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Help for a super strong horse - frustrated

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  • Help for a super strong horse - frustrated

    I just got done riding my mare, Cali. She's been mostly off (as in vacation) this winter. I've ridden her three times this week trying to get her back in shape. I've ridden about 30 minutes each ride. I was quickly reminded how STRONG this mare is. All last summer I tried to just work on getting her quiet doing lots of trot work, transitions, ground poles. She would have good days, and she would have STRONG days where she just wanted to GO.

    Does anyone have any good ideas on what I can work on. I use half halts as much as I can, and give her some freedom when she responds. I think I'm a strong yet quiet rider, but she wears me out. If I canter her, she typically gets stronger and faster. Today we did some walk/trot/canter/walk-type transitions. It was all I could do to get her to transition down. I even lunged her a bit before I got on. Again, even in regular work this mare is strong. She is not mean-spirited at all. She's a doll on the ground. But she's been like this to ride since I've had her (few years).

    I wish I had video of today's ride. I have a clip from a show we went to last year. I ended up not even showing her, but used the time as a schooling session. I'll try to get current video so I can get some feedback. If you see the video, you can see she is a pretty BIG girl, so she's stronger than I am!


    The other day when I rode her we were just trying to trot some ground pole cavaletti. I had a tough time getting her to not want to try to take canter strides or just adding a stride into the trot poles. I would love for her to just RELAX some. She has a somewhat short stride, and she's not a beautiful mover, but she can jump beautifully. And when she's paying attention and listening to me, we do some jump work (not this week, however). I love her jump. I just wish I could put it all together. I haven't done much in the way of course work, just gymnastics, etc. When we jump, I will take a fence or gymnastic, and make her halt. That seems to help sometimes. But today it was simply riding on the flat that was tough.

    Any advice would be appreciated.
    “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
    ¯ Oscar Wilde

  • #2
    One rein stops. I would do these until she understands that when you ask her to slow down that she either slows down or "pays this price". It will work if you are consistent with it. You can use it between fences, between ground poles (not ones tho that are spaced one stride apart, too dangerous that they could trip).

    I just watched video after writing the above. I do still suggest this BUT this horse seems to have no idea of what flatwork is. I would compltely forget about jumping for now and work on a TRUE RELAXED trot rythum. If I had this horse I would take her back to the round pen and teach her to focus more on the person working her. If you watch the video she is paying attention to EVERYTHING but the rider, to her that's just an annoying fly! She needs to understand that she MUST focus on the job, not race around with her head up and back stiff. When working her on the flat I would INSIST on a slow trot rythum, as soon as the rythum quickens AT ALL I would do a one rein stop, hold the rein until her feet stop moving, count to three and then begin again. She will begin to clue into the rider then and not everything else going on. Once you have a CONSISTENT slow RELAXED trot rythum, which may take weeks, you can progress to ground poles and working on the canter. This horse NEEDS lots of flatwork, transitions and ground work.


    • Original Poster

      Thanks. We'll work on that. And really, we are really trying to work on the flat work. That's what I was doing this past summer. (The show was the fall prior, so over a year ago.) Some days she gets it. Other, she does not/will not. At that show, she was NOT paying attention at all, I admit that.

      I'll try to get a current video, too. Maybe that'll be more indicative of her current state.
      “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
      ¯ Oscar Wilde


      • #4
        Take her back to square one. She hasnt the foggiest what you want, and YOU need to learn how to relax down your leg. YOU are very tense and enabling 50% of it.

        Put her on the lunge and commit to it for the next 6 weeks. lunge her over ground poles, put her in side reins, TALk to her, get her thinking and responding.
        No horse should ever be sat on if it doesnt understand whoa. It's not fair to either of you.
        chaque pas est fait ensemble


        • #5
          Ditto. Also, a few comments about position. The rider in the video looks very much perched on top of the horse, and looks to want to be a bit too forward seated. Some horses need a more connected, deep seated rider at one point or another. I'd suggest dropping your stirrups 2-3 holes so you can get your leg around her. It's hard to half halt well when you don't have good contact through your thigh. I'd also suggest bringing your upper body back to the vertical and your seat down into the saddle. While soft and light is the ideal, it seems like you need more aids to get this horse paying attention- so why not take advantage of your seat and weight to balance her back over her butt.


          • Original Poster

            Maybe the tenseness was because of the show atmosphere (on my part). But maybe not. Hard to critique myself.

            Maybe this is a silly question, but how do you work on relaxing when your horse is not totally paying attention? I don't FEEL tense.

            But I understand working on the ground (lunge/round pen). I can work on that.
            “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
            ¯ Oscar Wilde


            • Original Poster

              Yes, that was me riding. She's the type of horse that when I ride her I really feel like I'm having to go UPHILL. So she's more difficult for me to sit back on. Because I FEEL like I'm sitting back, until my husband yells at me ;-) telling me to sit back. But I hadn't thought about dropping the stirrups. Should have been obvious. I have ridden her in my dressage saddle a few times over the summer. I don't recall if I felt better in it or not.

              (And thanks to all of you who are responding...I know I'm not a perfect rider, but I'm trying to improve all the time.)
              “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
              ¯ Oscar Wilde


              • #8
                Is there a dressage trainer you can work with? It looks like both you and your horse could really benefit from some basic dressage training.

                My mare can be a little fizzy like this when I first get on. With the proper warm up, she's on a loose rein with a hunter stretchy trot 10 minutes later. I think it's totally going to depend on the individual horse, but I'll give you an idea of what I do.

                I warm up walking on a loose rein but don't try to pick up any contact in the walk or do any tight turns. My mare instantly gets tense when I try to get her into a working walk so we save this stuff for later in the ride.
                We start the trot on a figure eight with lotssss of half halts and transitions. This is where a dressage trainer can really help teach you the correct way to half halt and to teach your horse to respond. With my mare, the figure eight really keeps her changing bend and paying attention. I know its hard at shows, but you need to add some variety in your warm up-- you do not want straight lines with this type of horse. I'll also add some serpentines and random turns and circles and whatnot in here, just keep things unpredictable.

                Right after we pick up the trot, I'll do some big and imprecise half halts to get her to almost walk and then trot again. You can also add some full transitions to the walk and halt. Once my mare is thinking about downward transitions, I use smaller half halts for smooth transitions between a shortened trot and normal trot, and occasionally I'll let her out for a lengthened trot and then back again.

                Next I will do some circles to a leg yield to a circle. Then we'll go on a circle and do some trot-canter transitions, and then we'll alternate canter circles to simple changes through the trot across the diagonal, back to a few circles on the new lead.

                Usually at this point we'll go back to the walk and I'll do transitions between a free and working walk and some other walk work. By now my mare is normally relaxed and focused so I'll switch to hunter-y mode and let her stretch down and out on a loose rein. If she gets speedy, we do an almost-walk transition and then back to trot. Even in hunter mode, be sure to keep things interesting and stay off the rail. Incorporate big loops and designs and whatever you want-- spell your name on horseback or something xP

                This was probably unnecessarily long for what I was trying to say, sorry. Basically, downward transitions and lots of circles/serpentines/loops/etc!

                One more thing I forgot to add- I do lots of suppling with my inside rein throughout all of this to get my mare to lower her head and relax. While keeping contact with my outside rein, I'll squeeze and release the inside rein a few times, or I'll rotate my hand for an indirect bend to very slightly overbend, and then release (horse will usually take the bit and stretch down on the release). Be sure you have a clear release, even on a fast horse, because you don't want to hang on the mouth or be heavy with your hands.

                Some good resources: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2PNXXo5TFV4
                http://chronofhorse.com/article/edwa...aining-secrets (lots of transitions in his warmup)


                • #9
                  Hi ParadoxFarm, the one thing that kept coming up for me, you have great tight legs, but wondering if they might be a little to tight, knee and almost pushing her on from your own strong leg., she could be confussed about what you are asking. I wondering if dropping your stirrup hole one, perhaps toes out a bit more might relax her to listen and focus more on accepting, rather than running, reacting...

                  Just a thought to share.

                  Nice mare, paradox....


                  • #10
                    My horse has been recently very strong due to riding less, footing issues - when I am able to work him this winter after days off, and when he does get in the ring in nice, soft footing, he is ALL go. I am no expert but I can tell you what has helped us.

                    My trainer feels I need to ride "heavier" a.e. not perched, not in a light seat. I am small compared to my horse, and she wants him to FEEL me posting, sit deep and not perch up in a half seat...as in, make sure he feels me on his back.

                    Secondly, I notice your warmup was on the rail, no change of direction (unless I missed it) and your mare is on what I call autopilot. I agree about the transitions - LOTS of them. Do not let her anticipate what you will do next - my horse is a BIG anticipator. Just because we tracked left trotting and picked up canter in deep left corner, doesn't mean we will do the same thing the next time around the ring. My riding always starts with gait transitions.....walk/halt. Walk/trot/halt. Trot/walk/halt. That is on the way TO the ring. I keep him guessing. Then when we arrive in the ring, I use anything and everything I can to change direction. I circle jumps, change direction, back up, figure 8's. You can use cones, rocks, heck - manure piles! I used to board at a place with 2 nice fenced rings. Flatwork REALLY changes when you move to a place with an unfenced ring. I realized how little control I had over my horse.

                    I am also a big fan and user of the one rein stop. If your horse continually changes gait without asking, she will learn quickly that doing so is the wrong answer. Better yet, ORS and immediately put her to work - trot small circles, yield her HQ, back her up 20 yards. She will soon learn it is much easier to stay in the gait asked. You could also do a "passenger" lesson in a fenced ring. You set the gait - no steering. Her job is to stay at the gait you set. If she changes gait or gets too strong at the canter, ORS. Back to work.

                    Good luck!


                    • #11
                      I agree with the changes of direction, circles, and serpentines to make her think. When my hot little mare is being spooky or wild I do make myself "heavier" on her back and post in a more distinct rhythm with a little more pressure through my lower leg and thighs. I get her bending and paying attention to my inside leg and doing a lot of direction changes, shoulder in, haunches out, side pass, half pass- just a few steps of each to get her to pay attention to me. One trick a trainer told me when I used to retrain OTTB's was to slow my post down slower than the horses rhythm and they would usually slow down to match.


                      • #12
                        Congratulations! You were actually brave enough to post a video of yourself riding! That being said, I agree with the other COTHers about you needing to work on yourself, as well as the horse. I wanted to focus on the horse, but was drawn more to the rider. It just looked like the rider's leg wasn't as far under them as I would like it, and that the posting was more "mechanical" rather than being with the horse's motion and with almost a chair seat. Having ridden a lot of "problem type" horses myself, I know from my own experience that sometimes just the rider's position can contribute to problems, especially creating a more tense, resistant horse. I think the rider's lower leg looked very tight, and I would just prefer to see the lower leg come back a bit. I do realize that a lot of times when working with a horse that is less than compliant, your position can suffer and I know that I am guilty of it from time to time also! I also second the slow down the posting. I have found that horses will generally match their pace to yours. slower posting= slower trot

                        I have to agree, again, with the recommendation of some basic dressage lessons. The horse is totally in his own world and looks inverted to me. I think if you could work on teaching the horse to stretch and begin seeking the bit, it could help you both a lot. Ask me how I know Also, relax and breathe!

                        I think the two of you have the potential to make a very nice team, so please go get some professional help so I can feel good rooting for you


                        • #13
                          How much turnout does she get?
                          **RIP Kickstart aka Char 12/2/2009**


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by ParadoxFarm View Post
                            ...I know I'm not a perfect rider, but I'm trying to improve all the time.)
                            Sweety, nobody is! so at least you aren't alone
                            drop those stirrups a few holes and think about relaxing all the muscles in your legs, from your crotch to your toes. Think "drunken rider" or "sloppy butt" and breathe, relax and slow your posting til you feel a little behind the motion.
                            The most important muscles to relax are your inner thigh, and that can take some practice, especially coming from huntseat.

                            And dont expect a night and day fix. Every attempt to comply should be met with praise. it's going to take her a while to get a clue.
                            chaque pas est fait ensemble


                            • #15
                              Ask for bend (make sure you use your legs, not just hand). Soften when she softens. Lots of circles and figure 8's. I personally don't like lots of rapid transitions on a horse that is a little hot...just seems to rev them up more.
                              Agree w/lengthening your stirrups and slowing your posting. But try bending and circles.


                              • #16
                                I would really suggest some dressage lessons for both of you. It appears the mare has no understanding of flatwork at ALL. I'm not meaning to sound harsh, its just what I see.

                                Lunge in side reins - let her fight with herself instead of pulling on you. Do lots of bending.. spiral circles, etc.
                                Rural Property Specialist
                                Keller Williams Realtors

                                Email Me for Horse Property!


                                • #17
                                  I am sure this is not the main the problem, but you are riding totally with your weight over your right leg and seatbone, and drawing up your left leg, Not sure if this is an issue both directions for you (inside-outside) of if you are always shifting to the right.

                                  Work on stretching down into your left heel.


                                  • #18
                                    strong mare

                                    Hi! I'm very impressed that you posted a video of yourself riding It is so hard to do that!

                                    I'm not going to comment on your ride. You are actually doing quite well with what you've got, and it's hard to relax and sit back when you feel like you're being run away with at the trot I can give some constructive help on two fronts: relaxing your horse, and equipment.

                                    Your horse seems only a little bit amped up (but behaving quite well, I might add).
                                    The way her body is moving suggests to me that she is quite tight in her back and neck--and she seems to be holding her breath some, as well. She's going a bit hollow in this video, and you can see that she's not using her full reach of stride in front or behind. That comes from tight muscles, which can be both physical and from emotional energy. I've had this same problem with my horses. Some things that can help: First, make sure she doesn't have any back or neck discomfort by having her checked by a chiropractor. Once that's good, you can either have her massaged by a pro, or do it yourself with either your hands and a book, or a hand-held massager that you can get from Walgreens for about 25 bucks. I'm betting she will like that, and she will associate you with calm, good feelings. Second, try starting her on Vitamin B1 Crumbles. The smallest amount (ie about a tablespoon!) fed as a treat to my thoroughbred literally sends him into a stupor of relaxation, within about 5 minutes. It's unbelievable. I was not a believer until I tried it on my own horse.

                                    If you longe her, I would suggest using side reins and a surcingle, set so that when her neck is outstretched, the reins have just fully straightened. You will want guidance in learning to use side reins so as to encourage her to lower her head and use her abs, pushing from behind while stretching over her topline. If you make the reins too short, you'll encourage her to tighten up even more, which is what you don't want. It will take her a while to realize that it feels good to drop her head. When she does, her stride length will improve--she'll take bigger steps, rather than fast, choppy ones.

                                    When riding, keep your hands/arms wide (about 18 inches apart) and low (about 8 inches below where they are now.) This will encourage her to drop her head because the wide "V" formed by your arms will give her a clear signal that you have contact, but are not pulling back (green horses have trouble with this, so tend to carry their heads high out of confusion)--it forms sort of a chute for the horse to go forward into. With your hands being lower and steady, she will start to drop her head to look for that contact. Go ahead and let her do that. If you have a trainer, there are two pieces of equipment I've found incredibly helpful: a chambon and/or vienna reins. You do need someone to teach you how to put them on properly and use them properly.

                                    To keep her from getting speedier and speedier, practice working her in just a corner of the arena, using only about a 20 or 30-meter circle or figure 8. By keeping her in this small "world" she'll learn to be calm while working. You can gradually make her world larger as she remains calm. If you can work with a trainer who can teach you lateral work, that will be great for both of you guys, and will help her stretch out those tight muscles.

                                    First thing: get those vitamin B1 Crumbles. Then go from there. Good luck! Will you post a progress report?


                                    • Original Poster

                                      Thanks all. I will consider everything that was said here, and definitely put some tips to work.

                                      As a side note, I do more circles and figure 8's at home. It was just too hard at the show with all the pony riders in the ring taking the cross rails. ;-)

                                      I have taken some dressage lessons, but not with this horse. I will do that. And ride longer. Several of you mentioned that.

                                      Thanks, and I'll keep you posted. It was actually hard to "put myself out there" on the board.
                                      “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
                                      ¯ Oscar Wilde


                                      • #20
                                        What I saw here looks very promising. The mare is cute, and obviously willing, and you've got the basics of your leg and position down. I agree that you look tense. The horse isn't being allowed to stretch into the bit and work through her back, which will definitely help her relax when she gets there. Your hands look like they're holding on for dear life, and that could be the major source of her tension.

                                        I agree that working her in side reins will help her accept contact and develop through the back so that she's not going in such an upside down way, fighting against the rider's hands. Ironically, a horse like this needs you to soften your fingers, keep your leg on and to stay with her motion with your seat. Let your seat follow rather than tense up and panic. BREATHE! Sit up as tall as you can. Stop worrying that you're not strong enough. You are! In fact, you're trying to prove it to your horse, and ironically, it's backfiring.

                                        While you're schooling her, try not to worry about her being quick for short periods of time--five strides, then ten strides, then once around the ring, etc. See what happens when you trust her completely. Experiment with loosening the reins. It looks to me like she's reacting to the ride you're giving her, which I'm sure is in reaction to what she's been doing with you. This, though, seems like a case of nervous tension for both the horse and rider rather than an instance of being over-horsed.