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Apparently my horse's mouth is dead *Another Update for the Curious*

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  • Apparently my horse's mouth is dead *Another Update for the Curious*

    Well, I always knew my new guy was a bit tough mouthed, but I always attributed it partly to him being OTTB, and partly due to green-ness and a lack of fitness. During my last lesson, trainer had to get on as I just could NOT get him to soften rigt or get off my right leg. Trainer's first comment "wow, his mouth is totally dead".

    I have some things I'm working on to try and supple him up, and we've changed his bit from a sprenger loose ring to a full cheek French link. I've been incorporating lots of lunging as well so that he has a really consistent contact with the side rein and as soon as he leans i can pish him forward immediately, but I feel like it's not getting any better. Downward transitions are horrendous, he will jig in the walk, and in the trot and especially canter he loves to lean on the hands, brace down and just truck away getting longer and longer. He is VERY reactive to leg and will scoot away from the lightest aids, but its like he periodically shuts down, drops his inside shoulder, bulges into the inside leg and rein and will not soften at all. I've enlisted my trainer to start riding him a few times a week as I feel like I can't fix this alone and wih my work schedule this horse needs 6 days a week and I just can't give that to him right now. He's really a super guy so it's worth it to me to try and fix this, and everyone thinks he has a ton of potential, but man, sometimes it's like tying to ride a 2x4 :/

    What are your experiences with horses like this? Is it fixable? Or will they always have that 'deadness' to them? Thanks
    Last edited by JustABay; Feb. 3, 2013, 10:07 PM.

  • #2
    I don't have anything to provide, but I'm interested to read the replies. I have a gelding that had a partially paralyzed face along with a broken jaw and partially blind eye from some trauma when he was between 0 and 2 (I rescued him as a long yearling, the jaw was healed by that point) and I've noticed that in one direction, he's like riding a 2x4. With regular dressage work several years ago, he improved, but was never really supple. He's been off work for a couple of years now and he's back to trying to bend a freight train.

    But after all that babbling. I'd be interested to know if your horse is hard mouthed or literally can't feel. I suspect mine can't feel on the one side, but it's always possible that he still feels some pressure, even if it's not quite normal.


    • #3
      how long have you been working him?


      • #4
        Your horses mouth is not dead. It is just uneducated to what response *you* want it to have to the aids. He needs to be retrained.

        How to do that would take more time to type out than the doing but I would start with being sure your trainer understands the issue. It concerns me a bit, that she said "dead mouth". Of course it could have just been something flippant but it is something that can be misunderstood.. It an antiquated idea, a dead mouth.
        "Kindness is free" ~ Eurofoal
        The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances.


        • #5
          My first horse had no mouth when I got him also was an OTTB and i was a beginner. He got better with training but he never really was as responsive as other horses that I've owned, my current horse goes completely off the seat. Here's what I learned from him, for what it's worth, I taught him, and he taught me,that the release(softening of the rein) was important if you hang on the rein they hang back. I both jumped and did dressage. I occationally used a pelham when I jumped but found a loose ring with either a flash(he opened his mouth) or a clencher noseband allowed me control when we jumped, we did 3'3" hunters for years. For dressage I also used the loose ring 14mm KK bit when they first came out and taught him to stop using my abdominal muscles. As he aged 24/25 I switched him over to a Dr Cooks Bitless bridle as we only trail rode/hacked. For him I wish I had that when he was actually going to see if I could have retrained him to have a softer mouth. He couldn't hang on that bridle and I had more control than with any bit. Not legal to show with but it was great fun. For you a pelham might be something to school with that and teaching him to more go off your seat than your hand might be the trick. I'm sure there are others that have differing opinions but that is what I found worked for my horse, good luck and enjoy the journey.


          • #6

            Other than that..get off his face. Literally, drop the reins and work him. Forget contact, working in a frame, "dressage", just get him to do some transitions on a loose rein without you on his face.

            Try just letting him go where he wants. If you aren't too confident, try this in a roundpen if you need. Drop your contact and ask him to walk/trot, trot/walk, etc. Once you feel brave enough, ask for a canter. WITHOUT CONTACT.

            Really, I'm seeing the issue as he's just been through too much hauling, pulling, leaning, uncaring of the bit in his mouth. He's given up, and associated it with pain and frustration. You'll have to take that away from him so he can finally go, "Oh! So you mean the bit actually means something!?! It isn't just there to be leaned on?!"

            I suggest working in a bitless for awhile.


            • #7
              You might try reading some articles by Andrew McLean. He is a scientist and has done a lot of actual research on how to get a horse to respond.
              I have a Fjord! Life With Oden


              • #8
                Maybe he needs things to back up a few steps and get used to all the new aids first? Sounds like he's probably confused by everything that's going on. Maybe you've already worked on it though, sorry I'm not much help.

                ETA- you probably already know this, but a lot of OTTBs are stiff to the right. They are used to working left on the track. They also don't handle a lot of hand or leg in the beginning. A jockey or exercise rider don't use much in the way of leg or seat aids, and often will shorten the reins for the faster gallops. Dressage is almost an opposite experience to what they're used to at the track.


                • #9
                  You don't say how old he is, or how long he's been off the track. Since many are trained to lean on your hands when on the track, more contact just means leaning more. Not a 'dead mouth', but one that's been taught to balance on your hands. You need to be the first to let go. I don't mean just throw your reins away, but take, take, give, take, take, give. He has to learn find his own balance first, and hanging on to him or lunging him with tight side reins isn't going to help.


                  • #10
                    Stealing from another thread--someone just posted about sustainabledressage.net. They have a great run-down and explanation of nosebands. Check out their explanation of the Kineton noseband. It's certainly making me re-think the pullers/heavy horses I've ridden.



                    • #11
                      I second EqTrainer. The mouth is not dead. It's a training issue that can be retaught. I've seen my fair share! :-) Just remember it takes two to pull so if he gets heavy and won't cone up off your leg...drop him. I had a HORRIBLE leaner that could pull me right out of the saddle (PercheronX with a short thick neck!). After trying to get the engagement behind to elevate her front we realized she just wasn't strong enough yet. However pulling me out of the saddle when working on a light following contact wasn't OK as she strengthened. So we trotted around, she pulled, she pulled harder, she leaned on me...I pushed my hands forward to slack the contact and she went down on her knees. Repeat twice. Smart mare realized I was in fact not Superwoman and could not hold her 1400lb body up. She stopped very quickly. Then it allowed me to work her properly from behind into the light contact she was offering. Sounds like this horse has just not been taught the correct answer. I'd go back to basics and really work him back to front. Don't get into a pulling match...you'll never win!! :-)

                      Just remember that anything that has been desensitized can be resensitized. There are countless ways to do it. It all depends on the individual horse. On a side note a horse leaning on one particular rein usually does so due to either a balance issue in himself or the rider. Make sure you aren't falling to one direction. Most horses will adapt their body to center you...usually hanging on the opposite rein to do so. Good luck!!
                      Please excuse the typos...I'm always on my iPhone and autocorrect is not my friend. Yes I mean mares autocorrect...not mates.


                      • #12
                        You are focusing on the wrong end of the horse.

                        Roundness and softness come of themselves when the hind end engages. Transitions come from the language of your body. Your fingers support the request your body makes, relaxing instantly the second the transition goes through. Many horses that are ridden off the hand become what I term "defensive with their mouths", they either lock their jaw and ignore you entirely, or go hollow.

                        Problems like these are not solved by changing bits unless you get to "just plain I wanna stop" bits. It involves changing the way you approach your riding.
                        Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

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


                        • #13
                          First step would be Chiro and massage. I highly recommend Kit Heidt of Animal Krackers. He travels the whole country working on horses, and when he's done the adjustment holds and the horses feel amazing.

                          Next would be some standing jaw flexion a, carrot stretches, and purchasing non elastic side reins. (Get a stiff donut with a leather check if you have trouble finding non elastic)

                          He's going to need an educated seat and a rider that isn't going to get all inside rein happy on him. TBs have very nice mouths once they learn seat and leg
                          chaque pas est fait ensemble


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by EqTrainer View Post
                            Your horses mouth is not dead. It is just uneducated to what response *you* want it to have to the aids. He needs to be retrained.

                            How to do that would take more time to type out than the doing but I would start with being sure your trainer understands the issue. It concerns me a bit, that she said "dead mouth". Of course it could have just been something flippant but it is something that can be misunderstood.. It an antiquated idea, a dead mouth.
                            THIS. And I would re-train him to "Legs without hands, hands without legs." The bit is meaningless to him--white noise. He's sensitive to your legs, and a horse will always override the stimulus that he's LEAST sensitized to. Usually this is your leg, but in your guy's case the bit. He was probably taught to run into, and onto, the pressure on the racetrack which is very common.

                            I would start with ground flexions, work-in-hand, and then ride him assiduously with separation and moderation of the aids. See French School threads for more.
                            I rode an OTTB just like this back in the 80's, and would dismount with a burning cramp between my shoulder blades. Force begets nothing but more force. You really have to change methods to break this cycle.


                            • #15
                              . "He was probably taught to run into, and onto, the pressure on the racetrack which is very common." --Lady Eboshi

                              Too true.. exercise riders commonly sit up, allowing their weight tosettle into the saddle, and drop the reins at the end of a gallop.

                              They also quiet their seat, and sit quietly and following.
                              Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

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


                              • #16
                                Your horse's mouth is not dead! What a negative nancy your trainer seems. Here I was, clicking on this thread thinking the nerves had died in your horse's face due to some terrible injury! I have an old OTTB-turned-polo-pony. I stopped riding her like a WB just a few months ago: create a wall with the bit and use leg to push the horse into it.

                                Not what she needed. That turned her into lalala I can't hear you! I think the articles at the link Cindyg provided outline it all beautifully: separate the aids. Create a completely predictable consequence to every aid.
                                Disclaimer: My mom told me that people might look at my name and think I had an addiction other than horses. I don't; his name was Bravado.


                                • Original Poster

                                  Some more background info - bought this horse in July right off the track. Gave him a couple weeks to settle in and then started him in a program, lots of hacking around, lunging with side reins (I use donut ones) and work under saddle. I see my trainer once a week, however with my new job I haven't had much time to ride, let alone take lessons.

                                  The fix for the lean has always been to kick him forward, however that comes with a double edged sword. He will scoot forward and since I give my reins away to give nothing to lean on he just tanks away faster and faster on the forehand. He also has no brakes and I sometimes have to run him into the wall to stop him. Pulling does absolutely nothing for him, except make him heavier and stronger, and the one time he did take off on me I just about ripped his teeth out of his head trying to pull him up and zero reaction from him... and I'm very tall and pretty strong. He also goes in a crank noseband with flash as per my trainer.

                                  He is similar on lunge, downward transitions are awful, he takes forever to stop and I can't pull on the lunge line or he just yanks back. He will jig instead of walk at times as well and I can't seem to stop that either. I am beyond frustrated as my last OTTB was so easy and soft in the mouth that the slightest movement from my fingers was heard.

                                  He is SO fancy and such a nice mover that it really frustrates me. I'm toying with just sending him for training as I am not really equipped to fix this kind of thing and I am nowhere near consistent either


                                  • #18
                                    As EquiTrainer said; This is more than can be handled by a BB paragraph or two or three.

                                    You and obviously your trainer are riding off your hands. He has no idea what you are talking about when you kick him forward and pull on the reins. To him it means go forward, faster.

                                    Then you drop the contact. Fine! but what is your tense body and seat saying? I'll wager that it isn't saying "Walk" or "Whoa".

                                    I'm a big fan of Jane Savoie's video series. She, step by step explains things, such as the halfhalt which has little or nothing to do with reins. The alternative is finding another instructor who can put you on an educated horse who will give you the correct response to the correct aid or combination of aids. They are wonderful teachers. I've spent much time holding a longe line with a patient horse trotting, and a frustrated reinless rider searching for the combo of aids which worked yesterday, and they can't find today to get to the walk. They get very good at finding it.
                                    Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

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


                                    • #19
                                      I had an OTTB- that had been off track for a few years, and (very poorly) trained my an amateur before I got him.

                                      I would describe his mouth as dead – he had calluses, and scars from where the corners of his mouth had been split. He was built with a low set neck and would just LEAN against those reins if you let him – just dull and heavy in the bridle.

                                      After trying a bunch of different bits, I ended up riding him in a mechanical hackamore to retrain him. He was much lighter in that, and responded to my requests for bend / lifting his neck etc.

                                      The hackamore allowed me to ride him correctly, which in turn helped him develop the muscles and fitness he needed to be able to carry himself correctly. From there, I started riding in two reins, one on a loose ring snaffle, and the other on a jumping hackamore – re-introducing the bit, and resorting to the hackamore rein anytime he tried to brace or get heavy. With more practice and strength, he became more consistent in the bridle.

                                      I ended up being able to ditch the hackamore completely, and rode him in a lose ring snaffle. He was never a terribly “light” horse, but much much better than how he had been. I evented this horse to prelim level – lose ring snaffle for dressage, and a three ring for jumping.
                                      APPSOLUTE CHOCKLATE - Photo by Kathy Colman


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by JustABay View Post
                                        He also has no brakes and I sometimes have to run him into the wall to stop him. Pulling does absolutely nothing for him, except make him heavier and stronger, and the one time he did take off on me I just about ripped his teeth out of his head trying to pull him up and zero reaction from him... and I'm very tall and pretty strong. He also goes in a crank noseband with flash as per my trainer.
                                        I think you need to take him back to basics. You MUST install a stop before you start to working at speed! One of the first things I teach an OTTB is a one rein stop. I then do a lot of walking and walk/halt transitions both on the lunge and under saddle. I want to reinforce the verbal commands while i'm on the ground so they carry through when I'm riding. I'm restarting a horse right now and I haven't even trotted him under saddle yet and won't until we have steering and brakes (I ride in a field, not a ring so am very conservative).

                                        Personally, I wouldn't put a crank noseband on a horse that's this green and confused. I think you need to get him to relax under saddle before you do anything more. I like to take it slowly and use LOTS of praise to help them understand that they have a new job. I find it helpful to stroke their necks as they walk and often stay completely out of their faces. I like to ride with a neckstrap at first too -- you can pull back on that and help steady them without getting in their mouths.

                                        Does your trainer have experience restarting OTTBs? Although they are not green like an unstarted horse, they do need to understand that their job is different and they will be worried about it until they understand the parameters.

                                        Good luck!
                                        Equine Ink - My soapbox for equestrian writings & reviews.
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