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  1. #1
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    Jan. 13, 2005
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    Default Advice for encouraging the green horse to reach into the bridle?

    Anyone have any exercises or advice for getting a young, tense green horse to stretch down into contact?

    I recently started hacking a big, green young horse as my mare is still on stall rest. He's really a good egg and does try very hard, but he's also a bit of a nervous nelly. He's a little afraid of the indoor -- doesn't do anything bad but curls his nose into his chest and chews on the bit. He's pretty poorly muscled and slightly unbalanced, which doesn't help either. He responds really well to leg so I've started doing verrrrryyyy basic lateral stuff to get him to move both forward and away from my leg (he's picking up well on both), but I am struggling to get him to reach into the bridle.

    When he roots down and into his chest, should I give a mild half-halt to curb the behavior or let the reins go a bit so he doesn't have anything to brace against? I hesitate to punish him since he's not being bad, just uneducated, but I also don't want to reward the behavior. I'm pretty unfit after several months of no riding, so that doesn't help matters either. Thanks for any and all suggestions!



  2. #2
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    I'm trying to picture what you're say but need some clarification...when he roots down; his head goes into his chest?? Usually when they root; they stick their nose OUT. Also you mention he is trying to brace against your hand? That already sounds like he is reaching into the bridle; just aggressively and not the way we want.

    Either way, whether he's curling up to avoid contact or pulling down, sending him FORWARD with your leg will *eventually* cure both of those bad habits.

    Also, I will add, that as you mentioned that he's poorly muscled, the only fix for that is time. It's amazing what a few months worth of simply putting your leg on and riding a horse forward with soft hands can do for a horse's way of going. It doesn't even take any gimics
    \"Don\'t go throwing effort after foolishness\" >>>Spur, Man From Snowy River



  3. #3
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    I have the same problem occasionally with a horse that is in a pelham, and I've found that it's normally my fault for not letting him go on a looser rein or having my curb rein too tight. What kind of bit his he in? Maybe try a french link if he's currently in a nutcracker snaffle? He might have a low palette getting in the way of it.
    .אני יכול לעשות הכל על ידי אלוהים


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  4. #4
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    When I lightly touch the contact, he has the tendency to root down and IN. I know it sounds weird, but that's what it feels like he's doing. If I let the reins go through my fingers, he'll stretch all the way down. If I maintain the contact, he curls his nose in and puts his neck down (like he's been ridden in draw reins, although I'm not sure if he was. Definitely possible)

    He's not that heavy in my hands, although he steers a little like a cruise ship at this point. What I've been doing is LOTS of leg, circles, serpentines, and attempting to maintain steady consistent contact but raising my hands a little when he curls to lift him out of it. Being as gentle as possible as he gets quite worried if I'm too insistent. He's a BIG (17h+) gangly animal with not much coordination yet.

    I'll try to plan it so that I can have someone on the ground to watch me ride (work schedule is weird at the moment so I ride when I can). I think my biggest question is whether I should be lifting him out of the curl or pushing him forward and letting him stretch down, hoping he feels and accepts the contact that way?

    Editing to add: He goes in a happy mouth french link. Maybe a HM mullen mouth would provide a more solid "base?"



  5. #5
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    Ok, that makes more sense.

    Until he's more coordinated, I wouldn't lift..just push. Or if you're going to lift, do it for a millisecond and let go again.

    I had a horse who had a really similar problem; I have no idea what they did to him before I got him but I'm guessing they were nervous of him and in response, became too handsy.

    He was a big, strong going horse but would seriously curl right under himself and then get pissy on top of that. I rode him very forward when he would curl & then when he suddenly switched to yanking my arms out; I'd just sit as still as I possibly could with a light, light hand & an iron leg using my body to slow him down and never my hand. Once in a while, I would have to steady him up with my hand to rebalance but other than that, I didn't touch him.

    He had come in a pelham which was ridiculous and once switched to a loose ring with the above style of riding, he was a different horse in about a month. His moodiness also improved, probably b/c he didn't have someone hanging on his face all day long.
    \"Don\'t go throwing effort after foolishness\" >>>Spur, Man From Snowy River



  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Czar View Post
    Ok, that makes more sense.

    Until he's more coordinated, I wouldn't lift..just push. Or if you're going to lift, do it for a millisecond and let go
    Totally agree with Czar. Push forward for now and let him get into that downward stretching mode. Once he gets used to that, then you can't start to finesse it a little bit. Then, you can start to lift more if you need to.

    I wouldn't be surprised if this more relaxed way of going makes him more relaxed in general. He might have been cranked and yanked and is now a little worried.

    Good Luck!



  7. #7
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    Oct. 9, 2012
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    I would do gentle flexes to the inside and outside (counter bending as well if he can). Slowly and softly, taking a few strides with each flex. (NOT SEE SAWING!!) This really encouraged my 'sucks behind the bit' horse to actually reach to the contact. It also stopped him from rooting in the canter (though he rooted OUT but also curled in when not rooting). Just having them follow the bit.



  8. #8
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    Oct. 7, 2010
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    You mentioned switching to a HM Mullen. I have had quite a bit of luck using it to get my horse, who is generally happy in the HM double jointed bit, to accept contact (and me, too, for that matter ). He either lays on my hand or curls as he tries to figure out the contact. I find that I can take a bit more hold on the bit when he is trying to pull out or down, but he doesn't feel like it is too much bit and try to avoid the contact. He seems to like that bit of give it affords when I am pressing him up into the bit.

    I have found that keeping my hands lifted and not releasing the contact as I am pressing him up into the bit helps. As he starts to stretch out, I follow him lightly with my hands, add leg and try to maintain that light contact.

    Keeping him busy and engaged when flatting will also help: bend/counter bend, shoulder fore/haunches in, circles, serpentines, transitions within the gait, etc. One of my favorite exercises is (I am not sure what it is called, but I will explain it): trot on the rail going left, when you reach the corner, turn left onto the quarter line, or center line if the ring is narrow, get your horse straight, then leg yield back over to the rail, so you are now heading right. Once you get to the rail and straight, press him forward and into the bit.


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  9. #9
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    Thanks so much, OP, for asking the question, and everybody else for responding. I am having a similar issue with the TB we are leasing for my kids, and rode him last night trying to figure out how how to communicate with him in a way that would relax him enough to accept a light contact. Appreciate all the good suggestions and looking forward to experimenting and seeing what works.
    Me&MyBigGirl
    My Blog: A Work In Progress



  10. #10
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    Just my opinion, but I wouldn't do a ton of "busy" things on the flat with a horse that was young, green, undermuscled and nervous to boot. Just ride & keep it simple. If you can, hack.

    His mind is more important than his training right now.
    \"Don\'t go throwing effort after foolishness\" >>>Spur, Man From Snowy River


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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nottingham View Post
    When he roots down and into his chest, should I give a mild half-halt to curb the behavior or let the reins go a bit so he doesn't have anything to brace against? I hesitate to punish him since he's not being bad, just uneducated, but I also don't want to reward the behavior.
    The teach is in the release, so if you "let the reins go a bit so he doesn't have anything to brace against" you just teach him to go around on no contact.

    Keep a firm hold of the contact and if he goes around like a curly-q for a lap or two then oh well.

    The second he "tugs" a little on you to say "hey, let me out!", release half an inch. Give him ONLY as much room as he takes. If he backs off, youtake the slack back until he takes the rein out further again. He can be a snug little curly-q or he can make room for himself in the contact. His choice.

    Releasing the rein when he hasn't given you anything you want is not going to make him magically put 1 and 7 together one day. Make 2 + 2 = 4.


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  12. #12
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    Dec. 2, 2004
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    I like what meupatdoes just said, that's an educated hand.

    Another thing I've seen pro riders do is fluff the rein on their neck to get them to respond when they're getting behind the bit.

    Does he also suck back on his forwardness?

    When you say hacking do you mean in the ring or out in a field? I'd use terrain with a young horse and let them look down where they're going, let them stretch and relax. Ride them out freely and forward using their topline. There is riding 'out' and 'riding out' - one's out and about and the other is a style -- riding them forwardly 'out.'



  13. #13
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    Mar. 15, 2008
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    I second what meupatdoes says. I worked with a horse for a month over the summer who was very bracing in her jaw and stiff through the neck. First I worked at the halt: holding the reins tight (not pulling back, but full contact) and with a lot of leg until I felt her soften, and then I would give. We'd walk around on a loose rein for a bit and then halt and repeat until she did it quicker every time. Then repeat at the walk, trot, and canter. This was easier for me at the canter than the trot, but might not always be the case. Some days we didn't canter. I just took it really, really slowly until she was soft and supple in her jaw and neck, and by the end of the month she was jumping around courses without rooting and with easy lead changes. I rode her in a big plain D ring and spurs, and her owner usually rode her in a three-ring gag (which was part of the problem, she now rides her in a plain D).

    But definitely, riding on a loose rein doesn't help him develop muscle and it doesn't educate him. I'd at least try this method before you consider switching bits



  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by meupatdoes View Post
    The teach is in the release, so if you "let the reins go a bit so he doesn't have anything to brace against" you just teach him to go around on no contact.

    Keep a firm hold of the contact and if he goes around like a curly-q for a lap or two then oh well.

    The second he "tugs" a little on you to say "hey, let me out!", release half an inch. Give him ONLY as much room as he takes. If he backs off, youtake the slack back until he takes the rein out further again. He can be a snug little curly-q or he can make room for himself in the contact. His choice.

    Releasing the rein when he hasn't given you anything you want is not going to make him magically put 1 and 7 together one day. Make 2 + 2 = 4.
    ^This.

    You make them a bit uncomfortable. Keep some pressure on the mouth while riding forward--kick them if you have to and at some point they will thrust their head and neck down and you follow it there--don't throw away the contact but make it elastic and comfortable. Do this when they curl or even if the head is too high. Pretty soon they will like stretching down. With one horse I added a very quiet little click with my tongue. Not a real "cluck" but something a bit quieter while I was putting pressure on his mouth. Soon, all I had to do was make that little click and he would stretch. Eventually I didn't need it at all anymore.

    If you want to go "french" school dressage, combing the reins works too--a similar technique. Effective with some.



  15. #15
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    I know how frustrating this can be especially when you really don't know his history. It does sound like this horse was ridden in draw reins and once they establish this and were trained that way it's a pain to get rid of it.

    I have a horse that does this and was ridden in draw reins... I found a rubber mullen mouth he really likes and will take hold of this bit only. Pellhams made him worse.

    Just remember to ride with leg when he curls and into your hand getting him used to having contact on the bit.
    How people treat you is their KARMA.... how you REACT is yours!



  16. #16
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    Jun. 16, 2006
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    Ditto what meupatdoes said!

    I'm experiencing this with my newest gelding who is still quite green. He will avoid contact by curling his neck and going behind the bit - sometimes I feel like I'm riding a headless horse I've never really dealt with this before so it's been sort of frustrating for me trying to figure him out. I actually had some "ah-ha!" moments on how to work with him by watching the recordings of the first day of the George Morris Horsemastership clinic! If you haven't watched any of them, I highly recommend it.

    When he curls, I have to really think "forward". I lift my hands and just wait for him to try to stretch down. When he does, I give as much as he stretches. If he curls back, I take that much back. After a minute, he will really try to reach for my contact. He *wants* to accept the contact but he's very unsure. I'm sure he will do better as we learn each other better and he learns to trust my hands. On the other hand, he will also pull and root at my hands sometimes during transitions or when he just isn't happy with the rein length. Once again, I have to really think "forward" or really think about using my seat and legs during the transition while NOT giving in to his pulling. Close your fingers, send him forward, and wait for him to accept the contact.

    I do lots of circles, half circles, spirals, etc working on leg yields and gentle bends and this also helps to relax his body and neck and encourage him to stretch down. FWIW, this horse has never been ridden with draw reins and I'm currently riding him in a regular full-cheek snaffle.
    "Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you're a thousand miles from the corn field." --Dwight D Eisenhower

    Boston Terrier Rescue of NC - www.btrnc.org - Adopt for Life!


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  17. #17
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    Mar. 22, 2011
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    Great advice here, he may also have trouble relaxing through the back like my mare.

    It can be difficult to determine the ideal answer since the horse is not very fit and may be trying to make up for lack of fitness but what I do MAY help you too...
    My youngster, tends to start off her rides with either, head in my face or too much stretching into contact.
    Obviously the later is less of a problem but it can lead to less control if I do not keep an eye on her balance.

    By the end of my rides I would end up with a nice, forward and supple horse who looks for the contact while cooling down in a strechy walk.
    I was really stumped.... I wanted to work with what she would give me at the end but that would mean extending my rides past 40 minutes which I don't like doing at her age.

    So...after reading threads here I tried adding shoulder-fore/in and haunches in within the walk into my lateral work warm up. Not much of it.... and not looking for 100% correct just enough to get the suppling effect.
    I have to say ... WOW, just WOW! Huge difference!
    Now, three weeks later, through 75% of my ride. I don't have to ask her to come onto the bit, I just take a little contact and it is there, she is supple, relaxed and completely 'there' when I ask for something.

    Some of the best advice I have gotten from a trainer is take what you know or what you are being told and if that doesn't work, tweak it until it clicks.
    Everyone learns differently.... including your horse.


    Good luck.


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  18. #18
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    Thanks for all the great advice. LOTS of leg and a soft following hand (but still maintaining contact) seems to be helping without scaring him.



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