Mustang previously trained for vaulting
So, we acquired this 18 y/o wild caught Mustang gelding six months ago who's owner is recently deceased & hadn't ridden him for 2-3 years. We knew little about his training history, but he's a real sweet heart and seemed to be well trained. His ground manners are exceptional, he's calm, lunges beautifully, ties, stands, trailers, etc. In the saddle he bends, backs, disengages, and turns on a *dime* with the tiniest aid. He moves well off of leg pressure, half passes, etc. I can pull him down to the sweetest little jog, while other horses pass him up walking.
We *love* this horse, so what's the problem?
He *GOES!*, LOL. As soon as he is mounted, he will take off loping. It is not fear or discomfort that makes him do this, he just likes to run & has a blast doing it. We spent a couple of months trying to train him to walk, and stay in that gear. He will *not* do it. Yes, we lunge him before riding and can get him to walk in the round pen. Out on the trail, I can let him lope for 3-400 yards and when I stop him I can't even tell that he's breathing. Same in the arena, around & around 15 times & he isn't even warmed up.
A couple of weeks ago, a woman stopped by the ranch and recognized him. She said that his previous owner used him for vaulting and similar gymnastic activities. Ok, now we know why he will lope forever, that was his job. He's a pleasure horse now, and we just can't figure out how to get him to give it up.
His only "vice" is that he lopes without being "asked" to, and it takes a loooong time to stop him (like, 8-10 strides, 50 feet or more), even when trotting. I've spent a LOT of time with him, walk/stop, walk/stop/back. I "reward" him by letting him lope a little. On the ground, he will stop *instantaneously*, mid-stride.
I only have 2 years riding experience, but am under direction of a life-long horsewoman, who's ranch he is stabled at. She doesn't have vaulting experience and this horse is my "project" so I gotta figure it out on my own.
I ride him in a loose ring broken snaffle bit & western pleasure saddle. At first, it doesn't take a lot of pressure to control him, but as the ride continues it takes more & more pressure until he is just pushing right through the bit, even when collected. I do release pressure when he responds, but the *instant* pressure is released he starts loping. Too much pressure and he will "blow out". He responds to a one-rein stop the same way.
You say he lunges well- I'm assuming this means he walks, trots, and canters on command. Have you tried lunging him with a rider?
Yes, he switches gears easily in the round pen or even on a lunge line. He is a little slower with voice-only commands but responds quickly to physical presence/pressure. My instructor has lunged him on a line while I'm mounted a couple of times. I thought it was more to evaluate/improve my balance, but I'm sure she was curious if she could control him while he was mounted. He was obviously trying to fix on both of us at the same time, but he did respond to her. I don't think I'd like to do it off the line, if he switched directions I wouldn't be with him anymore. He turns *fast*.
He would probably make a great cutting horse, I work him out in the center of the arena when he starts getting out of [speed] control. He cuts barrels out of the "herd" like he was born to do it. He is *very* responsive in this kind of activity.
Oh, BTW- the arena is small, those 15 laps were probably about the same distance as I lope him on the trail.
You probably should start with the basics. If he doesn't walk/trot/canter on command on the lunge, do it hand walking. Work on walk/trot. Vary the speeds.
Then switch to the lunge. Ask for a walk or trot. If he canters, either stop the forward motion with the whip, or use the line to do a quick switch of direction. Eventually he will figure out that you want a walk or a trot. If you want to free lunge, use a switch in direction to stop the forward motion.
I'd also try using poles to get a real trot or walk. Make sure he can't canter over them.
Use a one rein stop if you need to, to get him to quit loping. Then go about your business.
I'd also suggest changing bits. Loose rings need to be fitted large (5" horses need at least a 5 1/2") and high (putting pressure on the lips and poll), in order to keep them from pinching or pulling through the mouth. I'd suggest, well, anything really. I personally like bauchers and fulll cheeks.
It sounds like he has a lot of potential if you can get him over this little issue. It sounds like he thinks he is doing the right thing. According to him, this is the way things go. Since for him loping is a reward by the time you stop him he has rewarded himself. I think its a matter of changing how he thinks about mounting. Have you tried taking him out getting him all tired out and then getting on and getting off him? That way standing when you get on him is a reward. It might not work but it might work. If I was you I would also do this when its the hottest day I could find. That way he gets tired out faster and put your mounting area in the shade. That way its double reward, he stands still and is in the shade. Then just have a few rides that are you getting on him and sitting and then getting off him. I am sure the experts might have some better ideas.
OP, as much help as going back to the ground can sometimes be when a training issue comes up, more groundwork is not always the answer.
You've already said that the horse has impeccable ground manners and lunging obedience (like you said, not so surprising since he was a vaulting horse). What he is lacking is under-saddle knowledge. My best guess would be that he was never really more than green broke under saddle to start with and never had much training geared toward actual riding.
Horses like him are relatively easy to correct, it just takes a lot of time, patience, and work. I would take him back to the very basics in the roundpen, arena, or flat open area. Start him in a relatively large circle at the walk and keep working the walk/stop/back thing and don't stop until you feel some improvement in him. It might take 20 minutes, it might take 20 sessions, but he will begin to improve. When he's stopping at the walk under saddle the way he does on the lunge line, then you are ready to start moving back up to the trot and then start the process all over again. Trot a few strides, stop, back up..over and over.
If he starts laying on your hands, don't be afraid to bump him a little with the bit. In spite of popular belief, it isn't bumping the mouth that makes hard mouthed horses, it's bumping it at the wrong times and holding with inconsistent release. A well timed bump on a horse that's getting lazy will do nothing more than remind him to lighten up on the bit.
When it comes time to move him up to the lope, I would start out loping him until he didn't want to lope anymore...until he was wanting to stop (be warned, that will probably take a lot longer than 10 minutes or a quarter mile, I've ridden lots of horses that I had to lope for upwards of an hour before they decided to slow down and start listening). Only use one rein to control his direction and speed. If he starts speeding up, then take up a bit of inside rein and spiral him down to smaller circles where he has to slow down then let him spiral back out into the bigger circle. When he feels like he wants to stop, then start working on the lope/stop/back thing.
Because of his age and how many years he's been this way, it will most certainly not be a fast fix, but once you start seeing a bit of improvement, then it will start happening faster and faster. At some point, you may have to get the help of your more experienced friend because it takes really good timing to improve a horse like that.
Thanx for all of the responses :)
A couple of things got jogged back to memory while reading the responses. First off, my teacher says that when he was brought in, it was obvious to her that he did not know how to lunge. She had to teach him, but he learned very quickly (yeah, that's a mysterious gap in his training if he was used for vaulting). At any rate, he's the first horse I've ever lunged & he makes it easy for me.
He was ridden by another young man (under her immediate direction) for the first couple of months he was on site and he picked up new skills very quickly- she is convinced that he is a very smart horse that wants to please his rider. That first rider worked with him a LOT, but gave it up when he lost control and had to bail off in the arena for fear that he was going to crash into the fence at high speed (and of course, he didn't). Thankfully, I haven't had that experience- *knocks on wood*.
She had tried several riders on him, but they get tense and it transfers through to the horse, then he gets tense and cannot be controlled. There is a very fine line between using enough pressure on the reins to control him & frying his brain with too much pressure. I pretty much maintain zero leg contact and all it takes is very slight/light contact to get a response out of him. We have a low beam in the arena that we ride over and when she suggested that I "give him a little kick" as I approached it, I *lightly* touched the sides of my heels to his flanks & he went airborne like he was jumping over a water hazard.
The first time I rode him, she was amazed that I could stay relaxed and not tense up on him. I've said before that I'm *not* an "experienced rider", but it was pretty obvious about 3 strides into that first ride that I'd bounce right off of him if I got tense- so I DIDN'T. I made it through the first few rides by the skin of my seat because I a)stayed relaxed on him & b)because my center of gravity is quite low- I'm 5'6" & 138 pounds. The first few times I turned him, I found myself on the westbound end of an eastbound horse (he turns very fast, did I say that already?), reaching out to grab the saddle horn *just* before it was out of reach. I'm still not sure if he was trying to unseat me, or if I was just used to riding bigger more sluggish horses. Once I was aware of how fast he can turn, I've had no problem staying balanced with him no matter what he does. He is a FUN little horse and it seems that we make a good pair. I just need to figure out how to communicate to him that we don't *always* need to lope.
Of course, I was hoping for a "quick fix". I expected someone to say something like "Oh, a vaulting horse- he was trained with driving reins. All you have to do is hang his lead rope loosely around his neck & give it a little tug when you want to slow down. Just be sure to first sit back in your seat and say 'Whoa!' and before you know it he will learn to respond properly."
But yeah, it's gonna take some work- but it's fun work for both of us :) How boring would a horse be if it responded like a video game?
Hey...I like video games XD
But on a serious note, he sounds like a nice little guy. Just have some work to do. I honestly have never heard of touching a horse's flank to ask for a jump...that's pretty darn far back...
If he's anything like my Mustang (very sensitive and responsive, super smart, really willing but with just enough spunk to make you ride right), then he'll make you a much better rider because you'll have to learn to really control your body and your hands.
The more I hear about him, the more I believe that he was never taught properly how to be a riding horse; so he's trying hard but honestly has no idea what you're wanting from him. How is his lateral flexion from the bit? Is he soft and light where he'll bend his nose around to your stirrup or is it more like trying to bend an oak 2x4 with your bare hands? If he doesn't flex easily, then that will actually be the first place to start.
Yeah, flank might not have been the right term (I would have had to be laying on his neck to reach that far back).
I wanted to say that he has made me a much better rider but I don't know enough to know that I am a better rider now- I would have had to say that he's made me a lot better at staying on a horse that is highly responsive ;) After the last time I rode him, I got on a new horse that is BIG. I could not transition to the longer gait, it was like I'd never been on a horse before. I did have sense enough to get off of him before I fried his brain though, so I guess that makes me a better rider than the girl I describe in the next paragraph.
Ah, flexation. That's another thing that it didn't seem like he knew how to do. We've been flexing him on the ground and he is learning to give for the release. But in the saddle he just starts walking in a circle at the slightest tug (on the rare occasions that we can get him to stand still). Several weeks ago, we let a small-of-stature woman ride him & it didn't last 5 minutes, ending in a failed attempt at a one rein stop. That short ride *toasted* his brain and he's still recovering from it. You *have* to "get ahold of him" but muscling him down is *not* the answer. Thankfully, others made that discovery long before I ever got on him & I can do a fair amount of learning from other's mistakes ;)
I'm sooo glad I came here & started talking about this horse. Responders have jogged my memory and opened up what we at one time or another thought might be holes in his training (or lack thereof) and reaffirmed the importance of covering those bases.
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