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Uncurling the Hot-headed Mare

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  • Uncurling the Hot-headed Mare

    I know this has been hashed out before but I would love some guidance. This continues to be an issues for us and I am beyond ready to eliminate this evasion from her repertoire.

    Situation: When ms mare decides she doesn't want to work one of her favorite tactics is to get fast and curl behind the bit and turn into a ticking time bomb. Ultimately she won't "explode" in a dangerous manner (no true bucking, bolting, etc.) but I have zero half-halt or any really influence over her body. I can "bandaid" the situation by coming to a walk, slipping the reins, and going on a trailride but I know it isn't ever going to improve if I don't work through it.

    Tried and Failed tactics:
    - Give her rein and add leg to push her into the bridle: races around indefinitely
    - Maintain contact and add leg: further curling
    - Strong bump to the inside rein straight up to uncurl: zero reaction or further curling
    - Changing gait: she will stay BTV even through multiple gait changes and changes within gait.

    Obviously this is fixable but I don't know what tactic to try next. I am far from a perfect rider but I am steady and tactful with my hands so I don't think it is caused by unfair contact.

  • #2
    So you have, I assume gotten lots of suggestions.

    This is where a teacher has to observe the whole rider-horse relationship. Some-where, somehow, something is not working. So coming back to the BB is probably not going to be too helpful, as you will get the same suggestions again.
    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.


    • #3
      My arab mare can be the same way, she is a perfectionist and doesn't appreciate being picked at so when she gets frustrated or flustered with me she fusses and will start to jig, go BTB and show tension if I continue to fight with her. What I do is I will go to a walk, give her her head and just not give her anything to fight with. Once she calms down (sometimes in seconds and sometimes minutes but just taking the pressure off of her for a little bit brings her back to me, and your horse may be different), I can go back to the conversation we were having before. This may mean that we do a lot of walking between work some days and I just work on getting closer to our goal rather than hitting the goal, and it can frustrate my trainer, but I haven't found fighting with her is any good. We get there eventually.


      • #4
        Send her over some cavalletti or small jumps? Maybe mixing it up a little will get that brain distracted from thinking of ways to evade. That is until they catch onto your ruse...


        • #5
          I agree with the above that said that fighting with her won't help. What happens if you slip the reins and just let her power around? Don't push or anything. Just chill up there and count rafters until she figures out that she's a) not going to get out of work and b) doesn't have anything to fight. Once she relaxes, can you pick the rein back up and continue working nicely?

          Do you have power steering? Circles, figure 8's and serpentines can be your friend if you do. Keeping her brain engaged and wondering what's going to happen next can be helpful. I'd work on it a little bit on the trail as well, just to change the setting up. Also agree with poles or small jumps to change it up and keep her thinking. When Herself goes bonkers, I usually set out a pole or two and it works wonders to bring her back to ground 0 and focus on work.


          • #6
            i think you are giving up too soon and changing things up too much.

            in other words - pick a reaction and stay with it. it if were me i would put her on a circle and start working on even rhythm - not worrying about where her head and neck are - just work on even contact and even rhythm .once you have that then you can work on various figures etc

            the goal is to maintain EVEN consistent contact no matter what. once you have that then you can slowly start working on asking her to lengthen her neck a tiny amount, for a short period of time, then back to her normal "frame" over time she will learn that sucking her neck in wont get her anywhere... and you will learn that the length of a horses neck has to do with its hind end

            pls find a excellent trainer and they will have you working well in a short amount of time.


            • #7
              Originally posted by GraceLikeRain View Post
              Situation: When ms mare decides she doesn't want to work one of her favorite tactics is to get fast and curl behind the bit and turn into a ticking time bomb. Ultimately she won't "explode" in a dangerous manner (no true bucking, bolting, etc.) but I have zero half-halt or any really influence over her body. I can "bandaid" the situation by coming to a walk, slipping the reins, and going on a trailride but I know it isn't ever going to improve if I don't work through it.
              If this is really about work ethic rather than something you're doing as a rider (ultimately need coach - even video is only moments in time vs entire rides with coach), have you approached the issue from ground work/in hand/lunge line?
              - though, here again, a good coach is a must if you lack the needed skills...

              Have you done any clinics to address this? i.e. every ride is with a trainer until you sort something out?

              Are you certain this is not a strength issue?

              (sorry I don't have any idea what your skill set is - or even the back story on your mare, but every young/green horse attempts various evasions, then chooses the effective ones as "favourites", the ultra-sensitive ultra-smart stubborn I will fight horse just requires that much more tack & finesse from both coach & rider)


              • #8
                You've read everything there is, no doubt, and understand that your horse must go forward INTO the contact. I'm certain you know that you have to ride your horse from behind, again, forward INTO.

                But you're not able to translate the theory into practice.

                Not an uncommon problem as I have encountered it twice in my last two horses and Axel Steiner/DressageTrainingOnline even thought it was universal enough to present a clinic on the "Opinionated Mare."

                You absolutely cannot follow her head around in an attempt to maintain contact, but you also cannot make your contact fixed and hard. You MUST have a half halt to *REBALANCE*.

                Sorry, for the shouting, but I'm writing from experience. I may be less talented than you, but if it weren't for lots of supervision and someone else showing my mare(s) what the contact should be (and reinforcing it), I would be in similar misery.

                Shoulder fore on a circle has been magical for me when I find myself with a fizzy horse and hectic hands.

                It does a bunch of things in different situations, but for DCM (Darling Chestnut Mare) and I, it is a kinesthetic reminder to me of inside leg to outside rein, simplifies what I need to THINK about doing to engage the hind, and streamlines the actions I try using to open her neck instead of gathering the reins in response to her sucking back. I still have to do all those things, but somehow for me, they are more natural in this positioning.

                And this just occurred to me reading mbm's post, because her advice echos what our trainer said about my last horse. Yesterday, when I was making comparisons between the two mares because the issue of INTO a contact seemed the same, she said they were entirely different horses and approaches were different. So ... grain of salt!


                • #9
                  How long have you ridden when she starts to react this way? I agree with above but also just outside the box here I've had 2 horses that had different evasions when they got tired and were done. Right now the one I have physically can't stand up to more than 30 min then he will start acting out. I've found setting a time I know is comfortable for the horse and quitting my ride on a good note before they get to tired has worked great. Other horse started at 30min and over time I had him up to an hour of harder work easily. I don't see a reason to push a horse that is tired and done because then you get the acting out and also can make the horse sore and miserable with the work you are asking. Maybe backing off a bit if you are riding long periods, say an hour, and increase the ride time over months will help. Jmo and outside the box since i don't know exactly how far you get in your ride when she starts. If your 5 mins in then no this isn't an option but just something to think about. I found when I tried to push through something on a tired horse they just got worse and really started to hate the Joni was asking of them.
                  Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole


                  • Original Poster

                    Lots of great thoughts and questions imbedded so I will try to clarify a bit before I run off to do errands.

                    Ms. Mare is 18 (oy that looks old when I write it out) and she's done a little bit of everything with varying success (started NH, did level 4 jumpers, training level eventing, pony club, etc.) and varying levels of rider skill although from videos and pictures all were heavier handed and bitted the snot out of her to try and control her engine. She was never taught true contact but after 15 years of "dressage" she has very set ideas about having a set frame and it has been a long battle to help her understand what I am asking.

                    We are solid training level dressage. Nothing fancy but I aim for relaxation, accuracy, and obedience. I throw in shoulder in, leg yields, etc but all of her lateral work could use refinement.

                    I have found one trainer who got how she worked but she is 2+ hours away, extremely busy, I have no access to a trailer, and it took 6 months of planning to get her up for a day long clinic two years ago. There is a chance she might start traveling to the area but that is at least 6 months away if ever. Everyone I've tried in the area sees a nice picture and doesn't get that I don't really have her connected.

                    The extreme BTV is quite rare (1 out of 20 rides) but probably 1 out of 2 rides I struggle with getting her truly into the bridle. If I can't half halt and feel her back come up and her meet my hand with the request of "yes mam what's next" then I don't care if she looks nice to someone on the ground. She is the master of maintaining a steady lovely looking frame that is not the result of genuinely working back to front. If I slip her the reins when she gets like that she falls on her forehand and will rush around indefinitely. If she is balanced and quiet I can trot around on a hunter contact and she is lovely but once she is unbalanced she doesn't get that without contact it is her job to rebalance (even if you change gaits, circle, serpentine, etc.). It is the fine line of understanding she is reliant on contact for balance, without letting her slip into a false frame or start thinking front to back.

                    I know a trainer is ultimately the answer but with a sensitive mare I am always hesitant. I have someone on my radar but I want to watch and wait for a bit longer to make sure the trainers german methodology will match with my mares sensitive disposition.

                    I know pictures aren't very helpful but:
                    (a) mare relaxed (a smidge btv) and in a state where she is responsive to my aids
                    (b) mare not btv (in this specific shot) but blowing through my aids and unseating me as a result

                    I've had every trainer in the area push us for picture 2 because she had more "brilliance" and was "powerful" but it was at the cost of true connection. The second picture is not a fun ride and since I have no show goals I want correct over brilliant (not that I particularly think that looks brilliant but others have disagreed).


                    • #11
                      Our mares sound (and look!) similar - love the mohawk by the way. It's about time I did the same for my mare.

                      My mare has been a wonderful schoolmaster for the following reasons:

                      1) if you don't ask her to do anything, she's happy to do the minimum level of work
                      2) if you ask her to ramp it up, she's happy to power around on her forehand (I call it "the Ricky Bobby")

                      My mare has taught me how to better control my own body so I can control hers - and we've ended up doing very well together. Like you, I also implicitly trust her - she's not a bucker or bolter by any means. However, once she gets motoring around, it's a fine art to get her to truly come through and not brace or get too heavy on the forehand, even schooling some Third.

                      I agree first you need some good eyes on the ground and a trainer to work with. That aside, I can tell you what's worked well for me is being aware of what I'm doing with my own body. Really learning how to control my leg and seat and half-halt effectively from there - NOT from the hand - is what's worked for us. That's not to say sometimes you don't need a bump here and there on the reins or a "Hey, pay attention to me!" tap - but, once I finally learned how to effectively half-halt using my whole body, things started coming together.

                      That's a hard thing to really "get" despite years of riding.

                      I agree with the poster who said ignore her head right now - focus instead on the rhythm. Rhythm and straightness come first - if she's rushing around, don't let her - no matter where her head ends up. Establish a steady rhythm and go from there. The rest will follow.
                      Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.

                      A Voice Halted


                      • #12
                        Your mare is lovely.

                        Changing (giving) your contact when she fusses only rewards and re-enforces her fussiness. So she is training you. Time for role reversal. Give the contact when you decide. And be patient.

                        This problem is fixable but the first time I worked with a dressage horse that did this it took about 1 year for the horse to get strong enough that it wasn't ever an issue.
                        See those flying monkeys? They work for me.


                        • #13
                          Because it's what I've been working on, my first thought is that you need to work on making your seat more effective and correct upward half halts, with lift coming from your body rather than your hands, as well as sitting back properly.

                          I think you really do need to find pro help to get through this, though I commend you being cautious and not just riding with anyone available.

                          My horse learned to tuck at the track, and used it to his advantage ever since. When very strong in his haunches and over his topline there's no curling going on, but other times (like when I'm just recovering from a long injury and little riding) it's his evasion of choice. Correctly using my seat and legs to ask him to lift into the contact without pulling back or giving the reins away and lifting my torso to create an upward half halt are mandatory to get him out of that.

                          However, the posters who said it depends on you and your horse as a pair hit it spot on. We can give you all kinds of advice, but it needs to be someone working with you and possibly getting on your horse him/herself who really helps you.
                          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.


                          • #14
                            Hunter jumper rider perusing through and enjoyed reading this thread. I have a 21yo RHD (Red Headed Dragon) TB mare. Most of the time she is just a joy to ride but if she is tired and/or cranky then she pins her own head to her chest, puffs up, snorts and races around on her forehand much as many have described here. Made me laugh out loud to read some of the descriptions here. My girl is a lovely ride when she powers up from behind and lifts her back. She can go beautifully on the bridle. When she turns into RHD its likely an evasion coupled with a lack of strength. She has weak hocks now and I get them injected regularly to keep her comfy. I just smile and keep right on doing what I want when the RHD emerges. For me that is usually circles and serpentines and lightening my seat to canter forward or lengthening my reins and encouraging her to stretch down in the trot. Sometimes just a pat on the neck along her mane will make her start to relax. I'm not sure where this behavior came from as she's been pleasure ridden by a few different people for the last 6 years. In my case she's a TB so when the adrenalin is pumping against you sometimes its better to let it all subside before going back to real work.

                            I do agree that the best half-halt starts from your base of support. When my mare is not RHD then its just a shift of my weight and you can feel her rebalance.
                            You don't scare me. I ride a MARE!


                            • #15
                              1. Ditch the loose ring. Go to an eggbutt or a D (quieter, more inviting contact)
                              2. As bizarre as it may sound, she may not understand forward. Find a good trainer well versed and passionate about in hand work and go be a sponge.
                              3. Ride from your core, don't leg her. The curling is a byproduct blockage of the ribcage in many cases. The less you nag her sides, the less she should curl.
                              chaque pas est fait ensemble


                              • #16
                                I have this mare. I got her as an eight year old greenbroke broodmare some great "trainer" had taught to go really slow and pull on her rather than let her go forward. So, I let her go forward, and, about like you said, when I was working, about 1 in 20 times she would blow.

                                I learned the hard way not to get there. Some horses you can and need to work it through. Some horses you can't. I don't with her. First, I never get to the point now where she'll blow because there's no way to work out of it. For her, just stopping and standing still for awhile to let all of the wheels stop and settle helps. The, try to get something, even at the walk, like leg yielding, turn on the haunches and forehand, and leave it. Then the trick is to get her stronger, but never work her to the point where she will blow on you. Back off and do a trail ride or something and come back to it another time.


                                • #17
                                  i think you both look quite nice. i also think a training level horse can not really be on the bit because they don't have the requisite engine that would allow it.

                                  honestly - i would not be taking advice from a BB - instead find yourself a good trainer... even if it is a hunter jumper trainer or eventing trainer - someone who can see you go in person etc.

                                  one thing i have learned is that perfection is an illusion... and if you wait to move on til you are perfect you will never get anywhere. .... getting better and improving comes from training - and challenging both you and your horse.

                                  as an example: where you are right now you cant have perfect contact. to get better you need to do more advanced work with her and ask her to work her body more.

                                  i think one of the most defeating things ammie riders do is wait for perfection to happen before doing something else.

                                  anyway, from the pics i would not be worrying about it. just ride her with EVEN contact working on the bottom of the training scale.

                                  she is lovely! good luck.


                                  • Original Poster

                                    Thank you for all of the encouragement and different view points. I think I am going to shift my focus to conditioning for the next few weeks and while I am doing that I am going to reach out to a few trainers in the area about taking a lesson or five on a schoolmaster. I know that I need to have a better grasp of how to ride a half halt and I want a set of critical eyes to help ensure that my seat really is independent and I'm not inadvertently being unfair with my contact. I also noticed in our last ride that she feels slightly weaker with her back right so I think a few weeks of hill work and getting out of the ring will do her brain and body a lot of good.

                                    If I can find someone who I really click with then I will look into finding a way to get to the trainer or get the trainer to us and start helping us as a team. I know of an eventing trainer in the area who might be a good person to try first if I can find a way to get to her.

                                    I have a frenchlink eggbutt I used previously but I switched her over to the loose ring on a friends suggestion that the loose rings would create a small amount of movement and keep her softer in the jaw. I honestly haven't noticed much of a difference so I might put her back in the eggbutt for a while.

                                    Once again, thank you for all of the thoughtful responses. I know that ultimately I need a set of eyes on the ground but I love having different perspectives so that I can make educated decisions. It is also very reassuring to know that there are many different ways to fix the curled hothead and I just need to find the best method for us.


                                    • #19
                                      OH, you have my mare! We started out with big curling problems, and she would go forward fast but not reach into the bit. She was also not comfortable with any contact at all. As soon as you touched her mouth she would curl. I taught her to accept contact in the walk by letting her walk outside and while she was looking at everything around her I would take a feel,not asking her to do anything but walk in front of my leg and reach forward into the bit. Forget being round, that part was easy. When she trotted she would go fast and curl. I had always kept or slightly increased the contact with a curling horse and driven them forward, but this did not work with her. I found that when she got fast and out of balance what workd was catching her with the rein, mostly the outside, and then quickly let go. A series of the strong, quick "half halts" would gradually slow her down enough to get in balance again even if it was a slow trot and then I could take a light contact and push her out into the bit again. Not what I would normally do, but it's worked with her. Now she only curls if she is tired or if she is trying to run through the outside rein in a turn on the haunches. Keeping her forward but balanced is the key, and keeping the contact light has worked.

                                      Strangely, I have found that when I have the amount of contact I would want in a normal horse she gets nervous, but when I use my rein quickly and then go back to a very light contact she relaxes more. She is reaching into the bit and not backing off or just holding a frame, she just likes a very soft contact. I call my use of the rein with her "hit and run"! LOL Usually it's a quick bump, but if I need it when she has really gotten out of balance it may be a rather sharp catch. She also seems to improve as she gets more fit - she can hold her balance better.

                                      I'm not sure I have described this very well, but I hope it helps. I have trained many dozens of horses, and sometimes you just have to experiment and observe to see what works with that horse.


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by AllWeatherGal View Post
                                        Not an uncommon problem as I have encountered it twice in my last two horses and Axel Steiner/DressageTrainingOnline even thought it was universal enough to present a clinic on the "Opinionated Mare."
                                        My "opinionated mare" doesn't have a curling problem, but she does have an attitude problem enough of the time to make her frustrating to work with (more of a hot-head, reactive, spooky, inattentive type of attitude). Is it worth the $$ to watch these videos?
                                        On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog