How do I get my horse listening?
I bought a large haflinger gelding a few weeks ago. When I bought him they told me he was an eventing horse and great at dressage. He is really good except I cant get him to pay attention to me. I also ride him western and with that bit (a tom thumb snaffle) he collects very well and pays attention. But with no matter what snaffle I try he throws his head, spooks at everything, doesnt stop, and worst doesnt pay any attention to me. When he is paying attention he politely drops his head, relaxes, and does what ever I ask, but it only lasts a few strides. Should I get a stronger bit? What should I do? I AM WILLING TO TRY PRETTY MUCH ANYTHING!!!! Thanks
I would strongly suggest against using a stronger bit. A more aggressive bit will not do anything but mask the underlying training issues and perhaps even give him a dull mouth. Nobody likes a deadheaded pulling horse! Especially if you're doing dressage with him; you want contact but one that you can half-halt, not a dead one.
The first thing I would check if I were riding this horse is, when he spooks, his bend. Are you losing inside bend? If you lose inside bend he is way more likely to spook spook away. You want strong diagonal aids of inside leg- supporting outside rein, with a supple inside rein and blocking outside leg to help keep the bend and a driving seat. If he is behind your aids and losing inside bend he's going to spook (I know that first hand haha. My gelding will take every advantage to spook if I stop that for half a stride).
To address the not listening...half-halts! Lots of them (at the very least one per quarter 20 meter circle) and LOTS of transitions. I wouldn't go more than a dozen strides without a new transition on a horse that just wanted to ignore me, be rude, and run away. Do absolutely as many transitions as you can in your ride. Do half-transitions...my coach calls these "Change-your-mind transitions". E.g. If you're walking, ask for a trot then change your mind once he's a step or two into the trot and walk again. It will keep him on his toes!
Keep his mind busy, work lots of circles, serpentines, leg-yeilds, transitions etc. A horse that is bored is going to make up reasons to have some fun. He sounds like a busy horse, so keep him busy. Change things up each ride and challenge him. One day, set out poles. The next, cones. Things like that.
I hope that helps some!
I totally agree with Tigo... my instructor had me do walk trot transitions where I change at each letter (so only a few strides before I change again). Once around the arena was all it took and my horse was listening and reacting to my leg and moving forward immediately into the trot.
My horse also needs strong half-halts, but only when she hangs on the bit and isn't light in my hands. By strong, I mean a real huge pull back, but then immediately release and let her carry herself. My problem is catching her at the very moment she starts to pull or hang on the bit and correcting the problem immediately.
If you can anticipate the shying or other misbehavior and ask for a transition or change of direction or circle, etc. just before or right when it happens, that might help.
-Best of luck!
Thanks! I have been doing a lot of different things (never do the same thing two days in a row) with him to keep his mind going. What bothers me a lot is with my western bit he is really good. He collects, has great transitions, listens REALLY well, tries super hard to do what I ask. The second I put the snaffle in he takes off, spooks, throws his head, has really awful breaks unless he decides its a good idea for him, yesterday he took off at a canter out the arena gate and no matter what I do I cant stop him until he got to the barn, he doesnt listen at all, wont collect, and hes just overall bad. With the western bit I also can get him to do a perfect long and low with his nose on the ground but I cant even get his nose out of the air with the snaffle. I have no idea why I have a completely different horse when I am riding english or western. He was broke, trained, shown english (eventing) his entire life until now.
Well it's probably not because you are riding him Western that he is better...it's probably because of the bit difference. He is going to be more responsive to a stronger bit, however that doesn't mean you can keep riding him like that. Perhaps you need to go back to working in the snaffle and establish the respect you need there. It sounds like it might be a long process, but in the long run you will be better off. Also sounds like he has you figured out...you have less control so he "spooks"
My boy has done that before...takes an opportune moment to "spook" and get out of work. And believe me I can tell the difference between a real good-and-honest startle and a carefully plotted "spook" ;)
My best advice would, like said above, keep him busy. Don't let him have two seconds to think of how he wouldn't want to work. Work him very consistently and as much as you can to build a good work ethic.
And also don't worry about his head!! His frame and true collection will come later...it sounds like you have bigger issues here :)
Have you also ruled out any bridle/saddle/soreness issues? If his english bridle doesn't fit, or the bit isn't the right size for his mouth, then it could be causing the issues?
Ok I'm going to try that. I have been told that since he is kinda drafty he won't be super soft ever. Is that true? If I do a lot of snaffle work, how can it get better? If I just keep using the same bit and only keeping him more focused how will it make him softer?
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Since I don't know him I can't comment on his softness...but I think any horse in the right hands can obtain a certain amount of responsiveness. And for sure more than he is now.
As for doing snaffle work, it's all about consistency and getting results with the snaffle. You need to get to the root of the issues...why does he blow you off with the snaffle? Did he do it with the previous owner? And if no then the problem ( no offense!!) probably lies with you...if yes then what are their thoughts and what did they do to prevent him from ignoring them?
And keeping him focused with give him less time to (a) run away and spook and (b) gets him listening and respecting you. Make sure you are going to be firm if necessary but rewarding him whenver possible. Hopefully by doing some exercises that both challenge him mentally, (make sure he can do it physically though) and physically...he will start to just let you be in control. He will hopefully start relaxing (both physically and mentally) and then you can start working on getting him more collected. But without rhythm and relaxation that won't be possible.
Since it seems that he doesn't have much respect for you, perhaps doing some groundwork would be good? I find free-lunging is great, and doing some ropework is excellent. Remember, how they are on the ground will reflect in your riding.
I'm just going to say I have a slight bias against Haflingers...they are cute but gosh they are pushy and stubborn!
Things to consider...
Do you have someone who can watch you ride? Maybe you are doing things differently when you ride with the snaffle that you aren't even aware of. If you are tense because you're afraid he will spook and run away (understandable), you may be communicating this to him and making it worse.
Make sure you are in a very safe environment (e.g., no open gates back to the barn) and get a knowledgable ground person to help you.
Also, if he was evented in a snaffle, perhaps there is an association that is causing him to act differently... like he remembers galloping off when he was in a snaffle, so that's what he wants to do. When you change to the snaffle, do you also change to a different saddle? If so, use the same saddle and see what happens.
I agree that ground work, lunging in the snaffle, may help. I also agree that you shouldn't worry about his head being up in the air right now. Focus on the misbehaviors, not getting his head into the right frame. Move your hands up to keep that straight line between bit and hand, but don't try to force his head down. If he does give a little and put his head down, make sure you reward him with a slightly lighter contact.
For a few days I have tried what you are all saying. I have went back to my snaffle, and now he doesnt spook, is paying attention, he actually has great half haults. I worked a lot on walk trot trot walk stop trot stop back etc. But then there is the canter. No matter what I do i ask for the canter he leaps into it, throws his head, doesnt feel balanced and his breaks go back from light to none. I can half halt the canter then it gets a bit better but stopping not going to happen. I was in my dressage saddle and myself felt pretty balanced and tried to stay out of his way. Last time I rode him western I was neck reining, barley had to touch his mouth and only to stop and he was perfect. Balanced, lead changes, head not everywhere, focused. My trainer told me to get him lighter to first lightly touch his mouth like the amount of pressure I want him to stop with, then make him stop with pulling as hard as he needs so he starts to learn that light means stop. At a walk and trot this worked great, at a canter not so much. Some people I have talked to have told me that I might need to switch bits, not necessarily go really strong but maybe get something else and see if it works. What do you think? Someone at my barn used a dr. bristol on her old pony and she was always really nice with it in no matter what was going on (shows, that stuff). She was better in it then her tom thumb snaffle. What are your ideas? (because hes fine walk trot now we just have canter issues)
I'm glad he's better in the walk and trot!! Since he did get better, I would recommend not using a stronger bit right off. To carry himself correctly, which includes being able to do nice transitions and half-halts, it uses a lot of muscle power. It isn't the easiest thing for horses to do...especially when they have spent much time going around slightly less correctly. So working on strengthening the right muscles will take some time...try canter snaffle work for at least a couple weeks before just changing bits. Don't expect perfection right off...it might be a slow process.
Transitions can be tricky....make sure you are correctly balanced on him. If you aren't then you cannot expect him to be. I have been working on getting my boy to do canter-walk transitions...he used to be pretty strong and blow thru my aids. To get him better, we of course worked on getting him more properly through. We used something called the box exercise. In this, my instructor drew a box in the arena dirt off the track. In the corners, I would ask him to make more of a square turn and then ask for a walk. He would have to collect a lot to make the turn and when he came out of the corner it was easier to make the transition. We built on this, adding in counter-canter and picking up random leads and doing a bunch of walk-canter-walk transitions.
I don't know if this would really help you...but I guess what I'm saying is that before jumping to a new bit (especially with a newer horse that you are still figuring out) I would just work on strengthening him and just being really consistent. If he can do it in the walk/trot then he can do it in the canter it will just be a bit harder and it might take longer.
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