Little dressage trick is drop him. He leans you drop him pick back up and leg. He may not be strong enough yet in the canter to hold him self for long periods. I would only be asking short spurts of asking to hold himself up in the canter right now and let him build up the muscle it takes. Each week make the canter a little longer. It's probably gotten better in the walk and trot because he has developed the muscles he needs over time. It probably was not pretty for that time but it finally came so he is getting better. Give him time, don't ask for to much to soon. It's hard work for them to canter from behind and hold themselves.
Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole
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?
Sorry I am just responding now. After I finally got this concept nailed into my head, the change was almost immediate. He only leans if I let him have something to lean on. As long as I am 100% adamant that he stay light in the contact and in front of my leg, he is super light.
So honestly...the change came from me & what I was expecting of him, and not really him deciding not to lean.
the change came from me & what I was expecting of him, and not really him deciding not to lean.
So much of what isn't right with our horses, is really what WE don't get, or are unclear about. Sure, lots of horses will fill in for us, but when we can take responsibility for what is wrong, things get a lot better.
Just last week, I finally figured out what Buck Brannaman was trying to tell me about my horse and what was not happening at the canter...ten months after the clinic. I figured it out, applied it, and hey! Much better.
We tend to want to buy a new bit, or have our trainer 'teach the horse what to do'...which works, if your bit is ill fitting or inappropriate in the first place, or the horse has never done 'it' before'. But you can't buy a fix, you have to go and change something about yourself.
So neat to see you 'get' something, for you and your horse. Thanks for sharing!
It was definitely a DUH moment...my trainer had been telling me for months. It actually took a clinic with another trainer saying it a different way for the lightbulb to really go off for me. The difference in Pie was night and day, in a matter of minutes! I still have to get after myself to be consistent.
Our horses only respond to how we ride them. They are not machines.
Actually, I use a very simple snaffle bit in my OTTBs and combine with a hackamore or something with nose (not mouth) pressure to get them acclimated to a lighter feel in their mouths. I use both regular hackamores or a bosal type thing with a fairly firm nose loop with reins attached. When the horse wants to get heavy, I start using nose pressure instead of pulling on the bit. Soon they get used to riding with a lighter feel in the mouth and you can wean off nose pressure. Works like a charm. Then, when they are weaned off of the nose pressure, I often use a jointed pelham. Track horses are used to leaning on a snaffle bit, but are often light and respectful of a pelham.
One thing you can do to help yourself get out of the habit of giving him something to lean on is to switch to a "driving" grip on the reins instead of the regular grip, i.e., hold the reins like you would when driving a carriage. It is very hard to get into a leaning situation with this grip.
My first OTTB had a gorgeous canter from day 1 even though he was in very poor physical condition when I got him. My last OTTB took about a year to develop a decent canter. He was just really weak behind and using his hind end when working was a new concept to him. Trail riding (at a good marching pace, no dawdling), hill work, trot poles and transitions helped him tremendously. Lots of lengthening and shortening at the walk and trot.
If your horse drops his head too low and leans, add your leg.
If your horse lifts his head and shortens his neck and body, add your leg.
If you want your horse to lengthen stride, add your leg.
If you want your horse to shorten stride, add your leg.
If your horse tries to rip the reins out of your hands, add your leg.
If........add your leg.
See the pattern? I am not saying that the hands have no role in riding, but when they take on the primary role (as human instinct tends to make us do) problems tend to get worse or give way to new ones. Even if if doesn't seem like it at the time, horses do learn brilliant evasions of the hand.
You feel your horse leaning on your hands, so you are thinking you need to fix it at the hand. But if you think of your horse as a whole (as opposed to just what you can see when you are sitting on him, staring at his mane and ears ) the leaning problem is your horse tipped forward like a teapot, butt and hind legs trailing out behind. The fix is to make those hind legs move forward under his body, which will lift his front. The way to do that is to get him moving forward off your leg. On the other end of the spectrum when he throws his head up and bounces on the spot, that is the hind leg not reaching through under him. The answer to that is to move those hind legs forward, from your leg.
Lots of good advice on this thread about how to do that. I am going to reiterate transitions, both within and between gaits, as being the most valuable thing here. Make sure you use leg on the downwards...challenge yourself to see how little hand it can take to accomplish it. Expect prompt, forward responses from your leg, and make the correction (stick) if you don't get it.
My other advice is to change your focus. You have been having this problem for a while, you are probably frustrated at times. He is either going to get frustrated too, or use your moments of frustration to take further advantage of you. Fixating on problems leads to over riding and hand riding. Simple "mere mortal" human nature, not some great weakness on your part. The good news is that, because basically every problem is solved by getting your horse forward between your legs, you can use any exercise that accomplishes this to fix the "unrelated" problem. As an example, my horse sees dead people. If I focus on "fixing the spook" by kicking and bending by a scary spot, he simply ends up worse the next time I pass. However, if I ignore it and work on getting the lazy thing forward and off my legs, maybe by working some circles and transitions, suddenly he is too busy listening to my leg to be running sideways.
Honestly, one of the most effective exercises you can do is a simple circle, using your legs to follow in the exact same tracks every time, no matter what happens. Sounds ridiculously simple but it works. Add your transitions in and it becomes an eye opener on what body part is waggling where (and what leg you need to add to fix it). In the case of a leaner, you will probably see a pattern where every lean is preceded and/or followed by a wiggle off your perfect track. And you will find that if you try to pull him back up and on track, the deviation becomes bigger.....if you push him it goes away. Get out on a freshly watered or harrowed ring and try it!
Oh and to the poster who said driving reins, agreed. Just be forewarned...you will have totally lost your ability to tow your horse around by his head and may feel like you have lost all control. Until you remember you were born with legs too.
UPDATES (in case this is helpful for others with the same issue):
Making some progress and still working through this issue. All posters gave very thoughtful & sound advice and I took a little from all. A BIG Thanks! My trainer & an advanced rider friend have put a few rides on my horse since my orig post too, so here is the big picture as I see it today:
Training: the major message for me has been MORE LEG, MORE LEG, MORE LEG. My friend & trainer have had more success than me at getting myr horse to round/soften since they have stronger legs, but my TB is still quite resistant to coming up and rounding. My friend told me my horse is spoiled (I have let him get away with the leaning and not asking him to him give), so it's well past time to get tough with him with more leg, quicker response to the aids. The other big reminder to myself has been be very quick with the release once my horse does soften (and more "Good Boy" praise when he gives). More lateral work for suppleness, more transitions...
Bits: Tried a boucher & a waterford. Boucher does the best job of getting my TB up. My friend & I like it the best so far. My trainer feels like he is extra stiff at the poll with this bit. My thoughts are he is stiff at the poll regardless of the bit - you just don't notice it as much when his head is too low and he is leaning. The waterford did help with the leaning, but I like a little more communication.
Jane Savioe says when working through a challenge, you should get excited because this means a breakthrough is soon to follow. Hoping for some major progress soon, but it might be tough going for a few more weeks...
I didn't say easy. But simple. A bit won't matter, he'll just learn to lean on that with time. Backing up doesn't do a think but tick him off. He is leaning because it's easier and takes less strength.
A technique that I like at the canter is the alternate releasing rein. That is, if the horse is pulling on you, release ONE rein, either the inside or the outside, then a few strides later, pick it up and drop the other one. It's really impressive how much this makes the horse think and it's very good for keeping them from getting quick too.
The other thing is lots of transitions. If your horse is heavy after 10 strides of canter, then trot. Trot-canter (and canter-trot) transitions will build a lot of strength. Don't just careen around the ring if it's not good; do something else. Lots of transitions can make a horse quick and tense, so if that's not what you need, then just plan: we canter for 10 strides and then go do something else for a while.
The shoulder-in is a great exercise for strength and the shoulder-in can also be used to get control over your downward transition out of canter if he tends to rush and fall on his face.
Basically, if I were riding this horse, I would never ever be pulling on both reins. If he gets heavy, reposition him into a lateral work move so you can let go of one rein, or do the alternate releasing rein work. The lateral work also reminds you to put the leg on.
Good luck, and enjoy the journey. It sounds like you're on the right track.
If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket