to be utterly consistent in how you aid for each. Your go aid should be clearly distinct from your stop aid. Your "go faster in same gait" aid should be distinct from your "change gait upward" aid. Use your seat aid first, then follow up with leg aid, always in that order, and soon he will respond to seat alone.

This may be why you're getting an upward transition when you want more walk. You may be using the same leg aid (steady pressure) for two different responses. Decide how you want to cue "longer stride in same gait" and "faster stride in same gait" which are two different things. These should both be different from the upward transition cue, which is light steady leg pressure for 3 steps, or until the upward gait is established at the speed you want.

A typical "longer stride in same gait" aid would be two short nudges. A typical "faster stride in same gait" aid would be a short nudge every 2-3 steps. Train these specifically, until he understands the difference. (It's good self-discipline for the rider, too.)

If he's slow off the leg, rather than use more leg, train whip taps WITHOUT leg first as your go aid. Whip taps also should be distinct for each response you require, same as leg aids. Tap once every three steps to get longer strides, etc.

Never ever use leg (go) and rein (stop) at the same time with a horse at this level. Eventually you will be able to give a half-half (apply stop, then go) within two-three steps but you are a long way away from that now.

Teach go, stop and both kinds of rein aids for turns first at walk-halt, then when he's solid, teach at the next gait, etc.

Probably if you spend a month or so training in these aids with utter consistency (a lot easier said than done, of course!), you will find your head and neck problems have just vanished along the way. At that point, you can start to make true half-halts, and he will lift his back and collect himself in response to your quick stop-go aid, because he understands exactly what you want, and in order to do it, he HAS to lift his back.

jn4jenny
Mar. 10, 2011, 06:28 PM
Hmm, sounds a lot like the horse that I bought nearly five years ago. I agree with a lot of the advice given here--start with rhythm/relaxation/long and low, then forward, then picking up of contact.

Although I'd say that 95% of my horse's transformation happened under saddle where I could control the shoulder popping more with my leg, a neck stretcher--basically the elastic version of a chambon/de gogue--was extremely useful for occasional lunge sessions. My horse completely ignored regular side reins, basically stuck his head in the air and said "na na can't feel these." Then I tried Vienna reins, but as TickleFight insightfully pointed out, you only get two choices with Vienna reins: curled-up horse or horse sticking nose out in front of vertical. I know that the Training Level frame allows for the horse to be slightly above the vertical, but the problem is that my Smarty Pants horse would take serious advantage of that space and use it to subtly split through the poll. At which point I sold my Vienna Reins and got the $12 neck stretcher from Schneider's. I started with it loose and slowly tightened it up. The horse, who is very smart, quickly realized that if he did his job and moved onto the contact, it was like the neck stretcher wasn't even there.

You probably know this is what it's gonna look like, but if you want to see the process in pictures, this is the horse that I bought. Notice the huge line of musculature down the base of the neck. And nothing along the topline/neck.
http://i176.photobucket.com/albums/w197/jn4jenny/skylerneck1.jpg

This is the same horse one year later after a lot of long and low work/Training Level frame.
http://i176.photobucket.com/albums/w197/jn4jenny/skylerback.jpg

And the same horse another two years along, confirmed at Training Level dressage and schooling First Level, bringing home Training Level scores in the seventies and eventing at Novice:
http://i176.photobucket.com/albums/w197/jn4jenny/skylerneck2.jpg

Eclectic Horseman
Mar. 11, 2011, 10:55 AM
Nice post jn4jenny! And kudos on your excellent work with your horse!! :yes:

alg0181
Mar. 11, 2011, 04:59 PM
Thanks for all your help, everyone. It is also comforting to know that others have fixed this issue with hard work. I can't get any sidereins until next week, because I told my husband I wouldn't buy more horse stuff until I get my graduation money (I have a college graduation party on Sunday). LOL.

But I did ride today and Jerry did very well even though I forgot my whip! I thought you would enjoy seeing the horse we've discussed.

They are video stills so they suck, sorry. Also I suck at riding, but I am working on it. ;)

Normal Jerry (http://img855.imageshack.us/i/jerry1.png/)
Jerry stretching into the bit at the walk (http://img859.imageshack.us/i/jerry3.png/)
Jerry carrying himself better at the trot, too (http://img18.imageshack.us/i/jerry5.png/)
Also I created a mashup of stills from a nice (for Jerry) trot to walk transition without any head-tossing or bracing.
Transition (http://img691.imageshack.us/i/jerrytrottowalk.png/)

Thanks again for the suggestions. I can see him coming along nicely with lots of elbow grease. I don't know what I would do without COTH. <3

alg0181
Mar. 11, 2011, 05:00 PM
PS: jn4jenny your horse is lovely!!

rabicon
Mar. 11, 2011, 09:04 PM
My horse was the same way, I didn't do much lunging though because he would do it but he hated it with a passion. :lol: But lunging is great! Most of my work was in the saddle just like your doing. Once you get him forward and start asking for more contact as soon as he gives to it reward by release right then. After a week or two hold the contact a little longer before you release and keep working like that. In a couple months he should be able to trot the ring on contact just fine. The only thing I really say is don't over work the neck and body quickly. You don't want to make him sore, which he will get if he's that upside down. If he gets sore then he isn't going to like the work as much and will be harder to get there. Small slow sessions and steps to build him up. My suggestion (some maynot agree) with lunging on side reins is only do it for about 10-15 min. at a time, then ride him on a loose rein and just work on forward. If you over work that neck and back he will get very sore. Good luck and keep us updated.