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Dressage getting worse

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  • Dressage getting worse

    Sneaking over from the eventing forum...

    What could make a pony have a setback in dressage, rather than an improvement?

    The rider is my nearly 14 yr old C-1 pony clubber with a good, reputable event trainer with a strong dressage background (trainer). The pony is a 14.2 13 yr old welsh/tb mare who was formerly an opinionated lesson pony (after a brief hunter career on the A circuit), and has been owned by my daughter for 3 yrs now. The pony is a puller and "squeeze and release" is more "release means I pull again".

    Last year scores were 61-65 at BN/Intro level (35-39 in eventing). The pony was tense and locked at the poll/jaw but had good gaits and was forward. This year the few scores so far have been in the mid 50's. The free walk, which normally got 8's, was a jig last weekend - an obvious fight for control. Last year there were rubber roller spurs and a dressage whip - this year nothing (because of nervousness). There is no real acceptance and relaxation, but there wasn't last year either. There are times when she has better days - surprisingly so. Not supple, but not pulling either.

    We've done chiropractic, acupuncture, dentist, hock injections, saddlefitting, different bits - and nothing has changed. The lameness vet did point out that we may consider SI injections and see if that improves things (so physical cause is not ruled out). The pony had a very tough mouth when we got her and prefers to be heavy on the forehand. She's in a plain copper full cheek snaffle with keepers for dressage.

    Her trainer thinks that perhaps the pony has reached her limit (mentally or physically) and now that my daughter is more educated in riding with leg and asking for more collection that the pony is becoming more resistant.

    What are your thoughts?

  • #2
    Originally posted by thumbsontop View Post

    Her trainer thinks that perhaps the pony has reached her limit (mentally or physically) and now that my daughter is more educated in riding with leg and asking for more collection that the pony is becoming more resistant.

    What are your thoughts?
    Assuming your daughter is still riding at he same level, there shouldn't be a requirement for "collection". It could be your daughter is getting too nit-picky and royally pi$$ing off the little mare OR it could be that your trainer is right as well and the mare is happier with a less educated rider that doesn't ask for very much. The early career as a hunter (that didn't work out) and the latter career as a lesson horse kinda make me think that your trainer may be right. Also remember it is Spring and the worst time of the year for hormonal mares, they *can* get a bit touchy this time of year. Without seeing a video or having more information, it's hard to guess...


    • #3
      Try Regumate? It made a difference for my mare. She's not perfect, but she's better...


      • #4
        I would have her evaluated again by a good reputable chiropractor. It's made a difference in my TB as far as dressage goes and using himself properly. His lower neck was out. When was the last time she saw the chiro? And you could have the vet out for another evaluation and sometimes the vet will watch as you ride to have a better idea of diagnosis. She is possibly in pain somewhere that could be eliminated through chiro work, supplements or injections. Or she could just be a burnt out pony especially if she did lessons. Maybe just a little time off and going back to basics and just doing some other fun stuff might help her out. Mix it up a little bit.


        • #5
          Sounds like the horse and rider need to work with someone who can show them how to be more of a team.

          It could be a physical problem, and competition horses (PC is competition) that are shown should be examined, flexed and xrayed once a year by a sport horse vet that specializes in legs and lameness, or as often as finances allow or whenever there is a problem. There's a problem.

          Though finding some little bit of arthritis or this or that doesn't always explain the behavior. For example, our old pony spooked alot, and was found to have lost some peripheral vision. But the vet and trainer got together and determined the vision problem had NOTHING to do with the spooking - it was a training issue.

          With a mare, some sort of reproductive problem, such as cystic ovaries, might make a mare uncomfortable and resistant. there may be a typical stiff way of holding the tail and hollowing out and caving in of the muscles on the top of the croup.

          But to be honest it doesn't sound like that from the little description.

          Horses often get 'pi**y' not because they are really uncomfortable or in pain at all, but because they are getting 'sour'.

          'Sour' can mean many things.

          One is that the horse has found out over time that if the rider is intimidated, her demands will be less. Pinning back the ears and giving that 'oh don't you bloody dare' reaction when the rider uses the rein, seat or leg is very, very typical of this sort of horse. Some people consider this 'mean' or 'naughty', but this is really just ordinary herd behavior, and instinctive. Horses push other horses away from food this way. It's very normal but needs to be taken care of.

          This sort of tactic is often found in a horse that just isn't going forward. There, you see the head pop up and down, fussiness on the bit, and short, tense strides.

          The key there is to go forward - much more than you can possibly imagine WANTING to go forward, in many cases .

          'forward' doesn't mean throwing the reins at the horse's head and running at a race horse gallop or following another horse that is going fast, OR pointing the horse at the barn and rejoicing when he runs to the barn - it means OBEDIENCE - that when you use your leg, the horse reacts, lifts his feet actively, and vigorously and energetically from the ground - immediately. leg-BOOM, a reaction. instant. no hesitation. BOOM. leg - GO. like hit with an electric shock. in any direction, in any place, any time, anywhere. leg - BOOM. go. just as quick as a light comes on when you switch the switch. instant.

          and horses and ponies VERY often get 'nappy' (fussy, not forward, 'tense') when they are not really 'forward'....especially when kids are trying to do more dressage on them.

          horses are very often VERY happy to go around with a loose rein hanging down, and respond with a 'yawn' and after a few strides of being gently bumped or squeezed time and again with a leg and tapped with a bat on the shoulder, start to jog slowly around with no real demands to use their muscles. when someone starts to ask them to work more - boy oh boy. they aren't always delighted. and even if one is already working more than my little description there, upping that some more isn't always all sweetness and light.

          Go forward, and the fussiness, unsteadiness and 'i don't really think so' just goes away. The key is also to be more supple, and quite a few horses will object to bending, suppling, sidestepping in leg yield, etc, if the person they have already decided 'isn't the boss' is the one trying to fix this.

          So sometimes the trainer needs to ride the horse - but beware of the one who just tries to smack the tar out of the horse and isn't really training them, is just punishing out of temper. A spoiled, sour horse often needs a very firm hand, and some VERY clear 'come to jesus moments', so it's not always easy to determine when the punishment is justified, especially if one hasn't trained a lot of horses.

          There should be some rhyme or reason to the punishment - jerking a rein and backing the horse up and yelling at it for spooking is not as effective as correcting with the leg and whip on the side the horse pushed towards (because so often spooking is a result of not going forward and not working) - most corrections should be 'on the foreward' and result in forward motion when the horse cooperates - and even with firm corrections, there should be some sort of 'light at the end of the tunnel' - you see the horse improving in a month or two.

          It seems like a lot of people do the exercises to supple horses (leg yields, circles, etc) but without getting much benefit or resolving problems. The key is to get a good instructor to show the rider how to do these things. Not just 'like in the show test' but as real physical therapy.

          The old saying, 'Forward and out of trouble' is not yet out of style. A lot of problems with training dressage horses are resolved by just plain old going forward.


          • #6
            Physical Issues

            I agree with everyone who is suggesting a physical cause for your pony's problems.

            May I add one more idea? Ulcers. The statistics on horses in competition with ulcers are amazing.

            And, if so, full treatment with an ulcer medication can make a tremendous difference. It changed my horse's attitude completely.

            You can try a does or two of Priolsec (omeprazole) to see if it changes your mare's attitude. Sometimes it takes a day or so. Apparently the ulcer starts to bother the horse when she starts to work, especially trot, and then just builds from there. Ulcergard/Gastrogard are the prescribed horse medications and the 28 dose treatment is expensive, but well worth the money.


            • Original Poster

              Very good thoughts. It gives me something to chew on for a bit. I do think that alot of the issue is that she's just sour - and prefers not to work. She's not a pleaser by nature. I find it hard to imagine ANYTHING that she would think of as a reward.

              Forward was one of the only reasons she did fairly well last year in her tests. BUT - I'm sure that my daughter is asking differently now vs. a year ago. She definitely has progressed to riding more off of her seat and legs and trying to rely less on her hands. I'll have to get out a video of a test last year and compare it to current. My daughter is nowhere near perfect - and she finds it difficult not to fight with her at times, but they had improved SO much last year.

              Forward last year was just that - forward and good rhythm. They've been working on trying to get her to use her hind end more and that's my best guess as to when this started.

              The trainer's good friend is an FEI judge. My daughter had a lesson with her and loved it. You'd guess correctly if you imagine her legs had never been more tired. Perhaps we'll try to set up some more there.

              Part of the issue is that my daughter is outgrowing the pony. Mainenance and training for a pony that won't be her primary mount for long is hard to swallow at times, but we feel like it's necessary.

              We don't skimp on the care - she goes to Virginia Equine Imaging for lameness evaluations and use Dr. Joyce Harman for chiro/acupuncture. Last chiro was 6 weeks ago and there were no adjustments required, though she said the muscles in her back and hindquarters are very hard - evidence of years of being "rode hard and put away wet".

              I had not thought about the ulcer possibility. I wouldn't have imagined her a candidate based on her general health, but that's a thought.

              Regumate would be something we'd consider if her behavior was cyclical. She definitely has a moody day in a spring cycle, but it doesn't affect her tension.


              • #8
                the muscles in her back and hindquarters are very hard - evidence of years of being "rode hard and put away wet".
                Have you tried massage therapy? I'm guessing this right here is your entire problem. How would you want to 'perform' if your entire back and hind end were hard as a rock?
                You also mentioned her poll area
                The pony was tense and locked at the poll/jaw but had good gaits and was forward.
                This will also create alot of pain.
                I'm thinking with the neck/back/hind end hurting so much...personally I wouldn't want to be doing much either.
                Equine Massage Therapy Classes and Rehab for Horses


                • #9
                  it really sounds like the trainer that got daughter 'tired' has the keys to the (non-grouchy) kingdom.

                  maintaining maresey's training will make her all the more valuable and marketable when daughter is ready for a new horse. as a nappy, fussy, 'tense', difficult horse, she is worth nothing to anyone, she is headed nowhere good if you sell her - and if she's nappy and icky, she's going to be very hard to sell. as a little obedient princess piloting some happy child around a dressage test, she's worth her weight in gold.

                  maintaining maresey's training makes it much easier to get daughter's new horse in the future.

                  there's more to it of course...daughter is going to be a far, far better rider and trainer if she works thru this, and will get a lot more out of the next horse.


                  • #10
                    I know many here will pooh-pooh the use of DMG, but it wouldn't hurt to try. I've used it for years to help break down the lactic acids that cause hard lumps in muscles. And yes, massage and chiropractic will help that, too. Also, do you have a Feldenkrais/T Touch practitioner in your area? I've been using a Feldenkrais practitioner (And Chiropractic and Acuscope therapy) on my new guy with spectacular results. Different problem, though...


                    • #11
                      I think it may not have been mentioned yet - so I'll do it - the tension probably comes at least in part from your daughter. It sounds as though she did well last year and is trying to add some polish, and possibly beginning to feel some competitive urge (you mentioned her improvement, her old scores, the idea that you would be looking for another mount in the not-so-distant future). The added pressure may result in some tension - stiff arms when trying to hold a horse into some kind of "collection" is pretty darn typical and, of course, it takes two to pull. You mentioned your daughter knowing that she should be relying less on her hands/arms and more on her seat/legs - but knowing that and doing it may be two very different things at this stage, particularly when she is at an event, thinking to herself that she "should" be doing better than last year. My guess is, she just needs to relax and remember that it is all supposed to be fun. More hacking out and less dressage may help as much as anything else - I have one dressage horse and one eventer and when my dressage tests start to read like a soap opera, that's what I do
                      Treat Jockey for Spellbound and Smidgeon


                      • #12
                        muscles in the hind quarter should always feel hard.


                        • Original Poster

                          Originally posted by slc2 View Post
                          muscles in the hind quarter should always feel hard.
                          Not like this. I can tell a difference between this and the other fit horses we own. It doesn't feel healthy and firm - I can't describe it...maybe almost like there's no elasticity there?


                          • #14
                            The difference between "hard" and "tense", right?


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by thumbsontop View Post
                              The rider is my nearly 14 yr old C-1 pony clubber with a good, reputable event trainer with a strong dressage background (trainer)...
                              Her trainer thinks that perhaps the pony has reached her limit (mentally or physically) and now that my daughter is more educated in riding with leg and asking for more collection that the pony is becoming more resistant.

                              What are your thoughts?

                              I think I'd trust my "strong, reputable" trainer's opinion. He/she has seen the pony and her potential to go any further with dressage training. Then again, if it's keyboard coaching you're looking for, you've come to the right place!


                              • #16
                                when a fit horse has weight on his hind leg, he feels like a rock when you tap the muscles on his hind quarters. a rock. it should feel like it would break your hand in two if you smacked it. it's not really because the muscles are that tight, it's because there's very little fat over much of the muscle.

                                when the weight is off the hind leg, it's different, of course, but the muscles still have a very 'full' and firm feel to them.


                                • #17
                                  had same experience:: now lightness in hand

                                  Dear thumbsontop: I read this thread because I had a similar experience going from Training Level to First - the 'harder' I tried at First the worse the scores (e.g. got a 58, was encouraged, 'let's try for 60' and got a 53 on next outing...ouch).

                                  My mare is quite willing but easily gets into a stiff poll/jaw connection and of course I wasn't able to do much about it at my level for a long time. My regular instructor was able to keep me from pulling or artificially holding her nose in, but it took several clinics and 2x a month this winter with another trainer to REALLY get the inside leg to outside rein connection going IN MY MIND. We are now doing well, mare is happy and we have the pleasant feeling of contact (like shaking hands) most of the time.

                                  I am going to second Speedy and suggest the mare may be reacting to aids that are telling her 'go' and 'stop' at the same time - you have to have a giving hand and relaxed wrist and elbows to maintain the correct contact. My mare got quite crabby when I was pulling and pushing (didn't mean to but that's what my instructor corrected in lessons) as she was confused and felt she couldn't be successful.

                                  If your daughter is able to master this she will be leaps and bounds ahead in her riding - it is a simple concept but not easy to learn, it has to come through feeling the experience. It sounds like the special instructor has the key and it would be very beneficial to see that instructor as much as possible.

                                  A few things that helped me:;

                                  Focus on keeping elbows at sides, thumbs up and hands together - then the half halts must come from your whole body and you cannot pull with the hand (must keep elbows where they are). TO soften horse to one side or another, turn the wrist like you would turn a doorknob. To give a downward rein aid (half halt or transition) push the hand DOWN into the side of the wither, NOT BACK. (rider will 'open' the elbow joint by doing this and keeping elbow at side).

                                  You did not mention the pony's weight and I have to ask if the pony is in good weight or heavy. My Insulin Resistant mare tied up once on a short, walking hack, and was very uncomfortable moving at all. The 'tie up' feeling will be that the muscles are bound solid, very hard, when usually there would be a little 'bounce' in them standing still at rest. I know this phenomenon is more often discussed with eventers at speed over distance, but for a metabolically inclined animal it can happen with just a little exertion - and this is the time of year with the rich grass that it might happen. Have a blood test of insulin and thyroid to help diagnose this. Just a suggestion.

                                  Best wishes for your daughter and her pony.
                                  Forward...go forward


                                  • #18
                                    Have you tried any sort of magnesium supplement? A month of Quiessence from Smart-Pak is cheap in the grand scheme of things. Several things you mention make me think of that.

                                    As someone who teaches a few PCers, I see a LOT of 'pushing on to the bit.' A lot of muscling them around. It's amazing how strong little girls are! I am not saying your instructor isn't correct, but is there anyone else who can take a look at the pair? It shouldn't be such work. As the horse begins to learn to sit ever-so-slightly, she should feel more adjustible, more supple, and lighter to the aids.

                                    Her mouth isn't hard, but her jaw and neck muscles are very strong.

                                    I know that politics can make it difficult to try another teacher. But *especially* with a cranky mare, not all approaches are going to work. A ride with another teacher could confirm everything teacher #1 has said, and there you go... Or could be a revelation.
                                    InnisFailte Pinto Sporthorses & Coloured Cobs

                                    Bits are like cats, what's one more? (Petstorejunkie)


                                    • #19
                                      Have you attempted a Bute trial to see if that makes a difference?
                                      I'm assuming that the pony travels the same way at home as at a show? If so, do a Bute trial and that will gie you an idea as to if it is pain that is causing it. One way to cross something off your list.



                                      • #20
                                        Also from eventing forum. I've had a bit of this with my guy. I think he was happy enough to fake it at novice level (he's a good mover), but this spring as I started to ask him to carry himself and come through more, he made it pretty clear he thought this was too much work. This is a guy with an appytude, so not totally new, but definitely noticed it. As he is getting stronger and more used to the movements, as well as having his spots worked off, it is improving again.
                                        OTTBs rule, but spots are good too!