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Looking for some help/advice with my young pony

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  • Looking for some help/advice with my young pony

    I have a coming 4 year old that I have been slowly starting with his driving training. He is a welsh/british riding pony and I have lightly ridden him under saddle for the past year and have been long lining him once in a while for the past 2 ish years. I am by no means an expert, but I have trained quite a few ponies/horses to ride and a few to drive, and they have been quite successful.
    My young guy is very good, he's quiet and responsive, has a great whoa and understands w/t/c on the long lines (I have been using 2 longe lines so I'm quite a bit aways from him when I long line him. My husband who has had more driving training than I likes to long line them much closer and likes to use the driving lines. I do not feel comfortable that close as I feel if he decides to spook, he can get away quite easily since the lines are so short - though he does not tend to be a spooky pony).
    Anyway, the slight issue that I have been having recently is that he has become "fussy" with any contact. I have had his teeth hand floated last spring and power floated in November as he was also a little fussy under saddle (he would either put his head up or down if he had any contact of feel on his mouth) and I was worried that perphaps his teeth were bothering him. The dentist said that he had no sharp points and saw nothing that should be bothering him, I put it down to him just being sensitive/green - which he is.
    I was long lining him in a french link liverpool bit but he does not like it at all. He constantly chews at the bit, opens his mouth and "roots" the lines out of your hands. I ride him in a myler with a high port as he goes the best in that (least amount of head movement, he seems the most happy with it). I long lined him the other day in a comfort myler snaffle (did not have the port in it, but is pretty much the same bit) and he was better than in the french link, but he still would "root" and put his head to the ground and had his mouth open. He was great in every other way though....
    I don't know how to get past this. If I push him forward, he seems to be better for a bit, but then goes back to rooting and trotting with his head to the ground with his mouth open.
    I was thinking of riding him in his driving bridle to see if he's the same way while I'm riding him. I find it much easier to ride as I find the contact a little steadier and its easier to push him on with my leg. I was also going to put the myler with the port on him and long line him in that and see if he likes that any better. My husband thinks he just needs to get used to contact but he is used to it under saddle...He is picky on how you ride him though. You have to be just right - right amount of leg/hand and he's happy as can be. But if he rushes and I need to use a bit of a hold on him, he does get a little fussy, not bad, just puts his head up or down away from the contact.
    I have not had this issue with the others that I have started though he is a bit more picky than the others. Perhaps this is just a green/young thing and can be worked on. I don't want it to become a bad habit. I will be taking under saddle dressage lessons with a great instructor soon (I'm waiting for our good weather to come). But in the mean time does any one have any suggestions or any other ideas?

  • #2
    The Mylers make a solid mouthpiece when you pull the reins, while the French Link is going to fold up in his mouth with any rein pull. Do the Mylers have any curb chain pressure when you use them? I am presuming you are using a curb chain with the Liverpool side bit? The fairly significant differences in the mouthpieces, chain action under the chin, could be bothering the young horse at this point in his training.

    When we long line, the animal is WAY OUT there on the lines, so he is making a LARGE circle to get him less bent in his work. Our lines are 30ft and 35ft pairs, so the circles are 70-80ft with handler ALSO making a big walking circle in the center. NO TWIRLING in the center allowed. You walk with the animal as he goes around.

    You need to know that horse is going to be feeling a LOT of pull when you use such long lines as reins. You have a big advantage in leverage with the length.
    You want to TRY to keep the feel light, but not always possible. Just know that horse is feeling a BIG pull, when you may not have moved your hands much at all!

    I would say that husband is somewhat correct, that animal needs to learn to accept the pressure of the bit, but this is something that will take some time and work. If you are not using sidereins (we don't), then horse is needing to learn self-carriage of his head and body, to be comfortable in his work.

    This is kind of a painful (to us people watching) stage of training as horse raises and lowers head, tries rooting for more rein as you mentioned, but not succeeding (I hope) in forcing you to give rein to horse. We have a whip with a lash that CAN reach horse WAYYY out there, and this is where we need to touch horse and keep him GOING FORWARD. At this point, horse can do what he likes with head and neck in up or down between his ankles, gape his mouth, chew hard, as long as horse is doing the gait requested, stopping as asked. Horse needs to be worked enough (various gaits, speeds within the gait, both directions, reverses on the move) to be somewhat tired, but be rewarded vocally for going at the speeds requested, while he sorts out where his head needs to be.
    Husband here says "I just don't look at him in front of the shoulder" so the head action doesn't bother him. We don't want a horse who is HANGING on our hands, making YOU hold his head in place all the time he is getting used. Our big headed horses weigh a TON on your hands!! Very tiring to go holding them up. Horse is MADE to hold up his OWN head, so let him! Horse just has to figure that part out while getting worked.

    It takes a while, but they DO finally get the idea, because head in good position is the most COMFORTABLE way to travel. You keep him just feeling you with the bit touches, hunting for the bit, while you let him go slowly, head lowered, then PUSHING the hindquarters into driving for a few strides, when head starts to rise a little, then slower again. You might need to GENTLY touch him with whip to encourage drive forward, as he learns how. You are building muscle, he is learning how to do what you want. Little steps at a time, very uncomfortable working if horse doesn't have the muscle to hold himself in that position for more than a few strides, not even a full circle.

    Your long lashed whip is a tool, like riding is using legs. You need to be able to touch what you aim at, with enough touch for encouragement, but not punish him unexpectedly. You might want to do some whip practice AWAY from the training ring, without horse anywhere around. Set up some targets and touch them with the lash, because handling that long lash needs practice to be good, and you will need to do it while ALSO managing the long lines to horse! Lots of finesse there!!

    I think I would choose one bit, use it both ridden and in the long lines, see if horse gets better in doing as asked over a couple weeks. It is going to take time to "build his mouth" for Driving, since you have so many other aids when Riding him.

    I am not a huge "snaffle ring-sided bits are gentler and kinder" thinker. Snaffle bits with ring sides are a STEP for our horses, in building them to use leverage bits as TRAINED horses. Keeping a horse in a ring-sided bit is not always going to be his best bit choice, or enable you to get what you ask him to do for you. I see people using snaffles for years, horse STILL will not lower nose and give to pressure for soft reins in soft hands! TEACHING our horses how to respond to a leverage bit is much easier and faster most times. Then horses are not hanging on our hands or in danger of us losing control using them. I don't have any ring-sided bits which are not smooth, soft, in mullen or 2-3 piece mouths. No twists, slow or hard, wire or "trick" mouthpieces in a ring-sided bit. Our leverage bits are VERY short sided, with reins just below the mouthpieces, so it isn't a leverage issue to keep them controlled. They understand heads get lowered with touch of the curb strap/chain, feel the bit so hands and horse are talking all the time. I am NOT going to hold him up, so he has to balance himself for what we will be asking him to do, ridden or driven. They go "hunting" for the bit if all rein pressure is thrown away, to the point of dragging noses on the ground, so they can feel the hands again.

    Does take a while to get them to the Trained Mouth stage, but sure worth it when you get to enjoy the results. And a LOT easier on your hands if horse is doing his part holding up his own head poundage!!


    • Original Poster

      Great advice and points Goodhors!
      The myler that I have been using are just D ring bits, no curb chains. If he likes them, I can buy them in either in a liverpool or butterfly on line. I just want to make sure he's happy with them first. I have around 40 - 50 bits so whats another!! The french link does have a curb chain on it but I tend to do them loosish and I drive on the rings so not too much curb action.
      That does make sense that the longer the lines, the more leverage you have. I have a soft arm and hand and I'm able to go with him if he stoots forward etc. I feel that my hand is quite soft and I can also give and take. I also walk and jog with him all over the ring. I never stay in one place and get a lot of excercise for sure! With the short lines my husband uses he also has to move around a lot! We do believe in a lot of ground work and will not push this guy too fast. We already have a pair that we are able to show for another couple of years so there is no rush with his training. I just don't want to have to go back and fix all of my mistakes
      The pony was great at the walk yesterday and got a lot of praise when he was quiet in the bridle. He then gets a quieter hand from me and is quite happy about that. Its when he trots that he gets unstable as his pace is either too quick or too slow since he's just trying to find a happy medium. This of course is quite normal for a young/green animal, but he gets quite unhappy if he feels any type of rein contact. Its not too bad undersaddle as I can move him forward right away with my leg and I find I have much better communication with him this way - perhaps because I have more riding experience than driving experience.
      I also agree with not caring too much with his head position. I don't mind if its too high or too low right now, I just don't want it tossing about or him going with his mouth open and head pretty much right on the ground. I do not let him root the reins out of my hand and I use a verbal que and move him forward (he tends to do this and suck back. As soon as he goes forward his head comes up and he's much steadier).
      I'm sure he just needs a lot more long lining and more riding with a bit more contact. I also don't own a pair of side reins but I was thinking of putting them on loose just so he can't put his head down so low. I don't know if that is a good idea or not??
      These are some pictures I took yesterday of him. I have put the lunge line through the tugs as they would not fit through the terrets. I'm not sure if that bugs him as well as the contact is much lower than it would be if ridden. My husband then took them out of the tugs and placed it over the terrets but it didn't change his "rooting" too much.
      He seems to be much happier undersaddle which is why I'm trying to figure out what I do differently and what I can do to make him happier. You can see he looks more comfortable but maybe he just needs more time in harness/driving bridle??


      • #4
        We use the long lines down on the sides thru the tug loops, as in your first photo. This lets us run the outside line around the rump, keeps line in place on the horse. Two plus points for this method, A. the line rubs his hindquarters ALL the time, desensitizing him to odd touches, straps, B. the line lets you contain, control his hindquarters to push him forward and not allow any "swing out" on the circle with head inside. If you use the saddle terrets, you chance the horse turning fast, losing control of his body as the reins wrap around him. He gets "under the lines", you lose AND he will do it again! Having him BETWEEN the lines all the time, gives you much better body control, along with a stronger leverage from mouth to surcingle, SHOULD he get silly and need to be pulled around.

        He is quite handsome, nice head and neck, to let him flex, carry his head correctly with no physical problems like short or thicker necks can cause. In the ridden photo, how much pull is on his rein? This is the part where I want horse and I to be about equal, not much pull. If I move hands forward, he moves nose out. If I move hands back, he puts nose down, but not really any more "pull" on the reins, still equal in feel for horse and me. My "soft mouth" is not horse hiding behind a bit, won't take hold of the bit if I release the reins. The reins should look snug, but not pulled, unless I am asking for impulsion in the big trot REACH, maybe a hand gallop, where again, we are balancing between his mouth and my hands while I support him in this kind of movement.

        I guess I would choose to try him with the same bit you are using ridden, one of the Mylers, and long line him with that for a couple weeks. I wouldn't advise the sidereins, even very loose, since it will limit his head and he is NOT learning from his improper head carriage. When he dives to the ground, ask for MORE FORWARD, in extending his trot. I agree, it is not attractive, but seems to be a stage they do go thru, before learning the self-carriage they need. Husband calls it the "drinky-bird look" after the souvenir toy birds that lift and drop heads into a water glass repeatedly. We tried sidereins at first, but it took MUCH longer to get heads were we wanted them, and still had to take the sidereins off to reach our final goal. With no sidereins, no artificial limitations, they seem to learn faster where heads go best.

        Something to consider, is not being quite so "giving" with hands. As the head settles, more in a steady position, take hold of the lines, drive him up into the bit a few steps, then give when horse gives to you. Even the tiniest give, you release the reins WAY BIG, so he can notice it. Can't do the big give, with sidereins on, they never give enough, horses just learn to hang on them. This step is to help him learn to accept a little bit pressure, which he will need to manage when he starts going with impulsion in the future. He gives to your hands, flexes, so your are able to have him push, drive on, from behind. Not really any change of rein pull, but you have closed the front door, while asking him to push harder behind, starting to move into him lifting in front, bigger stride, though the rate of speed is not changed. This is WAY further in his future, but I am saying it so you understand the why of what I think you should be doing now, to reach that stage.


        • Original Poster

          I will change the bit over to the other myler with the large port and see if he likes it better. I havent ridden him for a week and I did long line him in the french link a few months ago with no issues. He was really quiet with his head so I wasnt sure why he was so different all of a sudden. He could be just going through a growth spurt or ??
          I use very little hand when I ride him and he has very little "pull" on the reins. He is not strong in the bridle and I would like to keep it that way as its really nice, but its almost too light, as any slight touch of the reins he reacts. He is very picky with contact and if I use too much he will either put his head to his chest (though not to the ground as he has been doing line driving) or he will put his head up in the air. I think I've been a little too soft with him as he has been quite different than the others that I have worked with. He is not bad by any means and I love riding and working with him, but he is sensitive and quite opinionated (he doesnt rear, buck etc - I can leave him for 3 weeks and just hop on him, no lunging required) but if I use any contact he of course moves his head around.
          I will take your advice and not use the side reins. You have some great points and I have never used them anyway. I have used draw reins on him (as I could easily give and take when needed) and did not like them at all on him (I have used them briefly on other horses and I find they can help a little in certain cases but I don't use them for long). He would just curl and get behind the bit even if they were loose and flapping in the breeze. Any type of weight on the reins he tends to feel and react to.
          I have my lessons set up for next week so I will be able to work on things under saddle with him and should hopefully relate them to the long lining.
          We will just work at the walk and trot for now in the long lines just getting him used to some contact. I will also have the dentist out soon to re check his teeth - just to ease my mind.
          I also liked the idea of keeping the lunge line around his bum so he gets used to it. He never once minded it and I also rub/place the driving whip all over his body and inbetween his legs as he's walking around. I want to make sure things do not bother him when he can't see them. I'm very impressed with him so far and this has never bothered him one bit. He can be spooky under saddle sometimes, but he has never looked at or reacted to anything in harness so far. I have also kept the breeching straps attached to the harness and just looped them through the keeper so he gets used to straps touching/moving around his hind legs when he's moving. I have seen a fair amount of driving accidents, some which I believe could have been prevented from desentizing.
          Thank you for all of your great advice and posts. I really appreciate it


          • #6
            A few of things came to mind to add to goodhors' great comments...

            As he is just rising 4, could he be having teething issues? I am assuming if he had wolf teeth, they've been removed? At four (ish), they still do have their adult teeth coming in, so perhaps he's shedding a cap which is bothering him.

            The problem when using lunge lines is that they tend to have a heavy clip on the end, so a bit of weight that will bounce around on the bit rings, no matter how steady one's hands are. I found I could get better contact and feel with buckle on long reins. I got a set made by Brubachers made of biothane for less than $40 about 5 years ago... the only thing I would change is that they are a bit narrow for my liking.

            Last thing... you mentioned he became unstable at the trot... it is very difficult to keep one hands quiet while you jog along with them! If he is as sensitive as you say, perhaps he's getting a little too much jiggling in his mouth.

            Hope this helps and good luck with him. I look forward to seeing him out in a year or two!


            • #7
              I used a Liverpool with a very low port. I liked that I had 5 different places to attach the lines. My boy like the lines just around the shank...I think that was called rough cheek but don't quote me...It's been along time.

              Maybe something like that, that gives several options, would suit you/him.
              Ride like you mean it.


              • Original Poster

                Nickers - Yes, he had his wolf teeth removed when he was gelded and his teeth were done twice last year. I know at this age caps could be bothering him and I do have the dentist coming out early next month to do my older guys and I will have him recheck the young guy just in case (his teeth were powerfloated in November).
                I like the idea of using a buckle in line. Thats a good idea as well...
                With the crappy weather this weekend (snow all day on saturday and cold and windy yesterday) I was unable to do anything with my guys. I will try switching the bit to the one he likes undersaddle this week and see how it goes. I have also bought a pair of longe lines that has a small snap and they have about 4ft of small round rope that then goes into a lunge line. I'm going to try these and see if he likes them any better.
                I just thought it was odd that he dosent have the same issues under saddle as he does long lining. I don't think its his teeth, but of course they will be re-checked out.
                Thanks everyone for the great suggestions! I hope to get him out to some driving shows this year, but we shall see how the training goes. I will be taking him out to a bunch of riding shows to get him out and about though
                Last edited by DiamondJubilee; Apr. 22, 2013, 11:35 AM.


                • #9
                  Do check that when his wolf teeth were removed they have not left a shred in, I've had a couple that have had this problem. BRP X Welsh is a slow maturing combination. He'll be somewhat settled by 6. I always start mine off with a Mullen Mouth Cheek Snaffle, especially when they are teething, 4 - 5 is a rotten time to have a bit in a ponies mouth. The Mullen sits where it's put. Bought mine in the UK from Townfield Saddlers.