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Chronically Behind the Bit...

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  • Chronically Behind the Bit...

    I was recently given a lovely Thoroughbred from a friend who is a jumper rider (the horse was too hot and silly over fences). I have known the horse for many years and he has always had a problem with being severely behind the bit.

    Other then switching him to the softest bit I have, keeping him forward off my leg and trying my best to maintain steady light hands - what can I do to fix this?

    I have not had a lot of experience dealing with this issue - only horses who occasionally get too soft - nothing like this horse who is always behind the bit (sometimes chin to chest).

    I am hoping to work it out because he is super athletic and I am eager to finally have a high energy horse to work with again (my lazy schoolies just don't do it for me).
    Be firm, fair, kind, clear, consistent, patient, and, above all else, maintain a sense of humour.

  • #2
    Everything you said really. Light contact at first and forward forward. Sometimes they suck back and they fall behind. Sometimes it's because they are running from the bit because of being hit in the mouth to much. I'd give him a nice soft longer contact at first and teach him he can trust your hands not to jab him every stride.
    Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole


    • #3
      My guy learned to be behind the bit on the track and never really got over it as an eventer. When I got him we started out on fairly loose reins, and worked toward absurdly light contact just to get the idea that he wasn't going to get his face pulled on and get him trusting me. We did lots and lots of circles and work on bending and turning and leg yielding off my seat, and about 2 years from the start finally started to have *solid* contact where he was really trusting it, not ducking behind, etc. The contact was actually a symptom of how he was using his body - more thrust and push from behind, more strength to support himself over his topline, more movement through his back. We went through a VERY up and VERY open phase he needed in learning how to use himself and his back legs and slowly came back down to more where we wanted to be. His final nose position ended up about 3" in front of where it used to be relative to his pole, probably, but it came out of a complete overhaul of how he used his body and a complete change in his musculature.

      ETA: That was my wordy way of saying I agree with Rabicon and think you're on the right track.
      If Kim Kardashian wants to set up a gofundme to purchase the Wu Tang album from Martin Shkreli, guess what people you DON'T HAVE TO DONATE.


      • #4
        If the horse is truly on your seat he will stop retreating from the contact.....
        "Where knowledge ends violence begins." B. Ljundquist


        • #5
          You could try riding with a neck rope, lifting on the rope with the horse curls. This does seem to help as they tend to drop at the base of their neck when they break at the 3rd vertebra, and the neck rope seems to encourage them to lift.

          I have twos horse here that came with that habit, and I went with a Stubben EZControl for one and a happy mouth for the other. I did try to keep a contact, but a following/passive contact, and then asked them to do things that invited them to reach out (such as lengthen and shorter the trot, shallow serpentines, trail rides, trot poles), making sure my arms just followed passively as much as I was able.

          Knowing where my hands were at all times seemed to be a comfort, and the horses didn't worry about a jab/poke.

          Also, with the one horse, the reason for his curl was a blind wolf tooth. We fixed that before riding him, but it still took a while for him to trust contact.
          Freeing worms from cans everywhere!


          • #6
            My current horse came to me very behind the bit as well. It felt like I was sitting on his ears, there was NO horse in front of me at all. It took a solid 6 months of work to get him consistently in front of the vertical.

            Don't use side reins. If you lunge him for now, ideally use a cavesson. If you don't have one, use a halter. He needs to relearn how to respond to rein pressure.

            I did a lot of ground work with my guy to teach him to reach forward and down. He had no idea how to stretch. Lift the rein, ask him to soften, release when he does. When that's consistent, continue asking until he dips his head down. Keep him in front of the vertical. Do this at the halt and walk. Do it from the saddle as well. Stretching is a product of a correctly worked horse, but you can teach your horse to stretch first and use that to help you.

            When you ride, make sure you take a contact. No loopy reins, no there-then-not-there contact. Don't let him run around like a giraffe either. He needs kind, consistent, and fair contact. Make the reins short enough to have a light feel, even if he's behind the bit. Use the reins in an upward manner, but not backwards. For instance, on a 20m circle, when he goes behind the bit, lift your inside hand up to bring his head up, while pushing him forward with your leg to get his nose out. It's ok if he goes a little too fast in the beginning. You don't want him so fast he can't help falling on his face, but it's ok to push and get that nose out in front. As soon as the nose goes out, your hands both go to a normal position to give and follow his nose out and eventually, down. Rinse, repeat. Probably every few strides in the beginning. It's going to be easiest at the trot, so start there, then work on walk and canter.

            Work on straightness, use a tiny bit of counter flexion, big training level figures, and go forward, forward, forward. You're right in that you need a steady connection, but your hands are not going to be still while you retrain him. Follow his mouth where ever it goes.

            It's been almost two years and we routinely receive 8's on our stretchy circles in tests. It's not something that will completely go away. If I'm not careful, he will try to curl. It doesn't help that his neck is 8 miles long.

            Good luck!


            • #7
              I just struggled with the same issue with my pony. She would come forward from behind into a lovely contact for a few seconds then curl. I tried everything training wise we could think of. Finally looked into bits. She was in a French link. I had my dentist examine her mouth and she found my mare had an unusually fat tongue. She recommended a bit that curved to allow room for her big tongue. Every time she took contact in my French link it would press into her tongue, push it back into her throat and restrict swallowing and breathing. Yikes! Tried a Myler Comfort Snaffle. Instant improvement...no more curling after 5 minutes. However she wouldn't take any weight in her contact. I wondered if it was too thin for her preference. Then I tried a HS Dynamic Eggbutt. O.M.G. After 5 minutes my mare was telescoped out into the most amazing contact. We haven't had a curl since!! She adores the weight and thickness and it allows room for her tongue. If it's not a bit issue all the advice above is great! 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.


              • #8
                I have dealt with this successfully before. I have over 20 years experience as a TTouch practitioner and was kind of surprised that this actually worked. I did a lot of body work on the horse particularly in the neck. Working from the ground a got him to extend his nose out--he could not do this at first.

                Then, even though I thought it was counter intuitive I used Linda Tellington-Jones' TTEAM roller bit. This looks like a big old western curb bit but it has some interesting qualities. The mouth piece is such that the port is laid back a bit and the roller is lifted up to provide more tongue room. Anyway, you can put this in a horse's mouth with nothing attached to it, put them on a lunge line and they will suddenly round up and move better.

                So I rode this horse in this bit three times and he had his nose out rather than curled. I put him back in a snaffle and he stayed with his nose out a bit and never curled again with me.


                • #9
                  Advice from Carl Hester

                  Suggested reading, 2nd paragraph of post # 1: http://www.horseandhound.co.uk/forum...php?p=11293611


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by alicen View Post
                    Suggested reading, 2nd paragraph of post # 1: http://www.horseandhound.co.uk/forum...php?p=11293611
                    Off topic sort of, BUT I would have LOVED to be at that CH event!!! His comments re behind the vertical were great, as most of us are not able to fix things the "professional" way and its nice to have a plan B.
                    We don't get less brave; we get a bigger sense of self-preservation........


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by alicen View Post
                      Suggested reading, 2nd paragraph of post # 1: http://www.horseandhound.co.uk/forum...php?p=11293611
                      Excellent advice, especially about the giving forward hand in half halts. and the shortened reins.

                      Half halts should come more from the the rider's body with the merest hint of hands, and long reins are not kind because the sudden adjustments are like a slap in the face. Too loud!
                      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.


                      • #12
                        Horses that curl and duck are often afraid of the bit. I've had good luck using a nathe or soft rubber mullen mouth. It encourages the horse to take contact, even "lean" into it a little. With no joint, it gives a solid feel, no pinching, something firm for the horse to push to and learn to trust (with good hands, of course!). You may only need to use it a week or two...after a while, some horses will lean too much and get heavy; that's when they're ready to go back to a single or double-jointed snaffle.
                        “A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it.”
                        ? Albert Einstein



                        • #13
                          Originally posted by not again View Post
                          If the horse is truly on your seat he will stop retreating from the contact.....
                          Not really. If a horse has Been hit in the mouth or his face pulled off a lot then sometimes they will go behind the bit to get away from the contact. They can be forward and off your seat but still retreat back from the bit from fear. There are cases where the horse is not forward enough and falls behind the bit but these are to different things and are treated as that.
                          Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole


                          • #14
                            I put mine in a soft rubber bit then took him out on grassy trails where I encouraged him to reach, taste and chew on the grass as we went. As others have said, the starting place is getting the horse to stretch down and out, extending his neck and eventually seeking the bit. This worked quite well. Once he was stretching, I was able to sneak into contact, proceed to lungeing in sidereins (using a cavesson).... he was a wonderful horse-- as long as no one made the mistake of pulling on his mouth.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Keg-A-Bacchus View Post
                              I had my dentist examine her mouth and she found my mare had an unusually fat tongue. She recommended a bit that curved to allow room for her big tongue. Every time she took contact in my French link it would press into her tongue, push it back into her throat and restrict swallowing and breathing.
                              My Trakehner had a thick tongue and a low palate which made many bits uncomfortable for him. Before I bought him he had been ridden in draw reins and that had left him with a strong tendency to curl behind the bit. He also was very intolerant of bit movement. With some trial and error I found that
                              1) he liked fixed ring bits over loose ring. The baucher was probably one of the best because of the way it hangs in a horse's mouth;
                              2) he like mullen mouth bits better than jointed bits and liked a happy mouth mullen mouth best of all;
                              3) my hands had to be absolutely still. I often rode him with a neck strap so that I could be as quiet as possible.

                              I also rode him bitless quite a bit. He was very responsive to a side pull type bitless bridle and it helped get him to uncurl and reach into a type of contact (albeit without a bit). I was able to reproduce that feeling with a bit once he got more trusting.

                              It's hard to say what's causing the issue with your horse and you've gotten some good advice. It's also worth having an equine dentist look into your horse's mouth to see if there are reasons why he's not taking contact.
                              Equine Ink - My soapbox for equestrian writings & reviews.
                              EquestrianHow2 - Operating instructions for your horse.


                              • #16
                                Someone said it, but the horse HAS to lift in front of the withers to be on vertical or in front of it properly. So I just focus on that. The best part of focusing on that is I really dont care if the horse is BTV as I work on getting them truly up (no stress or anxiety about it).

                                I find that often horses go BTV simply because they have never considered that they could also go UP with the middle of their body, not just forward, sideways or backwards. Fix the middle, fix the head. I think this is what Not Again was referring to. Carl Hesters forward half halt is becoming a lost art IMO and is a fantastic tool in getting the horse to consider another possible relationship with the bit. My first dressage trainer used to say, when in doubt, LET GO. Yes.
                                "Kindness is free" ~ Eurofoal
                                The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances.


                                • #17
                                  Deleted. Wrong thread.


                                  • Original Poster

                                    Thanks for all of the advice. I am glad to hear that some have already dealt with this issue with some success – I was worried that with him having gone this way for the past 10 years that improvement would be impossible.

                                    I got him home on Friday night and rode him both Saturday and Sunday. I was delighted to see almost instant improvement, although he has a very long way to go. I found holding my hands a bit higher helped a bit, which was a delight for me because I have very short arms so keeping my hands low is always a challenge. Flexing is going to be a big challenge with him though – as soon as I try to drive him into the outside rein he ducks behind the contact – looks pretty, but feels terrible. It should be fun to try and work this puzzle out; it will be something I haven’t work with before so I am interested in the challenge.

                                    I put him in a loose ring JP bit with the curved copper mouthpiece that has the bean centre.

                                    I am also pretty confident that he suffers from ulcers and a bit of arthritis in the hocks – so I have put him on some joint supplements and will be picking up a jug of ulcer medication today. And the boy could use to gain 100+ pounds (shouldn’t be a problem – fattening up hard keepers is one of my super powers).
                                    Be firm, fair, kind, clear, consistent, patient, and, above all else, maintain a sense of humour.


                                    • #19
                                      what does your trainer say about this issue?


                                      • Original Poster

                                        I don't have one - I am on my own.
                                        Be firm, fair, kind, clear, consistent, patient, and, above all else, maintain a sense of humour.