This is such a timely thread for me as I am having similar problems with a mare I am trying to bring along and make a decent riding horse out of. One thing I am not getting though is the "heat" factor. My mare is quite hot and she can go and go and go and go. This translates into sensitivy to the aids and works well in some circumstances but I can see and feel when she completely tunes out. She is looking at everything and anything at all times. Every noise, every movement, every single thing going on outside is more interesting than paying attention to her job. You can just feel the adrenalin, the fight or flight hormones start going and then she is gone to me. She can't listen. I can't tell you how many times on the trail, when she is by herself and insecure, I have flexed and flexed and flexed. So hard to bring that brain back. I think this is a big part of riding some of the OTTB's and it is a part I am at a loss at how to fix. And I am fearful for the mare if I cannot get a handle on it.
TThis translates into sensitivy to the aids and works well in some circumstances but I can see and feel when she completely tunes out. She is looking at everything and anything at all times. Every noise, every movement, every single thing going on outside is more interesting than paying attention to her job. You can just feel the adrenalin, the fight or flight hormones start going and then she is gone to me. She can't listen. I can't tell you how many times on the trail, when she is by herself and insecure, I have flexed and flexed and flexed. So hard to bring that brain back. I think this is a big part of riding some of the OTTB's and it is a part I am at a loss at how to fix. And I am fearful for the mare if I cannot get a handle on it.
I think this is a different problem that what the OP posted.
Your problem is that your horse does not trust you enough yet to pay attention to you. She is on high alert because she thinks she has to be aware of her environment. It takes time to become the "alpha". I think sometimes it's harder with mares because they do seem to be always tuned in to their environment.
Flexing won't really do it although I think its sometimes helpful to put your horse in "time out" with a one rein stop. However, you need to practice that during less stressful times so that they understand that when they submit, you will release them.
What you need to do is constantly reinforce your leadership position. Every time you lead her, every time you ride her, you have to be calm and in control. With a horse that gets anxious, I like to do a lot of ground work. If riding her on the trail makes you worried, maybe try leading her for awhile. I often start horses by hand walking them on the trials. Then I ride them for a bit with a steady eddy type of horse. Certainly there have been times when I've had to dismount and lead them by something scary. Gradually there comes a time when I don't have to dismount at all.
My current OTTB was very anxious when I first got him. Now he foxhunts first flight and I sometimes whip off him. It took me time to earn his trust but now he rarely questions me.
Yes, I agree......she doesn't trust me yet. She only trusts the other horses she has been in the herd with. The other day I took her to the wash rack. She has had trouble in there before...with the cross ties, and it is dark and confining and scary. She was calm this time. Stood in the cross ties and got a warm bath and was not anxious. Then I went to walk away to get my showsheen I had forgotten. She started to become very, very nervous when I left. I felt for a fleeting moment like maybe she was beginning to trust me. I felt like maybe I was meaning something to her. Like you say.....the alpha. Like she felt safe. Today we went into the forest...just her and I. For the first time she walked without the jig. Loose rein for much of it. I am hoping this is a breakthrough. That she will finally feel safe with me. Complicated Mare!!!!
I'm thirding (or fourthing, not sure how many we are up to now!) that you get your hands on Andrew McLean's books. The Truth About Horses is a really good summary of how horses learn, and thus how we can effectively train.
The most important thing to remember, is that unless you TEACH him the correct response to your aid, then how the heck is he supposed to know what to do? Have you actually taught him what the reins mean? Start on the ground, leading him in his bridle, and teach him that pressure on the reins = stop. Every single time, even if he puts the pressure on the bit/reins himself by leaning, you must reinforce that the correct response to that pressure is to stop, always starting with a light pressure and graduating to greater pressure until you get the correct response (it must be the right response, not just any old thing! Stepping sidewise is not right, so ignore it until you get stop), then its immediate release. Then once he's got that nailed you use less pressure for less time to mean slow down. Later on this translates really nicely in half-halts with just the slightest lightest touch giving the slightest re-balancing.
But right now. Reins = stop (or slow) every single time. It will only take a few sessions for him to start to re-balance himself, he'll lean on you, slow down a bit in response, lighten his forehand and stop leaning and then you send him forward again with a teeny nudge with your legs. Like others have said, don't worry at all about his frame or where his head it, that comes later.
So hard to bring that brain back. I think this is a big part of riding some of the OTTB's and it is a part I am at a loss at how to fix. And I am fearful for the mare if I cannot get a handle on it.
Sounds like the same old problem of trying to get too much, too soon.
Trainers look around and see others doing all sorts of things with their horses and it looks so easy (because it is easy when the horse has been properly prepared) and think that they can just hop right on and get going on doing the same things.
But those who make it look easy do so by starting at the beginning and spending the time that it takes to teach the horse what he needs to know before going on to the next step. And the first thing a horse needs to know is that he's safe.
Anytime a trainer wants to add devices so they can try to muscle a horse into compliance, IMO, they're trying to get too much, too soon. And what they usually get is more, but not more of what they actually wanted because whatever they get comes with more anxiety, more bracing, and more vices.
Some horses are wound much tighter than others, which means that they need to spend more time calming down before they can be expected to be able to do the same things that a naturally calmer horse might be able to do.
I firmly believe that it's no accident that calm is the first word in calm, forward, and straight, because nothing good comes out of a situation in which the trainer doesn't allow the horse to become calm before they attempt anything else.
...get off his face. Literally, drop the reins and work him. Forget contact, working in a frame, "dressage", just get him to do some transitions on a loose rein without you on his face....
Originally Posted by Arab_Mare
Oh good gawd. The more I hear, the more I feel this trainer isn't suited to this horse, and you are approaching everything the wrong way.
REALLY? A crank and a flash?!? Long story short.. NO. There is absolutely no need to use those tools to ride your horse. It sounds like you are skipping the basics and going on to the "fun" things. What happened to establishing a whoa at the walk on a loose rein? What happened to turning on a loose rein at the walk? What happened to walk/halt transitions using your SEAT, not the reins?
He's confused, getting pissed, and things are getting more dramatic instead of less dramatic. You don't trust him to stop, he doesn't trust you to give clear signals. Everything is all twisted up. You HAVE to go back to basics on a snaffle without a noseband or (my suggestion) a bitless, both on a loose rein.
You have to reduce the anxiety before moving on to the trot and canter. If your horse doesn't know how to stop from the walk without using the reins, he sure ain't gonna stop at the canter without yanking on his face!!
Removing the nosebands gets rid of that tension on his face. Taking away the reins doesn't let him lean on anything, and here is the hardest part. For you. Trusting yourself and your horse. As you go into the trot without reins, you need to BELIEVE, in your HEART, MIND, and SOUL, that this is just a steady gelding. If you show even an OUNCE of timidity, he's going to pick up on it and speed off. He is going to immediately start flailing, but when he only gets reassurance and no negative contact on the reins, he'll start asking, "What?". That's your sign.
Once the lesson above is learned, everything will be thousands times easier. Keep things simple. Work on trot walk transitions with your SEAT, not your reins. ALL the problems you have stem from your contact. You and your trainer must rely on the reins rather than your seat. (Hey, don't fret, most people do! Your horse just can't handle it. ) Keep contact out of the equation, nothing negative makes him withdraw into himself.
Agree with ArabMare again... you've got to walk before you can crawl. When I first got my horse, my trainer wouldn't let us canter for the first 5 months I owned him, because he would just haul ass around the ring, pulling right through my hands (yes, he was an OTTB). It wasn't until we could walk and trot, *CALMLY and QUIETLY* with very relaxed contact in both directions; as well as W/T across the diagonals and over ground poles without Reese getting "overstimulated" (seriously, just a change of direction would make him go all "Hi Ho Silver" back then). Oh, and we had to be able to halt, too. Quietly and squarely, with no 'pull back' from him on the reins.
Once we were able to achieve quietly walking and trotting on a loose rein (which also allowed me to understand how to, and to better develop my seat and core to use as aids vs. just my legs and hands); and a quiet, "no-fight" halt, Reese and I were both so much better off- both individually and as a team.
Originally Posted by merrygoround
Arab_Mare-Your thoughts are good, but your signature gives you away. You don't do "disciplines". However riding is a discipline!!! You may one of the rare goddesses who ride understanding it all naturally. The rest of us poor fools must learn it, and if we learn it well enough, and are also foolish and dedicated, we try to teach it.
Not everyone can hop on, ride in their mind, and have their body translate appropriately to the situation at hand.
Also agree strongly with you, MGR... OP, it's *critically* important that you understand what you need to be doing, and why you need to be doing it (in terms of both your riding/skills; and your horse's training).
Ask a ton of questions- "trainer, can you further explain what you just asked me to do, I'm having a hard time understanding xyz..." and, "trainer, can you please explain to me why you are telling me to do xyz, so that I can understand how it effects me/my riding/my horse," and, "trainer, I can feel that Dobbin is really leaning on my hands right now... what am I doing/are there specific signals I am inadvertantly giving him that are encouraging this? And if so, what are they? How can I prevent this in the future, etc."
In my experience as both a rider and an instructor; I have found that until the rider has a true and full understanding of the "big picture"/desired outcome/intended end-result that they and their horse are working to achieve; their progress will always be significantly hindered and success will be greatly delayed, because they "just don't know what they don't know," and that results in significant gaps in comprehension of the rider's role/responsibilities/etc.; which then result in significant training gaps for the horse.
For example: having a trainer simply tell a rider,"put your heels down," or "tighten your reins," without providing any further explanation of what those instructions mean, why the rider is being told to do it; what results the horse and rider will achieve by following these instructions, how the rider should actually execute said actions (ex: telling a rider to "put your heels down" can be [and often is] interpreted in a much different way than telling a rider to "relax in your ankle, stretch down through your calf; and allow the weight of your body to sink into your heels, and allow your heels to act as your body's natural shock absorbers, etc.")
I realize this is an oversimplified and extreme generalization of what I'm trying to say, but as other posters have already stated; this isn't something that can be addressed in a paragraph or 10 on a BB forum
I do recommend you read the books that have been suggested to you, and ask as many questions as you can (and as often as possible!); and I also agree that your current trainer doesn't sound to be the appropriate fit for you or your horse at this time... Best of luck to you, OP!
Originally Posted by Martha Drum
...But I don't want to sit helmetless on my horse while he lies on the ground kicking a ball around without a bridle while Leatherface does an interpretive dance with his chainsaw around us.
Fibber-You should have a whole new thread for your issues.
You are blaming an OTTB, for a "horse" issue. There are WB out there with the same issues. Edward Gal rode one in a symposium. He also ride her brother Totilas. Recently he rode in her in tough company to a very high score at PSG.
Some horses take a great deal of equestrian tact, and endless patience. And then we come back to the "what to do when", that few know instinctively. For most of us it can be a long, sometimes painful learning situation.
But don't blame it being a OTTB. I've known too many.
Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.
Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.
Unless the horse's tongue has been cut (sometimes high up), or there is a paralysis of the tongue somewhere, the horse's mouth is not dead.
Why constitutes a good mouth? A mobile jaw and correct balance. It is the JOB of the trainer to 'educate the mouth'. An ottb has learned to lean onto the hand (and clench to go faster). So training starts as if the horse were green. It is totally possible to 'fix' if you understand why the horse is dead in its reactions, or trapped behind it.
It is helpful to do work in hand (teach standing flexions---starting with the introduction of a hh (lifting the bit to mobilize the jaw), proceeding to very light lateral flexions, and finally more clear ones. The work in hand for toF/shoulder fore/REINING BACK is particularly helpful (from PULSED aids)/etc. Then comes in hand work like lunging (from a caveson), teaching of hh there.
Likely a bit with tongue pressure (which tends to create longituidinal flexion first) will not help. Effective hh (getting him up/open) will.
Why are downward transitions problematic and why does the horse jig. The horse is likely braced against the hand, hence tense and behind the effect of the bit. Even just standing the horse should literally be 'up to the bit'/closed with the hindlegs/ready to work. Horses do not "love" to lean on the hand, they (esp ottb) have been TAUGHT to do so. And because of their sensitivity also react to the leg.
Lateral suppleness/pulsing aids are the key to helping the horse mobilize the jaw and for sure that comes before longitudinal flexion. The hindlegs will NOT engage if hh do not effectively change balance. But too many people think hh are push and hold. They are not. And for such a horse clear (vertical) hh and instant allowing for self carriage are needed (and this should be illustrated by the trainer).
So WHAT is the trainer doing?
Kicking a horse forward w/o changing its balance just causes a horse to look for support of the hand even more so. The LAST thing a horse with a dead mouth needs is to have the mouth laced shut with a crank and flash with a bit which acts on the tongue, it will make the mouth even more dead and lower/close the horse as well.
For a horse than does not understand transitions DO ride it toward a wall (reins higher/wider) and merely pulse the aids but ride straight on. He will stop. Then pulse w/o a wall. Same thing on a lunge, walk straight toward the wall (pulsing on the caveson...certainly NO line attached to bit) and cut him off. (Baby training 101).
Wow. Didn't think I'd get so many responses on this thread, lots to process!
I really am not sure where to start...
To answer the crank and flash question, this horse literally gapes his mouth open the whole time he's being ridden, no matter what bit or noseband we used. This setup is the *for now* setup, and is always open for change if needed. The horse reacts better having this equipment on than he did with a plain noseband and loose ring bit, I got zero response from a loose ring, mullen, KK, plain eggbutt, Nathe, and happy mouth with peanut. He seems to like the french link the most, and actually is more relaxed with the crank and flash. Maybe he likes the stability?
I personally am not a rider that is comfortable riding around on a loose rein. This horse is way spookier than my last one, and will look for things to spook at (also a huge adjustment for me). Riding him around on a loose rein just seems to encourage him to look for monsters, instead of focusing on me.
I did have a chat with trainer as I'm just not enjoying riding right now, and he is going to put some work on the horse for me. If things don't improve in the next little bit, then we will have to reassess if this is the right fit all around. I am still new to dressage, having come from hunterland and I am definitely not in my comfort zone with a lot of things... New program, new horse, new trainer. I miss my old point-and-shoot guy, and I haven't really established a lot of trust in the new guy yet as he's still new to me, and spooky as hell (hoping that goes away with work).
I understand your point, EqTrainer, I do. However, riding him in anything else right now is an exercise in futility. It's horrible. I don't care if his mouth is open at this stage, I really don't. However, with that open mouth comes a whole other host of worse problems. For the sake of being able to accomplish anything safe and positive in a ride, this setup honestly works better for this horse. I can get SOME improvement, and working towards making MORE improvement which makes us both feel better. With a plain noseband, there is zero improvement, just fighting. I'm not a pro. I can't school perfectly every time I ride, and for me to come out 3 times a week, and fight for 30 minutes - it's not what I want to do as a rider. Yes, I know that riding isn't perfect and easy and there are no shortcuts, but to make it enjoyable for both of us, that's going to have to be the short term fix. I'm going to leave all the fighting to my trainer, that's what I pay him for
Until he is actually taught how to respond to the bit in a way that is not painful, and understands what is in it for him, he will continue to evade the bit, because his horsie mind cannot conceive of any other thing to do. He is just a horse. He didnt read any dressage books and he cant come on here and see what he should do about his problem. It is up to you to teach him what to do. I understand you are at a loss but I think what you need to come to terms with (and change) is that so is your trainer. A horse who will not submit to "giving" to the bit because it hurts to do so is a challenge for a lot of people, sadly enough, because a lot of people truly believe a horse gets round by being pushed at the bit and then giving to it. Seems logical! But the thing is, that is a trap and it is not right and that is what your horse is protesting.
I love TBs. I was taught to ride/train on horses who would not just put their head down, suck it up and give to the bit. TBs tend to be claustrophobic. The spooking you talk about.. It is likely he will never stop spooking because he is tense and guarding his mouth. So continue down this path and you can reasonably expect him to get worse, not better. In every way. I disagree with the loose rein idea; he doesnt learn anything that way, and if he is spooking he is not ready for that. He needs fo be trained what to do, not just ridden.
I am just trying to point out to you that what you are being proposed is the answer is not and it wont work. Remember I have nothing invested in taking the time to type this out and I wish the best for your horse and you.
"Kindness is free" ~ Eurofoal
--- The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances.
However, riding him in anything else right now is an exercise in futility. It's horrible. I don't care if his mouth is open at this stage, I really don't. However, with that open mouth comes a whole other host of worse problems. For the sake of being able to accomplish anything safe and positive in a ride, this setup honestly works better for this horse. I can get SOME improvement, and working towards making MORE improvement which makes us both feel better. With a plain noseband, there is zero improvement, just fighting. I'm not a pro. I can't school perfectly every time I ride, and for me to come out 3 times a week, and fight for 30 minutes - it's not what I want to do as a rider. Yes, I know that riding isn't perfect and easy and there are no shortcuts, but to make it enjoyable for both of us, that's going to have to be the short term fix. I'm going to leave all the fighting to my trainer, that's what I pay him for
When you purchased this horse in July did you ride him first? Did he behave in this way? What kind of bridle/bit was used? What attracted you to this horse?
Have you been working with the same trainer since you bought him?
If you've been trying the same program for the past 3+ months and are having this feeling of frustration and lack of progression, I don't think you need to reconsider whether this is the right horse for you and/or if this is the right trainer for this horse.
I hope you don't take my comment as being disrespectful. Truly I do not mean it in that way. Riding is supposed to be fun and if you've been battling since August or so with your horse and he still has these behaviors after three months under saddle it doesn't sound like you're having any fun. It's sounds stressful and frustrating.
Seriously, buying a horse right off the track is not for every rider nor is it for every trainer. There's nothing wrong with wanting a horse that is more established in its training . . . If riding is supposed to be a fun and relaxing activity for you perhaps having a horse this green is not meeting our needs. Does he get ridden more than the three times a week that you can ride? That's not a lot of rides/week for a horse at this stage in his training. I suspect that riding him 5-6 days/week for shorter more focused sessions might be more successful. At least for me, I have one or two goals during a ride and when we accomplish them, my new OTTB gets a lot of praise and then is untacked and massaged. Some days i ride him for 15 minutes; others I might ride for half an hour.
Does your horse go better for the trainer? If not, then having the trainer work the horse won't particularly help. I had a Trakehner gelding that was a tricky ride and my trainer at the time (bless her!) told me she wasn't the right person to ride my horse because they didn't work well together. She helped me find someone who fit well with my horse's personality and he progressed very nicely with her help.
I'm currently working with an OTTB who is quite anxious under saddle. I plan to spend as long as it takes walking, halting and turning. I want him to stop grinding his teeth under saddle and would like to hear him breathe on a regular basis . My guess is that after we get through this barrier of anxiety, he'll progress pretty quickly, but I don't have a time table for him. Of course, if he were the only horse I had to ride, I might be more concerned about having him step up to the plate.
Lots of advice...sounds like he might not be the right horse for you. MOST OTTB (but not all) do not do well on a 3 day a week schedule. That just isn't consistent enough work to get anything done.
I have one right now who last raced in August--got more than two months off....yet sounds further along than your horse....he isn't spooky, and happy to hack out and can W/T pretty consistently on the bit nice and soft and relaxed. Canter is still big and a bit quick but coming along and he is learning about going straight. I did treat him with Gastro Guard for almost 2 months....he was much more anxious and spooky before treatment. But it takes consistent and calm work. I'm not a perfect rider either but if things are not fun for you....then you need to change something.
** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **
Things have definitely not been fun that's for sure lol. However I'm not sure how much of this stems from the fact that my old horse was a total packer and was so easy and fun to ride - however didn't want to do the job that I needed him to.
I did try this new horse before I bought him, he went in a KK with noseband and flash at that time. He was similar to how he is now, but now that he's muscling up he's a lot stronger. He was found for me by my trainer through a long time contact at the track - they've bought and sold many together. I got the horse originally as he is a fabulous mover with potential to take me to where I want to be in my riding, and the price was right. He is better for trainer and would keep improving if I had the time to put into him I'm sure. I also bought him in the summer, when I had more time off than anything and could ride every day. We hacked all over the farm every day, and did little ring work until it got too cold to ride outside. I also did a lot of work on the lunge, getting him used to side reins and working on hill and different spots. Since I haven't been able to ride as much now, it's really falling apart. The program we are on now was only really started in September, and I was off due to life circumstances for most of October. Then I started him back into lunging early November, so it hasn't been that long really.
Well...he doesn't sound like he is going to be your packer (at least not for a while). So if that is what you are looking for, be fair to both of you and move him along.
If your work/life is such that you can not get consistent with him, maybe think about giving him (and yourself) some time off. Take a break, pull his shoes and kick him out. Don't keep fighting a fight you will not win.
He is a green horse and a green OTTB. If you want to progress, he needs a program of 5-6 days a week. NOT hard work days mind you...but doing some thing. Most OTTBs need more than just dressage. They go a bit bonkers stuck in an indoor doing circles. Change things up, do some little jumping or pole work. Keep things interesting.
If you can't some how to get to him a few more days a week....then really, just give him some more time off. It will not hurt him in the long run...and it might save your own sanity. With these guys....you really have to come to plate your self with your mind calm, and ready to give them a consistent ride. When life is throwing you a lot of stresses...this is REALLY hard to do and they can sense it (and react to it).
Good luck. He really doesn't sound bad, but the two of you may not be the right partners right now.
** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **
Tried another trainer this week, who wanted to hop on and see what was going on. He ended the ride after 15 minutes and was quite concerned as he said he felt an on and off lameness that "didn't feel like it was in one specific place". He is worried that there may be something neurological going on such as wobbler's or EPM as the horse does not look lame on the lunge or without a rider and there is an incredible amount of stiffness through the neck, and the horse feels like he is continuously losing balance and tripping behind. Add to that the fact that he has barely built a topline at all, and it seems to add up.
I'm in pieces. I'm giving the horse a week off as it's Christmas and I'm tapped financially. I will have to call the vet out in the new year and see what we're looking at. Just wanted to make a quick update.