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How would you teach an older horse to be more flexible?

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  • How would you teach an older horse to be more flexible?

    My new to me horse is 17, used for endurance for 12 years, and basically just knows how to go straight. Really, no flex to the neck, no bend, gets really stiff, head goes up with contact. When I try some of that NH stuff with him, he walks off with rein contact, no give to the rein, etc.

    Is there hope for an old guy to become more responsive and bend?
    There is no snooze button on a cat that wants breakfast.

  • #2
    Proper dressage would be the direction I would go. My endurance horses are also dressage horses. They know lots more than "just go straight."


    • #3
      I second the dressage suggestion. And I bet you'd have some fun doing the basics with him. At 17, it will be fun to see him learn and understand how to give and bend in ways he may not have before (though you may be surprised to find out he knows how, just hasn't been asked in quite a while). If it were me, I'd find a good local trainer and do maybe a month or two of lessons -- but then I like that sort of stuff...

      If you're not into that, why not start with just some light neck flection exercises on trail. I do that with my TWH, who also came to me with only the ability to go straight. Bending right was a bear for him the first six months. Now, two years later, he flexes, bends, does lateral moves all out on trail. Though I would start with some basic ground work, being sure he knows how to give to pressure.

      It's a summer project!
      "Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." - Confucious
      <>< I.I.


      • Original Poster

        There's a well reccommended dressage teacher near me, I guess that's the way to go. I feel intimidated being such a dressage beginner because I'm afraid an instructor could feel bored with us, and we wouldn't be into showing or the stuff the dressage forum posts about.
        There is no snooze button on a cat that wants breakfast.


        • #5
          I would just tell her what your goals are -- and if she's not the right trainer for you I'm sure she'll direct you to one that can help. You may not want to pay a higher level dressage trainer's rates anyway, when what you really want is schooling in the basics for conditioning.
          "Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." - Confucious
          <>< I.I.


          • #6
            It was drummed into my head for years, from a very good dressage instructor, that the POINT of dressage is to create a relaxed, supple, attentive, healthy horse that is comfortable to ride. All the "fancy stuff," the exercises and moves and shows, are not the ultimate point, they are the demonstration that the point has been achieved (or is being worked toward properly.)

            So if the dressage instructor is really any good, he/she will be very pleased to help your older guy (and you.) Frankly, an AA rider without fancy goals and stars in their eyes, who just wants to improve their horse's suppleness, would probably be a joy.

            There is totally hope for your older guy to become more supple, and it would be good for his body. I've been riding a 17 yo h/j who started out a month ago exactly as you describe. Now he's soft and doing lateral work, and seems very happy with it. He's not perfect, of course--he's got years of stiffness to overcome, but he has the idea and he's liking it.

            One thing I've realized is that a really really long, soft warm-up helps a LOT. We go out and just walk on a long rein, asking for very soft transitions from walk to halt, doing big loopy circles and figure 8's. After a bit, we do a couple of trot circuits, me in two point, on a long rein, just to get the pipes cleared and the heart beating. When he's finished with the cough and snuffle thing, we go back to walk and circles. (As time has gone along, I ask him to keep his head long and low in this early trot, but the ability to do that has developed with his ability to become soft, so I wouldn't ask for it right away.)

            During this warm-up time, I stay really relaxed, but as I feel him warming up, I will squeeze just the inside rein at first, until he gives even a tiny bit, and then I add soft leg, hoping for him to give to it and bend through his body. (If I start with leg, he gets stiff, assuming "work" has started.)

            Squeezing the rein is like saying, "Can you do this? Pretty please? Are you sure you can't? Would you try again?" It's like--um--squeezing a raw egg inside a sponge, w/o breaking the egg--that soft, but persistent until he tries.

            Release the instant he tries to give through his jaw, so I can see his eye. NEVER squeezing both reins at once unless asking for a downward. NEVER trying to hold him in any bend.

            We do this, keeping up the circles, spiraling down to 10 meters, changing direction a lot. All at the walk. I never ask anything that causes him to stiffen. If he stiffens and raises his head, I know I'm going too fast for him. Then we go back to the "pretty please."

            After about 20 minutes, he's much softer, and ready to pick up a trot without throwing up his head, but again this is a slow process. If he stiffens, we go right back to walk and the tiny little soft requests. When he is offering the bend on a light rein, we try trot again.

            Over the past few weeks, we've gotten to where he knows what to do, and as soon as his body is loosened and warmed up, I can ask for it.

            In about a month, he's improved to where his trot transitions up and down are quite soft. Canter upward is a work in progress but much improved, canter downward is total reversion to stiffness, but this is strength and should also improve with time.
            Ring the bells that still can ring
            Forget your perfect offering
            There is a crack in everything
            That's how the light gets in.