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Frustrated. Q about suppling jaw/neck and hand riding-UPDATE

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  • Frustrated. Q about suppling jaw/neck and hand riding-UPDATE

    My horse is an older reschool. He has the giraffe head. He was previously ridden in draw reins and standing martingale. We’ve been working on dressage for just 2 months. I’m beginning to get confused with suppling the jaw/neck and the line between this and hand riding. What is the best way to do this? Obviously it depends on the horse, but I’ve seen hands low and wide, or the 3 supples like Jane Savioe recommends to sponging/massaging, etc.. All of it seems like it can lead to hand riding if you are not careful. I feel like this is where I am now. I am taking lessons, but I know at times I am not riding back to front, but I am not corrected. If fact, I am told I have to not be afraid to get in his mouth. It does not feel right. It feels like a fight with my horse and I know I am using too much hand, but not sure how to correct it. I’ve read back to front, leg to hand, etc. but what about more extreme cases where the horse loves to stick his head in the air. If I keep my hands steady and do not do anything, he will not lower his head.

    The thing is that I have felt his back come up and he does start to get round. When this happens all is right with the world, but to get there does not seem right. It seems too forceful. I do not want to sour my horse. He has a very willing attitude, but is very sensitive. He is also older with a weak stifle and some of this is probably a little hard for him right now. I feel like it has turned into a more forceful thing b/c I’ve been told to not ever let his head go up in the air even for a stride or two and this leads to me trying to force his head down, or at least that is how it feels.

    Now the reason why I am confused is because although it seems forced at times, it also seems light and great at times. Where is the line between suppling the jaw and neck and hand riding?

    UPDATE-I did some experimenting on my own and found my gelding is not very stiff at all, just does not like me messing with his mouth a lot as I was instructed to do. Now this seems like common sense, being that he is a sensitive TB, but I was doing what I was told in a lesson.

    I tried keeping my hands in riding position with very little movement of the bit or attempted flexion of the jaw. I concentrated on his back and hind and low and behold he just offered to drop his neck and chew the bit. I know this is no secret, I just don't get how so many instructors try to have you hand ride! Needless to say, I don't take with this person anymore.

    I've also been trying some of the ideas from the Mary Wanless book and the breathing is so key for my horse!
    Last edited by justanalter; Feb. 25, 2008, 10:49 AM.

  • #2
    Are you pushing the horse forward with your leg into your hands, or just pulling backwards on his mouth? It's ok to ride forward into a fixed hand, and it may feel heavy sometimes. But no see-sawing or pulling the horse's face "back" toward his body.

    The suppleness you're looking for will come from LATERAL aids and suppleness. Bend, bend, and bend some more. The horse should be living on circles, half-circles, spirals-in, spirals-out, counter bend, true bend, back to counter-bend, etc., all with nice forward impulsion. THAT's how you'll soften up his jaw, neck and spine so that he reaches down for the bit. Not by pulling on his mouth.

    You cannot prevent him from raising his head now and then, for a stride or two. Whoever told you to prevent that has some weird training ideas.

    Have you worked him on the longe line at all? That puts him on a circle, makes him find his own balance, and side reins can help him re-build his neck and back muscles. Your hands alone can't do it.

    The reason you sometimes feel good results is probably that as an older horse with recognized stifle weakness, he starts out stiff then becomes more round and supple as he warms up. So it's not the hand-riding that you're being instructed to perform that's bringing about his better way of going -- it's his warm-up. Bet he'd reach that same good stage if you weren't so heavy with your hands.


    • #3
      The lightness you are looking for, comes from riding him from behind, So, the more soft, circles you can do using your legs and seat to turn him, supporting the turns with your hands, the easier it will become. Circles at first can be difficult for a horse used to being ridden in straight lines. But the more you can get him to respond to the influence of your leg and seat, the easier it will become. Transitions too , needto come from your body, and not your hand. Sometimes, for some horses, it is a matter of trust. They have been locked in a position by hands or gadgets for so long, it takes them time to ralize that there is also safety in those quiet, not locked hands.
      Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

      Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.


      • Original Poster

        I am trying to push him forward with my seat and leg, but I am also so focused on his head position b/c that is what I am being reminded of. Interestingly, when I ride alone it sometimes goes better without the pressure of the making him keep his head down.

        That was a good point that it is the warm up that and riding time that eventually gets him to bring up his back.

        The warm up is my hardest time. He is older and somewhat stiff (especially to bending!!) so that is obviously where he wants to lift his head more. If I warm up walking for a long time and change directions a lot he gets really soft, but it will take sometimes 15 to 20 min before I feel like he is soft enough to trot. My instructor thinks this is too long.


        • #5
          Have you ruled out any discomfort? Not that I don't agree that it is a training issue, I do. My horse was very stiff bending to the left. The more I pulled or rode with a fixed/ slightly heavy contact he would lock his jaw. It was my equine dentist (yes, a DVM that specializes in equine dentistry) that pointed out the HUGE cavity in the tooth behind where the bit goes. When cold or metal sometimes hits a human tooth with a cavity they jump in pain. The most amazing things were that a)she asked me if he was stiff to the left first and b)it is much easier to train the suppleness now that the cavity was filled. It wasn't a miracle cure but it did help. See if there is physical pattern to his head being in the air and discuss it with your vet. As far as training goes, I agree with all of you... A) A lot of circles and suppling exercises and B) I always judge a trainer by how hard they require me to pull on my horses mouth. My new trainer always requires and elastic contact.


          • #6
            ride from the rear to the front and focus all your attention on the rear for now.
            When you tack him up = palpate the horse in the stall feel up his back, rear end, hind legs etc. Feel for swelling , heat, especially hard areas etc, scars anything you can find. Watch him carefully when you free lunge him in a round pen and see how the hind end is moving.
            Verify and make sure that he is comfortable- from the back to the haunches to the hocks to the rear fetlock and feet..that's really important.

            Of course check teeth and mouth as well as previously mentioned- but get one thing clear:
            You can not do any dressage on a horse that is really hurting. You can do good dressage on a older horse that has some soreness issues - but you have to know what they are and work with that and provide as much help and assistance as possible to make the horse comfortable. This might mean 20 minute walk before any really riding, this might mean a slow lunge to warm him up without weight on the back- it's just really hard to know where his pain is- but usually - last I checked- a horse is a horse and a giraffe is a giraffe...and if a horse acts like a giraffe- there is some serious stuff going on that makes the horse either
            a. uncomfortable or
            b. really painful or
            c. really scared.

            so it could be bodily or in his head. I think it's most likely in his body and you can at least find the blatant problems without a vet - just by really examining his body in detail. If you can afford it- call a vet and have a workup done- or call a really good chiro and hear what (s)he has to say.

            best of luck- your riding is not the problem and your instincts are great! follow them!!
            "the man mite be the head but the woman is the neck and the neck can turn the head any way she wants..." -smart greek woman


            • #7
              15-20 minutes is not an unusually long warm up for an older, stiff horse who has been working at dressage for only 2 months. Think about it. He has probably been "body sore" for quite a while from the tension of being ridden with a high head and dropped back, not to mention the general stiffness that comes with age (boy, can I relate myself) and re-starting steady work. Dressage as you know, should be very gymnastic and is building work for the horse. How often do you ride? Do you use any massage? What is your cool down routine? Is he on any joint suppliments? Does he get a lot of turnout? If you truly trust your trainer, he may know the "edge" that you can push your horse to and feels your horse will not progress unless you push a little. And having said that, I feel most people should go with their gut and if you feel you are pushing too hard, you probably are.
              Where's the glamour? You promised me glamour!


              • #8
                The warm up is my hardest time. He is older and somewhat stiff (especially to bending!!) so that is obviously where he wants to lift his head more. If I warm up walking for a long time and change directions a lot he gets really soft, but it will take sometimes 15 to 20 min before I feel like he is soft enough to trot. My instructor thinks this is too long.
                Here is your key, you have solved your own problem! 20 minutes is not long for an older horse. Your instructor is plain wrong! If you like the rest of the work you get from your instructor, just warm up your horse before she/he arrives!


                • #9
                  Riding the Giraffe

                  Sorry to hear about your troubles, justanalter.

                  Have you tried longeing (with maybe just the one inside rein attached at first) before you ride? Older stiffer horse may appreciate the opportunity to warm up into a contact in his own balance, before having to deal with the rider.

                  I am big fan and advocate of Mary Wanless and her methods. I recommend her book "Rider Essentials" if you aren't familiar with her work. She has several other books out, but this book is the most concise summary of her basic methods. "Ride the horse from back to front" is a lovely idea that people throw about A LOT. Mary addresses EXACTLY HOW to accomplish this from the view point of rider mechanics.

                  PM me if are at all interested in her work. I'd be happy to answer any questions you have.

                  For what it's worth, I have a 6 year old that is also a Giraffe. With a long back and long hind legs to boot. I think I can empathize with your situation.
                  \"Enlightenment is like moonlight reflected on the water. The moon does not get wet nor is the water broken.\"


                  • Original Poster

                    Thanks for the replies. To answer some questions...he is out 24/7 with stall access. He is on Lubrisyn and some times I give adequan when needed. He gets regular chiro, has had his saddle fit recently, teeth checked etc.

                    All in all he is probably in the best shape ever. I see some muscle building in his topline and he is moving well. I've only had him two years, but I know he had a lot of gadgets in the past. The first time I attempted dressage with an experienced rider, he got very sore in his back. I think it was too much too soon.

                    He does have a weak stifle and the hard parts for him are in the corners. He needs a lot of balancing. I think it is more weakness than anything else and also a change in a different way of going than what he is used to.

                    I am not sure about my trainer. I have not been taking lesson with this person long enough, but it just seems there is a lot of empahsis on the front end and I don't like that. Other aspects are good, but this is really an issue for me.


                    • #11
                      Forcing the horse into an artificial frame can give the rider the feeling that the horse is going ‘better’, when in reality the horse is just going differently.

                      Suppleness is a state of letting go; an easy swinging state of fluidity that the horse naturally offers in response to a steady rhythm, balance, and relaxation.

                      Suppleness is a result of the unimpeded forward flow of energy from the hind legs, through the horse, toward the poll that causes the horse to reach forward and downward toward the bit and gives the rider the ability to receive the contact that the horse offers. Suppleness is a natural consequence of well-timed steps, relaxation and alignment.

                      Horses automatically carry their heads and necks in a position that reflects their degree of relaxation and balance. A horse that is moving above the bit and hollow is displaying signs of tension due to discomfort. This is most often caused by the rider being imbalanced, tense, using inappropriate aids or because the contact is inconsistent or too strong. Or the horse may be in the wrong tempo, tense, crooked or unresponsive to the driving aids or he may be experiencing pain from joint or muscle soreness, ill-fitting tack, sharp teeth, etc. Once these issues are adequately addressed, the horse can settle into the work both mentally and physically. An even, steady rhythm has an almost hypnotic affect on the horse which causes his muscles to relax deeply. With some horses it takes quite a bit of slow, steady work before they will trust their riders enough to release their tension but once the rider earns the horse’s trust, the horse relaxes and all kinds of wonderful doors open. Also, keep in mind, with some horses it seems like things can be only close to correct and the horse will go beautifully. With others, something can be off by only a fraction of a degree and the horse will go horribly.


                      • #12
                        There is a difference between having a lot of contact and hand-riding.

                        Try to put your hands in a box out in front of you and keep them there. There can be a lot of pressure over your forearm and in your shoulders, if necessary, but your hands remain soft and spongey. You might have to keep up this heavier contact for a while and just wait for him to give. You don't want to be afraid of getting into the contact there and having that discussion, but you want to have that discussion without getting 'handy'.

                        Try to keep any suppling action in your sponging hands, without allowing your forearms to get involved back and forth. Your elbows should stay in about the same spot by your hips and your hands should stay in about the same spot in the box. Your reins will need to be short enough for this to be effective; sponging soft hands does not equal hands that allow the reins to slip through, as my instructor yammers at me repeatedly.

                        A qualified set of eyes on the ground can help bring about this feel much more quickly.
                        The Noodlehttp://tiny.cc/NGKmT&http://tiny.cc/gioSA
                        Boy Wonderhttp://tiny.cc/G9290
                        The Hana is nuts! NUTS!!http://tinyurl.com/SOCRAZY


                        • #13
                          Hi there,

                          I too own a schoolmaster he is coming 14 this year, but has done the upper levels of eventing so he's been through some strenuous training in his lifetime. He is solid 3rd level, and a super jumper.

                          I warm up this horse by walking quite a long time on a long rein, and then cantering. If the weather is good, not too slippery on the roads, I always walk the horse up a long hill before doing any work, it makes a big difference. I also just had my vet inject his hock's. The x-rays showed mild to moderate DJD, he was a bit hitchy behind, and now he looks great! I think there is a method to warming up these older horses and I do think they need some good suppling and flexing, but not extreme. Carrot stretches have also been wonderful for our horse. I am assuming you do these since you chiro your horse.


                          • Original Poster

                            what about opening inside rein to supple the jaw? anyone heard of keeping your hands still but moving your shoulders back and forth?

                            If I keep my hands in a box above the withers, what do I do when he sticks his head in the air? just follow?


                            • #15
                              An opening inside rein on tight turns and circles doesn't directly supple the jaw so much as it helps teach the horse to balance himself, PROVIDED that you give sufficiently with the outside rein to allow the horse to bend the outside of its body around the turn. This can be counter-intuitive for those of us accustomed to holding the outside rein to prevent the horse from popping its outside shoulder or bulging outside the turn. The opening inside rein tells the horse which direction to go and how tight the curve should be. Then, instead of holding him tight and forcing the bend, it lets go and asks the horse to continue with that bend and turn. Through that exercise the horse realizes it's easier to bend its whole neck and body as he turns than to lean in or stay stiff. That's how the jaw suppling is effected.

                              As for your hand position, the idea is to maintain a straight line from bit to elbow no matter what the horse does with his head. It's not so much that you "follow" by giving, but that you match his head position. Following connotes softening the reins, which would reward the horse for raising his head. Instead, when he lifts his head you'd match him by lifting your hands, but maintain the same steady contact.

                              Often riders try to lower a high head by lowering their hands, but breaking the line from bit to elbow can cause the bit to work on the bars instead of the corners of the horse's mouth, which can increase the horse's resistance. Maintaining a straight line is what invites the horse to take up contact, since the contact is most elastic when that line to the bit is unbroken. (That's the logic of automatic releases on jumpers, for example). So even when your horse is imitating a giraffe, carry your hands high enough that the line is straight, then push push push him forward into your hands. He'll learn to trust that contact because it's predictable, where he expects it, and where it's most comfortable for him (in the corners of his mouth). Over time he'll reach for it more and more consistently, which will bring his back up more consistently.


                              • #16
                                i would start him like one of my baby horses, a surcingle in the stall (prefer dovers) and a brass pulley ring from hardware store just big enough for clothesline to pass through, attach the pulley ring to center front ring of surcingle, tie one end to one side of snaffle bit, bring other end through pulley and through bit to your hand and work gently until horse yeilds his jaw, then tie the rope end to this end of the bit with nose barely in front of vertical and leave in stall for 15 mins keeping an eye on him, he can walk around and bend both ways but has to stay on contact, after that I would longe in side reins (since he is resistant sliding side reins cause less panic) remember one hole shorter on outside side rein, snaffle bit with bit guards so bit guard presses against lower jaw encouraging horse to yeild lower jaw, use longe line attached to inside bit ring only, try to use round pen, after that use chambon and get horse to use back by lowering head once head is lowered and back muscles are developed put side reins on with chambon for finishing, after this the horse will be very nicely broke to the bridle with soft mouth and excellent contact on the bit, and a superb topline and muscle development


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by justanalter View Post
                                  I am trying to push him forward with my seat and leg,


                                  The warm up is my hardest time. He is older and somewhat stiff (especially to bending!!) so that is obviously where he wants to lift his head more. If I warm up walking for a long time and change directions a lot he gets really soft, but it will take sometimes 15 to 20 min before I feel like he is soft enough to trot. My instructor thinks this is too long.

                                  I reschool a lot of horses and many of them are older with physical issues. A warm up walk of 15-20 mins. is not too long. Heck sometimes I walk 30+ minutes, even an hour. If your instructor thinks this is too long then she's not the right one to help you with this horse. There is so much you can teach at the walk. My other suggestion is to start warming him up before your lesson. Get him out of the ring. Old horses get sour and sore easily. You've done all the preventative therapies. Remember that they are not a one time only thing, but a continual support system. While you've had the saddle fitted are you also using a therapeutic shock absorper bad such as ThinLine. I couldn't seem much difference at first but I do think it provides a degree of comfort. Now a horse with weak stifles does not need to do endless circles, and certainly nothing smaller than 20M. Think large squares instead. Stop him before the corner and either ask for a turn on the haunches to go around the corner. Once you have the aids figured out, do the exercise without stopping at the corners. Shallow serpentines are easier than continuous circles. Leg yields, shoulder-in, haunches in are all nice exercises to help these stiff horses. They can be done at the walk. Ground poles will help those stifles, but not too much too soon. For now think of riding this horse evenly into both reins. If he gets heavy on one rein, release that rein. Don't give him anything to lean on. As for keeping his head down. Yes he'll build a better topline, etc., etc. if he's reaching down and out, but this takes strength and he may not have enough yet to stay consistent. Patience, kindness, and tack are important. I don't like constantly busy hands, but sometimes instructors have you use more movement than necessary b/c they are trying to avoid the concrete hand syndrome. By the way 2 years isn't long to reschool a horse. Give yourself another year and you'll be presently surprised the difference.
                                  Susan B.


                                  • #18
                                    jaw/neck/hand riding

                                    I had a qtr horse who came to me totally braced and locked. Confirmation exhibiting what I call roping posture (u-neck). The first thing I did was TAKE THE BIT OFF and put him in a side pull (not a hackamore but a side pull). When the bit ceased becoming something he could run into he started losing that anxiety. I also started him with lots of walking and bending into halts. From there lots of walk/trot/walk/halt/walk etc transitions. Over time, this horse lost the huge muscle under his neck and his topline started to stretch out as his abdominal muscles contracted. He was learning self-carriage, so called because the horse must learn how to achieve the balance and carriage. You help him to do this not by forcing him into a frame but by letting him use himself correctly. If you have a round pen, ask for a lot of quiet transitions (point of round pen is not to tire him out--yeah good luck with that, all you get is a supremely conditioned unbalanced horse!) When riding go forward and bend, keep bending until he can come down quietly. Can you ride at a W/T/C with your horses head bent to the side (not held, bent) and have him walk straight? They can do this and it helps balance them. The main point I wanted to make is not to make the mistake of "holding" the horse by the mouth to achieve a "frame". Hope this helps.


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by justanalter View Post
                                      UPDATE-I did some experimenting on my own and found my gelding is not very stiff at all, just does not like me messing with his mouth a lot as I was instructed to do. Now this seems like common sense, being that he is a sensitive TB, but I was doing what I was told in a lesson.

                                      I tried keeping my hands in riding position with very little movement of the bit or attempted flexion of the jaw. I concentrated on his back and hind and low and behold he just offered to drop his neck and chew the bit. I know this is no secret, I just don't get how so many instructors try to have you hand ride! Needless to say, I don't take with this person anymore.

                                      That's great! I agree that there are way too many instructors who promote "hand riding". Now hopefully you can find an instructor in your area who can help you correctly!