Reactive two year old. Head gaping, tossing, lips curling at snaffle bit...

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Reactive two year old. Head gaping, tossing, lips curling at snaffle bit...

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    10-31-2012, 04:10 AM
Reactive two year old. Head gaping, tossing, lips curling at snaffle bit...

So Ivy (2 year old) is driving me nuts. I warn you, this is long, but I have to vent a little and maybe get some affirmation or suggestions from those of you out there who have dealt with the reactive, fractious type colts show do NOT want to accept a bit...

She hates bits. All bits. D ring, O ring, french link, small diameter, wide diameter, happy mouth, mullen mouth - you name it, she hates it.

First time a bit (o ring snaffle) went in her mouth she threw herself over backwards several times after she couldn't get the headstall off. No reins, no pressure, bit adjusted correctly in her mouth (one soft wrinkle). Lunge line was hooked to rope halter underneath and nothing was pinching. Worked through it and got her moving, but she had her mouth gaped wide open with lips curled back and head between her knees for the first week.

I was really surprised that a few weeks of steady work didn't solve the gaping and head tossing. (I had her wisdom teeth pulled and teeth floated as soon as I got her - no physical reason for her aversion to bits that vet can see).

Ivy is somewhat pushy, but friendly enough on the ground, and is very responsive as long as she agrees with what you are doing. Can be over reactive and we continue lots of desensitization work. We are also doing a lot of showmanship training, walk/trot/pivot/stand and she is responding very well to that. Accepts saddle, can get a little humpy in the first few laps, but no real problems there. Ground drives with the rope halter no problem. I can get on her from both sides, hang on her sides, and sit on her no problems. Because she is still narrow and thin and growing, I don't ride her yet other than a few laps at a walk around the paddock every month or so. She moves off of seat and leg as well as can be expected for very limited ride time, and has never threatened to do anything stupid when I have been on her.

Whiskey's show season, daughter's wedding, and Whiskey's sarcoids got in the way of Ivy's training over the summer- and heck, she needed to mature anyway - so I just left her alone until about a month ago when I realized how much bigger she is getting, and decided to get her going.

Back to sqare 1. Took her to my trainer for evaluation. She says Ivy's past neglect just means Ivy has decided already what she likes and doesn't like, and needs a firm but understanding hand to convince her otherwise. She says to keep working her, pushing her forward (this is all ground work) on the drive lines or lunge lines, keep the trot a strong trot so she'll reach down and lengthen her back and accept that bit. She promises that given time Ivy will get used to the bit. I am to reward with praise and release of pressure when she quiets her mouth.

Mostly, she told me to give Ivy time to process that the bit is not going to kill her and she can't get rid of it. Refusal wasn't an option and simply results in more work.

So here I am, three weeks later of steady 4 to 5 times a week sessions.

Each lesson I put on a D ring snaffle with a rope cavesson underneath so she can open her mouth a little, but not gape - and we lunge or drive at the walk and trot with an occasional canter. I use a 50 foot line and walk with her so she is on a very large circle.

Progress is glacially slow... but now it takes about 10 minutes of a walk/strong trot before she carries the bit calmly. She can make a couple circles and then regresses and goes back to curling her lip back, head shaking, pulling, opening her mouth - but after being pushed forwards then carries it calmly again. As soon as she carries it quietly we shift down to the lower gait - then when she starts fussing with it we move back up... it takes about 35 to 45 minutes per session and we can usually end on a good note now, with her head level, her moving out but relaxed, and her mouth quiet.

I have never, ever, ever (love Taylor) had a horse that had this much trouble accepting a bit. Ever.

So I get her out today, put on a bareback pad, cavesson, and the D ring snaffle she finds least offensive and go out to lunge her. Tied her reins loosely to the bareback pad's D rings and send her away. As she trotted off, I turned and snaked the line out to shoo Whiskey away (half the time I am too lazy to get Whiskey out of the pasture the unfenced arena is in) and Ivy leaps forwards, does a huge buck, comes down then back up and flips herself over .


So we spent the next 10 minutes on desensitizing to the line, (again), then back to lunge some REALLY BIG circles at a strong trot then she quiets back down and does a really pretty soft stretchy trot with eyes soft and mouth quiet...

My neighbor was watching and yelled across the fence - "that one isn't going to GIVE you anything. You are going to have to earn it with her."

That got me thinking... she's teaching me alot. I have to remember to think about all my actions around her. Whiskey wouldn't flinch at me shooing another horse away - but for Ivy, that horse just shouldn't be there. I need to set her up for success - try not to get frustrated, try not to get mad at her bit issues, and just give her the time to get through it and get her to respect the bit and the person on the end of the line...

Good thing we have nothing but time. No rush. But dang, she is driving me nuts.

For those of you who got through the novel... Anyone ever gone through this - and what did you do to work through it?
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    10-31-2012, 08:46 AM
Super Moderator
Is this horse 'bred' to be a show horse? There is a good reason most people buy or raise show prospects from good stock with proven track records.

If this is a well-bred show prospect, she is a real fluke.

On her problems with her mouth. I would guess that she is a horse that hates tongue pressure. A 2-piece snaffle is the worst bit you can use on one. A three piece lightweight bit is usually better. A high port mouthpiece that hangs up in a horse's mouth so that the mouthpiece stays where the tongue can stay 'under' it is a much better choice. Mylar makes several bits that stay off of a horse's tongue.

When I have had young horses that did not accept bits or bit pressure well, I just let them carry a ported bit that stayed off of their tongue while I put the reins on a side-pull or halter. A few cutting horses are never comfortable with a snaffle or a bit that lays on their tongue. Since they never have to be worked or shown 'on the bit' they can still work cows very well if they have that ability. Their careers out of the cutting pen are pretty limited and they generally 'flunk out'.

This horse might make a show horse, but the chances are pretty remote. You could train 3 or 4 'good' show prospects in the time you spend on this one and still probably won't have a great show horse in the end. JMHO.
loosie and PunksTank like this.
    10-31-2012, 09:02 AM
I've had a horse that was very sensitive to bits and it took her months to adjust. What I had to discover was exactly what it was she objected to. There were three things: thickness, weight, and movement.

For her, the bit had to be thin enough that she could move her thick tongue around. It also had to be very light. Heavy bits made her hang her head down. Finally, it had to move in the right way. She couldn't handle the movement of a loose ring on the sides, but the mouthpiece had to move loosely in her mouth. So in other words, she didn't like the mouthpiece to roll up and down the bit on the sides, but she did like it to be flexible inside.

So what finally worked for her was a very thin double-jointed small D ring with a lozenge. Nothing wrong with her teeth either. While it seemed that I tried other similar bits before this one, none had all the ingredients she liked.

There are other things a horse can object to: some horses like a solid mouthpiece but only a very specific height of port. Some horses like a solid mouthpiece with a sliding cheek, but some only like a stationary type cheek. Some horses only will tolerate a certain taste of metal like copper. And some horses will only care for a bitless or bosal.

Good luck, it's a tough one to figure out.
    10-31-2012, 10:07 AM
Green Broke
Have you thought of using a side pull or a rawhide core bosal and mecate instead of a bit to get things going?

I am thinking this horse needs to learn that if she does not do what you want, then you are going to keep her moving her feet. The minute she gives you what you want.. you back off and give her space and let her stop. Of course, you need to be able to read her to do this and make it work.

I would also opt for a double jointed (French Link) snaffle. I would put it on her and just leave it on her.. and not work her. Leave her in a loose box, walk away and let HER work it out (including eating and drinking).
loosie and Spotted like this.
    10-31-2012, 10:18 AM
Green Broke
Well, have her wolf teeth been pulled?
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    10-31-2012, 10:35 AM
I have one who is very much like this. Will carry the bit in her mouth fine but touch it......boom, the fight is on. Carrying it around was an issue at first, too. So....I have a surcingle and side reins and I start every session with her head pulled to the inside of the circle. I started with a slight bend, so that she could find relief by dropping her head a little and slowly worked it up to where she has to drop vertical to get relief. I start one sided and work both directions, switching sides that she's tied to when we reverse. Once she has learned to seek relief one side at a time, I then put both side reins on, so she's straight and can turn her head in or out just a bit but for true relief she has to drop her nose vertical or a little in front of vertical. Since she wants to fight when you touch her mouth for ANY reason, I've tied her down pretty tight so that she is the one pulling on her face and she has to give herself the relief. We're working on it, and it's going to take time. She's just the way she is.
    10-31-2012, 11:28 AM
Ok I completely agree with Cherie - this horse HATES tongue pressure, get her a bit with a medium port or on that's well mullened. They make these in curbs AND snaffles, get whichever fits your riding style. Don't buy a rubber one, if she fusses with the bit that much she'll chew it up and the rubber makes sharp edges which hurt their tongue.

My next SERIOUS complaint is get the side reins off the 2 year old. She has a baby mouth, just learning what a bit is, side reins do NOT have enough give to have contact and release. She's a baby, she needs to learn the basics before you start messing with her headset and all that.
First off lunging two years old beyond a gentle walk and short trot is NO good for their joints, they're not nearly full grown yet and running on circles is stressful.
Next, she needs to learn how to give to gentle pressure before you apply something with as little give as side-reins. Personally, side reins make me furious, there are very few people who know how to use them right. I'm not trying to judge you're ability to use side reins - but THIS tells me it's not right:

"Once she has learned to seek relief one side at a time, I then put both side reins on, so she's straight and can turn her head in or out just a bit but for true relief she has to drop her nose vertical or a little in front of vertical. Since she wants to fight when you touch her mouth for ANY reason, I've tied her down pretty tight so that she is the one pulling on her face and she has to give herself the relief."

To teach a horse how to give to the bit here are the steps I follow:
Put a bit on and wait for them to be comfortable and settled. If they just can't settle in the bit find something with a different mouth piece style, of course give her time to get comfortable in it though before just switching it up. Remember adult horse's gums get used to the constant contact, but a 2 year has a soft baby mouth so constant contact hurts.
Once the horse is standing comfortably in their bit it's time to learn to give to pressure. I'm assuming you've taken the correct steps in teaching the horse to give to all sorts of pressure all over her body, yielding her hind and front end and backing up and putting her head down all with quiet cues? Next I'd start with a halter, flat not rope, and clip on reins to it. Hold on rein and rest your hand on the horse's wither, hold the rein so it's just taught, just a tiny amount of pressure and wait. Give her a minute, if she stands and does nothing, slowly apply more pressure (very slowly) if she starts fussing a little you have enough pressure, if she fusses big time you have way too much. So once she starts trying to figure out how to relieve the pressure, without freaking out that's the pressure just wait, when she finally turns in the correct direction relieve the pressure and tell her she's wonderful, even if she only moved a quarter of an inch in the correct direction. Gradually ask for more in each direction, this should take 3-4 15 minute sessions, maybe more or less depending on the quality of your timing. Eventually you will apply just gentle soft pressure on one rein and she'll bring her nose around to her side.
Now do the same thing with the bit she's comfortable with, remember that with the bit you'll need even less pressure.

What you're telling me in all your posts is that the horse is freaking out and she's bad - But honestly it just sounds like way too much pressure is being applied. Side reins are for adult horses who are learning how to work correctly, not babies who are just learning to give to pressure.

I'm not trying to be mean or be too pushy on you but I'm seeing a horse who's got way too much pressure applied and she's responding how most reactive horses would to that much pressure.
The other thing that concerns me is this quote "Ivy is somewhat pushy, but friendly enough on the ground, and is very responsive as long as she agrees with what you are doing."
She's 2 years old her attention span is still limited, keep your lessons short and sweet. But make them effective! If she's 2 years old and still pushy she's only going to get worse. You are her leader and her boss, she can't just do what you want when she wants to. Go back to groundwork basics. Yielding hind and front end, backing up and putting her head down. I mention putting her head down, despite it not being on most people's training schedules, but when a horse put's their nose down to the ground they shift their brain out of flight, reactive mode. Your horse is very reactive, all be it because there's something extreme to react to, but regardless teaching her to put her head down with a tiny ounce of poll pressure will really help you and her collect herself when she gets upset. We have a horribly flighty Arabian who we have taught this skill and now she does it for herself, when she starts to get worked up she throws her nose to the ground and dances in place for a minute until she's calm. She knows how to contain herself, we'll even see her do it alone in her field when something 'scary' happens. We've practically taught her a new version of 'flight', this is what relieves the pressure of whatever is frightening her, because when her head is down she's no longer frightened. Of course this is a band-aid to keep you both safe until she's properly desensitized and trusts you well enough to listen to you and not make her own decisions.

I'm sorry again for sounding so harsh. Please consider taking things slower with this horse and gentler, side reins don't have proper give or proper timing and they are too strong for a baby mouth. Please keep the bitted lessons short until her mouth is more comfortable with the bit, gradually start increasing the length of the lesson.
loosie likes this.
    10-31-2012, 11:30 AM
Oh! I'm sorry, I just realized I read the posts wrong, I though you were the same person as the poster right before me posting an update. Sorry, please filter through what I wrote and ignore the parts about the side reins - assuming you don't use side reins?
But when you lunge her, do you have the lunge line clipped onto the bit? If so this is a LOT of pressure on her little baby mouth too...
    10-31-2012, 11:35 AM
Originally Posted by Cherie    
Is this horse 'bred' to be a show horse? There is a good reason most people buy or raise show prospects from good stock with proven track records.

This horse might make a show horse, but the chances are pretty remote. You could train 3 or 4 'good' show prospects in the time you spend on this one and still probably won't have a great show horse in the end. JMHO.
Ivy is VERY well bred. Big Time Nice Ice Paint Registered name Big Time Nice Ice, by R Big Time Fancy - leading APHA performance horse sire, World Champ, Multiple World Champ producer. Out of Tin Man/Zippo Pine Bar bred mare who is pretty fancy herself.

She is fancy, and can move very well, if her mind relaxes enough to let her... those flashes of brilliance is what keeps me hopeful. Her showmanship is pretty strong already. The bit is what is killing me.

I agree with the assessment she is going to take longer than most - I hauled her to my trainer and asked for the honest and blunt version. She likes her... loves her trot and thinks we can be competitive on the circuit if we get her figured out.

I tried the three piece french link - she seemed to dislike that the most. I am not familiar with high port three piece snaffles - gotta pic? The D ring I have in her now is a medium diameter and if the reins aren't attached she will pack it - just when we hook the reins on the fun begins.
    10-31-2012, 11:53 AM
Try an 04 Myler.

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