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Teaching the western horse to stay bent?

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  • Teaching the western horse to stay bent?

    How do y'all do this once the sucker is ready to go in a straight leverage bit?

    I really like great western training and I understand how you can make the progression from snaffle to bosal to leverage bit.... I get all of it except for how to be able to keep the horse tuned up to holding a bend through his body once you have that last bit in his mouth.

    Is it that he is so magnificently broke to your leg that he has detailed and reliable aids from your leg or seat before you get to the leverage bit?

    Or do you guys not train in that bit often, keeping the snaffle around for using some hand to correct his body?

    Or y'all just don't care about bend (as I read in a very old but good western training book, The Training of the Western Horse)?

    Help a wannabe out, won't you?
    The armchair saddler
    Politically Pro-Cat

  • #2
    I am reading a book right now called "Riding in the Moment: Discover the Hidden Language of Dressage." It's by Michael Schaffer. I'm only about half way through right now and I had already planned to post about it as a western dressage topic when I was finished. I think it's a great book and, while it is technically a dressage book, I think it's also a great resource for anyone who wants a light, balanced, responsive equine. (And that's all of us, right?)

    However, since you've asked this question, I'll mention it now because the book addresses exactly this issue (among other things). One of the things the author talks about is the difference in mechanical aids (e.g. using a lateral rein cue and lots of leg to try to turn a horse's head and hold its body in a bend) and cognitive aids (e.g. helping a horse understand what a signal or cue means without in any way compelling that response). And, even if you're riding in a snaffle, once your horse is trained, you shouldn't need that lateral rein aid to get the bend.

    And I know I haven't done an adequate job of conveying what the author said, so don't hold him responsible if that didn't make sense to you. Read the book and I swear it will all make sense.
    "Facts are meaningless. You can use facts to prove anything
    that's even remotely true."

    Homer Simpson


    • #3
      More leg, less hand, subtle shifts of weight, looking where you are going and if you do it right you can hold a bend with the reins dropped.


      • #4
        What Luseride said. And you drill that in snaffle and bosal so it's pretty much automatic, you are just getting that extra polish with the curb.


        • #5


          • #6
            Bend is about balance, and horses LOVE to be balanced. Once they learn how to move correctly, they volunteer a lot. I've had a very green horse straighten his canter by himself once he was taught how to do it with just a hint that he should move his shoulders. It feels good. A horse that is working WITHIN his abilities will not be hard to keep bent. It's when you push to the utmost edges to show the most the horse can do it becomes problematic. We constantly do that when we're training, but after a certain point most of the time the horse should only need proper preparation and occasional correction. BTW, going back to the snaffle is always the choice to keep a horse tuned.


            • Original Poster

              Thank you very much for your replies.

              NoSuchPerson-- the difference between mechanical aids and cognitive ones makes perfect sense to me. With respect to bend (and coming from EnglishWorld), I'd be hard-pressed to know which I was doing most of the time. For example, I *never* pick up a rein unless I have put on leg first. So I think I'm training horses to bend from my body and leg. But who the hell knows, since with two reins, it's just.so.easy to ad the inside rein for a sec to reinforce.

              Also, a little unbroke western POS I am riding now is teaching me about what longride1 says: Unlike with my last EnglishWorld baby, I have made taught this horse to move his shoulders much sooner in his education. It has helped with the rest of his brokeness immensely. Because I can put him in a balanced spot faster and then leave him alone, I think he's coming to appreciate good balance earlier on, too.

              He has a rideable trot right now (though not at all speeds), but we have to just about start over at the canter. But being able to make corrections to his bend (and therefore his shoulders and his balance) faster, I think will help.

              I'll let you guys know.
              The armchair saddler
              Politically Pro-Cat


              • #8
                Two-rein the bridle horse tradition means hackamore under bit (four reins, so to speak). You blend the transition from hackamore to bridle bit, rather than jumping from one to the other. It's like a western double bridle.


                • Original Poster

                  Originally posted by aktill View Post
                  Two-rein the bridle horse tradition means hackamore under bit (four reins, so to speak). You blend the transition from hackamore to bridle bit, rather than jumping from one to the other. It's like a western double bridle.
                  Thanks for the explanation.

                  But.... you hold both reins from one side in each hand? Or you are neck reining with both-- the bosal set in one hand and the bit pair of reins in the other?

                  So the position of your hand connected to the bit has nothing to do with holding the bend? For the bend issue, you use body/seat/leg and reinforce that with the bosal reins? Or you *are* teaching a signal for staying bent with the bit?

                  Clearly I need a riding lesson.
                  The armchair saddler
                  Politically Pro-Cat


                  • #10
                    It seems we train in a snaffle, positioning our horses, asking them to work correctly. Bending if needed.... Then we graduate to straightness. The curb askes for straightness. Straight for lead changes, straight for balanced stops etc


                    • #11
                      I'm not sure what you mean about "bend". Are you trying to keep his body arc'ed to the left or right? Or his body rounded with his rear under him?

                      My goal in a finished horse is to keep him straight between the reins and my legs. My horses are usually working really well off my seat and legs by the time they go up in a shanked bit. They are able to hold their frame in a snaffle without me having to use the bit much. Once I have them up in a shanked bit and they are consistently doing well in it, we tend to work pretty often in a twisted snaffle, doing bending and flexing that isn't really the same in a shanked bit.


                      • Original Poster

                        Yes, I mean the horse's body in an arc while moving on a circle.

                        appstarz, so you don't want to maintain this kind of bend once you are working in a shanked bit?

                        But more generally, you guys switch back to a snaffle often even with the finished horse? While there, you still ask for the bend with your leg and seat but have both hands on the reins to reinforce if you'd like?

                        Bottom line: You do want the same arc in the horse's body, regardless of the bit you use, right? You don't just bail on that when you ride in a shanked bit.
                        The armchair saddler
                        Politically Pro-Cat


                        • #13
                          For a pleasure or all-around type, I don't want bend. Straightness is the ultimate for a broke horse--you need that to get a good balanced stop, a clean horsemanship pivot, a correct lead change. When you ride a circle in a horsemanship pattern, for example, you horse will naturally bend slightly in the direction of travel, especially at a lope. But encouraging bend also encourages leaning. Leaning encourages dropped shoulders.

                          I do go back to a snaffle pretty regularly once they are solid in a bridle (which is just another term for a shanked bit). I do a lot of bending, flexing, counter-bending, counter cantering, etc. that are best done in a snaffle. I'd say I ride the finished horses maybe 50% of the time in a snaffle.


                          • #14
                            With respect, I disagree entirely with what being written above. Straightness isn't the complete absence of bend, it's bend to the degree appropriate for the gait and figure being written. If you keep a horse ramrod straight, he's counterbending each and every curved figure, and not weighting his feet correctly. Might get away with that just fine in showring classes, but it doesn't make for a horse useful in cow work (to say nothing of biomechanical correctness).

                            I'm coming from the Californio perspective, for what that's worth. There's as little connection between that system and WP or the like as there is between the classical High School and english pleasure.

                            Originally posted by mvp View Post
                            But.... you hold both reins from one side in each hand?
                            Correct, though the two-rein phase allows one to keep the bridle reins in the working hand but to two-hand the bosalita reins if needed to correct bend issues. Some will also "squaw rein" or use some other rein effect like described here: http://www.mikebridges.net/html/pdf/...the%20Past.pdf

                            By the time the horse is working in a bosalita, however, he's responding to shifts in weight with corresponding shifts in his own balance.

                            Originally posted by mvp View Post
                            Or you are neck reining with both-- the bosal set in one hand and the bit pair of reins in the other?
                            Never heard of people doing this. Generally it's a 3+1 hold if any two-handed effect is used.

                            Originally posted by mvp View Post
                            So the position of your hand connected to the bit has nothing to do with holding the bend?
                            Not quite. The working hand should stay in a "box" measuring a few inches side to side, and drawing the hand an inch off-centre has meaning to the horse.

                            Until the horse looks into the side the rein is moved towards, however, he's not ready to go straight up in the bridle. It isn't a "neck rein" in as much as you need to lay the outside rein on the neck, its a horse sensitive enough to respond to the movement of your body.

                            Originally posted by mvp View Post
                            For the bend issue, you use body/seat/leg and reinforce that with the bosal reins? Or you *are* teaching a signal for staying bent with the bit?
                            There is a huge range of debate as to the degree to which the bridle reins are used compared to riding off body cues. Some folks look to make a bridle horse that responds entirely to the rein, and others use the rein to enhance clarity and softness but ride off body cues (I'm of the latter persuasion). You're never going to find a "right answer" here, unfortunately.

                            Originally posted by mvp View Post
                            But more generally, you guys switch back to a snaffle often even with the finished horse?
                            There's no shame in switching back and forth in tack. Even bridle horse riders often switch back into the two-rein if they know the work might get fast or tough, or even back into the hackamore for certain jobs (or just in the winter). Nothing says a finished horse always has to be ridden in the bridle ALL the time.


                            • #15
                              For a pleasure or all-around type, I don't want bend. Straightness is the ultimate for a broke horse--you need that to get a good balanced stop, a clean horsemanship pivot, a correct lead change.
                              And here is a big difference in concept. In dressage terms, where the concept of bend comes from, having bend is about keeping the weight evenly distributed over all four legs so the horse's joints aren't stressed. So bend PREVENTS leaning, falling on a shoulder, etc. To keep weight evenly distributed, all transitions must be straight. There is no conflict between bend and straight if bend is properly performed. Straight is defined as the horse traveling with the track of the hind feet the same as the track of the forefeet. It can to this two ways. By bending, which keeps weight the same over all four legs, or with the body stiff, in which case the inside legs carry more weight on every turn. In this concept, having the horse "straight into the bridle" and doing circles as a series of truly straight lines translates to having the horse continuously off balance. This is why in dressage the horse isn't asked to do circles that are smaller than the length of its body. To do so the horse would have to lose "straightness" kept by bend and instead weight the legs unevenly.

                              So when a person trained in dressage terms hears "We don't want bend." it comes as a bit of a shock. Are we really talking about different things?


                              • #16
                                With my paint that I'm training in dressage he will hold his bend now most of the time when I'm neck reining. I still use my leg and like said above your hand stays in a box. He doesnt bend like when I ride him in dressage with two hands yet he still gives bend on the turns because he is now more balanced. He use to be straight or counter bend but really IMO the training for the bend comes the same wAy and once they learn and can hold their balance they usually will hold it when asked from the seat and leg on the turn just not to the same degree as holding with two reins and asking for more.
                                Horses aren't our whole life, but makes our life whole


                                • #17
                                  Yes, western riders will go back and forth from our snaffles to our shanked bits. when my horse starts feeling stiff (i can usually feel it in a stiff jaw, a dropped shoulder) I'll go back to a snaffle. like painted02 says, I'll also do alot of bending, overbending, counterbending, then back to shank to drop them, and ask them to hold themselves correctly. Never abandon their body with your legs. Your legs will always ask for them to work correctly, or "bend" if thats what you want to use, which ever bit you're riding in. I guess if you want to compare it to a dressage circle, or bend - you should be able to have your horse on your outside rein, drop that inside rein, and they hold that bend.
                                  I like to use a myler shanked bit with the shanks moving independantly. if you're working a circle, on a loose or draped rein, you can reach down and bump or lift that inside rein to remind them to lift that shoulder and tip that nose back to the inside. I also work my horse in a lot of squares. Straight is NOT a counterbend. Theories aside, those are some of my thoughts.


                                  • #18
                                    The California bridle horse traditions are just about the purest offshoot of the classical High School available in North America, "dressage" included (in its current modern, competition incarnation).

                                    The discussion of bend and it's desrability or lack thereof has to be put in context - are we talking about what's best for a show ring horse, or for a horse in general? What's going to take points in the show ring often bears little resemblance to what's going to produce the highest degree of athleticsm. The ultimate guardian of athleticsm in the western world is the cow, with the soundness of the horse long term factoring in as well. If the cow gets away in the desert, or the horse goes lame after a mere 5 or 10 years, you're doing something wrong. Because The hunt for ribbons in the show pen is one step removed from the working world of the ranches, that can make people subsitute a different version of "right"...that which garners prizes.

                                    Modern dressage suffers from the same issues, to a large degree. It used to be survival in warfare as a result of athleticsm was the judge of what was correct vs what was not, but when the Olympics tried to use a set of rules instead of hard and fast results, then the same issues that plague the western world crept in. The fact that the thought of any Olympic dressage mount being used as a cavalry mount is so hilarious shows how far the separation is.

                                    So are we talking show-ring bend here, or working world bend?

                                    Any time the rider is forcing the horse to adopt a bend or holding it in that bend rather then the horse choosing to bend because it makes his job easier to do, that isn't true bend strictly. The bridle horse chooses to bend, it isn't held in bend.


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by appstarz View Post
                                      Straight is NOT a counterbend.
                                      A horse that has no curve to their body is counterbent (ie has insufficient bend for the figure) when tracking a circle, by definition of many schools of tradition.


                                      • #20
                                        well, since I'm not riding after cows in the desert, or in warfare on my horse. I guess I'll just have tailor my riding to ring work and showing.
                                        all this theory can make my head ache. as an old cowboy once told me "just ride 'em" . You don't force or hold them ... teach/train, they learn, his job become easier.