Needing advice about softening a stiff horse - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 25 Old 07-23-2013, 06:19 AM Thread Starter
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Question Needing advice about softening a stiff horse

Okay I'm not really a beginner rider (I have been riding for over 6 years) but me and my horse have never really enjoyed dressage (mainly because neither of us are that good at it). A few nights ago, I decided to give this dressage thing a good go. My horse is almost 18 and he would much rather speed around a show jumping course, he gets a bit sore around the saddle area and he is an Arab/Clydesdale/Station-Bred and something else haha. He is quite good at dressage when he tries but usually he gets bored really quickly and so I give up. So I've figured out a good way to begin softening him. I tried side reins on him tonight and he responded to that well but he usually begins to run away underneath me so I try half halts. If you have anymore tips to stop that, please tell (: in around 2 weekends time I am trying a little baby dressage test to get over my nerves and get some feedback. Any tips for confidence and overcoming nerves in a test? And any good warm up exercises and any on-the-ground ones to soften him up around his hindquarters and shoulders. Would be amazing, even if you can just answer one (: thank you so much, and feel free to pm me or something to get more detail. Thanks again, Helena x
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post #2 of 25 Old 07-23-2013, 06:25 AM
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You should do carrot stretches to increase flexibility. If you don't know how to do them or what they are, here is a great link:
Stretching Exercises for Your Horse

Also, lots of circles and serpentine's are good. To soften your horses stiffer side, do lots of small figures of eight in walk and trot.
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post #3 of 25 Old 07-23-2013, 08:18 PM Thread Starter
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thank you!!! (:
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post #4 of 25 Old 07-24-2013, 06:36 PM
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To increase flexibility in a stiff horse it's always good to teach them different lateral movements , you can make it as easy as you like by just doing some turn on the forehand exercises in hand and then get on him and you should feel him be more supple once you have done it for a while. You can then do some simple leg yields while riding him , it will soften his whole body by moving his rib cage which will then soften his neck and he will start to come onto the bridle , but let the outline come in time , don't force it. Once he has learnt the simple movements you can then get him to do some shoulder fore and so on once his understanding progresses. Other exercises that are good for stiff horses is shoulder in on a circle , it sounds difficult but all you need to do is push his quarters out with your inside leg and have some inside bend ( i know theres more to it but anyway...) you can do that in walk trot and canter.You might want some help and advice from a trainer just to make sure you are doing it right though!! :) the key to get rid of his stiffness is to bend him! Haha

And good luck for your competition , the only thing I can suggest to help with nerves is to BREATH!! Haha , think in your head every movement your going to do and just keep telling yourself to relax and your horse won't be so tense either , because if your tense , your horse will be!

Hope this helps abit , Georgia x
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post #5 of 25 Old 07-24-2013, 06:41 PM
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I would second all of the above- especially for a stiff horse start with shoulder ins.. they can really help supple a stiff horse- remember to do both sides.
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post #6 of 25 Old 07-25-2013, 10:47 AM
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Please don't ever, ever ride in side reins. They are stupidly dangerous if the horse is being controlled from a mounted position, rather than from the ground.

In order to soften him, you need to build up his muscles so he can carry himself softly. Transitions, transitions, and more transitions. Either from gait to gait (walk to trot etc) or within the gaits (lengthen, shorten). Don't let him go more than 12 or 15 strides without asking for something to change, for a transition, or a change in direction.
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post #7 of 25 Old 07-25-2013, 06:07 PM
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I'm not a big fan of carrot stretches, to get a horse truly supple they need to be travelling forward.
As a rank beginner, I don't think you need to be thinking about shoulder in or even turn on the forehand as yet. The best thing you can do is start by learning to ride a solid 20m circle, getting your horse responsive to your leg and even in your hands. This is the first step towards developing a supple horse, it will create correct bend and flexion, and give an idea of an inside leg to outside rein feel.
Chiilaa is dead on with her suggestion, transitions, basic shapes, get activity in the hind end. Then the suppleness will come.


Just to note, Georgia&Felix, you may need to go back and look at your theory of shoulder in on a circle. If you are just pushing the haunches out, the horse is crooked and the exercise is useless. Shoulder in is just that, moving the shoulders in. The haunches MUST track straight on the circle, with the shoulders placed on a slightly smaller circle - it's a tough exercise when it's ridden properly!
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post #8 of 25 Old 07-25-2013, 06:27 PM
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Kayty - I totally understand what our saying but I did say there was more too it but it's hard to explain like this which is why I suggested to seek advice from a trainer , thanks for your concern though!

I also agree with what your saying about getting the feel of using the inside leg to your inside hand , but lateral work can help gain that feel , again , using a trainer to help

Georgia x
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post #9 of 25 Old 07-25-2013, 06:28 PM
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Outside hand I mean!! Haha x
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post #10 of 25 Old 07-25-2013, 08:58 PM
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Lateral work is excellent yes, but if you can't ride straight and forward on basic figures you have no business trying lateral work, as guaranteed the horse will be crooked which entirely defeats the purpose of the exercise. Laterals are something that you either need to do properly, or dont bother doing at all. So the SI on a circle, it has nothing to do with the quarters going out, so 'more to it than that' is an invalid point. Quarters out in SI is crooked, no ifs buts or maybes.

Like anything, if you don't firmly establish basics from the start, your attempts at Dressage will rapidly come crashing down when the horse has not been taught to simply travel straight and forward. It is a matter of building blocks, and laterals are a few blocks up on the pyramid.
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