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Retraining a "problem horse"

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  • Retraining a "problem horse"

    Long story as to how the horse got to this point. All physical reasons for any bad behavior have been resolved. Now I am left with behavioral issues I need to resolve. I am a new rider to this horse so issues were not created by me. I am an amateur and not a professional but have brought a handful of young horses along. Horse is no longer a youngster so dealing with behaviors that have been going on for a while. Horse has NOT been trained by a dressage trainer and has never been ridden with dressage basics in mind. Horse most definitely needs a career change and I am the last hope for horse becoming a solid citizen under saddle. (For the record, the last trainer has minimal issues with horse but works around the horse's issues. That is, does not solve the issues so that others can ride the horse. And no one but the trainer has much success riding horse.)

    The nuts and bolts of it is that the horse was never taught to accept contact. She has caught on quickly at the walk. Trot will SOMETIMES start nicely and then she starts resisting contact. Nothing dangerous and quiet persistence can work here. Canter is pretty much a disaster. She will canter politely only if you get up in 2 point and throw away the reins. Touch her mouth and she bucks - use too much leg and she bucks. Do anything she doesn't like at the canter and she bucks and/or speeds up to the point it is not pleasant.

    So, my plan is as follows:
    1. Realize this is NOT a quick fix but a longer term project. I am thinking 6-12 months.
    2. Start longeing in side reins. Obviously start them long so as not to have a train wreck on my hands. Have tested this and appears it will be doable.
    3. Build a foundation from the walk and keep working on the trot in a quiet, persistent manner.

    Now comes the main question...
    Would you just forget the canter until you can trot on contact and do walk/trot and trot/walk transitions quietly with the horse staying round and on the aids. Knowing this may be many months of only walking and trotting.

    Or, would you do SHORT canters in the manner the horse is comfortable (2 point, no contact) and try to build off that by slowly adding contact and a half seat.

    Also, sometimes head throwing that is a bit disconcerting can happen. Horse is fine with a standing martingale. Would you start with a standing martingale for safety and then progress to a running martingale and then progress to no martingale? What about a German martingale?

    Horse is ridden in a jointed happy mouth. Any bit suggestions? I tried a Duo on her but the lack of brakes was unsettling - she would tend to lean on that bit and speed up. May try it again, however. It worked wonders with my mare that would always duck behind the bit to avoid contact (and who now goes in a KK Ultra and does great with normal contact.)

    And to head off this line of discussion...I don't feel I am in over my head. I do have an emotional attachment to this horse. I hesitate to send her off to a trainer because I don't want the process rushed and I am pretty sure any "force" will end in absolute disaster. I just don't know any dressage trainer in the area that is good with "problem horses." I haven't ruled this out entirely but so far it is not my top choice. I am confident I can fix things at the walk and trot and will be very careful not to make things WORSE at the canter. If needed, I will get professional help with the canter.

    Edited to add that I *DO* plan on taking some lessons on this horse with my regular dressage trainer. Just want to get her longeing decently in side reins before we make the haul for lessons. So, I am basically just interested in any ideas anyone has - especially if anyone has had success retraining a horse with similar issues!
    Last edited by HorseShopping; Oct. 5, 2012, 04:07 PM.

  • #2
    I'd leave the canter alone for a bit, but when you do get to it, I'd work with her on the lunge with side reins or vienna reins, and let her work out her contact issues without you on board.

    Comment


    • #3
      I would at halt/walk/trot take up contact and let the horse down the contact to loose reins and back up again about a million times gently to allow them to feel no reason for claustorphobia.
      ~~Member of the TB's Rule Clique ~~
      http://www.off-breed-dressage.blogspot.com/

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      • #4
        put the canter away

        Until you have her COMPLETELY accepting contact at the walk and trot, and I don't mean for two strides, I mean for an entier 30 minute ride, then just put the canter away. Really. If you truly, truly want to fix it, there are dozens and dozens of good exercises at the walk and trot you can do. When she has a lovely, forward trot, up in the bridle, with no head flinging, good upward and downward transitions, good halts, and you have a horse who will truly accept correct contact for the entire session, then at some point, with a very good instructor, you can add canter. It will likely happen when you start to add trot lengthenings. Usually, what happens is for a couple of strides, you'll have a wonderful canter. Make sure you revert to trot before it goes away. Canter will then be, a reward, big trot, is HARD, slow canter is Much Easier!!

        It will take months. Not days, not weeks, months.

        There is no shame in a standing martingale, adjusted only tight enough for the "hand in throat latch test", no tighter, make sure her bridle and bit fit correctly. If you don't know, ask someone who does. Don't even think about a running martigale, I would put the side reins away. The reason for that is you can't release if she spaz's out, she'll just run off.

        Her head does not have to be verticle right now. It is important to ride her as straight as possible.

        You will add contact in increments. First at the walk. You will do lots of serpentines, lots of spirals, move her shoulders, not her head and neck.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by NOMIOMI1 View Post
          I would at halt/walk/trot take up contact and let the horse down the contact to loose reins and back up again about a million times gently to allow them to feel no reason for claustorphobia.
          Yep

          I'd honestly not ride her much til she will go happily forward at all 3 gaits in high, tight side reins on the lunge. The road to that involves starting long and low, and gradually raising and shortening the side reins over a period of several weeks. I'd want prompt "yes ma'am" responses to everything on the lunge before I expect her to give me yes ma'am under saddle.

          This doesn't sound like a contact issue, it sounds like a forward issue.
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          • #6
            You said that the physical issues have been resolved, but have you had her teeth done? I would look there first, especially way in the back as those often get overlooked or ignored. Then look at the bit and try a bunch of different ones - french link, KK ultra (or similar), Myler snaffles, etc. Look at different cheek pieces, also.

            With regard to riding, I'd stick to walk and trot for now, although you could work her at the canter in the round pen. Really try to be aware of your body and using your aids independently - soft hands that follow her mouth at the walk, that don't jerk in a transition, that don't "see-saw" to try to get her head down; seat that moves with her and doesn't block her; legs that drape softly at her sides and don't transmit tension. Carry your hands lightly and forward and let her come to you.

            Is she good out of the arena? Take her on trail rides and work out in nature - a change of scenery can do a world of good.

            This will likely take a long time to work out so be patient - that will be your best tool. You may want to bring her for lessons even if she's not confirmed lunging - your trainer can help you with lunge exercises, body-engaging/moving exercises, and she can get to know her and the problem so she can offer homework for you to focus on.
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            • #7
              Build on the positive, like the others have said. Don't even try to canter her u/s till she is completely solid at the other gaits.

              When you say this other trainer did ok, but she worked around the problem, what did she do? Canter the horse without contact? Or just avoid the canter?

              As for bucking -- I would suggest she maybe have been use to TOO MUCH contact in the past if she is bucking. Or back pain. Or ulcer pain. I know you've said it's been check out, but I've heard that before...the vet runs a hand down the horse's back and says, "Hmmm, I don't see anything..." and that's the pain check.

              BIG difference between a vet running a hand down and a 150lb person bouncing on the back.

              Why do you think you are the last chance for this horse? Surely there are homes other than dressage/show homes for her?

              If you canter her in a halter with YOU riding her, does she still buck?

              Comment


              • #8
                I used a set up to lunge with...a draw rein from center girth between front legs, through snaffle rings, to under the stirrups and over saddle, with light contact in a long frame. I agree that riding with any type of sliding reins won't help and could get you in trouble as there is no clean release but I would want to have a method to lunge her that can assess her as you work and hopefully progress. It can also help you decide if there is possibly a medical issue with her mouth, her vertibrae, her back, neurological, physiological, psychological...and today we are finding metabolic health is an issue as well...you are looking for anything that seems abnormal. I use this sliding rein to lunge regularly I admit so I have a good idea what normal reponses to this rein and restraint is. You can use it with other horses to compare what normal respones might be as opposed to her response. With the rein set up this way the only way she can't move her neck and head is up and the action of the rein would then encourage her to either go back to her heutral position of to be rewarded for stretching down. She can stretch nose out as well.

                In her case I would be looking for where the resistances occur. If she was a normal horse in this rein then the issues are coming with the rider on board it could indicate this is all about pain or discomfort. If she resists entirely and will not stretch down. This might indicate where her pain is located.

                I have had horses like this who were convinced training was all bad and mentally who wouldn't yeild and succeeded pretty fast based on first teaching that training could be a pleasure she will be rewarded for trying...you would be surprised to find many horses never were taught about reward. Verbal reward is really key and sometimes you need to associate verbal reward with a treat reward or a grooming reward. First you need to find what she considers a reward. Like training dogs some horses are food motivated, some are motion motivated, some become tense if touched, some relax if touched. Some the presence of food makes manners go out the window. I work to find or transition to a good easy training reward that the horse considers a reward. This can be as simple as teaching that "Good Girl" is a pleasure to hear and "ack" means she is not being good at all. I agree with 2ndrygal that this is about accepting contact(and training) and creatively using the exercises to create opportunities to reward...it is not about the canter gait yet.

                This all assumes you have cleared her medically with a good performance vet. That obvious areas of pain can't be palpated, that she has good dental health and her bit seat is good. Also it is important that she be in good condition and fitness to be trained. If she has no muscle then the time spent strengthening her suspension system is more important than her training per say. Likely her muscles are strong to support an upside down horse. The upside muscles are too short and inelastic and the bottom side muscles are too long and lack the ability to shorten. Exercises we choose are intended to correct imbalance. PatO

                Comment


                • #9
                  what is her confirmation like and what saddle are you riding in ? IE: is she long backed or short or is she average? Oh and what breed and or line ?

                  Comment

                  • Original Poster

                    #10
                    Horse had her teeth done in April. Had a granulosa cell tumor removed in June and had a lameness exam done in Sept. Also had a chiro in Sept. I think we have all the physical issues covered.

                    Trainer rode with no contact and has ridden horse for 4 or 5 years. So horse goes fairly decently for her. I can canter if I throw away the reins.

                    My gut feeling was no canter under saddle until the trot is super solid. Kind of one of those thimgs where one day it will just happen.

                    She does pretty well at the walk and moves off your leg. I try to get her really good at the walk, ask for the trot and keep the same feeling at the trot. I think O need to do that 8 million times with a short enough trot that she does not fall apart.

                    Horse is 9 - suspect that she had the tumor since she was 5.

                    Not a lot of homes for a difficult horse. If this doesn't work out, she will just live in my pasture for the next umpteen years.

                    Comment

                    • Original Poster

                      #11
                      She is long backed. Oldenburg by the deceased american stallion Walk On Top.

                      Riding her in my jumping saddle right now but will switch to my Passier Grand Gilbert when I bring the mare home.

                      Yes, she has developed "upside down" muscles. So can concentrate on building correct muscles through the walk and trot.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by 2ndyrgal View Post
                        It will take months. Not days, not weeks, months.
                        I do not think it will necessarily take months.

                        Put it in side reins like some of the others said, have it go FORWARD into them, increase the "challenge" of the side reins over a few sessions, do a couple of sessions trot/walk/trot transitions staying FORWARD, big steps/little steps staying FORWARD, be brave and back up your requests with the whip even if it bucks, and go from there.

                        Not necessarily weeks and weeks.
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                        • #13
                          Do you know she can go happily in side reins? BE CAREFUL. I have seen mares do some ugly things when they feel the side reins. THey can get seriously hurt.

                          Go take a peek at the french school thread.
                          “Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
                          ? Albert Einstein

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            I would ignore the canter until she can canter on the lunge, in sidereins, like a solid citizen.

                            I would at the very least put a running martingale on her, and if you are experienced a german martingale will give you a little bit of leverage and a stop point for how much she can act up.

                            If she bucks you have got to whack her to make her go because she has learned that bucking gets her out of work. So you have to be a bit of a bad guy and stick with her until she realizes that she's not going to be in pain and yes she is going to behave.

                            It's going to get real ugly before it gets better because horses like this will always keep pushing until they realize you aren't going to give up and only then will they start to think about other options.

                            So if you aren't going to stick with it, and if you are worried about falling off so that you restrict her or give in when she bucks it isn't going to work.
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                            • #15
                              Sounds like she has a problem with going forward and she is a bit sensitive and confused about what is being asked of her. She is obviously sensitive in her mouth and when asked she is expecting a release, and she is expecting that release way way faster then most normal horses do. Looks like maybe she was taught that once asked then she is going to get that release, and that is where she is resisting your contact. She is not use to having someone constantly on her face (contact). She wants the release. Same thing with your leg. You ask then you release. Too much leg and she bucks. She is just telling you that was too much leg. You obviously don't need that much. If she is not responding to your soft leg then the basics are lacking. She is an overly sensitive mare, one reason some people don't like mares. Some horses just don't like that much contact and that much leg.
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                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Originally posted by HorseShopping View Post
                                Horse had her teeth done in April. Had a granulosa cell tumor removed in June and had a lameness exam done in Sept. Also had a chiro in Sept. I think we have all the physical issues covered.

                                Trainer rode with no contact and has ridden horse for 4 or 5 years. So horse goes fairly decently for her. Trainer rode with no contact and has ridden horse for 4 or 5 years. So horse goes fairly decently for her

                                My gut feeling was no canter under saddle until the trot is super solid. Kind of one of those things where one day it will just happen.

                                She does pretty well at the walk and moves off your leg. I try to get her really good at the walk, ask for the trot and keep the same feeling at the trot. I think O need to do that 8 million times with a short enough trot that she does not fall apart.

                                Horse is 9 - suspect that she had the tumor since she was 5.

                                Not a lot of homes for a difficult horse. If this doesn't work out, she will just live in my pasture for the next umpteen years.
                                urm- not going with every one else as you have said a couple of things which surgest to me your hanging on her head end and are heavy in hte hands and handset so horsey advading you which is normal
                                like you said your a novice rider riding ahorse that knows its job and trying to retrian something that doesnt need training


                                you do - half the time horses have problems is because of the rider riding it

                                clue one-

                                trianer

                                Trainer rode with no contact and has ridden horse for 4 or 5 years. So horse goes fairly decently for her

                                clue 2 you

                                if you throw away the contact she will canter -------

                                clue 3

                                The nuts and bolts of it is that the horse was never taught to accept contact. She has caught on quickly at the walk. Trot will SOMETIMES start nicely and then she starts resisting contact. Nothing dangerous and quiet persistence can work here. Canter is pretty much a disaster. She will canter politely only if you get up in 2 point and throw away the reins. Touch her mouth and she bucks - use too much leg and she bucks. Do anything she doesn't like at the canter and she bucks and/or speeds up to the point it is not pleasant.



                                answer - give as in you give - some horses are light in the mouth the more you are heavy the more they resist so give
                                asin in lighten your contact and dont tilt or lean into her - let her flow

                                read all the links one page one of helpful links pages

                                http://www.chronofhorse.com/forum/sh...d.php?t=178116

                                this one inperticular

                                http://www.meredithmanor.com/feature...t_evasions.asp

                                Comment

                                • Original Poster

                                  #17
                                  Not going to get in a big argument on an internet forum but you could not be more wrong. I am an amateur but not a "novice." I have brought horses along from scratch. I got this horse maybe 2 weeks ago and I had nothing to do with creating the problems. I am trying to fix them. Trainer flat told me she just "doesn't go there" when it comes to ANY contact. She rides this horse with a loop in the rein. Horse failed at its previous job and now I am JUST STARTING the process of trying to retrain it to be a lower level dressage horse. I am not heavy handed in the least with this horse. This horse WAS NOT started with a good foundation. Trainer then got the horse and worked around the holes in the horse's training instead of taking the time to fix the huge holes in the horse's basic training. I need to go back to square one and attempt to fix the holes.

                                  I appreciate the helpful responses, of which there were many. It has solidified my decision to shelve the canter under saddle and get the walk and trot super, super solid. I think either this will work and one day it will just "feel right" to canter. Or it won't and the poor horse will retire at a very young age. I am also going to try some trail riding when I get her home. I am 98% sure the horse has never been ridden outside of the arena before. Whoever said it may be right - a change of scenery might do wonders for her attitude.

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by horsefaerie View Post
                                    Do you know she can go happily in side reins? BE CAREFUL. I have seen mares do some ugly things when they feel the side reins. THey can get seriously hurt.

                                    Go take a peek at the french school thread.
                                    I've seen ugly behavior also when they don't want to go into the contact, be careful, please. Have you tried a Baucher bit on her? Have seen success with this bit on horses who have issues with contact. Good luck and keep us updated.
                                    "You gave your life to become the person you are right now. Was it worth it?" Richard Bach

                                    Comment

                                    • Original Poster

                                      #19
                                      Trust me, the last thing I want is for the horse or me to get hurt. That is part of the reason I do NOT want to send her to a trainer right now. They have more of a sense of time pressure of needing to fix things soon. I can trail ride the horse all winter if that is what it takes.

                                      I have longed her in LONG side reins and she was okay with that. It would be a disaster, in my opinion, to try normal length side reins at this time. She is one to fight instead of give in. But, I have been encouraged at her progress at the walk and trot, in just a few rides. She is pretty good at the walk and there have been some very positive steps here and there at the trot. If I get her set up at the walk, it's almost like she picks up a relaxed trot with the lightest of contacts and then after 5-10 steps says "oh wait, what in the world am I doing!" LOL So, I need to start bringing her back to the trot before she decides going nice and relaxed with the start of a neck stretch is a bad idea.

                                      I just needed some reassurance that NOT cantering was the right thing to do. I can still canter her on the longe line but there is a lot we can do at the walk and trot. Hopefully by spring we will be the oldest, kick-ass Intro pair out there! :-)

                                      Patience is a virtue will be my mantra the next few months!

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        honestly? get help. now. no one on a BB will be able to help you and you may instead get hurt.

                                        the issues this horse has will need to be ridden out by a well seated, educated rider .

                                        spend the $$ on a month of full training.

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