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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb. 15, 2012
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    Default Leaning on the Bit / Need advice to save my poor hands

    My 8 yr old TB (who raced for 3.5 years) has finally moved past the baby green stage and we are starting more collected work. He does like to be long/low and has a bad habit of leaning on my hands. My trainer and I have been working to get him more "Up" and to work from his hind. My trainer says I need to be more insistent on getting him off my hands as he is taking advantage of my lighter aids.

    Training has been transitions & half halts galore, lots of leg, and backing or pulley rein if he is especially stubborn for several months. Things are going well at walk and trot, but some days canter still leaves my poor hands swollen and sore. On days he is leaning really bad and not listening to my half halts, I do try to work off a loose rein and focus on varying his speed/turning with my legs instead.

    Tell me COTH buddies, can you advise on the following:
    -What was your experience on when your horse finally moved past this stage? Timeframe/A-ha moments?
    -Bit suggestions? I am thinking of trying a Boucher or unjointed Happy Mouth.
    (for me, WORST bit was a fat, french link snaffle. I transition btwn thinner reg D-ring & corkscrew snaffle bits. The corkscrew does the best job of getting him "Up" but I don't want to rely on it for too long. I actually think the corkscrew is more gentle at this point since I have to use more half halts/rein manipulation w/reg D-ring to get him off my hands).
    -Any other suggestions for me?

    Please work under the assumption this is not a saddle fit or soundness issue as I have no reason to believe this is anything other than a training issue (getting my TB physically/psychologically more adept at self-carriage).

    As always, thanks for your feedback! Most appreciated.



  2. #2
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    Sep. 5, 2007
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    With my mare who liked to lean on my hands, I found a waterford bit was the best thing for her.


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  3. #3
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    Mar. 24, 2010
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    Quote Originally Posted by Juxtapoze View Post
    Please work under the assumption this is not a saddle fit or soundness issue as I have no reason to believe this is anything other than a training issue (getting my TB physically/psychologically more adept at self-carriage).
    Has the horse leaning gotten worse, rather than better? Because you're definitely not getting him more adept at self-carriage, but the question is has he always been a leaner or has the work you're doing made it worse, because they have different answers.

    Regardless, the simplest answer is - don't hold him up. But exercises to help him learn to bend the hind legs and not lean on you will help if he's always been this way vs. trying to figure out what you're doing which has made it worse if that's the case.
    My horse is a dressage diva so I don't have to be.

    Quote Originally Posted by katarine
    If you have a fat gay horse that likes Parelli, you're really screwed


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  4. #4
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    Feb. 15, 2012
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    Quote Originally Posted by netg View Post
    Has the horse leaning gotten worse, rather than better? Because you're definitely not getting him more adept at self-carriage, but the question is has he always been a leaner or has the work you're doing made it worse, because they have different answers.

    Regardless, the simplest answer is - don't hold him up. But exercises to help him learn to bend the hind legs and not lean on you will help if he's always been this way vs. trying to figure out what you're doing which has made it worse if that's the case.
    The leaning has definitely gotten better through consistent work and losing the fat bit. Don't really have the leaning issue at trot now unless he gets tired at the end of a ride. I do get moments of lightness during canter. Now on the bad days when he is really being fussy at the canter, he will canter in place and put his head in the air because he knows he is not supposed to lean. Working though it as best we can... The quality of work is definitely getting better, but his attitude about the work is getting worse because I am not letting him get his way as much as I used to.



  5. #5
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    Jan. 9, 2012
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    I agree with using a waterford. My horse (also a mare) used to lean on me when I would start to take contact and collect. So while using the waterford I worked a lot on forward motion using little contact and if she began to fall on her forehand I would use a lot of surpentines, circles, zigzags, anything but a straight line. (Using few half halts as possible!) She would then enagae the hind end and learned t0 carry herself nicely. After 3-ish months of this I found the waterford to be too much bit and we moved to the chubby loose ring fench link or for jumping days I use a full check french link. Doing this she goes so much nicer now and her muscle structure has really developed.


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  6. #6
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    Apr. 26, 2000
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    Quote Originally Posted by Capall View Post
    With my mare who liked to lean on my hands, I found a waterford bit was the best thing for her.
    ^ This.


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  7. #7
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    Mar. 24, 2010
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    Ok, I knew it was better at the trot but didn't know if it was worse at the canter or not.


    My mom's Friesian cross is SUPER unbalanced at the canter, and if allowed will LEAN. (Side note: she was purchased to be Mom's w/t trail horse, and is superb at that job.) I did a lot of lettering her canter on the longe to figure out how to balance herself, because when we got her she couldn't canter a 20m circle. When I started cantering her, it was quick, and I stayed in two point to get off her back and let her figure out how to canter with my weight on her, too. She probably took 6 months to be able to canter a 20m circle with me. Just absolutely the worst natural canter balance I've ever ridden - though it turns out she has a really cool canter after she's developed enough strength to support herself.

    I very consciously have to think about not holding her. There are the typically dressage exercises of lengthen/shorten in canter which can help, but what really helped her was canter to almost trot, back to canter, while not using my hands much for the transitions. It helped get her rocking back on her own, then she'd have a few steps of rounded, using her back end with lowered haunches, feel. Eventually it lasted longer and longer, and I could half halt her with my seat to ask for more collection without having to touch her mouth.

    As far as my role in it - thinking about making my arms a little "wet noodle" and simply NOT holding on helped a lot. It meant the canter was sometimes a little more forward than ideal, but she quickly figured out that was too much work so she'd hold herself up since I wouldn't. Any time we're cantering for a while she starts to lean more and more, so I do frequent released with both hands up her neck as well. In dressage that's certainly not introduced at training level which is about the level of her dressage skills, but it's a necessary training technique for her as a reminder to hold herself up.

    Interestingly, if there are jumps or even ground poles she may have to go over she holds herself up much better in anticipation of having to lift even more in front to get over them.

    I would say for this mare it was probably about a year of consistent riding to get her lighter and more fun to canter. A lot of that time included longeing to get her balancing on her own, too, and we didn't include any circles under about 40m until she was cantering on the longe and not dropping it repeatedly.

    The fact you're working on this at the trot should help the canter immensely. You work on the trot to fix the canter, and canter to fix the trot is the saying I always hear, and it appears to apply most of the time. I wouldn't stick in the canter long enough for it to cause you so much pain - it is probably lighter after the transition, and as soon as it gets heavy transition down, get him light, then canter again. The repeat transitions will also help improve the canter and build strenght.

    I would definitely not trade up to a harsher bit, because I have found when trying to use a bit to make a horse stop leaning you tend to just make them even more dead. I would also use less leg consistently - if you're like most of us, you probably use too much leg on a horse like this, where it becomes nagging rather than effective. Mom's mare definitely prefers a hugging leg on her all the time... because she can more easily ignore it. With her I have to focus on only using leg when I want a specific response and correcting her if I don't get it.

    Another thing to think of is you may be asking for too much longitudinal bend (bringing the nose in) without lateral bend. Circles and bending lines encourage softness, where straight lines can encourage leaning and pulling.
    My horse is a dressage diva so I don't have to be.

    Quote Originally Posted by katarine
    If you have a fat gay horse that likes Parelli, you're really screwed


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  8. #8
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    Dec. 9, 2012
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    I would also say to practice lateral work in the walk and trot, to help get his butt in gear and stronger. Leg yields, haunches-in, but mostly shoulder-in. Shoulder in is the staple of all collection! I know it's said a lot, but transitions transitions transitions. And he needs to do them NOW. As in, ask, and he answers next step is the new gait. That goes for shortening and lengthening within gaits. All of these will help engage his bum, and as he gets stronger and used to the collection the canter will come too.


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  9. #9
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    Jul. 2, 2003
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    Woodland, Ca
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    Add leg and don't give him anything to hang on. And add more leg.


    6 members found this post helpful.

  10. #10
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    Feb. 15, 2012
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    Great suggestions ALL and I definitely need to incorporate more lateral work. (me being lazy). Shoulder-In is his least fav, but it really does help soften him.

    See, I have been taking it too easy on him! Once again, my trainer was right.



  11. #11
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    Jun. 24, 2006
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    Quote Originally Posted by Juxtapoze View Post
    The leaning has definitely gotten better through consistent work and losing the fat bit. Don't really have the leaning issue at trot now unless he gets tired at the end of a ride. I do get moments of lightness during canter. Now on the bad days when he is really being fussy at the canter, he will canter in place and put his head in the air because he knows he is not supposed to lean. Working though it as best we can... The quality of work is definitely getting better, but his attitude about the work is getting worse because I am not letting him get his way as much as I used to.
    This behavior kind of concerns me, just keep an eye. You do not want him to lose his forward momentum to avoid leaning, behind the leg is not that easy to fix when it becomes a habit... Particularly if he winds up learning how to get behind the bit as well. Just keep an eye on it and when that occurs I would focus on FORWARD more than anything.

    How are his transitions to the canter and how does he do on the lunge? Does he tend to go down hill at liberty or is it u/s? Do you have any opportunities to do some hill work, working out of the ring may improve his self carriage as a necessity. Bit wise, I used a slow twist on my mare I had this issue with... It worked fairly well but was a little strong for her, not my favorite but I had a less experienced rider hacking her out for me and I was reluctant to switch her for her to ride her.

    I would also reccomend a Waterford, bit wise.


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  12. #12
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    Aug. 21, 2006
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    PA
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    I am also behind the Waterford suggestion. My only peice of advice is that if he didn't like the fat D ring, some Waterfords can be a bit big. I would try to find one that doesn't have the jointed links that are too big. A good friend of mine had an OTTB who had basically been left to his own devices for about 3-4 years off the track and she was starting him back to work. Her horse had a *definite* opinion about actually trying at flat work We put him in a Waterford but it was a little big for his mouth, I think. He ended up going in a bit that we called the "bicycle chain" bit--basicaly a bicyle chain wrapped in sealtex. Soft and flexible, the hors couldn't pull through or lean against the bit but not as big in the mouth as the Waterfords.

    Anyway.

    My other peice of advice: If your horse is dragging you at the canter, don't keep cantering. Don't tour the ring. Work on trainsitions and KEEP HIM GUESSING. You should be doing so many circles, figure 8's, zigzags, turns, transistions, and change of directions that your horse can't even guess where you're going! The change of direction should challenge him to the point that he will have to be on his toes to figure out where he's going. He will figure out pretty quick it is to his disadvantage to hang on you and drag you advantage if he is doing a figure 8 to a halt to a change of direction to 3 canter strides! You must SHOW him that it will be too hard to do it his way!


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  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jul. 25, 2003
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    Boston Area
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    I would try a Waterford but for some horses it's too much bit. You could also try a Pelham because it would give you curb action, but only when you need it. It sounds like you are dealing with a strength/balance issue and you don't want to back him off the bit. Once they start to curl behind the bit it can be difficult to get them to take a good connection again.

    I think you trainer is right about the transitions. Whenever he starts to lean at the canter, I'd try bringing him down to the trot, rebalancing him and then cantering again. You'll get the strength from the transitions, rather than from extended periods of canter.

    I'd also do trot poles and start him cantering over one or two poles.

    Hill work, if it's possible, is also helpful.
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  14. #14
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    Jun. 14, 2001
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    Portland, Oregon
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    If you're riding with so much pressure on the bit that your hands are sore at the end of a ride, then you are riding with way too much hand. Many TBs have learned to actually lean into pressure, and the stronger you are with your hands, the harder the horse will pull. I know this from a lot of frustrating personal experience dealing with the same problem. The key is as others have said - you must use a lot of leg to push the hind end up under the horse, and if the horse leans, let go totally. It may get way too fast or even more downhill for a couple strides, but then try just using one rein, gently, to lift the horse and get his attention. When I finally learned to never apply steady pressure with both reins to try to make my horse balance or slow down, it was a miracle how things improved. I think regardless what bit you use, changing your technique so your horse doesn't have something to lean on and pull against is the key. I tried various bits on my horses (including a waterford, which didn't work) and it made no difference - my riding technique was the problem.


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  15. #15
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    Nov. 28, 2011
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    Upatoi, GA
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    I'm responding as the owner and rider of an OTTB who wlll lean alllll day. Pull allll day long if you let him.

    The answer isn't the bit, or halting and backing up, or getting into a pulling match. He weighs over 1000 pounds, and obviously doesn't mind the pressure in his mouth... so no amount of bit or pulling fixes this issue.

    What works? DROP the reins. The second he starts to lean, just drop him completely. He will stop or slow down, because he has lost his 5th leg.

    Re-establish super light contact at walk...then trot...as soon as he leans DROP him again. Go back to where he can maintain super light contact. It requires a COMPLETE re-programming of what you accept & expect from him.

    It is super hard and frustrating, but it is the only thing that works. You've got to be insistent that leaning is NOT an option, and to do that you have to be 100% consistent. Just change the standard. Contact = light. That's it. No other contact exists from this day forward!

    I don't wear gloves on purpose when I ride so that my hands are ultra sensitive. It takes dedication, but it works!
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  16. #16
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    Feb. 15, 2012
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    Quote Originally Posted by leahandpie View Post
    I'm responding as the owner and rider of an OTTB who wlll lean alllll day. Pull allll day long if you let him.
    How long do you think it took for your horse to get out of this habit (for the most part) or is it still a work in progress?



  17. #17
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    Jan. 9, 2010
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    I am also in the Waterford club. Both my OTTBs go in Waterfords. My mare is great at leaning on my hands and then when I squeeze to push her forward, she throws her head up like a deranged giraffe.

    LeahandPie have it with the throwing the reins. If you don't give them anything to lean on, then they can't lean. It sounds stupid, but I have to remind myself that all the time when I ride. You are not going to win a pulling match with her, I've tried and lost.

    Throw the reins and squeeze. Push her forward. Forward horses can't lean like that, because the power is now coming from behind. She will most likely trip and you both will get frustrated, but she will get it.

    As far as timeframe, it depends on how often you're riding. Based on the assumption that you are in one lesson a week and riding three times other than that (at least two of those being actual workouts, not just dinking around the arena), then it will probably take a month or two. She has to build up the muscle for the self-carriage and not the "5th leg" that LeahandPie was talking about.

    I was lucky in the fact that I am the proud owner of the worst racehorses ever and they only raced 15 times between the two of them. (insert eyeroll) However, my mare was passed around and ridden by western people with big bits. A fat KK? Might as well try and ride her with nothing. She hates and doesn't respect them.

    Don't be so quick to move up in bits just yet. The problem is that she will get used to that bit and then you'll have to move up and then move up again.

    Good luck! As least you know that you won't have to do arm workouts at the gym!
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  18. #18
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    Oct. 7, 2010
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    Do Not Nag.

    Be polite, offer a 'good deal', a 'light aid' or a 'feel', first, every single time.
    If your horse does not respond, do enough to be effective (even if that means a pulley rein), EVERY time.

    This is discipline- the rider taking care to ALWAYS offer the horse the 'invisible aid', and also ALWAYS doing enough to be effective, every time.

    The horse learns that you WILL follow up on a light aid, every time, and thus will take you up on it much more consistently. When you are learning something new, or going faster, you might have to follow up more often.

    Riders tend to get sucked in to nagging on a horse. They try a light aid, the horse blows them off, so they try a little more, and a little more, and a little more, until the horse is a bit annoyed and complies. This 'a bit more' deal, is nagging the horse.

    Martin Black refers to this nagging as 'boiling the frog'...as in, when a frog is in a pot of water and we slowly increase the heat, the frog won't jump out and gets boiled to death. But if the frog goes from cool water right into the hot, he'll jump out.
    http://www.martinblack.net/articles.php#frog

    'Boiling the Frog' makes a horse dull, numb, inclined to just wait out your 'annoying signals'. You are actually TEACHING the horse to ignore you.

    Being consistent with an effective (read strong) backup every time (and that means the first time) the horse ignores you, makes a horse responsive and light. And the horse that feels resentful about things tends to be the 'boiled frog' horse.

    Of course, you have to be prudent with your effective backup aid. If the horse is just learning, and doesn't really understand yet what you are asking, you'll just be clear in showing him again what to do. If the horse knows what to do, you can be strong (like the pulley rein), as strong as you need to be without being angry or mad or vengeful toward the horse.

    I would bet that with consistency, you won't need a new or even strong bit.


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  19. #19
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    And to clarify, by 'backup aid' I don't mean 'back the horse up', I mean apply an aid strongly enough that it is effective. Such as, if a horse is not going forward to a signal with your leg, you might give a Thelwell-style two-legs THUMP kick, or a WHACK on your boot, or on the horse's shoulder, with a crop.



  20. #20
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    Oct. 19, 2009
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    If you go with a different bit (which you are doing part of the time with the corkscrew - try a fast or slow twist if the corkscrew is too much) USE the window of opportunity that bit gives you to TRAIN him to use his back end and stay off your hands. If you use the bit as the solution to the problem he will figure out how to lean on the new bit, guaranteed. Then what are you going to do?

    A bit change is not the solution, but it can give you a grace period to train with greater responsiveness from your horse. If you are prepared 100% to train the problem away then you use whatever bit will get a quick appropriate response (not an over reaction) from the horse for every ride. Going back and forth between the "yes ma'am" bit and the "stuff you" bit just slows the process. You may be able to get the desired response with the "stuff you" bit but if you are spending too much time arguing then it takes much longer to get the necessary correct work done.

    And yeah - shoulder-in is your best friend for getting him to stay balanced and steady. Do a few steps of shoulder-in wherever and whenever needed to get him to balance back on his bum again.


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