I haven't posted on this forum before but I need ideas. I am currently riding a heavier build gelding that has much training in the past but was coddled and basically not in work for a few years. He is coming 11 years old now but has zero work ethic and is extremely herd bound. He is currently very wiggly and counter bends often most after he begins to tire of working - he starts rushing through and becomes more unbalanced as we go - I'm sure that will improve with time however he does have an issue leaning on the bit and I think the type of bit is part of the issue. We do work on tonnes of transitions, sprials, stretchy circles but he still tries to pull on through. He is currently in a cherry roller bit that is huge and I think part of it is it's too big for his palate. I'm hoping to get some training ideas and bit suggestions here.
It sounds like your horse is still lacking fitness to carry himself for a long period of time or a short period of time, for that matter. You could help him with his fitness by hacking, interval conditioning work --also adds variety into training schedule.
If he leaning and balancing on the forehand, then your half-halts are not coming through or not often enough -like every stride or every few strides when he is more capable.
What level is this horse? What level are you?
You could dedicate a few days a week of lunging in vienna sidereins and let him sort out his own balance. Make sure he is actually going forward in his gaits and ask for sharp transitions up & down often, but not in any order so he doesn't start driving the bus. You are the one in charge.
As far as bits, I like KK Ultras or french links in 16mm or 14mm depending on the horse and it's mouth size.
He cannot lean on what is not there. Ie, if he leans consistently, and nudging him with your legs and closing your hands simultaneously does not work to get him off your hands, then you need to remove your hands. Personally, I work any and all horses (freshly started to ones being re-trained, etc) on a loose rein to start. They learn independence and to carry and balance themselves on their own. You can put them through a variety of exercises (circles, figure-8's, serpentines, etc) and do a lot of strengthening work (trot poles, hills, trails, lots and lots of trot work) - all on that loose rein. Then as he starts to pick himself up a little and have the strength to balance, you can start removing the droop in the rein. Ultimately the horse is the one who establishes the contact, but when you feel he is ready strength-wise and learning-wise, you can ask him to accept contact (ie, that your hands simply be there) and start bending him inside leg to outside rein as you work.
Work ethic will be developed with correct horsemanship. If he wants to be with you and enjoys his work with you, he will put more effort into his work. Transitions and LOTS of rest breaks when he tries, are key.
Herdboundness disappears also as you work with him and develop a partnership. Just put him to work and make him think in the mean time (ie, poles, trails, patterns, etc).
Perhaps you are asking too much of him though? If he is becoming increasingly unbalanced and is counter-bending and rushing, then it sounds like you need to build up a better foundation. His schooling has to be more progressive and he needs more strength-building exercises that do not ask too much of his current condition. Then as he builds strength, you can ask for more. This probably all ties into his leaning issue. I am thinking the spiraling might be one exercise I would cut out right now, for now. I'd work on large, loose circles, large loopy serpentines, and large figure-8's, as well as long straight lines (especially long straight lines for the unmotivated horse) for now to build strength. Incorporate poles and lots of trotting, as well as hills if possible. It just really sounds like you are asking too much of him too soon. His mind might be capable due to past training, but his body is not.
As far as the bit being too big for his palate?? Look in his mouth when he is resting and figure out what the bit is doing. If it is a single-jointed, as I suspect it is, it will have palate action, so maybe it is not appropriate. Try double-jointed (more bar pressure but no digging into the palate or having that nutcracker effect on the tongue) or a low port (under 2" should not interfere with his palate, but you need to of course make sure that is the case in his mouth). Both types of bits offer tongue relief, which he might appreciate. Play around with bits a little and see if you can't borrow a couple different types of mouthpieces to try them out.
....horses should be trained in such a way that they not only love their riders, but look forward to the time they are with them.
~ Xenophon, 350 B.C.
Wow - thanks for all the suggestions - I think you may be on the head with him having the knowlege but not the fitness. I will take it back down a step and see where we go from there. I like the idea of trying to lunge with some side reins - loosely at first to help him as well. He is a sweet guy - was spoiled rotten and loves to lazy out but I think overall I can tell when I praise him for doing well he soaks it up. I would love to be able to hack but right now he is so herd bound that unless I am able to get a partner to go out with he will not be safe as a hack. He has some issues but is definitely improving as we go. I'm going to take a look inside his mouth with the bit in but from what I'm seeing it hits the roof of his mouth it's so large and yes it is a a single jointed bit - I am going to take a look at some french links - I generally prefer a double jointed bit in any case.
I'll bet that dressage riders end up with a large amount of bits, LOL. I finally ended up using a mullen mouth pelham, starting with a rein on the bottom ring, then adding another rein to use as a snaffle rein when I was ready. Then we moved to shorter pelham shanks. I've never had any problem communicating neck flexion , circles, and shoulder-in with a curb. I flex the neck , then push her body up into soft hands and a nice head position, and hold her into the frame with my abdomen muscles. All with a very light contact, no force.
I'll have to take a closer look tonight - I would say on looking at some of my pictures of him he has a non flabby lip if this makes sense - kind of thin - they are soft but firm - not rough or too hard. He does have a huge tongue in terms of width and thickness - especially although he is a drafty type his head is not that large and mouth is smaller to me for the size of the bit- his palate arch is also lower. When I have put my finger into the bars it seems fairly shallow and smaller more sure in width as well again - smaller mouth compared to his size overall.
Try: French Link Loose Ring My preferred french link I like this one for your horse because of his lip thickness. Myler Level 1 Dr Bristol note the angulation of the center piece. this bit, if it were in the horse's mouth presently, the horse would be facing you. When it is hanging on the rack, the centerpiece should hang freely and vertically. It is very easy to attach this bit upside down and create a totally different effect.
Having no space in the mouth but thinner lips means you'll want to find bits that are thin except on the edges. I'd start with the second one I posted and see how it goes.