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Help with mare who hates flatwork/dressage, but really needs it

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  • Help with mare who hates flatwork/dressage, but really needs it

    I'm currently riding a 9 yr Havonerian/TB cross mare, who is superbly talented and very athletic. She is schooling 1st level, but is held back from advancing because to be honest the mare doesn't enjoy schooling flat work at all.

    She gets strong, spooky, if you give her an inch she runs with a mile. She isn't naughty or dangerous, just disinterested.

    Now, put a fence in front of her and she's a whole 'nother horse. Maybe its her breeding, her sire is Fuerst Gotthard.

    So, career change is in order, which is fine. I'm not a high level rider, but I am a firm believer in good flatwork equals good jumping.

    The biggest issue is she plows right through half-halts. Well, halting itself isn't her favorite thing. Don't get me wrong, she doesn't run away with you, she jsut prefers to keep going lol.

    How do I help her flatwork without her "checking out" mentally. She gets so bored and irritated and grumpy when we try to school

    p.s. saddle fits, she's sound and healthy.
    Team Ginger

  • #2
    Do you do a lot of transitions? If not it's something to think about the downward transition helps build obedience and strength also it changes things up.

    Another thing to think about is how much pressure you are using to get her to halt or slow down, is it enough. In dressage we are thought to be light with our hands sometimes this idea can cause us to underestimate what we need in our hands to communicate what we need. What we need to remember is that the horse has to be obedient first and foremost. If she is running through the halfs-halt make the half halt stronger you may have to give your half-halt thinking halt until she gets it.

    Another thing that works for me when my horse is up is to circle and figure eights in a smaller area. If you feel her getting fast or not paying attention to you don't give her the whole arena to build up steam make her world smaller and when she relaxes go back to using the whole arena.
    Life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.
    -Auntie Mame


    • Original Poster

      Thank you, I will try being more adamant about her listening to my aids!
      Team Ginger


      • #4
        What about dressage on a trail ride -

        We are going to trot when we get to that tree.
        We are going to leg yield from that stone to that bush.
        We are going to halt at that fallen branch.

        chief feeder and mucker for Music, Spy, Belle and Tiara. Someone else is now feeding and mucking for Chief and Brain (both foxhunting now).


        • Original Poster

          Janet-when we work outside the ring the goal is to make it home alive
          Team Ginger


          • #6
            OK... Mine (Belle) that sometimes hates dressage in the ring is much better on the trail. But if you have less control there- then obviously that isn't the way to go.

            I agree that you need to start with insisting that the horse LISTEN.

            On thing I lkke to do with a horse that isn't listening is "counted transitions".

            Walk for 5 strides - halt - repeat

            Walk for 10 strides, trot for 10 strides, walk for 10 strides (but if the horse tries to blow through the walk transition, I turn it into a halt transition)

            Then reduce the number of strides, down to 4 or even 2 strides.

            Once that is working well, add canter transitions, either from-to walk or trot. And again, if she blows you off, they become halt transition.

            Once you have established taht level of listening, you can do
            trot to "almost walk" to trot. Stronger than a half halt, but less than a full transition.

            And so on.

            Also, keep changing things, so she has to keep thinking, and can't "build up" any one evansion, or predict "what comes next".

            Squares instead of circles
            Serpentines instead of straight lines
            Counter bends.
            Half circle to leg yield.

            So she has to LISTEN to you to know what is comng next.

            chief feeder and mucker for Music, Spy, Belle and Tiara. Someone else is now feeding and mucking for Chief and Brain (both foxhunting now).


            • #7
              I have a mare that is similiar. She just isn't as interested in the dressage as she is the jumping. So I do dressage in the jump ring and incorporate a fence every often. This has helped. I do school her sometimes in the dressage arena also. Changing environments has kept it fresh. I have to be careful not to change too much at one time or she gets a little too happy / unsettled. Obedience is a must. I use visuals in my corners of the arena and ask her to stop in each corner. At first it took half the side of the arena to get a whoa in the corner. Now I can ask for a whoa a couple strides out and she's there.

              With some horses the amount of contact used in dressage can sometimes make them feel claustrophobic. The opposite -- too loose = no support = lack of confidence in rider -- can also be true. Learning what your horse needs will be a key to future training success. My mare needs a very light contact with a rather long rein at this moment. She's very sensitive in the mouth. She needs a quiet bit and seat and only one aid given at a time. I can't correct more than one thing at a time or she looses focus and will actually shut down if I'm not careful.

              You're smart realizing that your mare needs something different than only dressage. Many times our horses do need a variety so they don't stagnate. Have fun.
              Susan B.


              • #8
                My mare is similar - she is a hunter jumper and our dressage lessons are opening whole new worlds to us. I think she enjoys it, but she does get burnt out on it quickly.

                I mix it up - I try to ride in the dressage ring only every other ride. I often go in the jump ring and we circle and loop all around the jumps, even if we are not jumping. I actually think it is good to go in there and not jump - she likes jumping so much that she will try to line herself up with any jump near her.

                Trot/canter poles. They don't even need to be raised. My mare likes obstacles to figure out.

                Maybe you need some barrels to turn around?

                Like everyone else said, too - transitions, different turns ... keep asking lots of questions so your flatwork is a game that keeps them wondering what will be next.
                My blog: Journeys in Riding


                • #9
                  Originally posted by NErider View Post
                  but I am a firm believer in good flatwork equals good jumping.
                  I would have to disagree with this, sort of. I ride a HannoverianX mare (by Anhalteiner E) that hates, hates, hates hates, hates flat work. She also hates bits, but most especially snaffle bits. She's a good quality jumper.

                  I ride her out of the ring as much as possible ( 4/5 rides.) Now I understand that "out of the ring"/trail riding can be a big issue. But I have horses I ride "out of the ring" who are really not very suited for it. I have some tricks to deal with them.

                  1) Get on the trailer. Nothing says 'suck it up and deal horsey' like taking away the goal of 'getting home.' If they spend the whole ride being focused on getting back to the barn, you have big problem. So put them in a situation where they don't know where 'home' is.

                  2) Go ye disciple to the mountain... I am lucky to be in an area of NJ where there are lots of really nice public parks. There are (at least) 2 not far from me with really, nice, big steep hills. Steep hills (both up and down) are awesome for taking the steam out of snorty critters. Also for putting suppleness in stiff ones, and putting the spark back in horses that are bored of the sand box.

                  Google is your friend. Look for the department of parks and forests/recreation in your state.

                  3) Never ride out farther than you are willing to walk back. One of my favorite Old Equestrian Aphorisms. If you aren't lucky enough to have a good friend with a good trail horse to help give your horse confidence, then be sure you've got boots that are good for walking . Horse and rider can enjoy the hiking adventure together. (I know of very few riders who are so super fit they wouldn't also benefit from a short 5 mile hike)

                  When you feel the horse has settled (or you get so tired of walking you decide you just ain't walkin' no more then mount yourself up and ride for a while. If horsey gets 'iffy' again, then get off again.

                  I don't know where I read it, but I recall a magazine article I read once about an event rider. She had a horse she just couldn't get broke. So she went jogging with him, and she would just hop up/belly over on his back for a few strides as they went (I doubt I'm athletic enough for that...) Eventually, the horse learned to put up with being ridden.

                  To find trail partners, get a Facebook account and post your intention to trail ride. I've found a handful of good ones doing exactly that.

                  4) Big bit, big saddle, big whatever. Though I love them dearly there are some beloved equine companions I do not take out of the ring without a western saddle and a mikmar bit. You'll just about never, ever catch me in the ring using draw reins, but I'm not not above using whatever to hold the horsey together, for love of my own life, if necessary, when necessary.

                  Now that nice jumper mare I ride does get better at flat work, once she's been out of the ring... There is a short loop around my farm where I go for what I call the 'warm up charge.' A couple of hills, the neighbors nice sheep and donkeys to spook at, oh yeah she's all geared up after my 10 minuter roller coaster ride !!

                  Perhaps most importantly, you may have to put away "your firm beliefs." Don't stay stuck to some notion of how you think it ought to be. If the horse is telling you, "hey lady, this ain't workin' for me," then try to find something that does work. Many, many, many folks dig themselves nice big, mucky holes by diligently trying to do 'what they ought to' even when it ain't workin'.
                  "Friend" me !



                  • #10
                    Is there any possibility that you are inadvertently giving her both 'go' and 'whoa' signals in the arena, which would in turn make her confused and grumpy?
                    RIP Sasha, best dog ever, pictured shortly before she died, Death either by euthanasia or natural causes is only the end of the animal inhabiting its body; I believe the spirit lives on.


                    • #11
                      I have a Fuerst Gotthard gelding like this. Apparently they're all the same. He LOVES to jump (me, not so much.) He doesn't ever take advantage and run away, though, but he's a boy.

                      He does the same, lovely, downward transitions as yours if he can get away with it. He has lovely upward, though. With him I try NOT to do steady, round and round work. Change it up all of the time--transitions between gaits and within gaits, figures, go over poles, leg yields, turns on the haunches, etc. He takes awhile to "rev" up and listen. When he hangs, I put him in a position where he has to fix it. Do extended canter to collected and immediately do a small circle so he's forced to carry himself. Cavaletti, all that stuff. And of course good trail work. That gives them lots of energy. I also jump him regularly to make him happy.

                      In my experience, he hasn't changed. It's just him. He never starts out light and ready to sit in the down transitions. You just have to know how to warm him up.


                      • Original Poster

                        Thanks for the replies!

                        I just had my 3rd ride on the mare, I rode her for a couple months about 1.5 yrs ago but not since. She HAS settled a lot during this time.

                        Her owner is the one who realized the mare needs a career change. She is a dressage rider with young children, (and one on the way!) and just isn't keen on the idea of jumping, so that means I get to play with her! I'm the luckiest broke college kid ever

                        Like I said, she isn't naughty or mean at all, just ready to DO something (jump, preferably for her lol)

                        Had a really good ride today, did a long walk warm up with a lot of transitions, after about the 2nd or 3rd firm halt, she started listening to the half halt and we were mostly transitioning with my seat. We even had moments of relaxation in the trot

                        We also did walk/trot sets in the pasture, she was very forward but also very well behaved, so I think a lot of out of ring work is in our future!

                        The barn she is at is not a jumping barn, but there are a few cavaletti I think we'll play with once we're both fitter and more in tune with each other.
                        Team Ginger


                        • #13
                          my question would be how are the basic rungs of the training scale?

                          is she rhythmic?
                          is she supple/loose?
                          is she balanced?

                          if she isnt those things she cant respond to a hh, and it would be very difficult for her to stop, turn, etc etc. and some mares really do not like being out of balance, stiff etc. and so wont like "doing dressage" if they are, and they can get quit non stop-y and spooky as a result.

                          so i would suggest before you start doing lots of transitions, or forced halts or forced HH'S, that you really really concentrate on the following which should give you some good info to think about:

                          can you ride her quietly forward in a soft forward trot/canter , will she bend poll to tail, following the curve of a bended line, is she balanced and in rhythm?

                          if not work on those things first. once you have those, she will be able to respond to you much more easily and i am guessing she might start to like being ridden in dressage


                          • #14
                            go let her jump her brains out for about a month. if it were me i'd make them TONS of gymnastics varying in tricky-ness. If youve gotten to first level doing what she doesnt like, let her go have some fun for a month and then you can go back to working on the flat. i'm firm believer of good dressage makes for great jumping, but i'm a more firm believer in a happy horse.
                            i'd also start flatting on a hill once the month is over.
                            chaque pas est fait ensemble


                            • #15
                              use ground poles down centre line
                              varierty is the spice of life


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by sdlbredfan View Post
                                Is there any possibility that you are inadvertently giving her both 'go' and 'whoa' signals in the arena, which would in turn make her confused and grumpy?
                                echo this
                                look here
                                read all of page one and all links on page


                                • #17
                                  One sentence - Ride dressage on the trails. Make her listen to HH's do lengthenings, collection, etc... on the trails. Lots to look at but working on the trails also refocuses her on the rider.
                                  Now in Kentucky


                                  • #18
                                    We also did walk/trot sets in the pasture, she was very forward but also very well behaved, so I think a lot of out of ring work is in our future!

                                    So you made it home alive!

                                    chief feeder and mucker for Music, Spy, Belle and Tiara. Someone else is now feeding and mucking for Chief and Brain (both foxhunting now).


                                    • Original Poster

                                      Thank you all for your replies!

                                      The mare just spent 1 month with a professional jumper trainer (maybe that's why she's so much more mellow than before) and will be jumped again.

                                      The barn I'm at has some cavaletti and I think a couple poles which I'll use to get ME back into jumping lol. Haven't had a jumping lesson since April, eek!

                                      I am going to take a few lessons from a dressage trainer just to tune up the both of us, and then start looking for a jumper trainer.

                                      Thanks again! I will def. be referring to this thread again
                                      Team Ginger