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Getting a very sensitive TB to take the bit

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  • Getting a very sensitive TB to take the bit

    I recently purchased a 8 year TB gelding (as in exactly a week ago today) - He settled in wonderfully and i've had the chance to hop on him several times.

    His record:

    Started U/S late and started eventing at almost six years old, moved up the ranks quickly - BN to Training in a year and a half (with many top 4 placements, two 1st places at training, etc). He just had several months off for a very small strain to his annular ligament in his left rear (evidently a pasture injury - his PPE ultrasounds looked great) - owner is moving across the country for school & couldn't take him along.

    I have found that he is very sensitive - more so than any horse I have ever ridden. You pick up the reins and he just curls, put leg on and he just keeps the curl - even when his hind in is engaged - he just keeps almost zero contact.

    His teeth were done 3 weeks ago, saddle is a custom fit, etc.
    I just ordered his very own Micklem bridle & BOT sheet a few days ago so they should be arriving soon, i'll be very interested to see how he goes in the Micklem after seeing how these first few rides went.

    Anyone have suggestions, ideas, exercises, etc?

    I've dealt with sensitive horses before but nothing like this.

    (Incase anyone is wondering - I do have a trainer but she is in Aiken for the next three weeks, so I'm kind of on my own for a little bit.)

  • #2
    what type of bit are you using?
    Derby Lyn Farms Website

    Derby Lyn Farms on Facebook!


    • #3
      Do you have any video of him, and if so does your trainer think he's been trained to just carry himself that way, without the proper foundation of accepting contact? There are a lot of horses out there winning at the lower levels who just stick their faces in the proper spot and leave them there.

      If this is the way he's been trained, that would be entirely different if it were some sort of new thing. Have you run it by his former owner, tactfully?
      Click here before you buy.


      • #4
        Try a nathe, duo, or even a plain soft rubber mullen bit. It's my go-to bit for a horse who hides from contact. The flexible mullen mouth encourages the horse to push into the bit...on many they will eventually lean on it and get too heavy in your hands, at which point it's usually safe to switch back to a jointed bit. But before they get to leaning, they become very confident seeking contact and allow you to ride a proper half halt without the chin-to-chest reaction.

        A nathe isn't the right bit for all horses forever-- but it has a good correctional use for a lot of horses. They're expensive, but if you ride a lot of different horses, it will earn its keep!
        “A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it.”
        ? Albert Einstein



        • #5
          Without seeing him I can tell you that I would take the contact no matter where he wanted to put his head and drive him forward with your leg even to the point of being overtempo.

          If you take the contact it is on your terms, and you use your leg to enforce that it is your idea that he will take contact, even if he's BTV. Then after you establish that it's your idea you can let the reins out bits at a time and continue driving him forward into the contact and he will stop curling.

          That said it also depends on how steady your hands are, if you have too much bit in his mouth, etc etc.

          Since he has quite a history of just posing and being pushed up the levels it isn't going to be easy, and it will be a months long project but your dressage scores will get better. I have found that horses taught to pose can be quite difficult to retrain, he may naturally be sensitive in his mouth but someone may have done some yanking to get him to assume the postition and he may need lots of convincing that seeking the bit is a good thing.


          • Original Poster

            Originally posted by Derby Lyn Farms View Post
            what type of bit are you using?
            I have ridden him in a loose ring happy mouth snaffle & french link eggbutt snaffle - same response to both of them.


            I do not have any video at the moment but my trainer has seen him in person several weeks ago. I have talked with her several times and she believes he has a good foundation on him and maybe was rushed a little bit from novice to training later on.

            Also: I've ridden this horse several times for this rider over the years and he has always been pretty sensitive, but not quite this sensitive.

            Like this?

            I'm not familiar with mullen mouth bits...


            • #7
              Originally posted by rollonhighway View Post
              Like this?

              I'm not familiar with mullen mouth bits...
              Yes. The nathe or herm sprenger duo are better, as the shape gives a little tongue relief...but in a pinch ($$) I've used that flexible rubber one and it helped. Some horses don't care for the thickness, though.

              If the horse just suddenly got super sensitive, however, I'd worry about a physical cause; but a bit change to a soft mullen shouldn't hurt anything.
              “A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it.”
              ? Albert Einstein



              • #8
                What you need to do is firstly think always on the rhythm. Work him in rising trot, keep him well forward, maintain a very clear 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 rhythm. Count out loud or hum a good song, if it helps. And then maintain a contact. Don't worry about where his head is, worry about what he's doing with his hind legs. They have to be used. He has to bend the joints of his hind legs and step through and under his body.

                So rather than have me write a book, just keep him forward, do your circles, spirals, serpentines, some lateral work if he's up to it ... and keep him forward and keep the contact.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by EventerAJ View Post
                  Try a nathe, duo, or even a plain soft rubber mullen bit. It's my go-to bit for a horse who hides from contact. The flexible mullen mouth encourages the horse to push into the bit...on many they will eventually lean on it and get too heavy in your hands, at which point it's usually safe to switch back to a jointed bit. But before they get to leaning, they become very confident seeking contact and allow you to ride a proper half halt without the chin-to-chest reaction.

                  A nathe isn't the right bit for all horses forever-- but it has a good correctional use for a lot of horses. They're expensive, but if you ride a lot of different horses, it will earn its keep!
                  That would be my advice for one who curls or who is extremely soft in the mouth.


                  • #10
                    I had one a bit like this. Try a very soft bit. Also try a D-ring or other fixed ring (I have had several TBs that absolutely do not like the instability/jiggling of a loose ring). Some bits to try: leather (ask eponacowgirl); D-ring KK or JP (some horses like the JP curve, some do not); Butterfly baucher (not legal for eventing dressage and ridiculously expensive, but have seen several horses that won't touch anything else take up contact with this; and Nathe or Sprenger Duo as suggested. Do have your vet/dentist look at mouth and give you thoughts (does he actually need a thinner bit to fit, will a three piece be better with his palate anatomy) and then try the bits in the context of keeping him going very forward (I was amazed at how forward very good trainers had me ride my guy who wanted to avoid the contact)
                    OTTBs rule, but spots are good too!


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by scubed View Post
                      (I was amazed at how forward very good trainers had me ride my guy who wanted to avoid the contact)
                      ^^^With green OTTB's this is key, they must accept your leg before you even worry about their head. If you can't find a cheap Nathe (good luck) I have used this cheap happy mouth > http://www.doversaddlery.com/happy-m...g/p/X1-010032/. My now 5 year old was pretty good with that bit, but never seeked my hand out until I switched him to a fat french link loose ring, now he looks for my hand always coming forward from my leg.


                      • #12
                        A very soft bit (nathe or duo) might help, and I would try a soft bit with a fixed cheekpiece (i.e., a D or an eggbutt) in case he's that sensitive to the movement in his mouth. I'd also focus a lot on forward, forward, forward; even if it means being a bit over-tempo for a while. Be as soft and quiet as you can with your hands. You could try to work more on stretchy trots and things like that, too... things that will get him to reach for the bit.
                        Trying a life outside of FEI tents and hotel rooms.


                        • #13
                          I would stop worrying at the moment about him taking the bit. I would focus on forward rhythm primarily in rising trot. I would maintain a light feel of his mouth. The operative word is light. Keep your elbows following and your fingers soft.

                          I would work on all the basic school figures being sure that you are not steering with the reins, transitions within the trot are a good idea. Again no use of the reins, except maybe, softly closing yur fingers for a second. If you have a good sitting trot, and can still maintain that light feel, I would start spiral circles with him, maintaining the bend of the 10m circle, and leg yielding back out to the 20m. If he handles that well try progressing to rising trot leg yield, and shoulder in.

                          Shoulder in done correctly will of itself encourage him to engage his hind end without you increasing the weight of contact. This should encourage him to softly come out from behind the bit, and begin to trust.
                          Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

                          Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.


                          • #14
                            this is a very long hard road.

                            You have to manually bump him up into the bit. There are a few ways to do this.
                            Not something I care to post on the forum.

                            Using the light soft bits can work, or go the other direction and use a heavy KK.
                            If his issue is he won't hold the bit and can't find the bit sometimes the heavy bits encourage them to hold.
                            If he could care less, knows exactly what he's doing and just hides behind the vertical then the lighter bits might work. I've actually had GREAT success with a full cheek rubber (with keepers). Usually the horses that have a perma frame are also made of jello. If this is the case then they usually need something as stable as possible in the mouth. Hence the full cheek with keepers. Or a mullen--if the horse is cool with a mullen.

                            I had one that was pretty bad years ago. It took a while but once I was able to keep him from curling he went in a rubber bendy dogbone.

                            For now, it's worth trying taking the contact, no matter where he is. Just take him. Force him to feel the pressure. and kick his ass forward. Just go. forward forward forward. Really what you are doing is desensitizing him..and then in the future you re sensitize him. Transitions from trot to canter and canter to trot will force him to bump into the contact too.
                            Take the contact. Just take it. Tell him to give up because you won't. And then try to get him deep from that curled position. Some may call that rollkur--but I bet a few minutes like that and he will want to stretch his neck out.
                            Those stretching moments are when you can start the retraining.

                            And when we say it's going to take a while...we are talking a year or more if you have never done this before. Months and months and months.
                            Horses are amazing athletes and make no mistake -- they are the stars of the show!


                            • #15
                              I don't have experience with this sort of horse, so my suggestion isn't worth much, but..

                              Have you tried a Myler? I have a hot sensitive chestnut TB mare who, while not a curler, is extremely fussy about bits and contact. She loves her loose ring Myler. One nice thing about it is that it has limited motion, so it can't fold and pinch.
                              Against My Better Judgement: A blog about my new FLF OTTB
                              Do not buy a Volkswagen. I did and I regret it.
                              VW sucks.


                              • #16
                                I tend to think a bit outside of the box. I've had lots of experience reschooling OTTBs. What I would do is ride in a HACKAMORE for a while. A lot of horses that curl behind the bit (not all, by any means) lack the confidence to extend themselves into the bit. Sometimes I think they've just been schooled wrong, and a lot of times it's because of someone with hard or uneducated hands (not saying that's you!). I ride in the hackamore (a soft one--rope hackamore, soft leather padded one with short shanks, NOT a mechanical hackamore) until they are comfortable and confident taking contact in it. I'll take the contact in the hackamore until they put their nose more forward, even if it's still BTV, and then drop the entire contact--ie kind of a reward for more forward positioning. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat until they understand that contact now means forward into it. At the same time, the horse's motion must be forward, like a lot of other people have said, with a good rhythm. That's the basics (forward, rhythmic) that you always get first, then confidence to the hand.

                                After they are going uncurled and confident in the snaffle, then I would put a really soft, kind bit on. Lots of people gave you lots of great examples. My go to bit for a new-to-me horse is the JP copper mouth with center lozenge loose ring. I haven't found anything that doesn't like it yet.

                                Just another idea to add to the other suggestions. Forward. Rhythmic. Confidence in a soft hackamore. Confidence in a soft bit.



                                • #17
                                  It could partly be that you're as new to him as he is to you! He may not trust your hand yet, and you need time to build that trust.
                                  "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."


                                  • #18
                                    My horse used to do this, and I had luck (after finding a good bit) using the rein-aid reins with the elastic inserts to minimize bumping until she accepted contact. Now, I did this because I wanted to soften the effect of my hands in case that's why she was evading the bit. And you certainly have to get the forward impulsion going before you worry about where the head is. But I think it helped me.


                                    • #19
                                      Go back to the begining training steps, establish a forward rhythm and suppleness and if necessary try a sidepull.
                                      ... _. ._ .._. .._


                                      • #20
                                        Have you contacted his previous owner/seller to find out if you're doing anything different, or what they were doing to combat the issue? Sounds as if it has escalated since you got him home. I'd get as much info/wisdom from the folks who were riding him last. It's possible that they may know his tricks and how to ride through them. Save yourself a ton of experimenting and a ton of $$ in new bits and equipment if they already know what works for him.
                                        The rebel in the grey shirt