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Frustrated - everyone wants to bit up my horse! Are they right?

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  • Frustrated - everyone wants to bit up my horse! Are they right?

    I ride a half-blind 11 year old mustang who was a stallion until he was 7 - untouched, either wild or just neglected - who has been under saddle now for two years. He is an independent thinker who my dressage trainer has deemed as "the most difficult horse she's ever worked with" because of his stubborness. But when he gives, he's amazing. He has wonderful movement, great extension, and lots of flash and spirit. After two years of work he has learned to carry himself properly, we've turned his upside down neck right side up (uses the top muscles now instead of the bottom muscles), he uses his hind end, and leg yields beautifully. We've just recently started serious canter work and he's developed beautiful left lead canter transitions from my hip, and we're working on right lead (he's blind on the right so anything tracking right is more difficult). His canter has become more balanced and he's even given my trainer a few strides of truly collected canter.

    I ride him in a full cheek snaffle. We've recently moved barns, so he's regressed a bit, but I can work through that. The problem I have is any time anyone else rides him they nearly always tell me he "needs a stronger bit" and reach for a whip. I admit he's not an easy ride, he's a horse that you have to actively ride every step or he will take advantage of you. I expect him to respond in a snaffle, however. Except for the canter work, he will do everything I mentioned above bareback in just a halter for me - though on a bad day it takes a bit more leg from me.

    I know I probably shouldn't care, since I'm the one who rides him the most, but I have to admit all the "stronger bit" talk makes me think. I'm frustrated with him right now because of the regression, but trying to remember that he isn't a horse that deals well with big change because of his issues (he's a pro at shows - takes them very seriously - so I'm hoping the regression is because his entire world changed and won't show up at our next show next spring). Sometimes I wonder if a stronger bit would make things easier with him or if I should just stick to what I've been doing and stay patient.

    I've also been considering trying a pelham for both refinement and a little more control ... but I want to make sure I'm doing it for the right reasons.

    I guess I'm just looking for opinions - would you bit up a horse like this? Or try the pelham?

    Thanks in advance...
    If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.
    ~ Maya Angelou

  • #2
    Well, if he doesn't like changes, I imagine changing bits would be bothersome to him, as well.
    Against My Better Judgement: A blog about my new FLF OTTB
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    • #3
      ALL ABOOOOOARD!

      Comment

      • Original Poster

        #4
        Originally posted by egontoast View Post
        ALL ABOOOOOARD!
        I'm assuming I'm missing some inside joke, but my post is serious. It took me a lot of thinking to post this, and you should know that I'm usually the one person insisting that a stronger bit does nothing, and to take the time to work through the problems. Like I said, I expect my horses to give to a snaffle, or better yet in a halter alone, but I'm so frustrated right now that I'm seriously considering a stronger bit. Is there ever a time that's ok? Or maybe I just need some talk to remind me that patience and what I've been doing are the best way?
        If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.
        ~ Maya Angelou

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        • #5
          I'm with you -- a stronger bit may make rides more "pleasant" for those riders suggesting it, but it won't necessarily train the horse to respond better. And the fact that they say he needs a stronger bit AND a whip makes me think those riders aren't used to working very hard, so it's not that he's ignoring the bit -- he's probably ignoring their legs, too. It sounds like you know how to get him to respond in the mouth and jaw by using your LEGS, and that's correct training. Most of the time when a horse is ignoring me in the front end (either being heavy or stiff or running through my hands in transitions), I find that it's either because I'm not using enough leg or I'm not using my leg properly, or the horse is ignoring my leg and needs a refresher.

          So if he is ignoring your leg while he adjusts to the new stable, then that's a problem, and you might consider carrying a whip to remind him to obey your leg. Yes, there may come a time when he needs a stronger bit, but do make sure he's responding to your leg first. And I would not jump from a snaffle to a pelham -- I would experiment with a slightly thinner or grooved mouthpiece before trying a leverage bit.

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          • #6
            If he is controllable for you in the full-cheek snaffle and you are making steady, abeit slow, progress, then I wouldn't change anything.

            Also, exactly why is everyone saying that your horse needs a stronger bit? Is he bolting? Bucking? Ignoring their aids? Do they ride primarily off of their seat/leg like you do, or off their hand?

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            • #7
              Don't under any circumstances "bit up" a horse to speed up his training; you will more likely derail and delay it. I have a project horse who came to us pretty much crazy. . . wouldn't walk, ran away pretty much constantly, etc, and everyone thought he needed a stronger bit too. He's now walk, trot, cantering, and jumping happily, and quietly, in a bitless bridle, or a Waterford. A pelham is not going to help you make this horse go more correctly. Most importantly, from your post it sounds as if what you're doing is working, albeit slowly. Training that progresses slowly is better for the horse anyway, and what "sticks." They don't become third level horses overnight, especially not if their increased "collection" and frame are because of a bit with leverage. Stick with what you're doing--also, it sounds as if your trainer has made a lot of progress with the horse, so if she's not recommending a stronger bit, I wouldn't listen to the opinion of amateurs around the barn who feel differently.

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              • #8
                It's only been two years and you are already getting collected trot without a bit!

                *claps*

                I'd say you're doing fine, and I agree...if the horse is sensitive to the point where the recent move has put him off, a different bit will just slow you guys down even more.

                I feel for you. I ride a draft who used to bolt. She will still "deke out" on me and go for the gate if I don't ride every single stride off the outside rein and be really clear with my seat. This is a far cry from where we started, mind you, but people see this and insist that I need a bigger bit, she's too much horse, blah, blah, blah. Maybe she is too much horse, but me getting a bigger bit won't make me a good enough rider to deal with her. We're making tons of progress too...she's only been under saddle for about 18 months, and is not nearly close to working collected, but she has made incredible strides and come much further than anyone expected.
                Lifestyle coordinator for Zora, Spooky, Wolfgang and Warrior

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                • Original Poster

                  #9
                  Originally posted by gieriscm View Post
                  Also, exactly why is everyone saying that your horse needs a stronger bit? Is he bolting? Bucking? Ignoring their aids? Do they ride primarily off of their seat/leg like you do, or off their hand?
                  He ignores their aids, basically goes where he wants to go, and won't give to them. He'll throw his head around instead of giving. He is definitely not an easy ride - but because I ride him all the time I don't see it like they do usually. My sister gets frustrated with me because I can get her horses to move off my leg when she requires a whip and spurs, and says I have "legs of steel" from riding Pirate and just don't realize it. But for me, I barely have to flex my calf usually to get him to respond. Usually. I ride off my calf, thigh, and seat, they ride from their heels and hands. I have to keep him between my legs, but it's usually just contact, not pressure. Same with his mouth - he does require a pretty short rein to keep his speed in check, but we've moved to nearly everything being off the leg. He collects from a squeeze on the inside rein and inside leg. Usually even though it's a short rein they are just lying in my hands, I don't have to hold him back.

                  What he's doing for me right now is refusing to bend left (puts his blind eye forward and he's not willing to give and trust, the regression I mentioned - really believe it's the environment change), which is requiring a lot of 20 meter circle work using my inside leg to push him out to the outside rein. I get cramps in my leg from this - but I know he KNOWS it so it's just frustration on my part.

                  He's also ignoring aids at the canter, especially being sour in the corner of the new arena that has the gate and tying area. So I had a rough ride on him last night, tons of canter work and attempting to get him around that corner without bolting for the corner. He eventually did give it - and I never resorted to whips or spurs, just lots of redirection and making that corner difficult, and a driving seat and strong outside leg on that corner. As soon as he got it I priased him, dismounted, untacked, and cooled him out.

                  I guess I'm just frustrated and perhaps need to slow down a bit and step back a bit. He's actually progressed in other areas - he's loving trail work right now, and his confidence has soared there. In the past month he has gotten over his fear of being alone on a trail and will go out alone willingly, and also gotten past his refusal to canter out alone or in the lead. All summer he'd only canter if there were horses in front of him, but now he'll canter willingly off my cue even if we are alone. I'm having some trouble getting him to stop if there are horses in front of him, he wants to catch up, but he stops immediately when asked if we are alone.

                  It's just frustrating that prior to the move we were talking about showing Training Level this spring, and now I can't barely get a basic intro pattern from him without struggling! He's schooling higher work, but we haven't shown dressage at all, just local open shows - so figure I better start at Training and see where we truly are!
                  If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.
                  ~ Maya Angelou

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                  • #10
                    This is not a horse I'd allow anyone else to ride, if I were you. Sounds like you are doing fine and that he is a horse who doesn't benefit from other people's "ridden input."

                    And a pelham isn't going to give you any more refinement, but that's a whole 'nuther story.

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                    • #11
                      I don't think I'd let other people ride him either. It sounds to me like you are doing just fine I'm a big bareback proponent, if you can do that with nothing, you are on the right track.

                      The all aboard isn't really much of an inside joke. Just be prepared for the resident 'pelham expert' to take over your thread and get into the same old discussion yet again.

                      Comment

                      • Original Poster

                        #12
                        Thank you for the comments - and you are probably right. I only brought up pelham because around here it seems the only choices people go to are kimberwicke or pelham when their horses are having troubles, and the western people start in Tom Thumbs. I don't want to switch to a straight leverage bit, and want to have the ability to just use the snaffle, and only have the leverage if I need it, so to me a pelham with double reins was the "logical" choice. But that's probably way too much anyway and is mostly my frustration talking. I've also been considering sending him to my dressage trainer for a month but that doesn't teach me anything nor does it help with Pi's trust issues.

                        I guess I agree I probably shouldn't let other people ride him. I work with two separate dressage trainers and they both can get beautiful results out of him, however the people I ride with daily have the problems I mention. Most of them consider him a "fun" ride, however, when they are having a bad day or something his speed and quick turns remind them of a "4x4" and he makes them smile. But he isn't listening to them then, and they get upset when they want him to listen. I also have a completely different mindset from everyone I ride with, have the least amount of lessons (but more experience all in all if you take my entire life riding farm ponies and the like) and before Pi had never even ridden in an English saddle before. I also hadn't been on a horse in over ten years when I got Pi (completely unbroke and barely leadable) in August of 06. So I consider myself the worst rider of all of us and guess I look for their input because I consider them better than me.

                        My trainers say I ride like a trainer, have an independent seat and hands, and good legs, good balance, and am effective. I suppose I should listen to them and my own instincts more, and like I said, maybe I just need to back off a bit since I'm getting so frustrated.

                        Thanks again
                        If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.
                        ~ Maya Angelou

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          It seems that you are asking 3 different questions:

                          Does he need a stronger bit?
                          Does he need a stronger whip?
                          Does he need a stronger training since he was a wild stallion for so long ?

                          If he is safe and you know your way around horses - no he doesn't need a stronger whip or bit. However, you probably know that a "late started/gelded wild stallion" will take much more time and patience to train than a normally started gelding. Also he will need a "firm and clear" aids even in a mild bit, but that doesn't render to beating him or putting a stronger bit necessarily.

                          If your horse is not safe and you are a green rider yourself, please be careful.

                          If you ride in the arena with a contact, you can make a little changes all the time and be in control even with the mildest bit, whip use. The idea is to show your horse "comfortable place" when he is good and to make him "uncomfortable" when he is bad - soon he will choose to go to the "comfortable space" himself. That is a lot of nuanced work. If your aids doesn't show him the difference between "comfort zone" and "uncomfortable zone" - no matter what bit/whip, the result will be the same – constant resistant tag of war.

                          I do "bit up" only for long trail rides (longer than 2 hours) sine I ride on a completely loose rein and do only rare corrections as needed, but need a max emergency control if horse will take off or something. It is very taxing to ride with a constant contact for 6+ hours straight.
                          Last edited by Dressage Art; Oct. 30, 2008, 02:38 PM.

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                          • #14
                            Kudos

                            Originally posted by atr View Post
                            This is not a horse I'd allow anyone else to ride, if I were you. Sounds like you are doing fine and that he is a horse who doesn't benefit from other people's "ridden input."

                            And a pelham isn't going to give you any more refinement, but that's a whole 'nuther story.
                            Ditto
                            Personally, I would just take a deep breath (or several, if needed ) and continue training as you have been to this point. You've come an incredible distance in two years. Remember what *they* say, whoever *they* are, about training not progressing in a linear fashion ... you take three steps forward then one back. It's never as easy as everybody would like it to be.

                            Keep up the wonderful work ... and maintain your patience because it'll get better!

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Your horse should be getting BETTER with training, not worse.

                              It could be that the horse has reached a level of training where it is just too physically difficult for him to go on-- SOUR often really means SORE. But one of the ways to determine this is to achieve some sort of an understanding with the horse, so that you aren't forcing him or fighting with him all the time. Flying changes are often where the rubber meets the road, and sometimes, arthritic changes or other soundness issues come to the fore. This could be the reason for his regression, and you should satisfy yourself that he is not sore before using more muscle.
                              Last edited by Eclectic Horseman; Oct. 30, 2008, 02:41 PM. Reason: was responding to post #1, posts #9 & 12 added different facts
                              "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain" ~Friedrich Schiller

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                              • #16
                                Ah yes, everyone at your new barn is a trainer .

                                I'm sure they are trying to help. However, you have a plan that seems to be working for you and two trainers that know your horse and your riding ability.

                                I would not let anyone ride your horse. When people suggest a different bit, nod your head, thank them and say something along the lines of, "wow, thanks for the idea. I'll be sure to discuss it with my trainer." Then go on doing what you're doing.

                                From what you've posted, your horse is distracted and dealing with change. Riding him in a stronger bit won't fix that. You are working through his issues at your own pace with your own system. Keep on doing it as it appears to work.
                                Equine Ink - My soapbox for equestrian writings & reviews.
                                EquestrianHow2 - Operating instructions for your horse.

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                                • #17
                                  A frequent refrain.Go to a stronger bit.

                                  Your quote:..The problem I have is any time anyone else rides him they nearly always tell me he "needs a stronger bit" ...

                                  Hello Tif Ann,
                                  And that I'm afraid is the usual response.It sounds as if you have achieved a marvellous result in very difficult circumstances.You have my admiration.What I see very little discussed in 'modern dressage' is the development of relaxation of the horse's lower jaw,with some mobilization of it's tongue.This is a French concept which leads to extra-ordinary lightness,trust,relaxation,balance and confidence in horses.This can easily,and should be, obtained in a snaffle,first in-hand and then mounted.It is a backward step to go to harsher gear,and not a good one, in spite of everyone shouting in your ear.A horse such as you describe needs great patience,time and an honourable approach to it's dressage.

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                                  • Original Poster

                                    #18
                                    Ecclectic - I agree with you 100% and you've hit the nail on the head with this horse. I've often defended him by saying he's not a horse you tell what to do, you ASK and he gives because he respects and trusts me and WANTS to please me. He's highly intelligent and a completely different horse than my QH gelding, for example. I commonly say that the QH Tommy is my baby and does things because he's told to do them, while Pi is my partner. We have a very give and take relationship - I respect him and he respects me.

                                    I actually credit my trainer with him being a big part of where he is. Perhaps "difficult" is the wrong word - but she meant it in that he's such a challenge and intelligent and such a tester. I've done the work - she's only ridden him maybe six times in two years, but her tools have helped us progress the way we have. For example - we do not use any "tools" such as martingales, etc. They would only cause more problems with Pi.

                                    Training Pi has taken patience and a lot of consistent work. It was a good six to eight months before I felt like I wasn't just responding to him but actually being a proactive rider and he was responding to me.

                                    The more you guys write and the more I respond the more I remember that Pi does not just TRUST people willingly. It's been so long since he's acted like that with ME that I've forgotten how much he tests people. He only really tests people when they try to control him - if he's in charge he's a breeze to ride. I think some of it is the fact that in our group because of the things I mentioned before I'm pretty much considered the "worst" and other people (trainers, riders, etc from the barns) say I make riding Pi look easy, so maybe they are surprised/frustrated when it becomes obvious that Pi is NOT easy to ride. I don't know.

                                    This thread has helped ease my frustration though, and I'm appreciating my Pi more again. Thank you.
                                    If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.
                                    ~ Maya Angelou

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by Dixon View Post
                                      I'm with you -- a stronger bit may make rides more "pleasant" for those riders suggesting it, but it won't necessarily train the horse to respond better. And the fact that they say he needs a stronger bit AND a whip makes me think those riders aren't used to working very hard, so it's not that he's ignoring the bit -- he's probably ignoring their legs, too. It sounds like you know how to get him to respond in the mouth and jaw by using your LEGS, and that's correct training. Most of the time when a horse is ignoring me in the front end (either being heavy or stiff or running through my hands in transitions), I find that it's either because I'm not using enough leg or I'm not using my leg properly, or the horse is ignoring my leg and needs a refresher.

                                      So if he is ignoring your leg while he adjusts to the new stable, then that's a problem, and you might consider carrying a whip to remind him to obey your leg. Yes, there may come a time when he needs a stronger bit, but do make sure he's responding to your leg first. And I would not jump from a snaffle to a pelham -- I would experiment with a slightly thinner or grooved mouthpiece before trying a leverage bit.
                                      Agreed.

                                      The mantra that comes to mind is that you can't supple what you can't drive. If he's ignoring the driving aids, then using a stronger bit won't help you with his suppleness problem.

                                      I think you know deep down what you need to do with your guy, you answered it in your post.

                                      Good luck.
                                      Unashamed Member of the Dressage Arab Clique
                                      CRAYOLA POSSE= Thistle

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                                      • #20
                                        If a horse is correctly using its hind leg and is yeilding to the inside leg (lateral supserveant (sp?) than you should be able to ride them in ANY bit and not have them strong in your hands and carrying or starting to carry towards self carriage.

                                        Anyone who tells you that you need more bit, needs to get some more tools under the belt about brining horses along up the levels.

                                        Just my onery opinion........
                                        www.spindletopfarm.net
                                        Home of Puerto D'Azur - 1998 NA 100 Day Test Champion
                                        "Charcter is much easier kept than recovered"

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