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Tips for the horse who occasionally sucks back

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  • Tips for the horse who occasionally sucks back

    This is my horses go to evasion and I'm getting super frustrated. Things can go so well at home but when I go to a show or a lesson or any other place where he doesn't "feel" like paying attention to me he sucks back. It's really hard to deal with because I never know how long I'm going to have to school him to get him forward thinking. I try not to ride him too low. I use light leg aids followed by the whip if needed, I ride lots of transitions to get him thinking and I ride transitions between the gaits. I just doesn't seem like enough. Not only is it exhausting it compromises my position and makes my job that much more difficult. I can get him going but it's on his terms, high head hollow back etc. My timing is not good enough yet to send him forward and catch him before he inverts and hollows and I admit when I'm at a show I really have a hard time warming up a horse with his head in the air so I do try to warm him up a little lower. This is a 2nd level horse and is well aware of leg=go.

    Have you dealt with a horse like this? What has helped? I thought I had this fixed but sometimes he just reverts.

  • #2
    When I encountered the problem with a guy I recently leased for lessons, a German martingale helped me a lot.

    It was my problem, not his, and of course not suitable for show grounds, but using the contraption helped me develop correctly. It circumvented my own bad habits (following rather than keeping my hands still and encouraging (driving, pushing, YMMV) a little more from behind) and so the horse could become confident in my consistent contact.


    • Original Poster

      I wanted to add that yes I can put leg on and get trot or what ever but it's more of a pull with the shoulders trot rather than the push from behind trot that I'm looking for. Basically he is moving but he's not using himself correctly to do so. He's paying as little attention to me as possible and doing things his way.


      • #4
        Oh boy I have one of these. Mine only does it at home as she is fabulous at shows. I am in the process of resetting the go button to an even lighter aid than what I would normally accept. If she doesn't go from a light aid then strong correction. Then I test it again. If I am in the trot and she creeps behind my leg, then small aid with my calf only no spur, and if nothing then she has to canter forward! I have found that the most important part is to be very nice when she is good, be very still, and no helping! Either she is forward off a light aid and I am nice, or there is a big correction until she is nice, and then I am nice immediately when she answers. Timing is everything. My horse is a young Training/First level horse though. I know I don't want this to progress too far as it will become a recurring problem throughout their training. Also pick something they are good at so you can reward lavishly! My girl can really carry, so although she is a baby, I will ask for a few steps of Shoulder in or my trainer just had me do a few half steps while I was on her backing it up with the Piaffe whip and Wow! Awesome! Then the mare got lots of praise and could leave feeling extra special. Good luck! This can be really frustrating so I get it.


        • #5
          Ok just read your second post. You have to be a stickler with your transitions starting from the hind leg and not escaping away from the front of your body. If it isn't just so then immediately back down and do over. You might only get to do a thousand transitions until he is right, but when he is Big Praise!


          • #6
            Have any instructors you can trailer to who are great at helping rider position and effectiveness?

            You mention it messing up your position. So 100% guarantee not letting it and fixing your position will help. Unfortunately, that's not as easy as it sounds! My horse gets tense, and that makes him suck back, and he then comes up in front as it's more his hind end which tenses up. He's usually an angel at home, so I had to seek out situations where he would misbehave to learn to ride it; shows were frustrating because I simply didn't have the tools to know how to ride through it!

            Last night the bobcat in the shadows and oncoming storm were enough to have him pretty upset at my trainer's and wanting to suck back and misbehave, but remembering what I've learned and using it made it a successful ride in which I got the gaits I wanted with the energy I wanted despite the fact his natural desire was to suck back.

            Yes everything said above about transitions, etc., applies. However, that alone wasn't enough for me. What I think of doing as he tries to suck back is pulling my ribs together below my sternum. Another way of putting it is thinking of pushing your sternum into your spine.
            I'll try to use photos from two different clinics to show the difference. The first ones, he was behaving. Notice the greater curve in my back.

            And then there are pics from the day he was just out of his mind. There were a sequence of events leading up to his issues including the fact he hadn't been worked enough after an injury and his stomach still wasn't feeling fantastic after having to be on bute, but the end result was all he wanted to do that day was buck and kick, and he did NOT want to play nicely. Unfortunately the shirt was super loose on me so it doesn't show it as well as I would hope, but you should be able to tell still, and that he is not happy but still playing along at the times I am riding this way. It does change my pelvic angle as well, and just how I move with him - but it's about strength coming from the core instead of using leg/spurs/whip to get forward. If I'm trying to use leg and he's sucking back behind my legs... he just gets farther behind!

            Now my position is very far from perfect in any of the photos. However, I was able to be effective by using my core to give myself strength instead of trying to muscle him through it.

            As far as work on how to reduce the tension, which is key in training your horse to become more rideable at all times... here's a blog I wrote on that subject.

            ETA: On the way BTV image, he had been bucking at the start of that long side, the pic is when he hit forward and a few frames later angle and distance made it so you couldn't see me but his nose had come out and pole up.
            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.


            • #7
              When a horse is not upright or open enough the tendency is to be onto the forehand, then the rider pushes/strains more and more (onto the belly/etc) and the horse learns how to refuse the aids. Have quick effective (vertical) hh which change the balance and THEN apply the aids (with back up if necessary). But that said, some riders end up pulling back to touch the horse with the whip (have a slightly opened rein (inside) before touching/vibrating/or twack IF necessary). And WHERE are you touching with the whip? It MUST be right behind the calf, not into the flanks/croup.

              One always has to ask IF the horse DOES go from 'backing up with a stronger aid ie whip' why it does not CONTINUE to go. That is usually our equitation OR the (too low/closed) outline we are allowing.

              WHO cares if the horse goes forward (hollow/etc)? He chose to go from what you asked. That also tells you that he had to change the use of his balancing rod (aka neck) in order to do what you are asking. You can always then apply a figure (ie circle) to get the horse again connected through the use of lateral flexibility. Remember when training that longtiudinal flexion (aka bit acceptance/etc) originates from lateral flexibility not the other way round.
              I.D.E.A. yoda


              • Original Poster

                WHO cares if the horse goes forward (hollow/etc)? You can always then apply a figure (ie circle) to get the horse again connected through the use of lateral flexibility.
                ugh... I know I shouldn't care and I'm probably doing more harm than not but it's so hard to giraffe it around the arena. You 100% right though. It's what has to happen.

                When a horse is not upright or open enough the tendency is to be onto the forehand, then the rider pushes/strains more and more (onto the belly/etc) and the horse learns how to refuse the aids. Have quick effective (vertical) hh which change the balance and THEN apply the aids (with back up if necessary).
                This is exactly what is happening. He comes out on the FH and I (in an attempt to make him "round" push him more forward and he has absolutely learned how to refuse the aids. At home I have the HH necessary to fix the situation at show's I'm under so much pressure I don't have it 100% yet so it's nowhere near as effective as it needs to be. The stress of the show and of being in front of people combined with the difficulty of getting the HH through exhausts me. I worry that I won't get it in time for my class or that I won't have the energy to ride my test and I almost give up and kind of just hope that it will fix itself. I'm now realizing that's never going to happen.

                some riders end up pulling back to touch the horse with the whip (have a slightly opened rein (inside) before touching/vibrating/or twack IF necessary). And WHERE are you touching with the whip? It MUST be right behind the calf, not into the flanks/croup.
                Yup. This is me too. and yes I think I'm touching on the flank. Due to this I sometimes use the whip on the shoulder which helps to get the front "up" so I can use my leg aid to do the forward.

                NetG. Yes I do have an instructors arena I can go to. The problem is she has me running around the arena for a good 45 min. Not only is it exhausting, it's $$$$.

                I do understand what your saying about keeping your core and position. I was more successful recently with that than I have been in the past.

                Ok just read your second post. You have to be a stickler with your transitions starting from the hind leg and not escaping away from the front of your body. If it isn't just so then immediately back down and do over. You might only get to do a thousand transitions until he is right, but when he is Big Praise!
                This is where I am currently. I am really good at being on top of him and feeling when he's sucking back. At home I'm 100% at show's I'm distracted.

                Then I test it again. If I am in the trot and she creeps behind my leg, then small aid with my calf only no spur, and if nothing then she has to canter forward!
                Yes. This I do.

                be very still, and no helping!
                This I do too. I find I ride 90% of my ride with my legs away from his side.

                So I think through all of this I have come up with a new approach.

                Trailer out and school my horse at the show grounds. No pressure on me and I will be able to focus on getting him working correctly.

                If I have to giraffe it around the arena, so be it. It won't be long and I can just use circles to reconnect him.

                Funny how something so frustrating can be solved if you just step back and thing about what's going on.

                You guys have been great!! Thanks the the tips and reminders....I'm almost excited to haul out and try.....


                • #9
                  I have found more progress with the leg or a spur rather than the whip.

                  What do I know... Give me a whip on a lazy horse and nearly always find a way to get myself bucked off or nearly LOL
                  ~~Member of the TB's Rule Clique ~~


                  • #10
                    This is what works for my horse, who is a naturally forward horse who only uses sucking back occasionally as an evasion. When he offers to suck back though, it is usually a big time offer. Instead of driving him forward at that point, I stop him. I might back him or not, depending on his mood that day. And we stand. And stand. And stand a little longer. I ask for a light willing forward transition, and if we don't get it, we stand a little longer. I am willing to stand there all bloody night if I have to, but it has never taken longer than a few minutes. Obviously, this works best if you have the arena to yourself. After that I do many halt/walk and halt/trot transitions.

                    That's just what works best with this particular horse--he's more of a psychological ride than a physical ride.


                    • #11
                      Sucking back is a form of getting too short on both sides. Use your lateral work! It was created for good reason. Put him in shoulder fore on a big circle and do some trot halts. Give a tap to the bum if he doesn't initiate them with the hind leg. Shoulder fore, shoulder in will lengthen his outside line, making it more difficult to hide behind the vertical.
                      chaque pas est fait ensemble


                      • #12
                        Echoing some of the earlier comments - completely agree that if your horse sucks back it doesn't matter how he goes forward (head up, back hollow etc) he just needs to go. Be very careful that you don't send him forward then unintentionally punish him for responding to your request for forward - the priority at that moment is forward - everything else gets fixed after.

                        Trailering often and to different environments should be helpful - remember this might not get fixed with only one or two outings...it might take a lot of outings. If other people can get on him at various places and ride him without a problem however, then it might be show nerves (yours) that are getting in your way.

                        If you take him to your trainers and he does the same thing then I'd recommend you start there. If you can't take him for a lesson without it being exhausting then usually I wouldn't expect any different at a show. While it can be frustrating to pay for a lesson where you don't get to do "stuff" what you are really paying for is for your trainer to help you find ways to help you with one of your biggest problems! That's well worth the money.

                        Can you change up your day to day environment to create a learning environment for him? This is a great way to stack the deck in your favor. You can control the environment and learning opportunities. If he's noise reactive, then get some audio with various noises interspersed with music, crowd noises etc. If he is visually sensitive try a concept I call "arena junk", start with something he sees frequently - such as a muck bucket. Try putting it in the same place everyday then once he doesn't care begin putting it in a new place everyday. Then try new objects (your sweatshirt, a bag of shavings). Choose safe stable objects that aren't going to blow around, go slowly and make sure you have a good plan for how to approach the object etc.

                        A really good trainer can help you think through the process - it is often different than we think and as the horses skills/experience progress your approach has to change. For example on a very young horse I will usually ask them to stop *before* they get to said object (since at first I am fairly sure they will stop, I want to be the one controlling when they do so) and let them stand and look at it. As their skills (over the months and years) progress I don't even let them stop to look at new objects.

                        Make sure you know what your priorities are and what behavior you are training.

                        Example: Often when horses look at things and suck back things get a bit..."bumpy" and then the rider starts saying "whoa". Unfortunately this simply encourages the horse to suck back more. So the riders reaction really needs to be - my horse fell behind my leg, I need to get him back in front of it. One of the challenging parts is our brains recognize many other things that seem more important/obvious than behind the leg (head up, going sideways .... are frequently more visible to use than the horse getting behind our leg).

                        Good luck!


                        • #13
                          IF the horse comes out with a tendency to hollow/drop the chest/etc one canNOT make the horse 'round' from 'forward'. Roundness comes from how the horse uses the hindlegs. That means hh that WORK to change the entire body, that means flexibility laterally (ie smaller circles/lateral work), perhaps rein back which create a different hindleg dynamic. HH are progressively taught, but they MUST function to 'get the horse's mind' AND change its balance which results in the horse being up and open.

                          Remember there is NO more pressure at shows, that is your own tensions creeping in.

                          Using a whip (or bat for noise) on the shoulder to support the leg 'works'. But you MUST learn how to touch the horse, and practice where to touch. You might need a whippier/more flexibile whip, but you need to keep the thumb up to flick the whip in the proper place.

                          Remember all the transitions in the world, even with oomph, will not result in a change, but only in tension, if the BALANCE they create is not better.

                          The leg should not be off the horse, it should breathe with the horse. But aids are PULSED, not sustained.
                          I.D.E.A. yoda


                          • #14
                            I have a Saddlebred gelding, transitioning from saddle seat, and with more neck than he knows what to do with. Needless to say, in his previous life, he practically lived sucked back behind the bit, neck scrunched (still likes to do that) or BTV. We've been riding dedicated dressage for about 10 months, and he's training/1st level.

                            Raising him UP is NOT a good solution. When you do that, you get a false connection with a dropped back and no hind legs.

                            What has worked really well for us. . . . lots and lots of SIDEWAYS. We practically live in shoulder-in. . . At shows (and a lot at home), most of our warm-up is shoulder-in (fixes the up headed gawking and the contact avoidance). Whenever he doesn't want to reach out to the contact (which is a lot), we go a little sideways. Eventually he figures out that that is hard work and gives it up, and takes up nice contact. He is getting better with the connection, but it started out as much much more than *occasional* sucking back. . .

                            The other thing I do when he ducks is to 1. not throw my reins away, that just rewards that behavior. maintain contact, even if he's btv. 2. big half halt, using lots of stomach and calf, but holding my contact, then 3. releasing the half halt, and slightly releasing the hands to allow him forward into the contact. Sometimes that half halt is with a touch of sideways too.

                            Just what has worked for us. Believe me, I know how frustrating this problem is, but it can get better! And honestly, I've kindof given up on worrying if he's a touch btv, both my instructor and a clinician I lessoned with this spring told me that they'd rather see a little bit of LDR on occasion than lack of contact at this level.


                            • #15
                              My older mare did this - so I galloped her before we started arena work to get her forward.
                              Now in Kentucky


                              • #16
                                not that you can do this at a show, but at home, what helps me deal with this in my 4 yr old: trot poles. not every day, but 1x a week. And just recently i've added some small cross rails to perk him up a bit.
                                I probably wont do that more than once a week either, given his age

                                but both of these things seem to really help with this issue.
                                My blog: Change of Pace - Retraining a standardbred via dressage


                                • #17
                                  oh- one more thing I forgot to add. Your hands need to be very quiet, forgiving, with no sudden or harsh movements. I have some of my best rides when I think, "I'm not going to use my hands at all today." I tend to find we have pretty much everything we need in my seat, core, and legs. We have a much better back to front ride that way, and we tend to have better connection too when he's not worried that I might quick yank on one of my reins.


                                  • #18
                                    I have a mare who uses sucking back as her "go to" evasion as well. Lateral work helps her more than anything, especially travers and renvers. I'll ask for tiny versions of both in our warm up, just for a few strides, and then send her on in front of both legs. I don't care if they're ugly or too shallow or whatever; I just want to get her moving her hips around and loosening up her loin. Shoulder-in helps too, though she is sneaky and can still evade truly going INTO the contact in SI if I'm not careful (especially early in the ride). I do the renvers/travers stuff A LOT...switching it up between the two moves (with a few strides of straight in between...I don't slam her from one to the other), changing directions, asking on a circle, etc. Then, when I do straighten her and bump her up with my legs at the girth, she's usually MORE than willing to give me a bit more energy, LET GO of her back, and come through to my hands better.

                                    On a similar note, this past winter I worked a bit with clicker training to get her thinking forward. You have to be careful with it because of the horse's tendency to want to STOP when they hear the clicker and look for a treat, but if it's trained correctly, the clicker "marks" the good behavior, and you can keep traveling for a bit before coming down to nice, balanced halt and offering a treat. It really worked well for my mare...YMMV.


                                    • #19
                                      I second the Valentina's comment about warming up with a gallop/hand gallop/big canter.

                                      My young horse, who is growthy and learning how to carry himself in the "up/forward" frame can get really behind the leg and even a bit nasty/nappy. Part of the issue was how I was pushing him--too heavy rein (not making him carry), nagging leg and leaning back and sitting on my pockets.

                                      The basic problem that all these problems stemmed from was simply a dullness to the forward aid. Now, we begin the ride with a rousing canter, and the only right answer is FORWARD, even when the work gets tough and he has to work to find the right balance. Doing some lungework and demanding forward--very forward--helped reinstall the button. He's long legged and short backed, so he needs a lot of carrying power to stay "up." I used to not want the forward if it got scrambly or hollow--now I realize I need the forward FIRST before I can finesse the roundness and balance.

                                      It's an obedience issue. Try the canter warmup. Make him scoot forward when you tap with the whip on the lunge.
                                      2007 Welsh Cob C X TB GG Eragon
                                      Our training journal.
                                      1989-2008 French TB Shamus Fancy
                                      I owned him for fifteen years, but he was his own horse.


                                      • Original Poster

                                        Thanks for all the replies and suggestions.

                                        I figured out the problem. My horse does not have a forward problem..... I have a forward problem.

                                        My horse could care less how he looks at a show. The only thing he cares about is weather I'm going to make him work hard or not. If I don't have the confidence to ride him at a show like I ride him at home he's not going to do it on his own.

                                        I need to realize that at a show there is going to be a little more tension in his body and when I first get on I may only have a TL horse to ride right then. It's up to me to make him into the 2nd level horse I know he can be. It's up to me to forget about all of the other people and how we look for the moment and just get him out and moving. Once he's moving than I can mold him where I need him and going back if I need to.

                                        For the past few days that's all I've worked on and voila he's forward soft and happy. Of course we are not at a show but I'm concentrating on just him and how he feels rather than what I want to work on that day. Once I feel that he needs more suppleness here or there and I'm able to work it out of him things go much smoother.

                                        Sometimes the lessons are technical and sometimes they're mental. This one was mental.