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Sensitive- Good or Bad

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  • Sensitive- Good or Bad

    I was readying the thread about cueing for the canter and started wondering about "sensitive" horses and what is too sensitive?

    My OTTB has about 2 years of training since being restarted and the more he learns the more sensitive he becomes. On one hand, he's really easy to ride (you almost just have to think what you want him to do) but this is scary for most riders who are not used to riding such a sensitive, responsive mount.

    He's not spooky at all and doesn't have a mean bone in his body but is quick to respond and react. He learns very quickly and gets ansty/nervous when you send him mixed signals. He communicates with you constantly and seems to expect the same back from you. It's amazing what an electric connection he gives you. I've been on a lot of lower level tbs and well-trained horses and have never felt anything like it.

    Then the flip-side- I have on and off back problems and when anything is slightly "off" he is almost unridable being a mirror image of my physical state and reacting if I get timid or nervous because of it.

    So I guess I'm curious to hear your thoughts- is this good? is this bad? Would you want a mount like this?

  • #2
    As I always say, it's the rider's job to "balance" a horse, whether that be because the horse is over-responsive or under-responsive. Ie., teach the anxious/tense/reactive horse to be calm and thinking and responsive but not to carry tension with it and teach the slow toe-dragging sloth to step it up a bit and be more responsive to aids. Neither horse has to be an extreme example of their natural tendencies - tendencies can be "toned down".

    Personally, I much prefer the uber-sensitive/responsive horses - I'd rather tone down their sensitivity and have a lot of material I can mould and energy I can channel, than to have to develop a less responsive horse into something forward and responsive. Just personal preference though. If I were less confident, I'd probably go for the latter
    ....horses should be trained in such a way that they not only love their riders, but look forward to the time they are with them.
    ~ Xenophon, 350 B.C.

    Comment


    • #3
      Sounds like my kind of horse

      Comment


      • #4
        I LOVE a sensitive horse. But I do think a horse can only be as sensitive as his rider is skilled, or there are problems. To make the more difficult work beautiful, the horse needs to be sensitive and the rider needs to be very balanced and give subtle aids. On the other hand, when a beginner is first learning to balance at the walk, trot, and canter, riding a very sensitive, tuned horse would not be a good idea! A horse used in beginner lessons tends to get desensitized (because the rider makes all sorts of movements that mean nothing), while a horse ridden by a very good rider can be made more sensitive. So whether sensitive is, in general, good or bad very much depends on who is riding... different riders will have different comfort levels and different needs, that will evolve as the rider learns more... or, in some cases like the OP with back problems, something may change where the rider becomes more comfortable or better suited to a less sensitive horse. Horses also tend to adapt to the way they are ridden, and I think riders also can be "tuned up" to ride with more subtlety and tact by a more sensitive horse.
        Gallant Gesture "Liam" 1995 chestnut ottb gelding
        Mr. Painter "Remy" 2006 chestnut ottb gelding
        My Training Blog: www.dressagefundamentals.com

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        • #5
          I say good. However, I like a horse that is not dead sided, but not overly sensitive. When I bought my horse a year ago, I would have to say he isn't as sensitive as he is now. I guess that is a good thing as it must mean my riding is becoming more clear to him. While I was out of town, I had someone ride him and she commented how sensitive and responsive to aids he was and that it helped her to "fix" a few things for herself on the other horse she rides. I was pretty happy :-)

          Comment


          • #6
            Sorry this thread is, as yet, so short! I saw it on the "most recent threads" summary page and had to come over to see the responses.

            I have a mare who seems to have produced two types of full siblings (the 3/4 TBs--@8 in all, IIRC): hypersensitive and "average" sensitivity; she has also produced two unusually hypersensitive Welsh crosses (full sibs, and fillies at that), and one absolute deadbeat TK cross ("deadbeat," though, doesn't mean I dislike her--handling her is like taking a vacation!). The mare herself is a pistol.

            So you can see why this question is of supreme interest to me!

            I've always felt that the horse must match the rider, so some riders need to push, while others need to pull (so to speak, and somewhat "roughly"). I used to think that the timid rider needs to push because that'd reassure her/him of her/his control, but nowadays I'm wondering if the timid (and thus presumably "passive") rider is better off with a pull type--because oftentimes with that type, less if better and less is more likely with the timid/passive.

            But I dunno, really. I believe there are few dullards at the upper levels, so I get far more into my hypersensitives than the others, but then again, the former is a lot tougher to sell early on than the latter. Still, personally, even with the aches and pains I have to deal with these days, I prefer the hypers: I enjoy figuring out the tactful head-games you have to use, along with the way they require you to ride more sensitively--and maybe even, in some ways, more "consciously" (which can't be a bad thing, surely).

            But some days, I sure do wish I had more like the deadbeat filly. I have a quiet gelding, a 3/4 sibling to one of this particular mare's super-duper-hyper-sensitives, and what a difference that 1/4 makes! I'm looking forward to backing him this spring. I probably will not touch the mare's son for another whole year. But I'm also looking forward to selling the quiet one sooner rather than later, while I am super-excited, in the long run, about what the other might do in life.
            Sportponies Unlimited
            Athletic Thoroughbred crosses for the highly motivated, smaller rider.

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            • #7
              I would rather have sensitive. With my first horse, he was always ready to take off, and what we did was hundreds of circles, eventually he got on the leg rather than ahead of the leg. Lots of serpentines and changes of direction. Hope that helps.

              Comment


              • #8
                I always say it is much, much easier to pump one up than to calm one down. If you have a quieter, less sensitive horse, you can do lots of management improvements with them to make them hotter: higher energy feed, limited turnout in coolest part of day, get them more fit and conditioned, get yourself to the gym, put on some spurs, pick up a whip.

                With a hotter, more sensitive horse, it's impossible to pick up the "relax" stick. Once you have 24/7 turnout, free choice hay and no grain, there's not much to do except to starve them into submission (not that I'd do it, but I've seen it). The more you longe or run off the excess energy, the fitter they get.

                I swear it's why they invented warmbloods, where theoretically you get the best of both worlds when it comes to disposition. Then you can run down the spectrum of sensitivity you prefer without going to the extreme you see with hotbloods like your thoroughbred.

                It takes skill to ride a phlegmatic horse. Riders can be taught skills by their instructors. It takes tact to ride a sensitive horse. Riders can't be taught tact. They learn it from the horses. It takes more experience to ride a sensitive horse.

                Training must always return to relaxation (I'm training the most sensitive horse I've ever ridden right now, so I am thinking a lot about it.) You can't force relaxation. So it becomes a mind ride. It takes a quick thinking rider to know when she's pushing the envelope. It takes a rider with quick physical reactions to avert an explosion. But at the same time, if the rider has either a hot head or a hot seat, if the rider is not calm, quiet and relaxed in her demeanor then the horse will never relax.

                I don't mean this in the woo-woo way, but as a metaphor. Success has to do with energy levels. It's like these horses resonate at a higher energy. So the quick thinking, quick reacting rider has to have the awareness to tone down her energy level when riding so they both don't get fired up.

                Comment


                • #9
                  I would much rather have the reactive/sensitive type of horse. It's one of the reasons I love OTTBs for dressage. My gelding is like the OP's, super responsive and I have had to teach him patience. He thinks mind reading is a requirement in dressage!
                  But I love his heart and he is ALWAYS trying and giving 100%.

                  On the flip side, it is true that these types of horses need very skilled, very quiet riders. The second the rider tenses you may have a clash going on. I always say how easy my guy is to ride and how mellow he is. Then I made the mistake of letting a good but very inexperienced rider on him. He cantered around the outside of the arena looking scared and rider kept saying, "Why is he doing that?" They must have been pinching with their legs, as horse is super sensitive to leg pressure. We laughed afterwards, but it was then I realized he is only mellow if the rider is totally quiet and clear with the aides. He certainly has taught me to have long, draped legs!!!

                  I would not trade him for anything, and I can't imagine trying to get through the levels of dressage with a horse that is not super sensitive. It seems like things would be so much harder!

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Yes, agree totally. Which would lead me, if I had time, to the treatise on reactive vs. responsive. Ok, I have a second. There's a big difference between reactive and responsive.

                    We have to train the phlegmatic horse to be responsive. He is neither reactive nor responsive.

                    We have to train the reactive horse to be responsive.

                    I don't have the full answer. Why is the second so much harder?

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I adore the highly sensitive horse.

                      I *thought* I wanted a horse who took pushing and was less sensitive when I started looking. Then I found my supposedly crazy OTTB who is just a mellow angel... but very sensitive and high energy and NEEDS to go out and run with no rider for quite a bit of time on a regular basis.

                      Then I started thinking back... my first horse was the one I used to ride with no reins, bareback, and loved showing western pleasure because I didn't need reins to get her going exactly how and where I wanted-legs and seat were enough. My last horse was the one who the previous owners were scared of because if you thought about kicking him he took off - but who responded beautifully and immediately to very light leg pressure.

                      I'm one of those riders who does well on sensitive horses and they mellow and relax with me. It's just a talent I have always had, I suppose my energy levels go well with them. I do enjoy less sensitive horses, too, though. My mom's warlander is much less sensitive than my horse and still fun, though I'm getting her more sensitive. I just prefer a sensitive horse for myself. When I bought my horse I told my mom I felt like I was cheating because he was so easy to ride... then I saw other people ride him. Between the person he took off on, the person who couldn't get him to walk, the clinician who referred to him as a drama queen when she rode him... maybe it's just that super sensitive is my "type."

                      Now, those horses who have nervous energy and think life is out to get them? NOT horses I enjoy. They sap me of all energy, and each ride I get off feeling as if I won't have the strength to ride for another week.
                      Originally posted by Silverbridge
                      If you get anything on your Facebook feed about who is going to the Olympics in 2012 or guessing the outcome of Bush v Gore please start threads about those, too.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        I'm one of those on the "other side of the coin". I prefer them not quite so sensitive. I've done the OTTB quite a few times and have done pretty well with them. I've now reached a stage in my life where I'd rather try to add some sensitivity than try to cope with it every single ride. It just gets wearing to me to have to be so "careful" every time you are aboard, there are times when I just like to go out and hack for fun and not have to worry at all.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Most days I rather enjoy my sensitive guy. If nothing else, he is making me a much better rider! And when we do get something right or have a great ride - what a high

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Really good upper level horse are best if super sensitive - at least in my opinion. My mare will do a change when you think it cause rider is subtly weighting seat bone for the change. And although a not so good rider can sit on her they will not get the same response as I and my trainer get...because horse soon learns to "tune out" what rider is inadvertantly saying with their body...just like if you "nag" horse with whip and spurs horse soon tunes you out.

                            So I prefer it, but less experienced riders may very well be intimidated by riding such a horse.

                            But I have to say I disgree with poster above who stated "With a hotter, more sensitive horse, it's impossible to pick up the "relax" stick. " since I can drop my reins and relax (in the arena not the trails) on my sensitive/hotter mare since she listens to the rider - loose rein AND shortened rein - as she is trained correctly.
                            Now in Kentucky

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by narcisco View Post

                              We have to train the reactive horse to be responsive.

                              I don't have the full answer. Why is the second so much harder?

                              My two cents on this:

                              The reactive horse IS responsive. Here's the caveat:

                              One must replace their innate, automatic (or instinctive) response with the correct response.

                              It's 'easy' to train a horse. RETRAINing is more difficult.

                              Same premise, IMO.
                              I am not allowed to look at breeding stock.
                              Or babies. Or CANTER, et al.

                              ESPECIALLY not CANTER, et al.

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Where were all you sensitive horse lovers when my friend was trying to sell her sensitive and forward gelding??? He's perfect in every other way, just needs a soft rider.

                                I prefer my horse who is right smack in the middle Not too sensitive but def not dull.

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by Valentina_32926 View Post
                                  But I have to say I disgree with poster above who stated "With a hotter, more sensitive horse, it's impossible to pick up the "relax" stick. " since I can drop my reins and relax (in the arena not the trails) on my sensitive/hotter mare since she listens to the rider - loose rein AND shortened rein - as she is trained correctly.
                                  I agree with you.

                                  I "self longe" on my sensitive guy. Put him in a 20m circle, mainting my balance how I am to get the circle, drop the reins. He keeps carrying himself, and if he starts to drop himself a little inside leg to ask him to re-engage gets the back end under him again. He's sensitive enough to get the difference between be working on no-stirrup work and cues to do something, too, but also very sane so he behaves while I'm doing this.
                                  Originally posted by Silverbridge
                                  If you get anything on your Facebook feed about who is going to the Olympics in 2012 or guessing the outcome of Bush v Gore please start threads about those, too.

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    I agree also. My OTTB gelding is certainly sensitive and responsive, some might say hot. But he is NOT spooky or stupid at all. In fact, I ride "relaxed" all the time. I'm never nervous on that horse. He will take care of me, he just really prefers a good rider who isn't cueing him unknowingly all the time.

                                    My other DWB gelding is dead lazy most of the time but he will spook his brains out in an instant and then you have lost his brain. That I hate. But I don't call that hot, I call that annoying, lol. I still love him though, but I certainly prefer riding the other guy.

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by fivesocks View Post
                                      Where were all you sensitive horse lovers when my friend was trying to sell her sensitive and forward gelding??? He's perfect in every other way, just needs a soft rider.

                                      I prefer my horse who is right smack in the middle Not too sensitive but def not dull.
                                      I was on the other side of the country...looking for a horse!
                                      I am not allowed to look at breeding stock.
                                      Or babies. Or CANTER, et al.

                                      ESPECIALLY not CANTER, et al.

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by dwblover View Post
                                        I agree also. My OTTB gelding is certainly sensitive and responsive, some might say hot. But he is NOT spooky or stupid at all. In fact, I ride "relaxed" all the time. I'm never nervous on that horse. He will take care of me, he just really prefers a good rider who isn't cueing him unknowingly all the time.

                                        My other DWB gelding is dead lazy most of the time but he will spook his brains out in an instant and then you have lost his brain. That I hate. But I don't call that hot, I call that annoying, lol. I still love him though, but I certainly prefer riding the other guy.
                                        Spooky and sensitive are definitely not the same, as your example shows!


                                        My very sensitive OTTB is also a babysitter when necessary. I got on today, not feeling well. All the other horses were freaking out, one girl got bucked off and other horses were freaking out, taking off, etc. I couldn't get more than a slow walk at first. Finally got him to trot... lasted twice around the arena before I started to feel as if I would fall off and ill. My horse stopped and waited for me to figure out what to do without me asking him to stop. Very sensitive... babysitter. On days I'm healthy, he'll bolt and take off bucking when I'm secure in my seat to make it interesting, but when I'm not? He barely moves, and does everything he can to make sure I stay on.
                                        Originally posted by Silverbridge
                                        If you get anything on your Facebook feed about who is going to the Olympics in 2012 or guessing the outcome of Bush v Gore please start threads about those, too.

                                        Comment

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