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Retraining contact in a western horse

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  • Retraining contact in a western horse

    Yes, ANOTHER contact question, but the threads I found searching were all about the young/green horse, and my horse is 10 and well broke for his job (trail riding).

    With the cold weather and abominable footing outside, I've been playing around in the indoor arena with my trail horse. I got him last summer and he has been the absolute perfect horse on the trails. Mostly we ride on the buckle or a very loose rein. As far as I know, he was always ridden western before I got him. Now I am trying to introduce basic contact, but he seems to think any contact either means WHOA NOW or "BRACE because this idiot on my back needs the reins to balance." He's been ridden a fair amount by young/inexperienced riders in the past. While my seat is far from perfect, I do have very soft hands and I want to get him to trust and accept the contact.

    What I've been trying so far is very, very gradually taking up more and more contact as we warm up and trying to be as following and soft with the rein as possible, so he can learn to trust my hand. He usually tries to slow down or stop but I send him on. That's when he sticks his nose out and braces. If I try to force the by taking firmer contact or bracing back, he stops. Any suggestions for what to do next? I'm stumped. My other horse I started myself and I don't remember ever having this problem, he was always really soft in the bridle and didn't have any other training to "un-do".

    Thanks for reading!
    "Here? It's like asking a bunch of rednecks which is better--Ford or Chevy?" ~Deltawave

  • #2
    Why do you want to change his way of doing if he is doing such a good job?

    If you bought it to do trail riding, he was perfectly trained to do trail riding and your goal is to have a really good trail horse, I see no point on confusing this good trail horse and try to 're-train' him just for the sake of it.

    There is also a chance you might end up with a confused horse on the trail and in the ring.

    On the other hand, since you mentioned your seat was less than perfect, maybe you should train yourself at having a better seat!

    Do you have a trainer to help you out?
    ~ Enjoying some guac and boxed wine at the Blue Saddle inn. ~

    Originally posted by LauraKY
    I'm sorry, but this has "eau de hoarder" smell all over it.
    HORSING mobile training app

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    • #3
      No one, animal or human, really does well with the concept of "sometimes."

      Keep that in mind
      www.destinationconsensusequus.com
      chaque pas est fait ensemble

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      • #4
        Maybe he just isn't used to moving more forward, and he gets worried when his balance gets precarious. I'd just ask for a bit more fwd on a long rein, half-halt if he does lose his balance, but be sure to release it immediately, ask again if needed, but don't hold it. Let him get used to being more fwd, gradually, on no contact (which he seems to like) and when the fwd gets established, then start taking just a little contact, very softly and sympathetically. With this type, you need to ride them forward into the contact, wait till they want to seek the contact; you can't "take" the contact, must wait for the horse to do that.
        "One person's cowboy is another person's blooming idiot" -- katarine

        Spay and neuter. Please.

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        • Original Poster

          #5
          He can still be a fantastic trail horse, AND accept contact. I don't think that is unreasonable. Neither he nor I wants him to just sit in the pasture all winter without something to do, and I think that learning new things is better than just going in circles in an arena for exercise.

          I do take lessons for my seat, and everything else. Getting the perfect seat is the work of a lifetime, I think, not just a few lessons. But my last trainer just retired, and I am in the process of finding someone new. There are lots of "trainers" around, but precious few who I would actually pay for their advice, and they seem to be in high demand!
          "Here? It's like asking a bunch of rednecks which is better--Ford or Chevy?" ~Deltawave

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          • #6
            I would have a trainer get up there and watch and see if the horse has any trouble.

            The few pleasure horses Ive tried to ride dressage took contact right away, but I feel like their training was very good in that discipline too.

            It shouldnt take a really long time, so I would get lessons!
            ~~Member of the TB's Rule Clique ~~
            http://www.off-breed-dressage.blogspot.com/

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            • #7
              Originally posted by nuevaburro View Post
              He can still be a fantastic trail horse, AND accept contact. I don't think that is unreasonable.
              Of course he can but why?

              Neither he nor I wants him to just sit in the pasture all winter without something to do, and I think that learning new things is better than just going in circles in an arena for exercise.
              There is so much more to do than circling around than trying to teach your horse something you have trouble with.

              I do take lessons for my seat, and everything else. Getting the perfect seat is the work of a lifetime, I think, not just a few lessons.
              We could say the same with contact! And to get the best contact, a good seat is mandatory!

              What kind of contact are you looking for, what is your goal, what type of bit are you using, what is your level of training?

              But my last trainer just retired, and I am in the process of finding someone new. There are lots of "trainers" around, but precious few who I would actually pay for their advice, and they seem to be in high demand!
              That I understand!!! Take your time finding the right one that will suit your needs but keep your mind open to new theories/approach/style.
              ~ Enjoying some guac and boxed wine at the Blue Saddle inn. ~

              Originally posted by LauraKY
              I'm sorry, but this has "eau de hoarder" smell all over it.
              HORSING mobile training app

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              • #8
                I just bought a very nice 4 year old filly that was broke western. When I tried her, I rode her with a very sharp bit and no contact. My plans were to ride her English. She has a long stride and is well suited for it. I switched her to a 3 piece happy mouth snaffle for a few weeks and let her play with it. Then I switched her to a Myler snaffle with no tongue or pallet contact. She really doesn't need much contact but accepts it. I enjoy riding her on a very light rein but she at least has the illusion of contact lol when I ride her as a hunter. Not sure if this helps you but it worked for me and my filly is quite happy.
                Lilykoi


                Hell hath no fury like the chestnut thoroughbred mare

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                • #9
                  It's my impression that if you don't have an independent seat, you don't have independent hands. Perhaps this horse is smarter than you give him credit for. Consider working on a long frame, think hunter frame. Push him forward and allow with soft, following, forgiving hands to encourage him to reach more. Envision what his hind end is doing and try to forget the rest. It sounds like you are trying to put him together a little backwards, I know bc I've tried the same way more times than I can count. Doing it that way will kill the engine, and feels worse than a trail horse loose rein ride.

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                  • #10
                    there is a difference between contact and hauling on a horse's mouth. if he is light and soft in the bridle, that IS contact. there shouldn't be tension on the reins. think of holding an already broken eggshell and trying not to break it further.

                    Western horses absolutely understand contact. it comes from the weight of the reins, but they still feel every time you move your hand and respond. most broke western horses will stop if you lift your hand a few inches, as long as you have leg. remove the lag and they'll back up. change from a curb to a snaffle, and he's still going to have a sensitive mouth. steady hands are vital.

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                    • #11
                      sorry, double post

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                      • #12
                        If your seat is less than perfect, if there are any instabilities it is impossible to have "good hands". Good hands are not necessarily soft hands. Good hands are following, responsive, and giving, all at once, but they are dependent on an "independent seat".
                        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.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by nuevaburro View Post
                          He can still be a fantastic trail horse, AND accept contact. I don't think that is unreasonable. Neither he nor I wants him to just sit in the pasture all winter without something to do, and I think that learning new things is better than just going in circles in an arena for exercise.

                          I do take lessons for my seat, and everything else. Getting the perfect seat is the work of a lifetime, I think, not just a few lessons. But my last trainer just retired, and I am in the process of finding someone new. There are lots of "trainers" around, but precious few who I would actually pay for their advice, and they seem to be in high demand!
                          There IS a way he can have his "cake," (Western training) and you can eat it too (contact). Take a look at the French School thread that was running awhile back and utilize the concept of "separation and moderation" of the aids. In other words, legs without hands, hands without legs. One or the other, never both used at the same time. This will help your guy sort out what it is you want. A well-broke Western horse will either mentally and physically "shut down" or get really, REALLY pissed and do things like running backwards or becoming seriously nappy if you pesist in trying to "push them up to the bit."

                          As of now, the bit has a meaning to him. Pressure on the bit means he is to do something (like a down transition for halt). You're in effect asking him to ignore that, to turn it into "white noise." Is this really what you want? The way around that, to preserve his good training and sensitivity while slowly teaching him more collection (is this your aim?) is the above technique.

                          There are several books mentioned in that thread, notably Another Horsemanship, that are very helpful in learning the different paradigm.

                          Hope this helps!

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            I am riding a QH that was western trained and had to learn the concept of contact. Just like yours, the feel of even the slightest contact with the mouth made her think slow down/ stop.

                            Let biomechanics work for you! Correct bending, flexing, lots of changes of directions and even a little easy LY, will make the horse drop the neck and search for the connection. Your reins need to be short enough to feel the mouth but not so short that there is any restriction!

                            I also found that it seems hard for the western trained horse to bring and keep the back up. So again, be patient and wait it out while riding forward with a lot of curved lines encouraging the stretch to the bit.

                            Your gait of choice for this will be trot! Don't try to fix contact issues in walk!! Canter is sometimes helpful because of the jump, but it depends on the individual horse.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Try shortening your reins so that you touch his mouth - nothing strong, make sure the neck length is something he's comfortable with. Now, just hold your hands there. He may bump against them, duck behind or touch nicely. Just keep pushing him forward. In time, he should learn to relax and accept what is most comfortable - that is contact - if you can earn his trust with soft, still hands. You have to earn the contact, not demand it.

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Added after: I apologize for the many many typos! I typed this whole thing on my phone!


                                I've ridden plenty of horses for people that fit what you are describing and with patience and consistency, they have all been able to go "on the bit" in a training level frame within 30 minutes. Of course I don't expect them to go more than about 2 minutes at a time without a break because I don't want it to become a painful or uncomfortable experience. Fitness must be achieved gradually. Just something to always keep in mind when doing something new. Also, when they are not doing the right thing, there are no breaks.

                                So here is what I do:

                                at a halt, ask the horse to bend his nose towards your knee. Be careful that the bit cannot be pulled through the horses mouth if he opens it (an eggbutt bit is recommended for its comfort in this exercise). If the horse bend at all, release the pressure and praise.

                                Repeat while asking for greater and greater bend.

                                Important: when you release the pressure, this is telling the horse to stop increasing the bend, it does not tell him to return to straight. If he pulls his head back, correct him by immediately placing his head back where you had it. If you are clear, the horse will figure this out very quickly (with in 3-5 corrections). Donnot allow him ro refurn to straight until he understands this or it confuse him. The horse is signaled to return to straight by lightly applying the opposite rein. Always return to straight between bends as a reward and for clarity of training.

                                When the horse bends nearly to your knee in both directions and will keep his nose there until you ask him not to, you can start adding pressure on the opposite rein while the horse is maintained in a quarter or half bend. You are now asking the horse to move his nose in addition to his neck.

                                Eventually you can ask for nose movement while the neck is straight. There may be some increased pressure required at this point to make the horse understand. You cannot lose this fight, so once you start it be prepared to finish. It shouldn't be too difficult with the previous foundation of giving to the bend! Very very important, when you get any correct reaction from the horse release the pressure. If you get a big movement in the right direction also add praise and patting.

                                You can now start the process at the walk. Expect to go completely back to the beginning of asking for bend. Adding walking, in the horses mind chances the game, so you have to start at the beginning. He should make the connection quickly, but following the same steps avoids confusion to the horse.

                                At this point you should have the horse in a frame of mind and relaxed enough in his neck and mouth to begin working on a real connection. Before this, the language you speak is so foreign to the horse that you cannot achieve softeness in the contact. These exercises set you up to be able to work on a true connection.

                                Comment

                                • Original Poster

                                  #17
                                  Thanks for all the helpful responses everyone. I actually had my friend/old trainer in town this weekend (why did she have to move!) and she recommended something very similar to flyracing.
                                  "Here? It's like asking a bunch of rednecks which is better--Ford or Chevy?" ~Deltawave

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                                  • #18
                                    It's always incorrect to ride in a snaffle bit without contact even in western riding; most properly-trained western horses are trained first in a snaffle bit using direct contact, and then they transition to a curb bit using indirect contact.
                                    Many horses can do both English and western riding- you just change their bit and saddle and western horse becomes dressage horse for today, and then back to western again tomorrow. No problem for the horse at all if you're consistent.
                                    So if your particular horse doesn't appear to have ever been started properly in a snaffle, it would be a good idea to treat the horse like a greenie and start over.
                                    To keep things consistent for the horse, you might want to reconsider riding on trails with looped reins with a snaffle bit- either ride correctly at all times with contact on the snaffle, or if you want to ride with looped reins, use a curb bit or perhaps a bosal if you don't like curb bits.

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      My Arab is more than capable of sorting the difference between indirect contact in his curb and western saddle and direct contact in his snaffle and jumping or dressage saddles. He also goes in a sidepull (his is a glorified halter) on trails with a loose rein or contact in the arena. He'll also trail ride just fine on a loose rein in his snaffle. It IS possible.

                                      I started him in the snaffle English and added the western stuff later for fun. I'd probably do something similar to what flyracing said if I was working backwards like you.

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        Why do you want to ride him on more contact? What is your goal?

                                        If he's so good at what he and you have been doing together, out on the trails, why not continue that with arena work? Set up a "trail" course like you would ride in a trail class at a show. Or practice "dressage " with him but riding more off your seat and legs than your hands. If he's a western-trained horse that has been trained to expect bit contact only when his rider's about to ask him for something different, why mess with his head (mentally and physically? ).

                                        What kind of bit are you riding him in?
                                        Founder of the People Who Prefer COTH Over FB Clique
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