I have tried light contact. Her nose goes in the air and the only way I have found to get her to quit avoiding contact is to seesaw the reins to get her to tuck her head. But I have learned better ways to get a horse actually collected and stopped doing that. I am just getting frustrated and don't ride her as much because I know I have met my match and don't want to keep trying the same things.
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^^This. It's good that you're asking questions, and it's great that you've already tried different things BEFORE asking the questions! A lot of people don't. So I can tell that you really want to get this solved. But this sawing on the mouth is a major factor that's causing things to get worse. For some reason this technique has become commonplace in the western styles of training horses. It erodes the horse's confidence in the rider's hand. If the head-tucking you're getting in this context doesn't co-respond to proper movement then it's false flexion and actually counter-productive. Pretty soon she'll be going Mach 5 with her chin on her chest and you hanging on for dear life unable to stop! This is about where most people will begin to resort to gimmicks (ex. draw reins) with the idea of forcing a certain position through mechanics. Which eventually just makes them more and more dull. Then they get to where you can't ride them at all without that gear on them. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be that way.
If you'd like to get to her to where she can truly and honestly rate nice at a lope and stop on a light touch on a loose rein
, here's what you can try. It's actually deceptively simple. There are two basic issues. We've already identified the first one, sawing on the mouth. I know that some very respected people do it, but those people are wrong about this one particular thing. It is entirely un-necessary even to get control of the most intractable horses. How can I say that? Like you, I watched what those respected trainers did and they seemed to have success doing it so I copied it. I got good at making a horse submit to my hand through sawing. I also happen to have 18" arms. Why is that important? Just providing context, because the day I personally vowed never to saw a horse's mouth again was the day that I hurt one with a supposedly-harmless smooth snaffle bit. You probably wouldn't go that far. Point is, she's never going to get confident in your hand if you saw which means that she will never respond to it on a light touch while at speed. You can get her to submit, but you can't force her to be honest. She'll only get that through confidence in your piloting
. She has to draw comfort and security from your hand, so that she can tune in and listen. So how do we fix this? Consider changing the way you use your hands. Want to gain a 'secret weapon', not only in how to fix a problem but something that you can ultimately use to gain a little advantage among your fellow barrel racers? Consider looking across the aisle!
I'll depart here from talking about the specifics of how to use your hands. Nothing to add to George's explanation/demonstration
Horse with a pretty bad 'headset' problem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UggOc7mVRzY
An excellent longer schooling session with several different techniques. The cantering work begins around 7:30. (Btw I'm aware that George is riding with a martingale here, but he's not dependent on it!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mkqaymxj6VE
Hope that those gave you as many ideas and inspiration as they've given me. This post is getting long but before wrapping it up I wanted to address your question about speed control. All this talk about the hands was just laying the groundwork, but it will come in very handy for the next part which is simply this: All she is is just out-of-balance between going forward and backward. She's good about being in front of your leg, but not as good at being behind your hand. We want to bring that into balance and operate from the center
. She's very strong going forward because she's been encouraged to have plenty of impulsion by almost everything you've done. Small circles, transitions, big circles, even one-rein stops are ALL forward movements
. In a one-rein stop, the inside hind foot steps under to disengage - a forward movement. Whenever she gets uncertain, what's the thing that gets her out of trouble? Go forward. Fast or slow, so long as it's forward. THIS IS GOOD!
For God's sake, don't ruin that forward desire. But we've got to balance it out. How? Without going into another long post, here it is: Get her to where going forward and going backward are equally effortless. When you stop her from a walk, trot, or lope, don't stop
her. Think of it instead as a transition from going forward to taking 2-3 steps backward
, and I mean there should be no physical pressure or resistance present through the reins when you release. You may have to work at this a bit, BUT if you "close your fingers" as GM says and don't saw her mouth, pretty soon she'll relax and begin to listen to your hand. It should feel like a marble rolling on a flat glass table
. This applies to all the gaits. Start slow and work your way up. If you can roll a marble on glass from a canter, you probably won't have one single problem rating speed.