Softening a heavy horse - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 14 Old 04-22-2013, 06:03 PM Thread Starter
Green Broke
Join Date: May 2009
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Softening a heavy horse

Hey guys, I've started lessons with a new coach and we're basically going back to basica because Jynx likes to be SO heavy and stiff in the bridle. Particularily to the right, she has a tendency of just locking up her jaw on me and refusing to give. We're doing a lot of 10 meter circles right now with leg yielding to ask her to give and it's working but only last a few strides before we're back in a 10 meter circle asking her to give to the right.

I was just wondering what exercises you guys have found helpful for softening and suppling? Our main exercises right now are the leg yielding on a 10 meter circle and true flexion to counter flexion to true flexion on a 20 meter circle but I know HF has heaps of gifted riders who probably have other fun exercises we could be doing to help softness without getting bored! Jynx has a tendency of catching on to quick to what I "want her to do" and think up ways to avoid doing exactly that so I like to change it up! Thanks guys!
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post #2 of 14 Old 04-22-2013, 11:37 PM
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Circles in, circles out. I have failed to find a horse that is truly hard mouthed. They always just needed some reason to respond.

I mean, even if they had nerve damage, the tissues under/outside/behind the bars can sense pressure. Add the cues from seat, leg, neck and there are even more possiblities. It's up to the rider to re-teach the response.

When I come upon one that has difficulty flexing in a certain direction, I start to look at tight muscles and fascia. What happens if you manually move and bend this horse while on the ground? Would a chiropractor be needed? Some deep tissue work?

You're horse is lucky that you first noticed and then care and are going to get things lined out.
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post #3 of 14 Old 04-23-2013, 12:07 AM Thread Starter
Green Broke
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Thanks! On the ground or at a halt, she gives easily. My coach was able to get on and have her light as a feather after 20 minutes - professionals have never had much fight to get her soft. I know it's mostly me, my scoliosis and just not being quite as accurate as a pro in my rewarding.

I don't think a chiro is necessary but I wouldn't hesitate to go in that direction if needed. I can supple her from left to right and back again without coming up, and at the walk she's decent but as speed increases, so does resistance.

I'm with an excellent coach who is doing wonders for us (only had two lessons so far), I'm just always looking for new ways to meep her mind occupied and thinking!
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post #4 of 14 Old 04-23-2013, 12:20 AM
Green Broke
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Transitions.....lots and lots. In the halt ask to have the head bend on way to your knee then the same to your other knee. She should be able to bend and give without moving her feet. Once she gives relaseband reward. Start out slow and make sure your not squeezing with your legs.

I taught my horse, Oliver this with treats. Now I can tap his shoulder and he will reach around all the way for sugar, this is his reward after going correctly under saddle.

Once you have that down and need more flexibility through the poll ask for a bend in the poll by brining your inside hand out a tiny bit and up to your body, as soon as you get the slightest bend relase and praise. Do this to the outside. Each way you ask add a little leg, from the sme side. You wil get more and more bend the more you do this but be pataint!

Spiraling in and out will also help such as boots said.

You want your mare to be bable be fully flexible in the poll and ribcage. Then you can go onto straightness

This last winter Ollie and I where doing all I just said. Now when he gets stiff I just add more iside leg, sit really straight and can flex my inside wrist inward and a little back, balance him with a outside half halt and bam, right back to where he needs to be :)

This will take a while! Be paitaint! Something to always start and end on!
When she is unsure and pulls back don't give but don't pull more, keep steady weight in the rein and hand as still as possible, arm soft, shoulders back, elbows by your side. The big reward she will understand is your relase.... As soon as you feel her jaw soften the smallest bit release!!

Good luck!
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post #5 of 14 Old 04-23-2013, 12:53 AM
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My teacher will often use a full disengagement of the hind, and a step over of the fore to soften the horse. But, it's a bit more complicated than I am making it sound. The desired result is the the horse rockst backward, lifts the base of the neck, flexes at the poll and jaw, steps the inside hind well under itself, and while staying rocked back over its' hind, step the now lightened forehand over to the inside. LIke inside hind steps to the right, inside fore steps to the left, and horse makes a 180 degree turn, more or less..

If the horse locks up her jaw, then her hind end is often locked up , too.

When I ask Z to back up , as I put some rein pressure on, I look for him to soften his mouth, flex at the poll and prepare to rock backward. If I ask him to flex a bit more to one side than the other, i will usually get him a bit softer in the mouth. Watch that inner eye. If the horse is backing, or turning to the right, for example, but you still see the white of the eye, then the eyeball is rolled in the opposite direction, which means the horse is still THINKING in the direction he is looking, NOT in the direction you are asking him to bend/flex toward. Even if you can pull his/her head all the way to the right , and you can, if the hrose is still looking left (evidenced by eye and ear), his thinking is not WITH you, and the brace is still in his body.
watch the ears and eyes to see if the mind (and thus, the body) goes with you or opposes you
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post #6 of 14 Old 04-23-2013, 06:21 AM
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Try riding her with a halt see how she does with that, go on youtube and look up understanding your horse the guy is good, he is amazing and rides only with a halter and his horses are great. He is all about working with a horses natural feeling like pressure and release. It has worked wonders with my horse, she is such a dream now that I am learning to read her body language and understand her point of view.
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post #7 of 14 Old 04-23-2013, 07:32 AM
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Do you open your fingers to ease the pressure on her mouth when doing as you ask? Don't let the reins slide thro your fingers and your hands should remain still. What she will learn is that by holding the circle the pressure in her mouth is eased off yet increases when she enlarges the circle. She doesn't want the extra pressure and will want to comply. When circling, open the fingers on the outside and open and close them on the inside.
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post #8 of 14 Old 04-23-2013, 02:48 PM Thread Starter
Green Broke
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I don't agree with opening fingers - that is a huge no no that I have never had any coach encourage because it is a bad habit of mine. She is rewarded through softening through my elbow to create an elastic inside rein that encourages her down and soft.

I can already manipulate her back and forth Klassic Superstar, and to the left, we mostly do not have a lot of issues. This mare schools 2nd Level movements so what I'm trying to accomplish is "nit picky" - I just want her softer and more giving to the right and multiple exercises to work on so she doesn't get bored or used to the same exercises. Thanks for the advice!

Thank you so much tinyliny, that's exactly what I was looking for! I will definitely keep that in mind and yes, I do understand what you're referring to and I think the leg yielding I'm doing on a 10 meter is similar but what you're referring to is a little more advanced but makes sense about being locked up in the hind end as well.

Thanks guys! Yesterday, she was REALLY a monster and was locking up horribly on me to the right and running the through the bridle to evade. It took awhile, but we worked on some spiralling and serpentines and 10m circles with leg yield and I finally got her to soften for me. Lesson tonight with our Dressage coach, excited!!
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post #9 of 14 Old 04-24-2013, 10:45 AM
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If the horse is schooling Second Level, she should be able to do shoulder-in. It's my favourite exercise for creating more bend and elasticity in a horse that's educated enough to do it.

BUT, IME, 90% of the time, the majority of the stiffness is coming from the rider and the horse is bracing because that's what their rider is doing. Are you blocking with your seat, your hand, or your shoulder? Are you consciously asking the horse for one thing, but sitting in such a way that blocks the horse from doing it, so the horse gets stiff and bracy or does things like run through the aid? When I find my horse getting "stuck" in this manner in an exercise, I ask myself these questions. And find that it's usually my fault. :)
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post #10 of 14 Old 04-24-2013, 11:20 AM
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I like to use the various reining horse patterns (you can google them) and work transitions up and down with the pattern. It's fun for both of us and breaks some of that boredom.
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