Join Date: May 2007
Location: Fairbanks, Alaska
I don't know if you can show him in english pleasure in a tom thumb, not to mention that it is not that great of a bit (for reasons others can explain much better than myself). I don't really think you can ride with a shank in english.
I would suggest getting him back in a snaffle (loose ring, D, egg-butt - everyone has their preference - I like the loose ring) and riding in an enclosed area until you get him softened to it. If he was a barrel racer that might be contributing to some of your problems with bit and taking off. He might have never been trained in a snaffle (I used to barrel race and there have been all kinds of ridiculous contraptions invented for bits).
When in the enclosed area work on softening him side to side (this will help with your long term goal of collection. One misconception many have is that they can kind of hold the horse's head in the desired position and then drive them into whatever gait, making them collect....The horse really needs to learn to carry himself in a collected manner no matter how loose your reins are...you can then pick up a light direct contact in english or leave the reins drooping for western.
Serpentines and circles work really well to soften side to side. I mean REALLY GREAT, but you have to have the patience to spend a lot of time doing it properly. They are also a great daily warm up to get your horse suppled and warmed up.
Even if your goal is english with light direct contact on the reins, in practice, I would suggest you focus on HUGE release and loose rein. Start by asking with one rein only as gently as you can for him to turn his head in a direction (left or right). You want him to turn his head and then follow with his feet. I also like them to drop their head a bit when turning and I think you could just pick him up later for english - starting too low seems better than too high. When you gently touch the rein for a direction, if he does not immediately follow through by bending head around (at least so you can see his eye) and start following with his feet, then you want to ad drive while holding the rein steady. Add drive by squeezing with your thighs, then calves, then heals with a kiss sound (drive sounds like not much of an issue for him). Keep driving until he bends and follows with feet. Do not pick up any more rein contact though (you are working on softening his mouth. As soon as his head bends and his feet follow, RELEASE to a very droopy rein and let him go straight. If you do this over and over and over on both sides, he will get pretty soft and to the point that when you touch the rein he follows with head then body.
Doing the above will help you keep him from taking off from you no matter what bit you have in. When he tries to bolt on you, do not pull on both reins, but use one to bring his head around toward your knee until he cannot run away any longer. Doing the above exercises will help him gain balance, rhythm, and softness, so that when you take up a light direct contact for english, he will be able to frame his own body with a little guidance from you. You will feel his body become collected when he gets it...it is really not so much in the head - but he does have to be soft in the mouth and neck.
I sure that was confusing - just ask for clarification in parts or from others (who might have other ways to help you out).