Help! Bit issues for a sensitive horse/ horse that leans!
I have an 11year old, Belgium warmblood gelding. We had a couple of problems when I first bought him (bad teeth, stomach ulcers, lack of trust) but all of which have now been sorted. We finally were able to buy him a saddle, and have his back checked, when his treatment finished so we could bring him back into work pain free. He's been back in work for about 6weeks and has come on in leaps and bounds! So pleased with my cheeky boy! He has some beautiful lateral work and with some more hard work in the school his canter transitions will improve (as he is still gaining strength after his time off and lack of work before I bought him) further still.
He is quite a hot-headed horse. He tends to settle a little quicker when he's been out in the field before I ride (but still not quickly enough). He appears to trust me, having spent so much time working with him on the ground due to being unable to ride, and will follow me everywhere. If his stable door is left open, I can trust him not to walk out without me saying it is okay to do so. From that respect, we have a pretty solid relationship. When he is working properly we get some fantastic work and am really keen to get him to do some dressage as he is constantly being complimented.
Having said that, it takes time to get him working nicely and usually involves a tantrum on his part (backs off and put his head in the air and sets his neck). Sitting trot helps this, but can't be doing that in the middle of a dressage test if required to be rising. I am very keen to do things slowly, gently and properly, when trying to resolve a problem, but squabbling with my horse for 20 mins does seem a little excessive. I ride him for about an hour. The first 15mins are quite good, we then have a bad 20mins, 10mins of mixed work and then 15mins of really nice work (roughly). However, I can't take him out and about if it's going to take that long to settle him. Lunging tends to make him worse as he is able to run into his canter and faster to ride the next day.
He is currently ridden is a high cheek, french link snaffle. I find that he can lean on the bit and get quite fast. Some sitting trot can solve this for a little while and transitions can make him a little overly sensitive to my leg aids. He loves to gallop and, as a result, I have little to no brakes. I'm not worried as he is safe, but it would be nice to have a nicer schooling session. I don't think my arms could handle any more horse related muscle!
I was advised to use a waterford? Does anyone have any thoughts on this change? Is it worth using when I can't use it to compete?
Thank you for reading,
What is "high cheek"? Do you mean "full cheek"?
I had issues with my paint leaning on any stable bit (D-ring, eggbutt, etc.). I switched her to loose ring (same mouthpiece, french link at the time), and the problem went away.
Hi Gemma --
Well, since you've fixed his ulcers and all of your other problems, this seems to be behavioral -- unless you think that there could be some leftover pain. However, since you have some nice moments, it seems to me like he just gives you a little bit of a hard time.
Sitting trot helps me a lot too, but when something like this happens - it happened a little bit with me and my gelding - I resort to natural horsemanship. Don't get me wrong, I'm a dressage girl, but sometimes natural horsemanship fixes the problem a lot more quickly.
Here's my first tip: My gelding, and some other horses I've trained, when I first started riding them would set their necks and raise their heads with tight backs when I tried to pick up the rein. Since it looked horrible, my instinct was to give the rein forward - and usually this would help them relax, but it didn't do much for my dressage! So then I'd pick the rein back up, and their heads would go back up, and it was a vicious cycle...
So my instructor told me to keep contact when they raise their heads - even increase it! This will cause a moment of tension when the horse fights your hands - then the horse will try giving forward. You can either give a little then or just keep your hands still as the horse softening will be his own reward. Eventually the horse will learn that fighting your hands will only be unpleasant for him, but that softening his poll will result in a nice, comfortable, harmonious ride.
I found that this helped reduce the head tossing little by little. Eventually it all went away (occasionally if my hands aren't still enough my gelding will remind me by trying to toss his head, but now I can predict it and catch him with my outside rein right before he does it, and then fix my hands).
THere were other things I did as well, though - some softening exercises such as suppling on the ground, one rein stops, and asking the horse to soften every time he stops by massaging with both reins and not giving up until he drops his poll (I wouldn't recommend this if a horse has a tendency to drop behind the vertical, though)...Clinton Anderson has tons of great exercises for this kind of thing. The one-rein stop, I think, is the most efficient way to increase suppleness.
I hope that this helps! Do you have any pictures of your gelding? A Belgian doing dressage sounds beautiful....
You would be making a huge change from a french link into a waterford and if you can't compete in it then it could just make things worse when you put a mild bit back on him.
Maybe a loose ring snaffle thats thinner with no link in it might be worth trying as he would be less inclined to lean on that.
Some horses will react to being 'pulled at' by pulling even more and creating a tug of war situation that you will lose.
I find it hard to advise people in these sort of situations without riding the horse myself to know what exactly is going on.
Do you have lessons with someone who can stand and watch to see if you could ride him any diffferently?
By "high" cheek, I mean "full" cheek. He doesn't like the 'nut-cracker' action of a single jointed bit which is why he is ridden in the french link. He does lean on the bit which is why I was wondering if it may be of use to use a waterford a couple of times a week and use his usual bit for the other times. I was wondering if that would encourage him to stop leaning rather than totally switch to a waterford and then find, when he goes back to his usual bit, he takes advantage of it and leans again?
Thank you for your help!
try a magic snaffle works.wonders for.mine
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Your advice is very helpful and has made me feel that what I have been doing is a step in the right direction. I was advised to hold the contact, keep my hands low and bring my shoulder blades together when my horse becomes unsettled and start to speed up. It has worked a treat and he has improved so much. People around the yard have commented on how well he is working, stating to listen and working through his back, from behind. His pace has improved and fussing with his head has reduced dramatically. He now only does this when he is having a tantrum which appears to occur when he is starting to get tired and would rather be in the field. After that, he does some nice work and occasionally tests his luck and sees what he can get away with. I relax my shoulder blades and give a little, when he does soften, as a reward. When he leans on the bit he is still coming from behind and his paces are nice and long, but it’s not as comfortable for my arms and he tends to over bend. When he bring his head up his paces become short, choppy and he is tight through his back. Some sitting trot and a strong squeeze from the leg reminds him that he’s not in charge and does tend to help this, but would like the tantrums to be a thing of a past. When asked to walk or halt he is nice and soft and is very supple in general.
I am being a little unfair towards him as he is far better than he used to be, but I just felt that he should have pretty well stopped leaning on the bit. I rode him today and he was a quite bit better than he was yesterday. Hopefully it is just as case of needing to get back into the swing of things as he had a couple of days of hacking, a day in his stable, and a day off. He seems to be a one person horse. I let my friend ride him for a little while, before I hacked out with her on another horse, and I found that when I rode him again, he had gone a bit backwards from how he had been progressing. Don't get me wrong, she a nice, soft rider, but he takes some getting used to and likes things to remain consistent. I am obviously happy with the way she rides as I’d not have let her get on him, but it is a little frustrating to let someone else on him to find I have to go back a couple of steps. This happened the last time I let someone else ride him too. At the time I thought it was a coincidence, but now feel it may be the way he reacts to different riders. I don’t want him to be a one person horse as I don’t think it does much good for him. If I go away for a couple of weeks, I would like to keep him in work for part of the time. I don’t want to worry about his progress being jeopardised as a result of someone else riding.
I have read that article and it seems very good. I think I will put that technique to work. Thank you very much for bringing that to my attention. It may be that he is still testing me and seeing what he can get away with. When I first got him and he started showing signs of pain, he wouldn’t trot or canter without consistently bucking at some height! When he came back into work he tried his bucking tricks, but soon stopped after some consistent riding. When my horse started picking up the wrong canter lead and shooting into his transition, I was advised to take his mind off of the problem and let him walk and stretch. This, in theory, is very good but sent him backwards as I let my horse walk and stretch as a reward when he has done as he has been asked. This advice resulted in my horse throwing his head up, tightening through his back and would only settle when he was allowed to walk. As you can imagine, this upset me quite a lot as we had been working so hard and the progress was being unravelled. I felt I should do as I was told as I didn’t know the lady very well, but in hindsight, I should have carried on with what appeared to be working for the both of us. Maybe with some more hard work he will reduce his tantrums to odd days or we will be able to work through them quicker?
I do have some pictures of him. I don’t have any of him working in the arena as I won’t let anyone take any pictures until I am happy with his work. I think I have some of him on the lunge and have a few of him in his stable. I don’t know how to upload them though?!
Thank you for your help and sorry for such a long reply!
I have read a bit about it and was wondering how it helped your horse in particular?
i had tried everything in a snaffle she would be ok but lean on.you and run though the hand if u put anything strong in she just got worse.bounced on the spot etc. The magic bitshe just accepts loverly goes down in a nice round shape listens to it can collect her so easily now and doesnt lean on.it at all it is totally amazing but is still not to harsh
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Thanks for that. It sounds like it may be worth a try. I'll see if I know anyone who has one I could try!
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