Well, the nice little horse is short coupled, short legged and she will take short strides. She also has the wonderfully Morgan trait of having the ability to collect, less so the ability to extend. So, working on her stretching circles, coupled with picking her back up and into contact will help stretch and strengthen the muscles she will need to lengthen her stride.
She is hot little number, so she will never go like a hunter, and you don't really want her to. This is the kind of horse who often excels at the higher levels rather than the lower levels, so don't think she can't do the harder work.
The tension is more apparent in the form of resistance at the canter than in the trot. I found the trot work pleasing, and wouldn't have minded seeing a leg yield, shoulder fore or a bit of shoulder in.
In the canter, because of her forward demeanor, she has talked you into taking your leg off her. Then you start a bit more hand riding, which causes the resistance. Every time she throws her head, check to be sure you haven't used your hand before using your leg. Then put your leg on. Every time, until she starts to work more correctly back to front, and not hiding behind the bridle.
I really like her, I think you are doing an exceptionally quiet job of riding a hot horse, and I would like to see you go at least to second level with her.
As for the pain in the shoulders, I think your upper body is quite nice, but you might be able to release your shoulder girdle a little more and let it move with her. I find almost daily work with a rubber therapy band, supervised by a physical therapist, to be beneficial.
My mare is morgan/QH, and sounds a lot like yours. She has also had some bad training somewhere in her past with similar mouth issues and rushing issues. Its not been an easy road!
What has ended up working for her is a lot of long stretchy work, sometimes without even asking her to go more "up" in a particular ride. Lots of stretching on the ground before a ride, with belly lifts too, to get her relaxed and thinking of lifting her back. I also will stop her when she gets flipped out and ask her to flex each direction and then lower her head to the ground. Walking when she gets stressed does not help, but standing still and stretching a bit helps tremendously. Can you teach her to flex side to side and to lower her head by putting your hand on her poll? VERY VERY useful.
The other things I have tried that have helped... Keeping my leg on her in the canter actually helps her slow and balance. She was very much leaning in on circles in the canter, and really weighting my outside stirrup and using my inside knee to push her shoulder over, and lifting my inside hand, helped her learn to balance, and then helped her build the muscle to continue to balance.
I also put her on epsom salts (1/4 cup per day) and the difference in her relaxation was absolutely amazing. Magnesium is required for muscle relaxation, so if the horse does not have enough, supplementing will help. The first sign of too much magnesium is soft poop, so cut back if you notice soft poop. I have been feeding it instead of quiessence for about 7 months with no issues. My mare will never be without again!
As for your back pain, maybe try a ThinLine pad? They are supposed to help with rider pain and horse relaxation because they absorb shock. You may also try going to a chiro yourself. Not being able to keep your head over your shoulders will fatigue your back and shoulders, and a chiro can work to put your neck back in the proper alignment.
Good luck with your mare. I am sure she is a challenge, but if shes anything like mine, she will be worth it!
i would say there are a couple things that need to happen. one is that the mare needs to learn to accept contact and work into it. the second is to accept your leg and to allow moderation of the rushing and the allow more forwardness.
for the contact you probably should go back to hte begining so to speak. and teach her how to connect and work into the outside rein, lateral aids the whole nine yards.
it will take a while, but is doable. one thing i will mention tho - while i wont say you ride with a hard hand - you do ride in a not very forgiving manner. and for a horse that is scared of contact - this is probably intimidating. i would try to ride with a more forward thinking softer hand. allow the mare to make mistakes - allow her to seek the bit. lots of lateral work LY especially will help her to connect to the outside rein.
my mare was similar to this altho she curled a lot more. it took 2 years but she is a star now. so, i know it is possible !
Well, I am going to get crucified for saying so, and I do think Hampton's comments are right on.
I don't think the horse is that tense. She actually looks like she can be quite fluid and rhythmic, especially at the canter, she takes a couple gorgeous steps, and when you post the trot a little, she looks better right away. It's when you sit the trot that she gets really short and stiff legged.
The first thing is that the reins are too short and the horse is not getting to stretch downward. I'm not saying it's easy to change that, it's not easy to change a riders and a horse's habits, but it can be done.
The horse is fighting it, she wants to stretch, she is tossing her head, the reins are just too short. She tries to get behind it, toss her head up, down. Because she's ridden like this (short) she has no muscle on the top of her neck or back, they should curve up, not down.
At one point she tosses her head so hard her face is horizontal. She is however not getting mean about it, she's just saying she's uncomfortable.
You said you had back/shoulder problems. A physical therapist can give you the right exercises for your particular back/shoulder problem, though quite ordinary exercises - ab curls, hamstring stretches and stretches for the upper body can help alot with the shoulder and back. It might be hurting because you push your shoulders back, so every stride jars your shoulder.
You don't so much thrust your head forward as the shoulders go back. That is just a habit that you have to correct by getting someone to watch you and tell you when you're doing it and later you have to just feel it yourself. I think if you didn't push your upper body so far back, your head wouldn't go forward like that. If you think about sitting more upright and not leaning back that will help alot. That's how a lot of riders handle the horse's motion, but it really causes problems. Alot of riders also push their heels down and their legs forward, so their leg is not absorbing the motion - it looks like you do that a little too, though the video is not all that clear. The person's leg and lower back are like shock aborbers, and they have to be loose and soft to absorb the motion, not rolling and flopping, but just soft enough to absorb the motion. Aks me how I know...lol. Just about everyone has to work on that alot.
When you sit the trot that way, that really causes problems on a little horse with no back like this. That and the short reins are I think what makes her feel so short and tight in the trot especially. I don't feel she's short coupled at all, actually, her back hollows out when she goes and gets stiffened up. The key is getting that back to not hollow out, and to get some muscle on it. Transitions and stretching can do that.
What I would suggest is work on posting the trot and stretching the horse down, and then try to carry that feeling thru all the work, but I'd avoid the sitting trot except for alternating 5 strides posting, 5 sitting, after a while practicing to change your position.
Sure, the horse is going to go fast at first when you lengthen the reins. They all do that. It doesn't mean you shouldn't lengthen the reins, it just means 'I was being set up too much with the reins'.
If the trot gets too fast the rider can ask for a walk, circle, and can use the outside rein to slow the rhythm down. Ask me how I know...LOL. Something alot of people have to work on.
Sometimes a horse like this might have a pretty high percentage of his work just working on stretching, but all horses need to stretch, usually at the start of each ride, that might be half the ride with a youngster.
The MOST important thing is to not come out and get on the horse and sit the trot. All the warmup should be at the posting trot. You can work on changing back and forth from one diagonal to the other at the posting trot and other things, but sitting the trot is a problem.
The right way to stretch is you gradually lengthen the reins and while gently urging with your legs, the horse follows the lengthened rein with the same contact he has when his head is higher...like you are just stretching him out like a slinkie. It is not always how far down he puts his head or even how far out to the front, what you are really looking for is that he doesn't put his head down as a trick (say how a lot of riders do by tweaking first the left then the right rein in quick succession), and that when you ask for him to stretch, when he does it right, you can feel his back loosen up and his gait will change to be a bigger feeling, looser stride that is easier to sit and follow with your lower back.
But the key is that you can actually SQUEEZE his neck right out forward with your legs, so he has a contact with the rein during the ENTIRE stretch, even from the first second. You should feel like the horse is an accordian you can stretch out with your legs.
Sometimes a little gentle bending or leg yielding can 'explain' to the horse that he is supposed to stretch his neck out, but that's just a door opener, you want to get her to stretch by using your legs. Accordian horse.
Honestly, all of these things are just a part of learning how to train horses, it's not at all an unusual problem to have.
It's too bad you can't afford lessons. I would really suggest you try to re-arrange things so you can get more lessons. It really looks like you have a ton of potential. If you can ride like this with just a couple lessons in a couple years...man. As for the horse, if you can get her to stretch, your limit won't be second level. It will be whatever you are willing to work toward.
An instructor could help guide you thru that process moment to moment, and reassure you that it's ok to try something new. Often a person finds it very hard to make changes on their own. A confident instructor can really help a person change quickly.
My experience with these types of horses is that it's often not too productive to spend the whole ride trying to get a stretch. Yes, absolutely, the stretching will help the horse, but the amount of time spent trying to get her to stretch bears discussion (not crucifixion). Spending the majority of the ride trying to put the horse where she doesn't naturally go can be counterproductive.
One, it flattens her and puts her forehand, and she learns to run on her forehand as a result. She doesn't have the strength in her hind end yet to compensate for the lowering of the neck. Two, just like any other muscle in the horse, it takes six weeks to build a muscle or to really make a difference in the stretching of one. She probably couldn't stretch for the whole ride, even if she knew how. Three, muscles need to both contract and stretch to grow. So, trying to ride her in just a stretch will not develop all the muscles she needs to come up and be truly over her back. It's for that reason, putting her in a chambon or bungee or other stretching device won't work either. The muscles must stretch and contract, not just stretch, to develop correctly. Four, drilling on simple basics, especially those that might put her out of balance, can bore a sharp minded Morgan mentally. She will enjoy the challenge of higher level work. Five, the more she comes up and works correctly leg to hand, the more she will WANT to stretch. It's a two way street.
I really like the exercise of halting the horse and showing her how to stretch. Once the horse has mastered that, I will often walk beside them and ask them to stretch in hand until they find their balance at the walk, without a rider.
I also like the number of times this rider gives with her inside rein in the ride. So, I disagree with the comment about the forgiving hands--I think the hands are forgiving; the horse is not very. The timing of the give could use some work, and I personally, would be giving with this particular horse about 3 times more than most people would, to allow her to come out and seek the bit. Lengthening the reins a tad will help, but can also promote running on the forehand if not done well. Giving more frequently, BEFORE the horse yanks and seeks release will help. For instance, I would have given the inside rein DURING the very nice left lead canter depart. Then I would have given again about three strides later, and might have avoided one resistance. Almost every third stride, I might use my leg, bend or soften the horse as needed, then give the inside rein. At first the sequence of aids will be weight, leg, hand, give, with the next step of leg, give, and the final goal of weight, give to promote self carriage.
Nobody's crucifying you or the rider. Least of all me. I agree with some of what you wrote, but not all. I don't agree that you can skip basics because a 'sharp little morgan mind' will be bored. If you don't have a connection, you can't go further. If you can't stretch the horse down at will, maintaining a rhythm, you can't go anywhere til that's fixed, it's a problem. For years I had a horse that came out 'prestretched' and I didn't have to worry much about this, But not everyone is so lucky and my other horses weren't like that either. Having just taken a little half morgan/half arab like this and having her stretch in a week very well, I do feel it's possible to correct this, also rode another little mare the prev year with same problem - I think these horses can be schooled well without making alot of 'morgan compromises'. You're entitled to see it a different way, that doesn't bother me.
it's not the edge of the earth, but you can see it from here
What lovely comments KJ is giving, and a lesson in itself. There are really wonderful suggestions too in many other posts/comments. Some are contradictory, and that's where the whole video/net thing is really difficult.
I usually don't participate in these threads, but felt compelled to comment on this:
the more she comes up and works correctly leg to hand, the more she will WANT to stretch. It's a two way street.
This is so very true, and so very basic. The movements are not goals, they are TOOLS. After a few good steps of HI, the horse will WANT to stretch the topline. If SI is correct behind, the result can be a softening in the back and coming through the wither-out the neck-into the bridle. Transitions done frequently with concentration on sitting (the horse, not rider per-se) and hocks well under and things like canter/walk/canter or trot/reinback/trot strengthen the carrying power and again--after a brief time of this, the horse WANTS to stretch. Then we work them in the stretch for a time, big loopy circles, opening on the long side, coming back on the short sides, etc.
If we wait until the horse is going long-low-FDO whatever before ever attempting the movements, we may never actually DO the movements, which is backwards. Perhaps I am interpreting Kathy completely wrong. But my tight-backed-short-coupled-energizer-bunny guy went lovely 'like a hunter' long/low etc. It wasn't until I really started stepping things up that we got the really big, stretching, through, amazing trot--at predictable intervals after working on more sit, more loading of (each) hind leg etc.
My first thought was hmm, your head is out to balance the forward lower leg, perhaps with the weight braced in the toe, and a body position slightly behind the vertical but with shoulders rolled forward.
That means the corrections would be: lower leg back, weight in the heels rather than the toe, and - "open the chest" -- a phrase I hear all the time
Once you reach back with your heels, tour hip angle will open, and your leg will become more elastic. It will then be easier to open your shoulders and your head will be aligned with your spine again.
Lots of transitions up and down from walk to trot will keep you from getting falling into habits.
Those are just my thoughts as a rider, no expert opinion.
I find with my own horse, he will improve considerably when I really focus on my position.
First thing you need to do is forget this "leg on" routine as having something to do with your height. For the most part, your leg should just hang there...not be on the horse all the time. The photo is really too dark and distant for good analysis, but from what you said in regards your legs, I'll bet you are pinching with your knees.
What portion of your back is hurting as you ride? Your lower back? My guess would be that this is the case because your pelvis is balanced incorrectly as you ride, especially in the sitting trot. You are slender, so it doesn't show as much when you ride, that your back is hollow...but it is. You need to get your seat under you better, such that your hipbones lift more. Right now your elbows are rotating outward because you are falling forward from the incorrect balance of your seat. Let your reins out a little and keep your upper arms vertical with your torso. Be especially sure that your shoulders stay back, such that your shoulder blades come closer to your spine. Keep your thumbs on top, not pointed inward.
Your posting trot looks better because it allows the mare to move forward better...not as restricted as much. Because your seat is not in the saddle as long, you do not have as far to fall forward when you are posting, and you do a better job of keeping your shoulders back.
Partly because your seat is not balanced, and partly because you have not been taught correctly to ride the suspension of the gaits, your seat is not able to move up and down, rather than washboarding forward and back. Even in the canter, you should not be doing all that forward and back motion. Round your seat under you and think about just moving up and down with the motion...rather like a little bounce of a ball which must create enough energy as it bounces as is needed to sustain the rise to the same, exact height on each bounce...not losing energy so that the bounce becomes less and less. You must tailor the degree of bounce to your horse's suspension. If you have ever jumped on a trampoline or done any springboard diving, think of how your feet interact with the board. Translate that to the feeling of your seat in the saddle. No scooting permited!
For the most part, your leg should just hang there...not be on the horse all the time.
I really disagree with this, although I concede that it is a widely held belief in the dressage world.
Perhaps there is some miscommunication regarding what a leg being "on" means, though. When I say that the leg should be on all the time, I mean that it should be softly stuck to the sides of the horse like wet noodles . It should not move around appreciably unless being used for a specific aid that requires moving it (e.g. canter departs/flying changes). This is the baseline level of leg contact. You should certainly not be clamping your horse's sides, but you should have steady, light, basically immobile contact with the horse from seat to ankle/heel. (The exception, of course, is if your ankles/heels fall below the horse's belly, which is not ideal, but certainly happens.) Keeping this baseline level of leg contact allows you to use your legs more subtly and shaves those all important milliseconds off your communication time.
I have developed this opinion riding mostly hot horses. They will trick a lot of people into taking their legs off, but I find that the hot horses go a lot better with a steady, light baseline of leg contact. For one thing, it keeps the leg steadier. The hot, over-achiever types tend to think that they should react to every little thing that you do. So it's helpful to be really steady. Also, with the hotter horses I find that subtlety is very important. It's easy to goose these guys. And I find that constant, light, soft leg contact makes incremental aids easier.
Someone (or an assortment of someones) may tear this apart, but that's my 2 cents.
Ah, but the part of the leg that should softly adhere--is the part of the leg that *reaches* the horse.
IOW, I sometimes have to bring my leg back and up for certain aids because my feet hang below my horse's belly... you're not saying that's the position I should always be in?
It is hard to maintain a stable leg when it hangs into thin air. Takes much strength training OFF the horse. But it should be still.
Right. That's what I meant when I said:
"You should certainly not be clamping your horse's sides, but you should have steady, light, basically immobile contact with the horse from seat to ankle/heel. (The exception, of course, is if your ankles/heels fall below the horse's belly, which is not ideal, but certainly happens.)"
Of course, with my short legs, I think I would have to be riding a Shetland in order for my feet to hang below the belly! I think I would prefer to have it your way
I don't have too much to add with respect to the dressage aspect, but I have to say something about Morgan's. Having ridden/broke/backed a few, they seem to be bred to have the false headset. I swear, the fancy little yearlings are trotting around their 40 acre fields in that same position. According to the breeders (BN Morgan people if you will), that *is* part of their breeding. It makes their show job much easier. So, it's just something to take into consideration...These guys can very easily stretch down, even with their park/pleasure horse training, but usually it's because they are very highly trained, as in their stretch is an advanced dressage movement....
(I am not a Morgan person; one of the places I ride is at a farm with a large breeding/showing operation)
I haven't read all the comments. I just wanted to say how wonderful it is to see what you have done with your mare, based on her history. Great, great job! You should be VERY proud of youself.
Based on previous experience with a hot, abused horse, time will build trust and relaxation, and if you've made this much headway, you're doing something right just rely on your horse sense and the lovely advice from all these very knowledgable posters.
I think given her history, you two have done wonderfully!
Morgans can be difficult, they're so sharp and "fast" and ready to go, hard to get relaxed. I think you guys look good, but you could relax a bit. You're in a slight chair seat; upper body back, lower body braced forward. If you correct that and relax, you'll find she'll do the same.
I think it's tougher to ride a horse who does the fake frame and avoids contact than one who will pull and fight contact. Just keep working with her on forward and relaxed, and maybe it'll come. I'd spice things up with some lateral work and teaching her new things. It'll help supple her up, engage her physically and mentally, and give you both some things to work on. Sometimes not focusing so hard on one thing, or working on another, can improve the original problem.
(The exception, of course, is if your ankles/heels fall below the horse's belly, which is not ideal, but certainly happens.)
I'm late to this party and don't know enough to offer any suggestions, although I am familiar with what you are dealing with
I do have a question about the issue of ankles/heels falling below the horses belly.....does anyone have any suggestions for dealing with this? I am a tall rider on a not so tall horse and have this problem, and unfortunately I do end up with my legs curled under sometimes, which makes my knees lose contact, etc. Downward spiral
I give myself a really hard time that I should be able to adjust my riding in some way to use a different signal or something, but so far have not been overly successful.
If anyone has any suggestions I would love to hear them.
I do have a question about the issue of ankles/heels falling below the horses belly.....does anyone have any suggestions for dealing with this?
It's a matter of working the horse off your calves all the time. Have you ever watched the SRS riders? Lippizaners are smallish horses and many of the guys are tall and their feet fall below the horses's barrels.
I ride round barrelled horses and it leads to similar issues as I have to curve my leg around the barrel and raise my heels to use them. The trick is remembering to relax your leg after using it and not holding it up. For the most part, I work off my calves anyway so it's not too bad.
With a horse where you can't use your heel without ruining your position, use a whip to back up the calf. Really, it should lead your horse to work off your seat position sooner which is what you want anyway.
Unpopular thought here...it is not really your "leg on" the horse that makes the difference. It is much more about the correctly weighted stirrup that can create the leverage you need to correct the horse's balance. The only time that I have a problem is when I actually need to use the spur. Sometimes you need to get some help with the sideways motion, which is for what the spur is designed to be used. The great dressage committee a number of years ago made it illegal to ride with the rowel pointed upward...which is what should happen when the legs hang too lower. In other words, the direction the rowel points should be governed by how the rider's leg is able to contact the horse's sides. Now, in order to meet the requirements of the law, you must raise the heel in order to achieve the spur touching the horse's sides when you need it. The raising of the heel negates the correct stirrup leverage. The whip is not the answer because it is to tap a leg forward, not sideways. However, so many riders today are not correctly leveraging their stirrups anyway because the stirrup leathers are too long. so the whole thing is rather moot.
Unpopular thought here...it is not really your "leg on" the horse that makes the difference. It is much more about the correctly weighted stirrup that can create the leverage you need to correct the horse's balance.
I respectfully disagree again. I understand that a lot of people ride more off the stirrup than the leg, but I have found with hot horses that it *is* the leg that they need. Even just this morning, I was out on a 2 hour trail ride with the TB (high energy but very confident and essentially spook-less), and as I got tired I would catch myself periodically leveraging against the stirrup as she tried to outrun the other TB we were out with. It was like waterskiing. She'd just plow right through me. When I put my leg on and gave a correct, strong half halt, she came right back. I also have a draft x (low energy but anxious, so an entirely different variety of 'hot') for whom this is true. And I have been asked to ride other people's hot horses over the years and have found it to be true with them, as well. Hot horses require at least as consistent a leg as plod-along horses. There's less squeezing with the hot horses, for sure, but the leg still needs to be on.
Regarding the foot hanging below the belly, it would make sense to me that you just use whatever you have on the horse. Unless you're needing spurs, can the horse not get used to going off a calf squeeze rather than a heel squeeze? A heel squeeze has a calf squeeze imbedded in it. I would think that the horse just needs to get accustomed to not waiting for the heel - going solely off the calf. But then, as I mentioned in my earlier post, I would have to be on a Shetland to have this problem. So I will defer to those who have experience in the matter. I do recognize that the horse might feel 'goosed' when a shorter legged rider got on and was able to use heel/ankle squeezes.
Originally Posted by angel
However, so many riders today are not correctly leveraging their stirrups anyway because the stirrup leathers are too long. so the whole thing is rather moot.