View Full Version : Horse very heavy - advice please

May. 12, 2011, 11:39 AM
Hi All.

I have a new horse who is headstrong and stubborn. He really is a doll though and just needs a lot of clearing up on who is riding who at any point.

He is very heavy in the reins and can be lazy.

For the heavy in the reins, I try to push him forward and do lots of transitions to get him to lighten up. He still feels very heavy although we have moments of lightness. If I canter him, I honestly have to fight him back to down to a trot because he just blows through my aids. It is not pretty.

I have been longing him with side reins and lots of transitions also. He is usually pretty good on the longe.

Any suggestions on exercises and things I should do?


May. 12, 2011, 12:14 PM
I've always found that lateral work helps the most with heaviness. Try working on shoulder in and haunches in.

May. 12, 2011, 12:45 PM
And leg yields and spiraling circles, to increase lightness. Continue the transitions on a 20m circle. Predictable transitions. Then ask for changes within gait - don't actually transition down, but close your hands and re-cycle that energy. Then open your hands and allow the horse to move out forward. Start doing so at two opposite ends of the circle, so closed hands for half the 20m, open hands for the other half of the 20m. Then integrate another two points so you're doing it 4 times on a circle - closed hands for a quarter circle, open for the next quarter, closed for the next quarter, and open for the last. Repeat. Then increase the challenge by just asking for momentary pauses at those 4 'corners' of the circle. You're closing your hands at these points, asking for that brief pause, then opening your hands and allowing the horse to move forward again. Do this on the 20m, then a 10m, and start in the trot, and progress to the canter. All this takes months though, don't do it all at once!!

Furthermore, it takes two to pull and be heavy. Be light yourself, don't let your hands harden as he hardens on you.

Also, I use a point-to-point exercise to clean up down transitions and increase impulsion. All it is, really, is making your transitions predictable to the horse, and using rest (which the 'lazy' horses love!) as a motivator. Done correctly, I have yet to have a horse it doesn't work on.

Pick a spot in the arena (preferably a spot on a wall or fence) and ride to it, halting your horse exactly on that spot. If your horse wiggles around or moves from that spot, put them back (nicely). Rest (this is the reward).

Then pick point b, and ask your horse to move out to that spot, with a specific gait in mind. Ask in phases, ie, seat, thigh, calves, heel - HOLD - whip. If you ask in phases, you allow the horse the chance to become light, but you are effective as necessary if the horse chooses to ignore your lighter phases of ask.

Between point a and b, as long as your horse moves out in the specific gait you have in mind, leave him be. NO NAGGING. You set up specific parameters, and let your horse be provided he is within those parameters. Even if he is poking along in his walk, trot, or canter, to point b. As long as he maintains gait, leave him alone. The longer he takes to reach point b, the longer the rest break. Counter-intuitive, but it works - reverse psychology of sorts. The horse anticipates the rest as a reward and thus you achieve the motivation you require. When you reach point b, ask for a halt and rest.

Rinse, lather, repeat. For the 'lazy' horse, I pick point a and point b far apart - loooong straight lines. Ie, point a somewhere along the short side of the arena, and point b somewhere along the opposite short wall, so your path is long. For the forward horse, I pick point a and b closer together, say point a on one long side of the arena to point b on the opposite long wall.

Pretty soon, the horse starts offering up the halts and gaits and starts moving out with more impulsion between points. With the forward horses, I find it actually regulates their pace and definitely sharpens their halts. Do this until you have achieved what you want, then move on. Sometimes I'll do this exercise within a session, sometimes at the start.

The above exercise can be changed some - say for in a warm-up arena, if the arena is busy, or just to change things up a little now and then. Point a can be one corner of the arena, point b can be the next, and point c can be the next corner, and so on and so forth. Stop at each corner, REST, move out. Or stop at every second letter. Or at certain points along a circle. Just make it predictable.

With the 'lazy' horse, you can also incorporate work he will find more engaging - work over poles or small jumps, trails and hills outside, etc. Give him a job to do if possible - something with a purpose (ie, working cattle). He will also benefit from long straight lines in general. BIG loopy 20m+ circles. Don't work on 10m circles unless he is already very forward that day! If you start an exercise - such as a 10m circle or lateral work, and find your horse slowing down, open your hands and allow him to move out forward (use phases of ask to push him out a little if absolutely necessary). Give him that break and re-establish that forward, then return to the lateral work or the 'shorter lines' such as a 10m circle (ie, exercises that decrease forward). Lastly, if your horse values rest, use it as a reward throughout your work with him. When he tries, reward him. Reward the slightest try, and build off that, expecting and asking more of him each time (expect much, reward little). When he does especially well, take him into the center of the arena and just sit there with him for a minute or two, even! Rub him on the neck. As he becomes more forward, your 'rest' can consist of simply walking, or dropping the exercise you were working on, but any time he loses impulsion, increase the rest break.

mzm farm
May. 12, 2011, 12:51 PM
I find that I can work on some of those issues in the walk.

The first ex. is walk on, halt, think rein back and shift weight back onto the haunches, then quietly but promptly walk on. If the horse is good about the rein back and you are able to feel when it is done correctly, you can walk, take 1-? steps back until you feel the horse correct, then promptly and quietly walk forward.

This teaches your body what to do to bring the horse back and if done QUIETLY and in a relatively relaxed manner, the horse learns what is desired of him in response to your ques. I find that it is easier to feel evasions and close those "doors" in this gait. Horses do not always appreciate their get out of work modes taken away though! You will likely feel lightness in 1-? steps and then the horse falls onto the forehand again. Repeat a few times, but DO NOT DRILL!

Once you have it in the walk, try the same in the trot. Trot, halt (or walk,halt) shift weight back, trot off (walk, then trot off). The key is quality of the steps and relaxation. Same can be done in canter later on. DO NOT LET THE HORSE FALL when going backwards or forwards, it is about stepping under behind and lifting back/engaging core, slow, straight, steady, relaxed, deliberate steps. It takes a lot of coordination and strength on the part of the horse, and to some extent rider, a lot of feel from the rider. Once you do some correctly, your are best off to go on to something else, confirming this takes time.

If done incorrectly, or too much, it does set a horse up to rear. So be careful.