Any Advice Welcome - Pretty long, sorry. - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 14 Old 06-24-2010, 09:02 PM Thread Starter
Join Date: Jun 2010
Location: Illinois
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Any Advice Welcome - Pretty long, sorry.

We just brought my 7 year old gelding, who was born at our barn and sold as a yearling, home again. I'm super excited to have him back in my life but I need some advice on where to take him from here. He's a bit on the thin side, and we're addressing the weight issue and trying to muscle him up, which is my first question. How would you start out muscling up a 7 year old who hasn't been ridden consistently for at least a couplee years and is on the thin side. We're aiming for jumping lessons eventually but not until he's fit for it. What's a good starting point?

The next question stems from the owner that we sold him to. This owner was very loving but not entirely horse-savvy. She'd spoken to an "animal communicator" and was told that Olly was an extremely sensitive horse and that over-disciplining him was a bad idea because he was just so sensitive. Well, she took this to mean that the horse was to be given no corrections and no boundaries. He's been coddled and babied, and as such has become rather pushy and disrespectful. He doesn't yield space to people and doesn't respond very well to requests to move over. Where do we start retraining ground manners? He's not aggressive or nasty, just pushy and a bit over-friendly. He will drag someone across the arena if he wants to graze unless they're strong enough to pull his head away, and he's just fairly strong so it takes all my strength to stop him yanking me. How do we get back to gentle-requests and gentle responses? I don't have a round pen to work him in and the smallest arena we do have is too large to work him by myself, so most of our work would have to be done longe lining or with a halter and leadrope, so any excercises that will increase his responsiveness would be great.

The next problem is the bit. The lady that bought him from me bitted him for the first time, and she started him in a Tom Thumb. I feel quite strongly that this bit is confusing to a young horse and gives conflicting signals. I'd really much prefer, especially since we're aiming towards jumping, keep him in a simple egg-butt snaffle if I can, but he's become so accustomed to the Tom Thumb that he's completely unresponsive as far as steering goes in the snaffle, and he's a real bull to stop. He throws his head down against the bit, and I'm thinking he's used to the bit hurting him when pressure is applied so it's defensive, but I'm not sure where to go from here to get him responding well to a gentler bit. I'd rather not put anything harder on him, because I know in jumping a snaffle is usually best. Any suggestions on any of these issues?

Thanks in advance to anyone who took the time to read through all that, I realize it was quite long.
BellaAndOlly is offline  
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post #2 of 14 Old 06-24-2010, 09:10 PM
Join Date: Mar 2010
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I hate Tom Thumb bits. They are confusing to the horse and give mixed signals.

If he were my horse I'd go back to basics with him- a lot of longeing and round pen work, then ground driving. I would be working using my full cheek snaffle and surcingle with his head tied around to each side to teach him flexion and to give to the bit.

I think that if you can work with him to teach him to be a respectful horse, and not an overgrown yorkie that you'll do fine. There is nothing worse than a spoiled brat of a horse.

Spent a whole hour today laying in a pasture, waiting for a sparkling vampire to show up. Alas, I woke up and looked over, only to find a mound of horse crap. Sigh.
draftrider is offline  
post #3 of 14 Old 06-24-2010, 09:16 PM
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Personally, I would start from the ground up, treat him like he knows NOTHING! Don't even think about getting in the saddle till he will listen and behave at a walk and trot in hand. Since he's been babied he's gonna be put out of shape because of the change of treatment, be stern and constant. Start in hand transitions from walk to woah, don't let him push into you, if he does push back, that's what would happen in a pack.

I'm sure other people will give you more advice, that's just my basic 2 cents
Skutterbotch is offline  
post #4 of 14 Old 06-24-2010, 09:30 PM
Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: Colorado
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To start off, go back to just all-the-time lessons on "space". You should have a bubble of personal space around you, maybe a couple of feet, that he is NOT allowed to enter, ever. You are allowed to enter HIS space, but he should not poke his nose or his shoulder or his hoof into yours. Horses play "made-you-move", where every subtle chance they get, they get just a little into your space and make you move over. This is a small victory for them and each time it makes them respect you less. So, if your boy ever tries to get into your space (especially at feeding time), IMMEDIATELY move him over, with your hand or a lead rope or even a whip. Move him back, around, just make him MOVE. This will establish you as leader. Also, a really great ground training method that will get you as leader in just about a half-hour is Monty Roberts' method. He wrote the book The Man Who Listens To Horses which explains it all, and also has a website,, I believe. I've tried the method with all of my horses, including minis, and it really makes them respect and trust you in a very short period of time (can be done in one training session if you do it right).

For the bit...I totally agree about the tom thumb, they should never be used on young horses. Our little trail mustang had his mouth permenantly hardened by one, although he wore it for much longer then your boy. They are better for more advanced horses that know how to neckrein already and whose riders want their mouths to be super-sensitive to feel every hand movement. You might want to try a slow-twist eggbutt snaffle; it has a bit of a twist to it that just gives a bit of "grab" to get his attention, without any extra leverage. You can get a full-cheek in slow-twist too, which, as Draftrider said, will aid with turning. Full cheeks sometimes tend to make horses stiff in their necks, though, so don't use it for too long. You can get half-cheeks, too, which will have the same turning affect, just more mildly. After he is listening, you can put him in a loose-ring snaffle, which will encourage him to relax and salivate. Certain mouthpieces (copper, "sweet metal") claim to encourage salivation, again which will get him to relax and listen.

And the feed...put him on grass hay first, a lot if necessary, and if he is still looking skinny add some alfalfa and maybe some grain, but not too much, as it sounds like he is enough horse already without being hyper for grain. Plus, hay is really good for their digestion in a lot of ways. So I would keep him on hay until he gains his weight back, then add some grain after you get him into full work (we feed just pure oats) and you can put some corn, vegetable or special cocasoya oil in it to make his coat healthy and shiny and to help him keep his weight. Soybean meal can aid with weight gain, too, although when we tried it on our TB it gave him really soft stools and made him lose weight instead of gain.

So hope this helps...I'm sorry as it turned out every bit as long as yours. Good luck with re-training! :)
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post #5 of 14 Old 06-24-2010, 10:28 PM
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While I understand everyones frustrations with the Tom Thumb bit, if he responds to it and doesn't respond to others, why change? His lack of reaction has more to do with the way a tom thumb works as opposed to him being hard mouthed. If he was trained to ride on a TT, he is expecting poll pressure. When you switch to a basic O-ring, there isn't any. Its not a matter of hurting him, its a matter of different signals. If he was trained on a leverage bit and goes well in one, stick with it. I've played the bit games too many, I work with what ive got unless its big trouble.

As far as the pushiness goes, start yesterday getting him to be a better boy. When he invades your space, do not move. Move him instead. Its hard with a horse that you really care for but you have to make it all business all the time. If you are at the barn, you are working with him. As far as dragging someone across the ring, try a rope halter with the knots. They can be effective in the short term until he wisens up. My biggest pet peeve is a horse that grazes when were working. Don't let it happen. Even if you are taking a break on a trail ride, if he has a halter or bridle on, he shouldn't be eating.

As far as muscling goes, take it easy. While you do want a horse that is in shape, you dont want one who is in much better shape than yourself! Start from scratch with his saddle training and work from there. Get the respect and then get on. I started off lunging my horse before every work to get the edge off and before you knew it, he was muscled out and super strong and I had only been riding him a few days a week. Out of shape can work for you!

Good luck with him! Im sure your stoked to have him home!
corinowalk is offline  
post #6 of 14 Old 06-24-2010, 11:10 PM
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Look into the supplement called Empower. It is a high fat supplement and it works amazingly fast to put some pounds and bloom on a horse. You will be amazed at the difference, and in a very short space of time. It isn't very expensive, and you won't need to feed it to him for long. I have an 8 year old gelding that lost some weight due to stress from stall confinement (rehabbing an injury) and I was shocked at how much better he looked after just a few days (literally) on Empower.

On bringing him back to work. I'd start him in a round pen on the longe line. Lots of walking at first, then bringing him up to the trot and eventually canter as he builds up his muscles and exercise tolerance. I would work on all kinds of roundpen stuff like asking for turns, changes of speed and gait, stops, etc. That in and of itself will improve his respect issues. It sounds like he needs to get it into his head that people are in charge, and roundpen work is a great place to start reasserting yourself as the boss.

From longing, maybe go to ground driving. You can reintroduce a snaffle bit and start just like you would with a young horse. As for a bit choice, I like to let a horse tell me what he likes. I do have one horse that rides beautifully in a TT, and so I use it. So watch your horse for cues and don't be the least bit worried about going back to basics and using a snaffle.

As for being very headstrong about grazing, etc. I would suggest you work a lot on leading and him staying where he belongs. It's hard to describe how to do that, but if you're interested, I will send you a longer pm if you want!

Good luck!
Cobalt is offline  
post #7 of 14 Old 06-25-2010, 02:15 AM Thread Starter
Join Date: Jun 2010
Location: Illinois
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First of all, thank you everyone for the input. I really appreciate someone else's point of view :)

Hrsrdr, as far as the weight building goes, the barn owner is helping us out quite a bit and he's in a paddock of his own for now, and he's got a round bale of grass hay all to himself that he can munch on whenever he feels. As far as getting wired from the grain, he's been on grain since before we got him, or so I was told. With as thin as he is i'm not sure, but she said he got grain, and the barn owner where we board is giving him just a bit more than the normal ration she gives all the horses, and then when we visit we give him a small amount of Empower weight builder with a bit of sweet feet, but mostly as a treat, not a meal. He doesn't seem to be going grain crazy from it and as I said, it's been just over a week. We'll see after we get some weight on him how much grain he'll need to maintain :) As for the slow-twist, I understand that it has a bit more power but I was really hoping to keep simple and not need to utilize a stronger bit. I'd prefer just an egg butt or loose ring snaffle, or a full cheek, but not something that's gonna cause him pain.

Corniowalk- I agree, and if he'd gone well in a tom thumb I would keep him in it, the problem being that she told me all about his head tossing and just bad attitude towards work when ridden with a tom thumb. Yes, they could get him to stop and turn, but he was a cranky hard to ride horse, according to her. Hence me wanting to change his bit, I definitely get the impression that he was confused by the bit, he was not well behaved and she told me that the reason she's done working with him is because she doesn't trust him not to act up for "no apparent reason" which I'm guessing is related to the bit. I realize I didn't mention this in the earlier post, and had he been a well behaved animal in a tom thumb he could have stayed it but he wasn't well behaved in it and didn't go well in it. :) I have ridden him with my snaffle, in a safe arena and there was no head tossing or yanking, save for when I asked for a whoa, and he was perfectly willing to move out when asked. I think he'll be happier with less influence from the bit. Also, I do allow my horses to graze in a halter, but never in a bridle and especially not if we're walking. They don't get to just stop and graze, and I'm sure the people who had him just allowed him to do whatever he wanted and graze whenever. I can't wait for our first trail ride together, to see how bad he is trying to eat along the way. I was thinking about a rope halter because I heard it puts pressure on the poll if they pull, making them not pull so hard. I need to swing by the feed store and grab one for him. Great minds think alike :)

Cobalt - Thanks for the suggestion, our vet actually told us the same thing, to put him on a mild weight builder like Empower, so he's been getting some every day when we go visit. We were also warned by the vet to just give him small amounts at a time because while it's easy to absorb, we don't want him putting on too much weight too soon :) As for your suggestion, we don't have a round pen that's available to work, but I will work on longeing him.

Again, thanks everyone for the response, and I'm sure I'll be posting updates and further questions. Also, if anyone else has any advice besides long-reining to get a better response to the bit i'm using, I'd appreciate it. Like I said, i'd really really rather not switch him to something harsher. I hate to use anything harsh when you're jumping because I know my form is not the greatest, which I'm working on while I'm working him, but sometimes you slip and catch the horse and a snaffle is more forgiving than anything else.
BellaAndOlly is offline  
post #8 of 14 Old 06-25-2010, 11:38 AM
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I'm sure you probably did this already, but did the vet check his teeth? A sharp tooth could explain head tossing. But you're right. If you want to jump with him then you should probably go with a snaffle.

And longing him without a round pen is fine! It will have the same effect. The main thing is that you are controlling his direction and speed and making that connection with him.

I definitely recommend getting a moderately stiff rope halter. That definitely gets the attention better than a web halter. He will probably pay better attention to it than a regular halter when you ask him to keep his head out of the grass!

My vet told me to give 1 lb. of empower daily right from the beginning. I should note that I have a very large horse, though. But it did wonders for him and didn't cause him any problems whatsoever. I was amazed at the difference. I only ended up using one bag.

One more thing to do with the bit. Stand on the side of your horse and hold both reins (your other arm has to go across his neck) so that you mimic the position you would have in the saddle. Pull gently on the reins in an upward motion. Use steady pressure. The INSTANT he "gives" to the other words, drops his head and releases the pressure...dump the reins and totally give him his head. Timing is very important here and you really have to completely give him his head when he gives to you...even if he only gives you a tiny bit. You should do this standing on both sides for vertical flexion. Then practice lateral flexion by keeping some pressure on the outside rein and then giving a steady light pull on the inside rein to mimic asking for a turn. Again, as soon as he gives, dump the pressure entirely. Do it on both sides.

This isn't something you should do to death...maybe spend 15 minutes at it tops. But it helps! I'm sorry if my explanation was bad. It's a lot easier to show than tell. :)
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post #9 of 14 Old 06-26-2010, 01:15 PM
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Oh, so it sounds like you've got his diet pretty well covered. Never mind what I said, then! :) I mentioned the slow-twist just as a temporary transition to a regular snaffle, not as a long-term solution; you're so right about keeping him in the mildest bit you can! One last suggestion on bit...there's a bit that I've never used, only heard of, called a Fulmer snaffle that is just like a combination of a loose-ring and a full-cheek; it has full cheeks, but the part that the bridle cheekpieces and reins hook onto is not fixed like in a traditional full-cheek or an eggbutt; instead, it is a loose-ring. That will maybe aid with the turning, but with the loose-ring action it supposedly helps prevent the horses from becoming locked and stiff against the full-cheek action. Just try a few different things with him...we can give suggestions, but every horse rides differently in certain bits and only your horse can decide which ones he likes.

Keep us updated on his progress! :)
hrsrdr is offline  
post #10 of 14 Old 06-26-2010, 01:22 PM
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Oh, and I just wanted to comment on Cobalt's suggestion for turning aids, with the bending. That is a great thing to do, although I'm guessing that maybe your horse will be quite stiff and refuse to give at all at first, so you can try "carrot stretches". You might've heard of hold a carrot (or any other treat he likes, maybe sweet feed) on one side, close to his barrel. Make sure he smells it and knows you have it, and then use it to encourage him to bend his head around as far as he will stretch, and then give him the treat. Do it on both sides. If he doesn't stretch as far as you'd like at first, just build up to where he can touch his barrel with his muzzle. This will prep him for when you ask him to do it by bit pressure, by (mounted or not) doing squeeze-release pressure on one rein to get him to do the same thing with his head and neck, bend around and give to you.

And I totally agree about the rope halter! There is nothing better for ground could also try a chain-end lead shank with a regular halter (have somebody explain to you how to do it) but I would only use that as a last resort, as it can be very harsh and can make your horse completely immune to regular lead-rope commands.
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