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View Full Version : Wanting advice on difficult training issue "on the bit"



giventofly
May. 22, 2011, 10:45 PM
It is interesting to me that i find very few professional videos or articles addressing training how to train your horse who is difficult with being on the bit. I know i hear and read over and over again that suppleness is the problem and improper riding back to front is the cause. However, what happens when one has been in professional dressage training for a year and a half and the horse will still not demonstrate steadiness or softness on the bit for 1 trot circle? EVERY article or forum response to others asking this question is always: you must supple your horse. however, my horse has been ridden by a professional trainer, i have been in training with this horse for 2 years and 18 months of that time performing correct supple exercises and conditioning. FULL program. He can collect and remain soft "on the bit" in walk and canter but can not or will not in the trot. Obviously, i get very poor final scores on my beginner novice tests. I finally put him in double reins in a rubber pelham--and that did the trick. as we all know, i cant show him in that bit. PLEASE HELP!!

Elegante E
May. 22, 2011, 10:59 PM
You can't just ask this question and expect proper responses. It depends on what is going on with the horse. Is it the rider being too stiff, too strong, unbalanced? Does the horse have a physical issue that causes problems for him at the trot?

Putting on heavy handed bits and reins isn't "getting the horse on the bit and supple", it's getting the horse to give in/give up which isn't training, it's force.

Do you keep your hands quiet and use a lifting rein? Or do you have low hands and stiff arms that hit him on the bars of his mouth? Have you taught him standing flexions? Did you allow the horse to use his neck to balance himself when he was young so that he developed proper strength and suppleness? If you bring in the horse's head too quickly, by force then the horse will develop stiffness and lack proper acceptance of the bit and supplenss.

Bit acceptance is about the rider first. If the horse is stiff, I suggest there is something horribly wrong in the rider training this horse. Are your arms hanging from the shoulders, elbows weighted, moving with the horse in a supple manner. Do you know the difference between a backward acting hand and maintaining proper contact?

There is a huge list of things that could be going wrong. No one on this board can answer your question. If you don't believe it then you obviously haven't spent enough time learning dressage. Get some books and read! Maybe find another trainer as yours doesn't seem to be answering this question (unless she's told you and you refuse to listen).

Carol Ames
May. 22, 2011, 11:06 PM
The bit you were using may have been uncomfortable:eek:; have you tried some of the newer ergonomically, shaped bits:confused:?

Petstorejunkie
May. 22, 2011, 11:08 PM
video?

giventofly
May. 22, 2011, 11:20 PM
Thank you for your response. Yes- i know the answer just isnt one answer. I appreciate your straightforwardness. I worked very hard to improve my stiff arms and I can ride a lot of other horses and achieve softness and lightness in my trot circle work. I became so frustrated with my horses lack of progress and put 100% of the blame on me. So, I got a professional rider involved. he improved a little, but not enough to even think about riding a dressage test yet. Maybe my horse is not a good match for me and my goal to ride beginner novice dressage. I have ridden in this bit only a few times now. He seems to understand when i close my fingers and ask him to step into the bridle - he actually does it.
I had my vet and an equine dentist evaluate him for physical issues. All were clear. He has extensive groundwork and lunge work to improve his topline and middle back muscles. I even had to buy a new dressage saddle to improve the saddle fit. All of the things have been done with professional help the entire way. My frustration is also in reading dressage training books and or videos NEVER demonstrate a horse NOT accepting the bit with "proper riding" "training". These horses in the material -of course- progress with proper flexion when asked. I never see a horse that continues to lock his jaw and neck and refuse to soften when asked 100 "proper"different ways.

Petstorejunkie
May. 23, 2011, 12:12 AM
My frustration is also in reading dressage training books and or videos NEVER demonstrate a horse NOT accepting the bit with "proper riding" "training". These horses in the material -of course- progress with proper flexion when asked. I never see a horse that continues to lock his jaw and neck and refuse to soften when asked 100 "proper"different ways.
go watch the video titled "overcoming stiff evasions" in the learning tools section of my website.
it took my horse 7 years to figure out going to the bridle wasn't going to kill him. It's a video of me riding him in a clinic with Paul Belasik, and my horse deciding to be a stiff giraffe turd.

Elegante E
May. 23, 2011, 12:27 AM
Understand your frustration. You say the horse only tenses at trot. So it's a matter of figuring out what is going on there. The vet and saddle have been covered.

What kind of bit is he ridden in regularly? The professional should have addressed this if that's an issue.

I have to question if the horse is being ridden properly. The reason one doesn't see vids on this is because it is usually corrected by proper riding and strengthening, but can take a long time depending on the horse. Stiffness in the mouth is a sign of weakness behind. My current young guy has a stiff side and he can tense, he also is in and out of growth spurts which can cause stiffness on and off. Have had him over 2 years and I still work for the softness. Evenness is a long term goal of dressage. Getting the horse relaxed and soft, even in both reins can take a full ride, an hour. It comes sooner depending on the day but takes diligence and no short cuts. Big thing, after my own position and contact, is pushing him to step under more on circles (changing direction often, big mistake people make is over working what they think is the weak side, even work allows the horse to use himself best while strengthening the weak side).

Is the horse tense in trot with the professional riding or just you?

meupatdoes
May. 23, 2011, 03:23 AM
If the horse can't go basically pleasantly and correctly in three gaits after a year of pro training, I think you need a new pro. (And I just want to emphasize I am putting the blame on the pro here, not on you.)

I normally expect a pleasant way of going in each gait after one ride, not one year. And I used to ride 5 or 6 grade horses that came out of the hillbilly auctions for resale into pleasure horse homes every weekend. If they can all do it...

AlterBy
May. 23, 2011, 08:38 AM
Is the trainer able to ride the horse properly on the bit at the trot?
Or both of you have problems?

How many days per week does the pro ride?
How many days per week do you ride?

You didn't mention taking lessons with said pro, are you? How often?
If so, what is your pro/trainer saying? about you and about the horse.

Is your horse only stiff on circles or also on straight lines?

What breed is this horse? Conformation speaking (uphill/downhill/long back/short neck?)
How old is it?
Is this a green bean or an old 'jack of all trade' now being re-schooled to dressage?

and what about you and your knowledge of dressage? Is this your first horse training in dressage?

You could be watching and reading all the books available on earth, that couldn't replace good real instruction. You need to find a trainer that you trust and listen that will explain you what is going on with your horse according to its breed/age/conformation/prior training and yourself with your riding goals/abilities/knowledge.

And remember that if you don't ride correctly, no matter how well trained a horse is, it is not going to work much until you fix yourself!

Good luck.

dwblover
May. 23, 2011, 09:47 AM
What bit are you using right now? And what thickness is it? Also, can you get a pic of your horse's neck and throatlatch area? If a horse has a very thick throatlatch area by nature it may be physically very hard for him to round onto the bit.

thatsnotme
May. 23, 2011, 09:57 AM
I was with a trainer for over a year. In that time my horse went form soft, supple and round to stiff, bracey and hollow. The trainer finally put her in a double because nothing else worked. I didn't see the downward progression until an outsider pointed it out to me. I was super bummed, felt I had forever ruined my horse, beat myslef up for allowing that 'trainer' to do that to us, etc. It took 2 lessons with a new trainer to totally change my horse into what she was before, happy, forward and round. (of course it took more than 2 lessons to get it consistantly). That being said, can you try someone else? If after a year, you're not getting there, it sounds like a trainer issue.

2tempe
May. 23, 2011, 10:00 AM
just out of curiosity, where are you located geographically?

Also, I have a thought - I'm presuming that you are doing a posting trot, and probably the pro also. Personally, as an amateur, I find it hard to have a steady and "conversational" hand at the rising trot and as soon as I get my mare a little warmed up, I'm sitting. I wonder if a similar issue is going on w/ your horse.

Calhoun
May. 23, 2011, 10:07 AM
If the horse can't go basically pleasantly and correctly in three gaits after a year of pro training, I think you need a new pro. (And I just want to emphasize I am putting the blame on the pro here, not on you.)


Have to agree w/ this statement and I say this with 15 yrs. of AA experience. Barring all physical aspects, which it sounds like you have looked into with a positive outcome. Not to put the blame solely on the professional, but there is something lost in translation, whatever she is telling you is not working for you. Move on and find a trainer with lots of experience. I have walked in your shoes and can tell you there is light at the end of the "consistently on the bit" tunnel. When you meet the right trainer, it will be like a bomb going off in your head. In my case, it was a trainer who had me going walk/trot/canter on the bit in one 45 minute lesson. It was a miracle . . . for me and this horse. And, yes, it was all about suppling the poll. Good luck.

DinkDunk
May. 23, 2011, 11:43 AM
I'm understand your frustration, OP, my horse has the same issue. I have had him for two years - but before that he was a kids horse that just putzed around over fences with his nose in the air. His saving grace is that he's a good guy and can take a joke over fences. I had just been hoping for an easier transition to dressage as well as toting me over fences.

I can get moments of one would consider "on the bit" but its never consistent. I think there are so many reasons why, that sometimes I wonder why I bother. I think for me, the avg rider w/ 3-4 days a week to ride, its just a losing battle to try to overcome years of riding "off the bit." I'm not great at expecting him to keep working correctly every step of every ride and his years of experience going in a pleasure horse manner however he pleases is what he defaults to every time. I know that since I can get him working correctly at times, its in there, but its never going to become a habit for him unless I ask for it all the time.

Oh well. One day I'll buy a horse that already has the habit of working correctly a little more ingrained.

quietann
May. 23, 2011, 11:48 AM
My mare can be like this, and I had much better results than I'd had in a while this weekend just by lifting my hands about 3 inches -- which is what was needed to get a straight line from bit to elbow. I can't say why, but maybe try it???

Velvet
May. 23, 2011, 11:50 AM
.. and improper riding back to front is the cause.

Um, I hope you meaning improper riding being "front to back." Back to front riding is correct.

giventofly
May. 23, 2011, 02:34 PM
Yes- i meant back to front. I will check out your video destination equus. And yes, he too was a horse not started and worked consistently in dressage. He was ridden by lesson teens learning to jump :( I appreciate those of you sharing some of the same struggles in a similar time frame. His conformation is that of a friesian percheron cross with a thick jaw and small throat latch. It worries me -that is the issue. But trainers have said he isnt so closed there that he cant steady his jaw and nose in basic trot work. I am using a HS large loose ring Ultralite roller disk snaffle. I have tried all the legal dressage snaffles. I constantly address my position and corrections with my trainer. I have started with a new trainer and will have 2nd lesson this week. She will ride him as well. Thanks so much for all the feedback-it truly helps!

InsideLeg2OutsideRein
May. 23, 2011, 03:26 PM
My first thoughts are -- something physically wrong with the horse that shows up mainly at the trot (unlikely but possible), and b) you need a new trainer.

coloredhorse
May. 23, 2011, 03:48 PM
My first thoughts are -- something physically wrong with the horse that shows up mainly at the trot (unlikely but possible) ...

Actually, this scenario is not all that unlikely.

When I was in my massage training, I did some work under veterinarian instruction. One of the topics discussed was the limits of massage therapy and when to recommend that the owner consult a vet. Scenarios like the OP's were discussed at length.

More lamenesses show up in the trot than anywhere else. Some mild or bilateral lamenesses (or stoic horses) appear as training problems. The vets' advice was to recommend a workup with a good lameness vet.

Why is this important to the OP? Not long after starting professional practice, I had a very similar case. Nice walk, respectable canter, horrific trot ... it was assumed to be a training/"on-the-bit" issue by rider and trainer, but trainer recommended massage to see if it would help relax the horse's tight back. It helped some, but remembering the advice from the vets, I suggested that instead of scheduling a second massage the owner should call in a really good lameness vet.

She did. The vet asked that the horse be massaged right before the appointment in the hopes that loosening the muscles might help reveal a subtle unevenness. Apparently, it did. A trip to the university hospital and some scans later and the horse was shown to have mild bilateral inflammation around the sesamoids. The vet said many horses wouldn't react at all to such a mild inflammation, but this guy apparently was just sensitive to the discomfort, and for whatever reason, he showed it when asked to connect with the bit at the trot. Shockwave, a brief rest period, some NSAIDs and gradual resumption of work yielded a brave new horse who was not only much improved in trot, but his walk was gliding and his canter bounding and connected.

So OP, don't rule out discomfort you haven't discovered yet. Even with professional saddle fit, massage, chiro, whatever, people can miss things. If a training problem doesn't resolve with good training, there may well be one or more physical issues to be addressed. (And I am assuming that your trainer is as good as you believe, though I will suggest a second opinion from another competent trainer may be in order. There could be a different approach to your horse's training -- and/or yours! -- that will better help you overcome this obstacle. This isn't saying your current trainer is bad or wrong; sometimes a different approach can help with the really sticky spots.)

Saddle fit is another potential issue. I have a little mare who is very sensitive to saddle fit (spinal curvature makes her a bit of a challenge). Even being the slightest bit "off" to her feel makes her fussy, sucked back, or even just an outright beeyotch. And it LOOKS like a training issue, but is in fact a comfort issue. So I have to spend more to have a really top-notch fitter check her saddle several times a year to keep it fine-tuned. Most horses would be fine with minor imperfectionsin fit; this mare is not.

atlatl
May. 23, 2011, 03:55 PM
... my horse deciding to be a stiff giraffe turd.

I haven't watched the video, but this sounds like what I call the "rodeo llama" behavior :)

giventofly
May. 23, 2011, 11:19 PM
Thanks for feedback on massage. My gut feeling keeps telling me it is a comfort issue-- but i trust and follow the lead of trainers. Maybe I will enlist the help of an equine massage therapist to evaluate his back or wherever ???

JackSprats Mom
May. 24, 2011, 06:24 PM
Have you tried another trainer at least once? Not all trainers are created equal and some are better in certain areas then others.

My horse had some issues that I thought were caused by me, trainer took one look said nope and it was fixed in 15 minutes (an issue that had been on and off for several years).

Elegante E
May. 24, 2011, 08:28 PM
Well, the one time I thought my horse had an issue and the trainer said "aw, he's fine. He's just being stubborn". My horse was diagnosed with a severely pulled back muscle. I had reason to think he was hurt, as did the trainer. Parted ways with the trainer.

Some things do sneak up on you. Had a young horse develop hock issues that no one, even BNTs, because it wasn't visible in horse's movement. I just knew my horse wasn't acting "normal" and finally got the vet out to check the hocks (had had them checked at a younger age and they were clear so it happened fast). My view is that if everything is being done correctly but progress isn't being made, something is wrong.

An easy way to check for pain is to butte the horse an hour before riding. If the ride shows improvement then you know pain is an issue and that gives you a place to start.

Concordia
May. 24, 2011, 08:36 PM
Is the trainer able to ride the horse properly on the bit at the trot?
Or both of you have problems?

How many days per week does the pro ride?
How many days per week do you ride?

You didn't mention taking lessons with said pro, are you? How often?
If so, what is your pro/trainer saying? about you and about the horse.

Is your horse only stiff on circles or also on straight lines?

What breed is this horse? Conformation speaking (uphill/downhill/long back/short neck?)
How old is it?
Is this a green bean or an old 'jack of all trade' now being re-schooled to dressage?

and what about you and your knowledge of dressage? Is this your first horse training in dressage?

You could be watching and reading all the books available on earth, that couldn't replace good real instruction. You need to find a trainer that you trust and listen that will explain you what is going on with your horse according to its breed/age/conformation/prior training and yourself with your riding goals/abilities/knowledge.

And remember that if you don't ride correctly, no matter how well trained a horse is, it is not going to work much until you fix yourself!

Good luck.

I'm quoting this because you never answered these and a lot of the answers would give us a clue as to what is really going on....

Interested to get more info...it would be far easier to help you....

HappyTalk
May. 25, 2011, 06:23 PM
I had that same behavior with a horse of mine. On the bit at the walk and canter and a mess at the trot. He turned out to have bilateral grade three suspensory lesions in the front legs. Poor boy was sore on both front legs!! The chiro always remarked how tight he was in the shoulder. He was trying to protect himself. He was shockwaved and then injected with ACell and even after years out on the pasture, there are still significant defects in both proximal suspensories. He was ultrasounded last week for a re-exam.

giventofly
May. 26, 2011, 03:27 PM
wow-- i had a vet "check" him a while ago for soreness and of course dental problems. she felt it was not an apparent physical issue..........??
thanks

suzy
May. 26, 2011, 04:33 PM
So, I got a professional rider involved. he improved a little, but not enough to even think about riding a dressage test yet.

Can this professional get him nicely on the aids? Your statement doesn't really spell out his/her success with the horse. If the pro isn't getting reliably good results after a year, I think you can narrow the problem down to two things: either the pro doesn't have sufficient experience, or the horse is experiencing discomfort somewhere that only manifests itself in the trot. Other posters who mentioned massage made good points.

OTOH, if the pro is getting good results, but you aren't, then you need a different trainer who speaks your language because you aren't learning what you need to progress.

HappyTalk
May. 26, 2011, 04:53 PM
Well, my guy did not flex as lame nor did he ever limp. He just became rather inverted at the trot and he lost his "brilliance". I insisted on an ultrasound and that how we found out. I knew something was wrong somewhere. If I had paid more attention to the chiro's remarks, it probably would have been caught sooner.

CatPS
May. 27, 2011, 11:15 AM
My gut feeling keeps telling me it is a comfort issue-- but i trust and follow the lead of trainers.

Just remember... trainers and vets are humans just like the rest of us. They have bad days, and they get things wrong too. I have known horses who died because their owners relied on and trusted the professionals around them without question. Please, please remember that YOU are your horse's best and most devoted advocate. It's not easy because we do have to trust in trainers, vets, etc all the time, but when your intuition is telling you something is wrong, don't ignore it just because one or two trainers are telling you that nothing's wrong. If you think it's a comfort issue, call a lameness vet. (not all vets are created equal ;))

I once had a well-respected vet miss laminitis in my pasture-boarded mare in the springtime. That vet diagnosed an old hip injury and told me I should either retire the horse to walk/light trot trail rides or put her down. Lameness vet found the laminitis, horse was back to full work in 3 months. So, don't be afraid to question what you're told! You know your horse better than anyone... be his advocate.

mbm
May. 27, 2011, 02:04 PM
trot is a gait that the horse can easily lock the rider out.

if the horse is sound, then i would take a good hard look at the training and riding. whatever is going on the horse is learning to use its neck against the rider and the rider is not being taught (or not able to) ride in a manner that disallows this behavior.

even tho we should always think of the hind end first, if the horse learns to brace in the neck then we need to address this.

generally what seems to work is to ride bended lines, asking for bend in the body and softness in the neck. doing a volte and then leg yielding out slowly, leg yielding down the long side till the horse gives the "yes" response (drops its head/neck) , working on a few steps of Forward/Down/Out then back up to a more horizontal balance, turn on the forehands, squares, all of these will help the horse become more supple poll to tail.

the rider needs to be very proactive and have hands that are alive and not dead - any time you even suspect that the horse is going to stiffen in the neck, ask for a few steps of LY, or do a turn on the forehand .... if you are in the trot, do leg yields, enlarging the circle etc.

the microsecond that the horse gets control of his neck you will lose control of his body.

meupatdoes
May. 27, 2011, 02:17 PM
the microsecond that the horse gets control of his neck you will lose control of his body.

I completely agree with this post, but as a semantic quibble, when teaching I always refer to the "ribcage," the "spine," or the "horse underneath you." That is where I focus my (and the riders) attention vis a vis "The Bend". THAT PART of the horse must always feel like a "full sail" against the rider's outside leg.

This sets up the concept as an inside leg response for the rider rather than as a hand response, and directs the focus of the rider more to their leg than to their hand, thus setting them up implicitly to ride the Whole Horse, back to front, instead of just working the bit.

It is a minor quibble but in teaching I have seen dramatically different results just by using slightly different words to explain the same concept.

Btw, that quarter-turn to legyield exercise (otherwise known as a "tear drop" if you are in one of my lessons), is darn close to PERFECT for teaching both horse and rider the necessary lateral influence/response to eventually go on the bit Back To Front.

mbm
May. 27, 2011, 02:39 PM
agree meup, but...... there is notring wrong with using your hands.... they are part of the aiding system and if a rider does not use them they become dead and the horse will stiffen.

of course use leg/seat but also HAND. we teach the horses to connect themselves when you put your inside leg on, but to get there you will use varying doses of fingers along with seat/leg/exercises. of course it can be taken over teh top and we do see that quite a bit....

and not aimed at you at all, but i think one of the biggest misconceptions out there is that the hands should never do anything.. that a quiet forward thinking hand is a hand that does not move. this is not true! if you like to read, read steinbrect, suenig, podhasjky, et al... they ALL talk about the hand and its myriad of signals/uses.

:)

howardh
May. 30, 2011, 08:54 AM
Many horses hate tongue pressure. while a loose ring snaffle cannot exert much downward tongue pressure, it still lays accross the tongue.

I know this is the dressage forum and snaffles rule here, but Holland revolted 2 years ago and made ports legal as they were able to prove horses were more relaxed in them. I will try to find the post.


As a rider you train 99 percent of the time. You have been struggling for 2 years and it sounds like you have done everything to find out why your horse in uncomfortable.

I would free up his tongue with a port of some sort. We are so eager to blame saddles, our riding' the pro etc.

A simple bit change may make all the difference in the world.

I know you can't show in them but any horse can ride a test in a snaffle after you have relaxed him and softened him in training. There are lots of people that school in ported bits. A port frees up the tongue and is SOFTER in the horse. think backwards, it is hard after years of thinking the other way but I bet you will have luck.

I feel really bad that you have been struggling for so long.