I do turn on the forehand in motion, very slowly, at the walk. If the horse is curling I keep the rein pressure on, sometimes quite firmly, with leg, until the horse does the slightest fraction of "pulling the reins." Then I give enough to accommodate the horse's pull. This introduces to the horse that stretching the nose OUT gets a release.
Then we ride larger figures. If the horse curls, stronger rein pressure, slight lateral steps, ride some 90 degree turns with TOF a little bit on a strong bend, waiting for the horse to "tug" a little.
The whole point is that curling can not make the pressure go away. Just adding leg into nothing teaches the horse that "hey, if I curl, the bridle goes away." You want to teach instead that "if I address the bridle like a gentleman, it becomes a very pleasant contact, if I curl I have more weight on the reins, a stronger bend, and lateral work to do."
This will be nearly impossible to teach yourself without competent instruction though. You will need help to find the moment of release, because generally people who don't already know how to do it won't take a strong enough pressure to start, and then on the other end won't release nearly quickly enough.
Keep the contact when they are behind the bit because they are getting away from contact by being behind the bit. If they can't avoid the contact by curling, then they will have to try to find another way to avoid contact. When their next experiment is to poke their nose out, then lighten and show them that softening your hands comes from them sticking their nose out and not curling. Takes perfect timing and feel.
Based on your OP and followup post about your first ride, I think you can be confident that this is about the way he's been ridden...which means it can be untaught just as it was taught, but of course it's been reinforced many times over in his previous riding so you have to be patient.
Some other people talked about it, but I think what you have to focus on is teaching him that you want him to reach OUT to the bit, he has been taught to that if he touches the bit, he must back off.
I would try what others have suggested about keeping the contact (light but there) and I would use some spiral in spiral out circles to address one rein at a time. You can even use a wider opening rein on the inside as you yield out to encourage him to go to the outside rein. Perfect timing on the release will speed his learning.
ETA: I think with as long as he's been doing this, it will likely resurface as you progress through harder parts of his training. So once you get him reliably out to the bit, note what techniques worked the best and be ready to readdress it down the road. You will have to establish the correct contact first with this horse as you change other things. Curling BTV is his comfort zone and he's been told over and over again that its the right answer, so he will likely offer that as a solution if he gets confused in the future. With this history, I wouldn't want to compromise on this with him, but just slow our progress to ensure he moves forward correctly.
Thanks - this is all great advise. I am currently just focusing on keeping him in front of my leg. I am trying to keep his work light until he puts on more weight and muscle, so I have been doing a lot of work at the walk. I am looking forward to being able to do more trot work with him - especially on the trails where I shouldn't have to work so hard to keep him in front of my leg.
I have been playing with keeping the contact on no matter how far he curls, but boy can he ever curl! It is amazing how forward he can move and still have his chin on his chest, but he has had a couple moments so far where I have felt him come into my hands.
The timing of the release is really hard - but if I can get my timing flawless enough to help this horse than he will have taught me something. I have a bad habit of being too light with my contact, so this will be good for me too.
I have no particular goals for this guy - I just thought it seemed like an interesting puzzle to work through so I took him when he was offered to me. He is a gorgeous mover though and has a great mind so it will be interesting to see what he is capable of.
I had to sell my dressage mare to pay for home repairs and I am on a strict budget that does not include lessons or showing anytime in the near future. So I am just going to have to entertain myself with this fella for awhile.
I am especially excited to have a horse I can feed all I want. I can't stand to see a horse not have hay in front of them at all times - with my barn of air ferns I am always having to restrict their hay and it kills me. This guy I can spoil to my hearts content.
I have actually already fallen in love with the silly guy. When my husband met him and saw how neurotic he was (cribbing and weaving in his stall) - he said "just your type" as he rolled his eyes - he knows me so well. He knows I am a sucker for the odd balls and sad cases.
I have been working with an AQHA mare with this problem. What I did,
lots of long and low to begin...to get her to relax,
lots of transitions (focusing on the seat)
halting with small flexions (as demonstrated by Philip Karl)
Just really really focusing on riding her back to front
Over 4 months the improvement is dramatic...the horse just has to learn it can trust your hand.
In regards to keeping the contact no matter what or where he goes with his head - just remember, you are doing exactly what he thinks you are going to do. You will have a hard time effecting change this way. He does not know that what he is doing is "wrong" and quite frankly IMO and IME you cannot effectively treat this as an *evasion* because an evasion means the horse is evading correct work purposefully and he is not doing that. He is doing what he was taught to do.
The head is a symptom, it is not actually the problem. Now, having said thay, I DO agree that feeling the moment he tries to begin to change is key, and that is the tricky part. I just suspect that if you try to begin where he already is, and expect him to somehow realize you want something else... Well, that it will probably not happen in his lifetime.
I was taught to disregard my horses heads EXCEPT for as a marker as to if I had their body working correctly. If you can focus your immediate attention to your seat/his body (the part he needs to learn to lift is actually his center of gravity, directly in front of the saddle) and his head/the feeling in your hand second, not only will he be "fixed" faster and for real but YOU as a rider will have learned something truly valuable about your riding that you can and will take onto every horse you ride - instead of learning a trick that is not reliably reproducible.
If you really want to learn and understand the mechanism of the horses body that lifts his front end/has him reach out, IMO the clearest/easiest to understand work is in Mary Wanlesses Masterclass book. It even has pictures It is your seat/core that actually fixes this issue, not your hand.
People can only tell you/give you the advice that they know to give. This is not directed at anyone in particular, but quite frankly if the fix for this was as simple as not letting go of the contact no matter what the horse did, no horse would EVER curl up, because that is exactly how most people ride - with a pulling hand. A truly passive/able to give/soften appropriately hand is uncommonly rare.
Good luck with your riding.
"Kindness is free" ~ Eurofoal
--- The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances.
Agree with eq trainer. I don't think stronger contact when he tucks is going to fix this problem. If he is a hot horse and gets frustrated with you making him curl more and more and he doesnt realize that you want him to uncurl you will start getting other evasions IMO that won't be nice. He doesn't know any better and most be taught to trust the hand and relax.
Last edited by rabicon; Dec. 12, 2012 at 10:33 AM.
Reason: Fixing auto correct
Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole
People can only tell you/give you the advice that they know to give. This is not directed at anyone in particular, but quite frankly if the fix for this was as simple as not letting go of the contact no matter what the horse did, no horse would EVER curl up, because that is exactly how most people ride - with a pulling hand.
Of course if you never relax the contact "no matter what" the horse does you will not teach him anything.
If however, you give a little release the very moment he offers even the slightest stretch, there is your teaching moment.
Most riders miss the teaching moment. They don't even feel that it happened. The horse can sneeze twice, cough once, snort, stretch and offer roughly seven different levels of contact in one lap around the ring and the rider is still oblivious that anything teachable happened.
Even the most poorly trained horse with the worst habits will continuously offer teachable moments. The trick is to recognize them.