My gelding has a problem of lowering his head and completely evading any signals that I try to give him. He is 7 years old and while he was started as a 3 year old and ridden ever since, I'd still consider him green. I try to ride with soft hands, but when he lowers his head it isn't possible to gently give him ques. I have gotten conflicting views from two different trainers. One has seen the problem first hand in an arena that he is comfortable in, the other has only seen him at three different occasions where he wasn't comfortable enough to drag his nose on the ground. The first trainer said that I should take one rein and just pull his head up every time he lowers it until he gets sick of it. My horse never gets sick of testing people, and while I have been doing it for going on a year he hasn't given up. The other trainer says I need to just hold onto him and not let him have control of his face. Honestly he has far too much personality to be held with two reins, and that doesn't work for me.
Neither of the ideas have really been working. I don't want to tie him with fancy ropes or get the most aggressive bit possible, and I am willing to work through the problem. But I would love to actually see some progress whereas any other time it succeeds in wasting my time or possibly setting back our training. He is ridden in a snaffle but I did have him in a different bit that had shanks on it when I did my first show. I rode in that for a while, but I haven't succeeded in finding a bit that won't tear his mouth apart the way he acts some days.
I really want to try to get him soft and responsive, but the second you get a bit in his mouth he acts like a three year old and like he has never had it in before. Last time he was like this his teeth were sharp, that problem was fixed, then a few months later it started again. Out of habit, perhaps? Some days he will be really good, then others I wish we were a few decades back because I would have the best peanut roller. Also we've gotten a saddle that fits and he doesn't show signs of lameness. He also has started a habit of putting his chin all the way to his chest whenever I get him to back up. ALSO, another added note, he used to eat the dirt in my trainer's arena. He has since stopped because we have mineral block, but maybe he remembers how tasty it was? -.- He is an amazingly versatile horse, but we can't get very far when his head is up his butt and around the corner. >.<
Do you pick him up and collect him? I'd like to see a pic of him collected.....also what bit are you riding in, is it ported? In the pics he has his mouth open, but a pic is only a nanosecond of time......
I'd try something with shorter shanks or put in him a snaffle. It appears to be bit evasion and this habit can develop if he's tired of arena work, the incessant circles. You could also try asking him to hustle every time he drops his head that far. Tip of his ears should be in line with his withers for western pleasure. I worked with one that started doing that with arena work so rather than try to lift his head I asked for more speed and tight turns around a barrel then turned the other way and circled another barrel. Then figure eights. I made him hustle. This also got his back end under him. When he raised his head I allowed him to walk on a loose line. It took about 4 sessions for him to make the connection.
Looks like the bit is painful - please say that's not a tom thumb >.<
Personally if you're neck reining you should stick with a curb, but use a solid one - no joints - ported or mullen mouthed bit with short shanks. The solid mouthpiece makes neck reining cues clearer. Normally when I see horses gapping their mouth open like that it's because the bit is hitting the horse's pallet, so either a single joint V'ing out or a port that's too high for that horse's mouth. I think he clearly needs a milder bit, especially if he's responsive to neck reining.
I've only used the bits with shanks about a month, right before and right after the show. After that, I switched him back to a snaffle. With the bit with shanks I kept the reins clipped to where there was no leverage. He was decent with leg cues and neck reining so I could get away without touching his mouth too much. I've switched him back to the snaffle, and after letting him sit for a while he lost what very little neck reining he could do. If you look at the first picture in the original post, you can see it is not clipped to the shanks, in the second it is, and the third is a solid bit. (But he is also out on the trail and is generally distracted from thinking evil thoughts.)
Here are some more pictures of him slightly more engaged than usual. I don't generally ask him to collect as he nor I truly know how to get it. (As you can clearly tell, I am not asking him to pull himself in from the first picture.) Also the last time his teeth were floated was about a year or so ago. He got some grain today and didn't look to have any trouble chewing it or spitting it out like when his teeth were sharp.
An added note, I was very tentative about using the Tom Thumb-like bit as I've heard so many bad things about it, but some people who were helping me insisted it was the best to transition with. My trainer explained how uncomfortable and painful it could be and suggested I get a different bit. After that I tried a few before just going back to the snaffle. Since using these other bits he hasn't been as soft as he used to be on the snaffle. Will I be able to get this back?
Wait a minute. YOu say the gelding "evades" the bit. Meaning he pulls the reins downward? Comes behind the bit? Leans on it?
He certainly isn't going above the bit. But in what way is he evading it?
Or is he just being too mouthy when you apply bit contact?
What I can see in the photo is the horse really leaning pretty hard down on the bit and appearing to have very little forward impulsion. As the others said, that is often the best cure for a horse that drags his head down too low; scoot!
I like this photo because the horse seems to be going forward nicely and seems to be not at all concerned about his mouth/bit.
I reread your post and I think you did answer my question here:
"I really want to try to get him soft and responsive, but the second you get a bit in his mouth he acts like a three year old and like he has never had it in before. Last time he was like this his teeth were sharp, that problem was fixed, then a few months later it started again. Out of habit, perhaps? Some days he will be really good, then others I wish we were a few decades back because I would have the best peanut roller. Also we've gotten a saddle that fits and he doesn't show signs of lameness. He also has started a habit of putting his chin all the way to his chest whenever I get him to back up. ALSO, another added note, he used to eat the dirt in my trainer's arena. He has since stopped because we have mineral block, but maybe he remembers how tasty it was? -.- He is an amazingly versatile horse, but we can't get very far when his head is up his butt and around the corner. >.<"
All of that does sound like he is worried about discomfort from the bit. He can have problems in his mouth from his teeth that will not cause him to drop grain or other obvious signs of a mouth that needs floating. Points way back can have created ulcers in his cheek. He could have some kind of impacted tooth, so the jawbone is sore.
But the very first thing is always to eliminate the possiblity of physical pain being the cause of disobedience, then take it from there.