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Tips/advice/exercises for a horse who braces its neck when excited?

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  • Tips/advice/exercises for a horse who braces its neck when excited?

    So with the weather cooling down my little mare is feeling good. TOO good.

    Whenever we pick up the canter now, she will often just brace her neck like a bratty little pony, and just plow ahead like a freight train. The strange thing is she does NOT pull, my reins are NEVER taut. She just kind of turns her neck into stone, and trucks right on along.

    I know the issue is she just wants me to get up into a two point, let out the reins completely, and let her run her silly little brain out. Unfortunately for her I don't want to do that every single time we canter.

    Any advice? Please be gentle, I'm a trail rider with a heavily halter-bred QH. I do not ride Dressage. We're not from your world, but it's a subject you folks might be able to help with.

    (If equipment has anything to do with anything, she goes in an english mechanical hackamore. Bitless is preferred for her, much happier trail horse with no bit. But I would consider any other bitless options, or even a few bitted options if I think it'd help. )
    Tell a Gelding. Ask a Stallion. Discuss it with a Mare... Pray if it's a Pony!

  • #2
    How about using a one rein stop?

    When my TB gets bratty or distracted I will use the one rein stop as a way of giving him a time out.

    Your horse has to give in the neck and bend which also breaks their momentum.

    Once you've done that a few times, then you can just use an opening rein until you get your horse to relax and give into the bend.
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    • Original Poster

      #3
      Originally posted by Bogie View Post
      How about using a one rein stop?

      When my TB gets bratty or distracted I will use the one rein stop as a way of giving him a time out.

      Your horse has to give in the neck and bend which also breaks their momentum.

      Once you've done that a few times, then you can just use an opening rein until you get your horse to relax and give into the bend.
      That's pretty much what I'm doing now, but either I'm doing it incorrectly or it doesn't help very much to actually break the habit. Once I feel her neck start to brace, I give a light open rein cue in one direction. No response, I ask a bit more. No response, ask more. Usually it ends up me just having to do a one rein stop like you said to break her momentum. It works, but doesn't prevent it from happening again in the future.
      Tell a Gelding. Ask a Stallion. Discuss it with a Mare... Pray if it's a Pony!

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      • #4
        The only advice I have for you is not a quick fix I'm afraid.

        My Arab likes to hold tension at the base of his neck so I work hard on long and lows so that he learns to reach for the bit and relax which sould prevent your issues.
        I have horse to sell to you. Horse good for riding. Can pull cart. Horse good size. Eats carrots and apples. Likes attention. Move head to music. No like opera! You like you buy.

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        • Original Poster

          #5
          Originally posted by JackSprats Mom View Post
          The only advice I have for you is not a quick fix I'm afraid.

          My Arab likes to hold tension at the base of his neck so I work hard on long and lows so that he learns to reach for the bit and relax which sould prevent your issues.
          I guess the problem is she is pretty relaxed most of the ride, it's just the canter gets her going. I'm not quite sure how I'd do long and low at the canter when she's wanting to go a million miles an hour?
          Tell a Gelding. Ask a Stallion. Discuss it with a Mare... Pray if it's a Pony!

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          • #6
            What about free lunging her before you ride her? I have a hot little Welsh/Arab mare who loves to run, and I always free lunge her as part of her work. I let her loose in the arena and let her run around for as long as she wants. When she's done, she'll usually stop & walk over to me.

            I've tried a lot of different bitless bridles, and my experience has been that my 2 mares have more of a tendency to brace against a bitless than a bit. The bit that's worked best for me, with both my ponies, is a plain curb bit. And very, very light hands.

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            • #7
              If you get her truly stretching for the bit at the walk and trot all you need to do for the canter is move your inside hand forward for her to stretch which will release the tension in the neck at the canter...it takes a while but my horse is now, finally, going from a relaxed collected trot to a relaxed canter instead of getting tight and tense (and strong).

              Your horse doesn't have to stretch all the way down but even a little will start to release the tension.
              I have horse to sell to you. Horse good for riding. Can pull cart. Horse good size. Eats carrots and apples. Likes attention. Move head to music. No like opera! You like you buy.

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              • Original Poster

                #8
                Originally posted by sayyadina View Post
                What about free lunging her before you ride her? I have a hot little Welsh/Arab mare who loves to run, and I always free lunge her as part of her work. I let her loose in the arena and let her run around for as long as she wants. When she's done, she'll usually stop & walk over to me.

                I've tried a lot of different bitless bridles, and my experience has been that my 2 mares have more of a tendency to brace against a bitless than a bit. The bit that's worked best for me, with both my ponies, is a plain curb bit. And very, very light hands.
                What kind of curb bit? There's quite a few types that are "plain".
                Tell a Gelding. Ask a Stallion. Discuss it with a Mare... Pray if it's a Pony!

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                • #9
                  From what I've seen that works;


                  Just keep doing your one rein stops when she gets to a pace you do not want/did not ask for. Alternate sides. Give her the opportunity to be good. Lather, rinse, repeat. May not be fun, may take 15 minutes or more but I have seen it work at many clinics. Don't be too soft but take control.

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                  • Original Poster

                    #10
                    Originally posted by cutemudhorse View Post
                    From what I've seen that works;


                    Just keep doing your one rein stops when she gets to a pace you do not want/did not ask for. Alternate sides. Give her the opportunity to be good. Lather, rinse, repeat. May not be fun, may take 15 minutes or more but I have seen it work at many clinics. Don't be too soft but take control.
                    Maybe that's it, I just need more repetitions. It's a new problem, like I said with the weather changing is when it started popping up.
                    Tell a Gelding. Ask a Stallion. Discuss it with a Mare... Pray if it's a Pony!

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                    • #11
                      Not sure if these ideas will help, but my Morgan mare started out with a really unbalanced and fast canter and a strong old habit of bracing hard against the bit with her head up. It took longest to "fix" at the canter - in fact, it is still the thing we work on most.

                      There were two different issues, sort of, initially her simply being unbalanced and unfit, so her canter tended to be sort of scrambly and jarring. Once that had been developed (lots of miles!), then the other issue remained or became apparent:

                      On trails she is very competitive and prefers to be first, something I seem to need to tune up each spring! Plus can be really bracy in her "I used to go in an overcheck, so just try to flex me!" neck if I hang on the reins at all. I worked on it psychologically by going out with friends, finding a flat 50+ yard spot, and taking turns cantering and galloping back and forth, passing each other, etc. I had to learn to really give up fear - she actually is SO responsive if I make sure I am following on a soft rein, even riding on a long rein, and just used one rein for slow strong half halts and using my body to indicate the speed I want - not jerking or fast at all with the rein, but a drawing in of one rein over the span of two strides, then out two strides, in two strides, out two strides, with the word "easy" spread over that rhythm. After a few sessions of that in the spring, or when we haven't been out in groups for a while, she then will slow down with a very small couple of squeezes of a fist, my sitting back, my voice or combinations thereof (depending on whether we need to crash to a sudden halt or just slow down a bit).

                      So I think it's a combo of having the guts to not fight the horse about it, and setting up repeated scenarios for practicing. Practicing up a longish hill can help, because horses tend to want to stop after running up a hill, and the hill tends to put you in a good seat for cantering. In the ring I think it can be harder, because I know I have a nearly subconscious fear of hitting the walls or doorways. I ride much better out in a big paddock where there's plenty of room and you don't have to plan turns as quickly.

                      When my trainer was helping me with this she wisely told me to stop trying to slow the horse down all the time - sometimes make her go - go hard and fast and let her know you are the one who asks for speed, and says when. Took me some guts to try it, but once you've flown around like a mad thing a few times, a canter seems pretty boring.

                      Anyway, too long a suggestion, I'm sure... but perhaps something useful?

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                      • #12
                        before doing one reins stops which are supposed to be the last ditch effort to stop a bolt, you might try just putting your horse on an appropriately sized circle and allow the circle to slow it down, bend it so that it softens in the neck.

                        also you need to ask why is this happening? horses dont do things to be "bratty" , they do things as a result of how they are ridden.... so, maybe you are sitting too heavy, or maybe the horse is going with a dropped back , or maybe ..... there are a lot of possibilities.

                        anyway, try circling, and keep on the circle until you feel the horse soften, then try again going straight, then circle again if the horse braces.

                        good luck.

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                        • #13
                          How does she canter on the longe line?

                          Is it possible that she's just not strong enough for a slow canter? I am under the impression that a slow canter without a braced neck requires a great deal of fitness.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by mbm View Post
                            before doing one reins stops which are supposed to be the last ditch effort to stop a bolt, you might try just putting your horse on an appropriately sized circle and allow the circle to slow it down, bend it so that it softens in the neck.

                            also you need to ask why is this happening? horses dont do things to be "bratty" , they do things as a result of how they are ridden.... so, maybe you are sitting too heavy, or maybe the horse is going with a dropped back , or maybe ..... there are a lot of possibilities.

                            anyway, try circling, and keep on the circle until you feel the horse soften, then try again going straight, then circle again if the horse braces.

                            good luck.
                            This is what I was going to suggest.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Wasn't there a thread recently on the use of one rein stops in dressage training?

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                              • #16
                                Your horse doesn't pull on the reins, but he seems to get tight in his neck, and canter too fast.

                                He might be fresh because he hasn't been ridden in a day or two, or because other horses are egging him on. A little longeing or playing in a paddock before the ride, might help.

                                The usual remedy, not specific to dressage, is to 'give and take' with your reins, first on one rein, then the other, kind of bend his head slowly to the left, then bend it around slowly to the right every couple seconds, circle, and just sit back and relax, and try not to lean your upper body forward, tighten up your seat, legs or reins. Give and take on the reins, rather than pull back on both reins at once, take one rein, then take the other. Another thing you can do is just not keep on cantering. Have him canter a little ways, and then walk and say good boy and pat him, then do it again. Walk a ways so he isn't as excited about it. Ask him to canter from a walk, he will have something a little harder to do and it can get him thinking. Keep breaking to a walk, even if it's a little bit of a struggle first. Use your voice and talk to him, only saying whoa, whoa, when you want to stop and walk. Act real relaxed and loose like it doesn't really bother you.

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                                • #17
                                  A lot of horses can get silly at the canter, especially if they are not balanced themselves, much less try to balance a rider. Some just get revved up at their own speed - I can't tell you how many times I can see my horses trotting around the field, then break into the canter and get "silly"....

                                  I'd work her on the lunge, particularly the canter departs -- let her get silly there, balance herself and it might just break her habit and take the "fun" out it (not to mean in a punishing way at all). This is so common with young horses and unbalanced horses. I'm not a fan of lunging for "exercise" or but for teaching the horse to balance itself in the transitions...and of course obedience (changing gates when requested). Once she "gets it" on the ground, that should surely help you under saddle, IME.

                                  I'm not a huge fan of side reins, but OTOH balancing reins -- set at the least restrictive setting -- can be helpful after the horse has gotten rid of the goofiness and charging around on the lunge.

                                  BTW, I was a trail rider too, but balance is balance, obedience is obedience. Probably more important for safety on the trails than in an arena (grin)...
                                  Last edited by sid; Sep. 12, 2009, 05:30 PM.
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                                  • Original Poster

                                    #18
                                    Thanks for the input folks, I really appreciate it.

                                    I should've mentioned, this mare does have some limitations. She's got an older shoulder injury (with rehab taking over a year ), and the vet says that I basically need to avoid longing and excessive circling. She's sound, but the vet just doesn't want me risking reinjury, I guess? To be honest I'm not sure. But he says "No longing or lots of circling", and I obey.

                                    As for the reason she's doing it, I don't really think it's my riding that's specifically CAUSING it (although I'm sure I can ride in a way to help fix this too!). She's just feeling silly and good, and wants to go. She's too polite to pull on the reins, so the next best thing is to set her neck and GOGOGO.

                                    I will try the left-right-left-right rein thing, and also we'll try not cantering for so long, and doing more transitions. It's hard to keep her brain in the game when we're cantering sometimes, she just thinks "Weeee!". So exercises to keep the brain in the game are definitely good.
                                    Tell a Gelding. Ask a Stallion. Discuss it with a Mare... Pray if it's a Pony!

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                                    • Original Poster

                                      #19
                                      Originally posted by sid View Post

                                      BTW, I was a trail rider too, but balance is balance, obedience is obedience. Probably more important for safety on the trails than in an arena (grin)...
                                      Oh I totally agree. I was just saying that because I didn't want to be murdered for using a mechanical hackamore, or told things in weird terms like "breathe through your hips" like you crazy Dressage riders say.
                                      Tell a Gelding. Ask a Stallion. Discuss it with a Mare... Pray if it's a Pony!

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                                      • #20
                                        no, no!!! You have to breathe FROM your hips up through the top of your head and recycle it back. Now, doesn't that make SO much more sense??

                                        Having an OTTB, when we'd go out on trails, if he was looking for an excuse to have an OTTB moment, I feel your pain. I cans till remember suddenly we were off! and there were trees and I remember that my knees would hurt so badly when we went into them, and so I needed to avoid that.

                                        So - I'm not knowledgable enough about the bitless options, but I would also suggest she get some of her ya yas out first!
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