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Young, green horse - poor contact at trot, excellent contact at canter. Ideas?

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  • Young, green horse - poor contact at trot, excellent contact at canter. Ideas?

    I'm working with my instructor on this, and have talked to experienced friends, but would like to pick some more brains!

    My 4 y/o Saddlebred gelding takes sporadic contact at the trot, especially when he's tense and/or nervous, preferring to "swim" behind the bit. However, at the canter, even if he is tense/nervous, he takes an excellent, steady contact.

    He's current on all health/dental care, not sore or anything, just unsure of what to do....but I don't understand why he takes such good contact at the canter and not at the trot. He's in a Korsteel loose ring french snaffle: http://www.smartpakequine.com/produc...ctClassid=6145 I don't think I can get more mild than that!

    Any ideas?

  • #2
    Hard to say. Need to see what he is doing.


    • #3
      This is where correct lunging in side reins helped my youngster a LOT. She's tense, and built a bit "up" (we call her my Swedish Saddlebred when she's in a "mood" ).

      It took a while, but she's finally getting it...
      "Adulthood? You're playing with ponies. That is, like, every 9 year old girl's dream. Adulthood?? You're rocking the HELL out of grade 6, girl."


      • #4
        Guessing by breed alone (its stereotyping, so your horse may differ) you need to really slow down this horse's front legs. Park horses have a natural tendency in the trot to get higher in the neck and above the bit and hollow their backs. They go a million miles an hour with the front legs, and the hind legs often trail out behind. This doesn't happen so much at the canter because it is harder for them to keep their balance because the canter is three beat and at times during each stride the horse has only one hoof on the ground. So in the canter the horse needs to use his haunches more than the trot.

        So what you should try with this horse is to slow him way down to allow his hind legs to catch up and come underneath him. It will take some time for him to build strength behind and you may need to ride him a lot slower than you want to for a while. When he is stronger behind then you need to try to get him to take quicker steps behind and bend his hind legs underneath his body more.

        Second, ride him quite deep and round to get him to lower and relax his neck and lift his back. You may need to exaggerate this at first to stop him from hollowing his back.

        Hope this helps.
        "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain" ~Friedrich Schiller


        • #5
          Partly along the lines with what Eclectic Horseman said:

          1) at the trot he is not using his hind end, whereas at the canter he naturally has to/can. Slowing down the front so the back can catch up can work for some horses. With my morgan mare (who was very up in front/sewing machine when I started with her) what worked was lots of very forward trot on a long/loose rein until "forward/steady rhythm" was established (months), then starting to teach her to do that on a long contact, then on a shorter contact. We tried the "slower" strategy in the beginning, but it didn't help the up-and-down as much as the "faster/loose rein" strategy. Depends on the horse, perhaps.

          2) Another possibility is that because his canter is very comfortable and steady (assuming), you are able to maintain softer following hands. A jolting "sewing machine" trot can be very hard for the rider to coordinate with, which creates a circular effect, because then the rider's hands/body are not steady, so it only aggravates the situation. Developing the trot on the lunge line might help, if that is a factor (not saying it is, but it can be)


          • Original Poster

            I'm thinking he just needs more "bit time", as I don't ride him that often.

            EH - he's no Park horse. He's being started as a dressage horse, which is why I posted here in the Dressage forum. Sorry if I wasn't clear. You probably just thought I was lost in the wrong forum! He has an amazing capability to (generally) not drop his back when he is behind the bit. I know that sounds odd, but he really doesn't. He can get a bit quick in front, but is not trailing his hind legs behind, and does relax quite a bit and move smoother/flatter when he's in an environment he's more comfortable with. While he doesn't have an eight-inch overtrack, he does reach underneath himself.

            I'll post a link from this weekend - this is in a hunter class, but you can see him bopping on and off contact at the trot and staying steady on contact at the canter. Steady for a baby We went for some show atmosphere experience, it was close to home and cheap! My dressage instructor keeps saying "he's really going to come through at the canter!" She thinks his canter will be fabulous - I'm hoping she's right!



            • Original Poster

              Here's the vid I posted a few weeks back of his first dressage schooling show. If you search for the thread I posted it on, you can get some background as to what we've been doing.



              • #8
                After watching your video here is my two cents worth. This horse IS moving too "up and down" and his rhythum is MUCH too quick. He has no suspension in the trot and his back is not moving at all. What he needs (and appears to be ASKING YOU with his unsteady head) is to be allowed to STRECH DOWN into the contact, which will bring his back up, giving him more suspension and movement thru back and use of his hind end. Also slow WAY down at this point in his training. You can always add the impulsion back, but right now this is not "impulsion" but is running forward. I think you are rushing the IDEA of "on the bit". He is not ready for this much contact and, partially due to his conformation/breeding is too "up" in the front for his stage of training. You can correct this with proper work, but the FIRST step is to stretch down into the contact on a much longer rein. I don't really see him truly getting behind the bit, sometimes he is behind the vertical, and that is when he looks to me like he is saying "PLEASE let me stretch down" but you are "holding him up". In order to make the jump to dressage with him, he is probably not going to be able to go and do the SB "hunter" classes at least not at this time


                • #9
                  Originally posted by asb_own_me View Post
                  I'm thinking he just needs more "bit time", as I don't ride him that often.

                  EH - he's no Park horse. He's being started as a dressage horse, which is why I posted here in the Dressage forum. Sorry if I wasn't clear. You probably just thought I was lost in the wrong forum! He has an amazing capability to (generally) not drop his back when he is behind the bit. I know that sounds odd, but he really doesn't. He can get a bit quick in front, but is not trailing his hind legs behind, and does relax quite a bit and move smoother/flatter when he's in an environment he's more comfortable with. While he doesn't have an eight-inch overtrack, he does reach underneath himself.

                  I'll post a link from this weekend - this is in a hunter class, but you can see him bopping on and off contact at the trot and staying steady on contact at the canter. Steady for a baby We went for some show atmosphere experience, it was close to home and cheap! My dressage instructor keeps saying "he's really going to come through at the canter!" She thinks his canter will be fabulous - I'm hoping she's right!


                  You were clear enough. The horse is 4 years old. I imagine that he is quite green and not trained at anything yet.

                  The way of going that I am talking about is genetic, not training. After generations of breeding for fine harness horses or park horses, offspring are artificially selected for specific traits, and then bred to similar horses again and again to refine these characteristics.

                  Example: No matter how wonderful your training methods, you could not turn a quarterhorse halter horse into a park or fine harness horse. It's just not the way that they are bred to move.

                  I have trained a few young saddleseat bred horses for dressage (National Show Horse, Morgan, Arab, etc.) and it has been my experience that they like to travel above the bit, out behind and hollow their backs. They do not "come through" in the contact. You cannot feel the thrust of their hind legs with your seat or in your hands.

                  If you look carefully at the video you posted, the chestnut ASB's front legs are going almost double time compared to his hind legs. Slow his front legs down, lengthen his neck and stretch his top line.
                  "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain" ~Friedrich Schiller


                  • #10
                    I hadn't seen the video before I replied. That's not nearly as bad as it sounded! To me that looks like a relatively inexperienced horse, that's all. Working on stretching and so on at home (as EH and others suggested) will benefit him in the long run. I wouldn't expect a young horse or fairly green horse to hold his head perfectly still for minutes at a time, just to improve little by little.


                    • #11
                      You are right toofatponies, and he looks better in the dressage video than he did in the hunter class video. I don't know which is more recent.

                      It is not bad. But simply "more time" will not correct the problem. The rider needs to correct the problem by riding the horse differently so that the horse will learn to accept the bit and become steady in the contact. Without that fundamental, the half halt cannot go through and you cannot make true progress up the levels.

                      Ibex has a point about longeing at the trot in side reins. A Vienna longe rein (sliding side reins) can really help with this type of horse as it encourages them to travel in a longer, lower outline and to seek the bit without leaning on it. The handler can control the speed and tempo of the horse's forehand, while using the longe whip to activate the hind end.

                      I didn't mean to offend the OP in anyway. This is a really cute horse that looks like it will be very suitable for dressage. But all horses have different conformations, ways of going, strengths and weaknesses, and need to be schooled in slightly different ways to develop the way that we want for dressage.
                      "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain" ~Friedrich Schiller


                      • Original Poster

                        No offense taken!

                        I'm not offended at all, EH. I know I take my chances posting here and you are not even close to offending Big girl panties are on, and I know he's young, green, and light years from perfect!

                        The dressage video was taken one month ago; the hunter class was Saturday night. He was far more relaxed at the dressage schooling show. This weekend was major stimulation for him - new arena, a bunch of horses in the ring, center ring, music blaring, the crowd yelling - aside from his being tense, I am super proud of him for handling it all like a trooper and not getting upset or spooky.

                        shawneeAcres - he's going to a few local ASB shows for the experience of seeing/hearing new things and having a lot of stimuli. After dealing with an incredibly hot, opinionated, and spooky mare for nearly a decade, I'm a firm believer in lots of exposure to lots of different venues. Hence the trail riding, foxhunting, and shows large and small. I do not expect him to be competitive at the ASB shows, obviously he's not what they look for in the ASB hunters! I know this well - I have two extremely successful ASB hunters who are totally different from him! I completely agree with your assessment that his rhythm in the hunter class video is way too fast - I was encouraging him to go forward in this class as opposed to our normal cadence in our dressage lessons. He was so tense in the warmup - there were cows at the Farigrounds this weekend! - that we needed to stress FORWARD at all times! He wanted to stop and gawp at the cows. Fortunately for me and to his credit, he forgot about cows once we got in the ring and focused his worries elsewhere. I'm glad he trusts me enough to keep forward, even if he was tense.

                        He is far more steady in our dressage lessons at a slower cadence, and I need to video a lesson, something I've been meaning to do but haven't had a helper handy to go with me. Someone mentioned it would be hard to comment without seeing what he's doing, so to illustrate our issue, I posted these videos. The hunter class is not indicative of what he's typically asked to do (and also not indicative of his usual fairly relaxed self) - but it was ideal to clearly show his tendency to swim at the trot yet maintain contact at the canter.

                        Speaking of cadence at the trot, I find it interesting that he's showing tension in his shortened trot steps (I call it stomping) yet his canter stride in the class is much closer to his normal canter stride than his trotting in the class is to his normal trot. Is he more confident cantering?

                        In our lessons, we are working the inside leg to outside rein connection at a 20m circle, and just tried some spirals (not too small!) as well to encourage opposite hand/leg connections. Can anyone suggest other exercises that might be beneficial?


                        • #13
                          He is too cute! And he reminds me of my Saddlebred, Spike.

                          I've owned Spike for almost two years; he just turned 8. He was doing the Saddlebred hunter thing up here in Maine, but he's not really what they're looking for in that class. I bought him for dressage (and he's my first ever Saddlebred, too), and I'm facing some of the same challenges you are. We work a lot of long and low, but you really have to be aware of where the hind end is when you do it. If I let Spike's poll drop below his withers I can be assured that his hind end is out behind him.

                          Spike was older and more mature when we started, but I found he needed to live in contact for a while regardless of where his head was. (It didn't help that he'd been schooled in a kimberwick with a German martingale.) Once he realized that he couldn't evade the contact, even by ducking behind the vertical, he became much steadier. Here's a link to a picture of him at the trot in a dressage test--a bit too much on the forehand, but honestly in the contact.


                          I still have trouble when he is tense, not so much at trot but at walk. It's frustrating because he has such a nice walk at home. I also am finding that as we are schooling some first level movements--leg yield and cantering across diagonals--that he is better. That's hard for you with a "baby", but I am finding that the busier I keep Spike the steadier his contact and the more relaxed he is.

                          BTW, it looks like you have a nice group of adults there to ride against in the hunter ring. One thing that turned me off up here was that there were no adults riding the hunters. The oldest kid was 20 years younger than me!



                          • #14
                            I have a 3-yo Arab who was bred to be a park horse, so I know what you're dealing with. These park-type horses tend to be very flexible in the neck but not so inclines to lift the back. Even if they keep the hind end under them, they can still manage to have their head and neck all over the place.

                            Encouraging them to stretch down while still keeping the hind end active is what this type of horse needs. They need to go down into the contact, not be constrained in it. They are naturally tight in the back, so stretching into the contact helps them learn to relax and lift the back.

                            I find that my boy had a very nice canter as well, and it is his trot that needs work. He also gets bored very easily, so I really have to keep him thinking.


                            • #15
                              Just watching the video (cute horse!) I'm reminded that my favorite online dressage trainer likes to quiz riders on the training scale- rhythm and relaxation/suppleness come before connection, so using that as the start I'd think slowing down his tempo and getting a relaxed, rhythmic trot comes first, then getting him to relax through his neck and poll, and then work on the connection.

                              I also have a thought about your comment that you were riding him more "forward" in the breed class, when to me it seemed more like he was just going more up and down and at a faster tempo.



                              • #16
                                Well take it back to the training pyramid. FIRST - Rhythm - SECOND - relaxation and then contact. I have to believe you don't have the first two levels established. More lunging with sidereins to get the horse to move from back to front and reach over the back to the bit. Free-lunging is something we do with all of our horses - more than lunging on the circle. Helps them "lift" their backs without the weight of the rider to come over the top.

                                I would agree if the horse is coming behind the bit the back is probably hollow and the horse is pushing OUT behind instead of stepping under.
                                Summit Sporthorses Ltd. Inc.
                                "Breeding Competition Partners & Lifelong Friends"


                                • #17
                                  The video of sustaining contact is really only relevent in w and c where there is bascule/telescoping of the neck/balancing rod. But in addition in to that is w/c we must remember to rider with light lateral flexion.

                                  The easiest way to sustain a connection is to properly ride the horse with light (lateral) flexion, making sure that the contact on both sides of the bit is the same. If the horse is up/open, the connection steady the horse will offer longitudinal flexion over time when asked to work on a curved line (circles/half circles/serpentines/etc).

                                  As to the training scale, it does not mean there is no connection before the first two elements. The traditional training scale is: rhythm (steady tempo/pure rhythm=relaxation/a swinging back); suppleness (lateral flexability leads to longitudinal flexion; contact (flexion according to the level of training); impulsion (active lifting and placing of the hind legs); straightness (ability to place the shoulders/etc); collection (amplitude of stride). When training, always look to the 'basic element which is missing' which is problematic to training advancing.

                                  So FIRST the rider has to 'form the correct funnel' (have good equitation/etc) for the horse to meet the hand. In a training level horse there is basic contact with the mouth, the horse is ridden straight on with a steady tempo to relax the back and to sustain purity. It is made more supple over time with the use figures. As the horse learns lateral flexibility it begins to have bit acceptance (aka /roundness). Roundness does NOT come before a connection which 'recycles energy between the hindlegs and the hand'. IF there are problems with contact look to the hand connection (is it too low/fixed/acting on the bars?), or to the proper tempo, or to preciptious flexion (low/closed posture).
                                  I.D.E.A. yoda


                                  • #18
                                    I did not get to see the video before it was taken down. If I am to respond, I would say that your sitting trot is not as good as your canter seat. Correct contact in the trot is very dependant with the rider being able to correctly sit the suspension. Would suspect that you are not there yet.