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  1. #1
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    Default Teaching a horse to relax, use back and put head down

    My horse I have for sale likes to giraffe a lot. He also is quite tense and anxious personality-wise, and is an unfortunately green 9-year-old who got a late start at age 5. Forgive my elementary questions, but can anyone give me some tips on getting him to relax, use his back and not be such a giraffe? He's also gotten into a habit of rushing even teeny little crossrails.

    I am at a loss at trying to get him to improve. it doesn't help that I have my own confidence issues, but I've been working on that and getting better. I know he sense my own nerves, but assuming those are more under control, how can I help him? One time with side reins made him completely freak out, and we already do lots of circle work.

    Any help would be appareciate- thanks! (and he's been extensively checked for all kinds of physical issues and saddle fit, etc. and regularly seen by the chiropractor. I am almost 100% certain his issue is a mental one of nerves).



  2. #2
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    Number one is I'd stop xrails and go back to ground poles only. Your right in he can sense if you are tense and if he is a nervous horse he will tense more if he is feeding off you. Remember to breathe and keep thinking loose loose to yourself. Forward is a good start for him ro relax into the bit. Is he a forward horse? Does he willing move off the leg not in a rushed way but a more forward manner. If he rushes off the leg and his forward is more chaotic then loose then he has some tension with the leg he needs to work out. I'd keep a long but steady contact don't play with his mouth at all let him just move out. He may start off quick but control it with your post and not your hands. That is if he listens to your seat. Does he listen to seat at all? If he is nervous off the leg then work leg yields serpentines asking for a bend on a loose contact from the leg. Leg on and off with every post stride as well to keep asking to put his rear under himself. Don't crank his head in with the forward and leg he will come to the contact properly as he relaxes into it. It will take time. Probably months for a tense nervous horse but it will come. When he relaxes and pushes then take a little more contact but not much. If he backs off with the contact push him with the leg and seat. You have to learn to channel his nervous energy into work.
    Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole



  3. #3
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    Also until he is properly engaged from behind he is not going to come down into contact without it being a "headset" that is not through from behind. In other words a false frame.
    Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole



  4. #4
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    Thank you- that's very helpful. he is very forward, and is quite leg sensitive. He also gets extremely anxious about canter transitions and will pitch a fit. Should I back off canter work until he relaxes at the trot? Once he gets going, he will usually settle into a really nice canter, but the transition and the first 30 seconds are usually awful and sometimes buck-y.



  5. #5

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    Does he eventually settle down after some riding? Have tried working him on the longe line before riding?



  6. #6
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    He sometimes settles, and sometimes doesn't. I often do lunge him first, and it doesn't seem to make much of a difference.



  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by PaintedHunter View Post
    Thank you- that's very helpful. he is very forward, and is quite leg sensitive. He also gets extremely anxious about canter transitions and will pitch a fit. Should I back off canter work until he relaxes at the trot? Once he gets going, he will usually settle into a really nice canter, but the transition and the first 30 seconds are usually awful and sometimes buck-y.
    Sounds to me like he needs to learn to accept the leg aide. Scooting off the leg and pitching a fit is just bad manners. If he were mine and he pulled that, I'd keep my leg on and keep sending him forward until he stopped pitching a fit, then I would take my leg off.

    I think a lot of people make the mistake of confusing bad manners with a horse's temperament. We hear all the time about the "quiet" horses that have to go in giant spurs when the issue is really that the horse has no respect for the leg. The same goes for so called "sensitive" horses that haven't been taught to accept the aides. Some horses are hotter rides than others, but they should all move off the aides correctly and obediently.
    "Are you yawning? You don't ride well enough to yawn. I can yawn, because I ride better than you. Meredith Michael Beerbaum can yawn. But you? Not so much..."
    -George Morris



  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by SaturdayNightLive View Post
    Sounds to me like he needs to learn to accept the leg aide. Scooting off the leg and pitching a fit is just bad manners. If he were mine and he pulled that, I'd keep my leg on and keep sending him forward until he stopped pitching a fit, then I would take my leg off.

    I think a lot of people make the mistake of confusing bad manners with a horse's temperament. We hear all the time about the "quiet" horses that have to go in giant spurs when the issue is really that the horse has no respect for the leg. The same goes for so called "sensitive" horses that haven't been taught to accept the aides. Some horses are hotter rides than others, but they should all move off the aides correctly and obediently.

    I totally agree - and I never take the leg off if he's pitching a fit. He does need to learn to accept contact and listen. it's the "how" I have trouble with with him.



  9. #9
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    In the canter if he is worse then I would just work the walk and trot until it's more controlled before I moved on to the canter work.

    Agree that he has to listen to the leg aides without over reacting. Start from the ground with pressure. Ask him to move over with pressure from the ground via your hand I'd have a crop handy if he completely ignores give him a little tap not hard but just hey wake up I'm here tap. If he over reacts to your pressure keep it on until he can nicely calmly move over and them release. I worked one horse like this. I just pushed him over with hand pressure he wanted to scoot quick I stayed with Jim and calmly told him it's ok until he gave me one little nice step over without the scoot and it was release quickly and a big good boy and pat and repeat. I'd only do it a few times in a row a couple rimes a day because he was hotter and I didn't want to fry he and drill him on it but for him to realize that I'm not going to inflict pain by asking him to move over. On his back really just work the walk. Everything is easier to work and teach at the walk. Start by working with your seat. Slow and speed up his pace with your seat. If he doesn't respond to you asking for a more forward speed and reach at the walk with your seat wake him up a bit with a love tap. If you have opposite trouble where he doesn't want to slow with the seat use your rein some but always at this point if possible keep a long rein contact. Now that said you will have to shorten the reins to keep a soft contact If he raises his head and let them out when he lowers. Try not to bump him much in the mouth. Start leg yields at the walk. At this point if he lags his hqs in the yield I wouldn't be concerned because you just want a quiet acceptance to the leg. Keep the leg on at the girth to ask and don't tense your other leg up. Keep it loose and on and off with the stride. If he feels that other leg tense which is easy to do in a leg yield he will probably tense more. Work serpentines and half serpentines as well. Maybe change it up for him and keep him thinking. Such as throw some barrels and cones throughout the ring and ground poles. Work on Turing the barrels with your leg and seat not your reins. At first you will probably have to use your rein some. Work on weaving the cones with your leg and seat also. Ground poles just work on pace. Open his stride at the walk up and bring it back down before the poles. Keep it interesting and make him think so he doesn't think so much about reacting as much as hey what is she wanting here. Once he is solid at the walk move on to the trot and ask. Remember at the trot to stay relaxed with a steady hand. Open and close your elbows with his stride so you don't hit him in his Mouth and make him more tense.
    Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole



  10. #10
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    Thank you very much- this is again all very helpful. The other issue with starting at the walk is he also jigs in anticipation and wants to GO, so I have trouble getting him to actually walk. Usually when he jigs, we do tight circles until he relents, then walk on and repeat if he jigs again.



  11. #11
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    (and yes, I know what a mess he is!)



  12. #12
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    This question comes up here a lot, you may want to check the Dressage forum, someone was asking a variation of this the other day.
    I think it was called "Stretchy trot" or something.

    Right now it seems to me like you have a horse with some obedience issues. It may be attributed to greenness or it could be proper training. And answering that question opens a lot of other questions regarding fitness, demeanor and maturity.
    But in general you are going to want to do lots of suppling excercises, including lots of circling, serpentines, moving away from leg pressure. If he rushes, sit the trot (if you can), and push him with your outside leg into a smaller spiraling circle. Get down to 10M and then push him out slowly. Make him spiral in and out until he relaxes and give him a pat and break.


    Don't eliminate cross rails but use trot poles set at normal distance until he starts to relax, then put them out 1/2 foot longer than normal, make him sttreetccch for it. This will make him start to want to use his back and neck.
    Sit trot after the poles, sink weight deep, (you should feel it a bit in your thighs and abs), and halt at the end of the ring.
    Give a little squeeze of the reins, alternating sides, like your massaging his mouth to ask for supple. Massage left rein - count 1 mississippi, 2..., Switch.
    Continue at the halt until he drops his head and starts chewing, even the smallest bit. You want to feel like if you moved your hand/rein out to the side his head would easily follow without resistance.

    Then count 1-2.... ask very lightly for a walk and let him have his head when you ask.


    You mentioned you think he can feel your tension... you want to be sure you are giving him his head and only taking loose contact until you yourself learn to relax. Focus on not gripping with your leg too which many people do without noticing. If you notice you do it, lengthen your stirrups a couple notches. Too short stirrup will make tension worse. If your stirrups are longer you have less to grip onto.

    You may want to pick up a copy of 101 Jumping excercises, they have lots of lovely ideas for pole work and when you do start doing cross rails always have a pole 9' (trot), 10' (canter), before AND after cross rail. This will teach him to back off.
    Also enforce circling if he gets too strong before fence. After fence if he is strong, make him halt.

    Good luck.



  13. #13
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    What you need is help from a trainer who has experience with these types of horses. IMO if you are not a confident rider than this horse is not for you, he will need someone very soft with NO nervousness.

    My horse was like this for a long time...I finally got help from someone who knows how to work the tense Thoroughbred brain and now my horse is a relaxed ridable beast. We are still working on not rushing over fences. This has taken 2 years of continuous lessons with my coach.

    You are wasting your time, and probably frustrating yourself and your horse doing this on your own if you do not know what you are doing. Get help from experience.



  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by PaintedHunter View Post
    Thank you very much- this is again all very helpful. The other issue with starting at the walk is he also jigs in anticipation and wants to GO, so I have trouble getting him to actually walk. Usually when he jigs, we do tight circles until he relents, then walk on and repeat if he jigs again.
    Sounds like he is anticipating.... many young horses will do this when you collect your reins from a walk break.
    Either keep your reins the same length always (slightly longer, light contact until he is improving), or if they are the same length throughout your hack now.... let the reins slide out a bit before asking for an up transition.
    Make him wait until you ask. Tell him waalllkkk.... walllkkkk.... and you want atleast 5 seconds of him cooperating, pat him and pick up a trot with the least bit of leg possible.



  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jealoushe View Post
    What you need is help from a trainer who has experience with these types of horses. IMO if you are not a confident rider than this horse is not for you, he will need someone very soft with NO nervousness.

    My horse was like this for a long time...I finally got help from someone who knows how to work the tense Thoroughbred brain and now my horse is a relaxed ridable beast. We are still working on not rushing over fences. This has taken 2 years of continuous lessons with my coach.

    You are wasting your time, and probably frustrating yourself and your horse doing this on your own if you do not know what you are doing. Get help from experience.
    I understand now he is not for me- that is why he is for sale. He underwent a big personality change after I bought him. I just want some tips to work with him until he sells - I don't want to just throw him out to pasture and be done with him. Sending him to a trainer is out of the question financially - that is not an expense that my husband would be happy with us taking on at the moment, and my current trainer does not have time to work with him with her already-full plate. A really good teenager rider at the barn has been working with him - so he could have a more confident rider - but she is unfortunately no longer able to continue due to work and school.



  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by rabicon View Post
    Also until he is properly engaged from behind he is not going to come down into contact without it being a "headset" that is not through from behind. In other words a false frame.
    LIKE.



  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by pryme_thyme View Post
    This question comes up here a lot, you may want to check the Dressage forum, someone was asking a variation of this the other day.
    I think it was called "Stretchy trot" or something.

    Right now it seems to me like you have a horse with some obedience issues. It may be attributed to greenness or it could be proper training. And answering that question opens a lot of other questions regarding fitness, demeanor and maturity.
    But in general you are going to want to do lots of suppling excercises, including lots of circling, serpentines, moving away from leg pressure. If he rushes, sit the trot (if you can), and push him with your outside leg into a smaller spiraling circle. Get down to 10M and then push him out slowly. Make him spiral in and out until he relaxes and give him a pat and break.


    Don't eliminate cross rails but use trot poles set at normal distance until he starts to relax, then put them out 1/2 foot longer than normal, make him sttreetccch for it. This will make him start to want to use his back and neck.
    Sit trot after the poles, sink weight deep, (you should feel it a bit in your thighs and abs), and halt at the end of the ring.
    Give a little squeeze of the reins, alternating sides, like your massaging his mouth to ask for supple. Massage left rein - count 1 mississippi, 2..., Switch.
    Continue at the halt until he drops his head and starts chewing, even the smallest bit. You want to feel like if you moved your hand/rein out to the side his head would easily follow without resistance.

    Then count 1-2.... ask very lightly for a walk and let him have his head when you ask.


    You mentioned you think he can feel your tension... you want to be sure you are giving him his head and only taking loose contact until you yourself learn to relax. Focus on not gripping with your leg too which many people do without noticing. If you notice you do it, lengthen your stirrups a couple notches. Too short stirrup will make tension worse. If your stirrups are longer you have less to grip onto.

    You may want to pick up a copy of 101 Jumping excercises, they have lots of lovely ideas for pole work and when you do start doing cross rails always have a pole 9' (trot), 10' (canter), before AND after cross rail. This will teach him to back off.
    Also enforce circling if he gets too strong before fence. After fence if he is strong, make him halt.

    Good luck.
    Thank you for this too! Helpful again. And i actually did pick up that book - I'm looking forward to using some of those exercises.



  18. #18
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    Work on rhythm. JUST rhythm. Riding to music and sticking to that rhythm no matter what will help rate him.
    Think about bubblegum stuck to your breeches keeping you in that slower pace.
    Breathe and be consistent.
    He is NOT being disobedient! He's guessing incorrectly and is very sensitive. You need to be confident and stable so he feels safe to learn.
    www.destinationconsensusequus.com
    chaque pas est fait ensemble



  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by PaintedHunter View Post
    Thank you- that's very helpful. he is very forward, and is quite leg sensitive. He also gets extremely anxious about canter transitions and will pitch a fit. Should I back off canter work until he relaxes at the trot? Once he gets going, he will usually settle into a really nice canter, but the transition and the first 30 seconds are usually awful and sometimes buck-y.

    Sounds like he's a bit spoiled and trying to intimidate you.

    If he were mine, and I've had more than one like this when they were very young,

    Try these steps,

    1) Put the horse in side reins and lunge him on a small circle and teach him the canter departs from the ground. Teach him the word CANTER. Practice trot to canter, canter to trot and walk to canter canter to walk transitions. This will carry over to the under saddle and make it much much easier. (Hint, find yourself a good dressage trainer who works with a lot of green horses.)

    2) Then move to riding work and send the horse into a very forward trot and do not go straight anyplace in the ring. Do shallow serpentines, 1/2 turns, voltes (10 meter circles) etc etc all around the ring and make him keep working in a big trot. The constant changes of direction will make the horse start to pay attention to you but be very careful to be sure he's working off your leg and not just cranking his head around to change directions. You've got to send him forward though, doing this slowly isn't going to help.

    3) Once #1 & 2 are going well (a week or two or ten) then start finding places to canter for 2 or 3 strides coming off a volte or on portions of your shallow serpentines.

    4) Once these short 2 or 3 strides of canter are well established on the shallow serpentines then go to a 20 meter circle and start doing trot to canter departs from a good working trot. But only go 4 or 5 strides and right back to the trot, and then trot some number of steps and back to the canter for 4 or 5 steps.

    My words of encouragement for you.... my now rising star 4 year old was a punk this time last year. He would kick my foot in the stirrup mid trot side without missing a beat when I would ask for the canter depart. But now he's cruising around like a pro and has lovely canter departs after a few months of schooling all the above steps.



  20. #20
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    Thank you all so very much. I really appreciate it. He has SO much potential and such lovely movement when he's trying and not trying to evade me. And I know that he knows he has my number. In the meantime, I'm progressing with my other (new) horse and making a lot of progress confidence-wise. In the days I feel really good about my ride on my other horse, I can tell afterwards when I ride Problem Child that HE can tell the difference.



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