Definitely find a good trainer to work with, but, here are my thoughts FWIW:
1. Don't worry about "on the bit" at this point. If you want to learn dressage, you have to eat, sleep and breathe the "Training Pyramid." First work on the rhythm and regularity of the gaits. Do A LOT of transitions; one of ones I frequently go back to is, on a circle, walk half of the circle, trot half of the circle, walk half, trot half, etc., just keep contact on the reins, or else he'll just run thru you.
2. Then you can work on transitions within the gait, like shortening the trot stride to lengthening the trot stride on a circle....circles are great, especially if he is running thru you, because if the horse is bent, he has a much harder time doing that then if he's going straight. IF you lengthen the stride and then ask him to shorten the stride and he does not do it, you have to make a point that he MUST listen so then ask for a halt. You may have to do this a few times, but he'll get the idea.
Actually your horse isn't responding to your commands because, likely you are not asking correctly. Horses want to please, they love to please you, so if they aren't responding he doesn't know what you are asking. If you aren't asking in a way he can respond to, you need a good trainer.
People take years to answer for themselves the question you ask for in a thread. It takes, time, patience, study, lessons, and training both on and off the ground.
You should start with the book "Centered Riding" by Sally Swift. It should be the foundation for all of your riding and the foundation of your trainer's teaching. then your horse will begin to respond.
Airborne? Oh. Yes, he can take a joke. Once. After that, the joke's on you.
I don't feel Sally Swift's book is at all good for this situation. I don't feel ANY book will teach a person what to do, moment to moment, when things are not working out, when the questions are, 'how should I use this rein? Is this enough leg? Why isn't my horse turning at this second? Am I sitting straight in the saddle, or leaned off to one side, I can't tell?' an instructor there, watching the horse and rider, is needed for that.
I feel Sally's, though good, is not the choice for this situation. It doesn't address basic control and obedience, getting a horse to respond to things the rider does, or any of the practical daily training issues. To me, it's for becoming a sensitive, feeling rider and is at a more conceptual or spiritual level. Useful, but not for this purpose.
Nor are horses saintly embodiments of perfection in earth. To me they're more like children, who are quite innocent and uncomplicated, but not always perfect little angels. They respond well to routine and to the rider being consistent.
" have an 8yr old appendix and i am trying to learn dressage he gets on the bit, i push him into the bridle but i cant seem so slow his gaits down i now ride in a running martingale"
Are you getting any help?
Dressage is not easy to learn by yourself, except for the fake sort of 'yank and spank' dressage where a person just yanks on first one rein then the other, and gets the horse to hold his head in. That's what a lot of people think dressage is, trying to get the horse to stay in a pose.
Is your horse trained to do dressage? Was he trained to just hold a pose, or was he trained to accept a connection with the bit?
That's not always easy to say. And some horses know BOTH kinds of dressage. They'll putz along in a pose until the rider uses her legs and seat and reins right, then they'll really go well.
You can push him to the bridle? You mean when you use your legs, he'll meet the bit and contact it nice and steady, but you can work the reins gently with your fingers and that connection feels springy yet solid?
He won't slow down?
Horses go too fast for many reasons. The rider isn't clearly telling them not to. They are getting too much grain. They haven't been ridden in a while or they have not been getting enough work total. The wind is blowing.
Or...they are losing their balance. The reins are too long, and the rider is urging with his/her legs, so they are like a person running to keep from falling down. And...some horses just don't have good balance. Their shoulders and neck are heavy, so it weighs down the front end of the horse.
Can you try to sit slower in the saddle, not letting your body and seat 'go along' with the rhythm, just holding yourself a little still and going a little slower than the motion is trying to move you....and more upright with your upper body, be sure your upper body isn''t leaned forward, and your legs and heels aren't gripping his sides and tell him to go when you are trying to slow down?
Check the length of your reins. Are they too long? Can an instructor watch you to be sure of that? Maybe you need to shorten up your reins a little bit.
Do you know half halts? They are used for balancing the horse. When a horse is balanced, his steps are longer and fewer, so they don't feel so fast.
It's not a matter of pulling on the reins in a certain way or of slowing down, really, but rebalancing. The rider actually closes his leg on the horse (not so much heels, but more a 'leg hug'), and uses his reins lightly almost at the same time, sitting firm and deep and still in the saddle. It only lasts a very short time, and it makes the horse shift weight back off his front end...if it's done right. An instructor may have to show you how.
Are you urging with your leg and not 'catching it' with your hand? Some people don't 'coordinate' their aids, so they are using a lot of leg and the reins aren't containing all that. You have to use as much hand as you use leg. Some people are afraid to use their reins. 'Catching' all that energy with your rein/hand doesn't mean pulling, it means having the right rein length, and still being gentle, but coordinating the use of the reins and leg.
It's like a constant game of catch, except smoother and quicker, of course, you don't kick and then hold the reins 30 sec later, that'd be too late. It's more like a constant cycle.
Why? Does the horse put his head up or toss his head? Alot of hunter/jumper riders use something to keep the head down, but dressage riders try to do without anything extra, whenever possible.
An instructor can help you, if you don't have someone to work with, it might be very hard to sort this out.
Instead of answering the OP myself, I took it upon myself to glean some gems of information from prior posts:
slc2, December 6
My first suggestion would be to not ask for suggestions on training your horse on a website.
slc2, December 18
I think the best advice is to get a good instructor and a suitable horse to ride.
And who could forget this classic from COTH's most prolific poster/internet trainer? November 12, 2007:
I think you said your horse goes too fast? Work on trot to walk transitions, and use small circles to slow her down. Once she starts listening to you a little she will be able to do some dressage work. You two have to have a basic agreement and basically cooperate with eachother. 'Cooperation' from the rider means not making the ride go on for too long, not changing the rules (what you expect from the horse), and trying to sit smoothly in the middle of the saddle.
Cooperation for the horse means when you use your leg, he goes, and when you ask him to stop or slow down he does. A horse can FEEL too fast when he's losing his balance onto his front end or when he is just going at a tempo that's good for him. It can sometimes be better to adjust to the tempo horsey likes instead of fighting with him all the time. IF that tempo is a balanced comfortable gait, and not rushing.
The simple answer is that you want a connection with your horse, thru the reins. It means you have a feel of both reins, and you have enough slack out of the reins to feel the horse's mouth, like a gentle but firm hand shake. The reins shouldn't hang down in a loop, loosely.
Of course, when you're having to control your horse, stop him from bucking, rearing, or running, you forget about all this nice stuff, and you do whatever you have to do to control your horse, even if it isn't particularly pretty. THEN you go back to your dressage. You can't get anywhere if your horse thinks he doesn't have to listen to you. If you apply your rein and he pulls back like a freight train, you have to get him to stop doing that. There's a point when this stuff becomes 'not dressage' and you have react or you'll never be able to do any dressage.
Many people take that to mean they should PULL on the reins, or shorten them up til they have a 'feel' or the horse's mouth. Kinda, keep taking up reins til they get a feel of the horse's mouth.
but that's not what this means. Instead of pulling back, to get the contact, you push the horse's neck out TO the bit.
By using your legs. The more you go forward in an active, strong gait, the more the horse will stretch out his neck. Even a nervous horse or one trained to hold his neck in, too short, too much, can gradually learn to do that. You just keep using your legs til he gets the idea. If the reins are real short or the rider is pulling back, of course he's going to not be able to figure out he's supposed to stretch his neck out.
Of course, there's a limit to this. If the reins are a mile long, and the horse is stretched out to the maximum all the time, he's going to trip and land on his face. He's going to be like a bulldog, too, with all his weight on his front legs, and his little hind legs just sort of coasting along for the ride while he pulls himself along with his front legs. Picking the right rein length and making some sort of ballpark limit to HOW stretched out he is, helps him balance.
The instructor should be able to tell you how long the reins should be. He or she should KNOW if your reins are too long by looking at how the horse is going.
Even if you do pick a right rein length, you're still saying, 'OKAY, guy, there's your ballpark, now go to the edge of that ballpark'.
Here comes the next part of it.
You keep sending him out there to that edge, but at the SAME time, that edge isn't like a brick wall he hits with a bang It's got a little bit of give to it. You want a springy connection, as if the edge of that ball park has got a LITTLE bit of flex to it....JUUUUST a little - not too much, or again, he's falling on his face and losing his balance.
What you DON'T want is, for him to hit that edge and CLUNK! drop the bit and tuck his chin in so the reins are hanging down!
You want a flexible sort of connection there, you might bend him a tiny bit, get him to flex his jaw a little (work one rein, bend, use your leg on that side to get him to bend his body a little too).
You tell him where the end of that ballpark is, you keep pushing him out to that boundary there, then you 'play' him, not yanking the reins to make him drop the bit, but just improving the quality of that connection, so it's a little bit flexible.
The instructor's job is to say, no, you're making that ballpark too big, or too small, and no, you're making the edge of that ballpark like a brick wall, or you're not keeping him out at that edge enough, or your connection at that edge needs to be softer or more flexible, or it's TOO Flexible and you're so soft that whole edge of that ballpark is dissolving!.
As time goes on, the horse's hind legs and back get stronger from all that bending and meeting the edge of the ballpark and giving and stretching and making that connection. And every once in a while, you break from a trot to a walk, or a walk to a trot, and each time you do, the horse's back and hind legs get stronger. That big bouncy canter you push him to makes him stronger and stronger. And because you're using an active, swinging gait, he reaches and stretches his hind legs too. And when you DO ask him to walk or trot, his hind legs DON'T stop moving, they just bend more, and for a brief second in that transition to walk or trot or whatever, they take the horse's weight more.
As time goes on, the horse is able to lift his head and put more and more of that weight on his hind legs. His hind legs don't just push him along, later, they can CARRY his weight. HOW? You ask him to ALMOST stop, with a 'half halt', and his hind legs, when you do that, bend more. And each time, they get a little stronger. And as time goes on, he gets more and more balanced.
And that's why we do this.
As always, anything can be explained thru baseball
"My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world." ~ Jack Layton
Do you have a qualified instructor in your area from whom you can take some lessons? I agree that your questions are pretty broad, and it's going to be difficult to answer them on an internet forum. I truly feel that the only way to address this is to get some lessons from a good instructor.
One of the things that has been the most difficult for me to unlearn in my 20+ year dressage journey is that you don't "push a horse on to the bit". And yes, I was taught this approach initially, and it is not something that will work reliably as you start to move up the training scale- the horse is "held" and not truly reaching for the bridle. Most horses, especially if they tend to be on the hot side, are going to feel trapped by this approach, and try to escape it. I found that when I stopped thinking of things this way, my horses stopped bracing, inverting, and trying to run through my hand. There is no way I would have ever figured this out without regular instruction from a wonderful teacher. It took a long time, and it is still a conscious effort for me.
Now, I think more that I create the energy with my leg, keep the horse straight with my seat and legs, and receive the energy in my hands. This doesn't mean that any of my aids are passive, it just means that my aids aren't restrictive. It took a while to discover how this actually feels, because I kept subconsciously reverting back to my initial training to use my legs and seat to shove the horse into the bridle. I also had to accept that in a training session, every moment does not have to be perfect, and training the horse sometimes means that you allow it to make a mistake so that you can then show the horse the correct way in a patient manner.
If you'd like to get a visual on this, try looking at some older videos that show training sessions with Isabel Werth and Dr. Schulten-Baumer- I think there are a series of these. (I have two as VHS tapes, but they are probably out on DVD now.)
You may want to go back to lunge work once a week. Get him to respect the commands your giving on the lunge so he can understand them before you get in the saddle and give mixed signals. You do need to take off the martingale if you want to do dressage because thats really not going to help, go back to basics. I'm not an expert and just started dressage from the hunter/jumper world but I'd say start from the ground for control and then go back to the saddle. Also are you sitting correctly, my guy will get nervous if I'm not sitting or asking correctly and will dart forward way to quick. I've learned to stay calm and focused on myself as well as him and even if he slows to much we work with that and then ask for a little more forward after he is calm. Also post your trot this will help relax him don't try to sit it right now.