Layperson tips for responsiveness to bit
I have a wonderfully smart, older gelding who is a peach and a half. Before I bought him, he spent the majority of his life as a trail/pack horse who was left behind on trail rides because he was too fast for younger riders. I don't know what kind of training he has, but he has respect for the basics and I understand that some of the more finessed training has not had the repetition that other horses have had.
He and I struggle with responsiveness. I have years of experience with how to ask a horse with a light seat, mostly English work, but I don't have experience with finesse or troubleshooting. His previous owners rode him on a loose rein, but he is not responsive to the leg, seat, or rein. I ride him on a looser rein, but I keep light contact with his mouth. I ride him in a very simple snaffle. He is not excited about the tighter contact, but he respects it. Sometimes I ride in spurs simply to give my heels more length (he's a bit of a potbelly).
Are there any easy training tips you could give me to increase his responsiveness to my seat and leg, even the bit? I have no problem with repetition, but are there any tips that could help with his responsiveness?
Feel free to ask me questions if it will help you understand the situation better.
Does he actually fight you, or does he simply not respond? Do you think it's possible he's developed a hard mouth because of inexperienced trail riders?
Are you trying for vertical flexion, lateral, or what exactly? I might work on lateral flexion - starting out asking very lightly for any bend, as soon as he gives you anything, release the pressure. Once he has that down, you could start with vertical flexion, I think. Yes, repetiition is good, but not to the point that you're drilling him. And you can do a lot of this stuff on the trail.
Does he respond well/better to your leg cues with spurs?
You're probably just going to have to be persistent and patient. Just keep at it, but only spend a few minutes at a time on any one exercise. Break it up with lots of trail riding (or something else that's kind of low-key, if you can). This way he should learn more quickly and not get sour.
Getting a deadened horse to respond to your cues can be difficult. You have to make the option to not listen to you more harder than listening you.
It sounds like your horse doesn't quite understand what you are telling you to do. Whenever you apply a leg/seat/rein aid and your horse responds, drop everything and praise lavishly. Don't literally drop everything, but let the rein go loose (it sounds like he likes loose rein) and take the pressure off.
It will take a while for your horse to get it, but after a while he will learn. It is important that once your horse starts to respond to your cues regularly that you start to keep your horse going and hold him together. You don't want your horse to think that every time you apply an aid that if he responds he gets to sit still afterwards as that would work against you. You do want your horse to be sure when he does something right and that listening to your cues is the easiest thing to do.
I agree with LisaG's description and would like to know what she asked, too.
the thing with a horse that is dull to the bit/hand is that you may have to get stronger/heavier for it to become lighter. A lot of people want the horse to be light to the bit, so they offer the horse a very light hand, but when the horse kind of does what you want, kind of turns, kind of stops, kind of bends, but is doing it the whole time leaning on the bit, braced in his neck, you are not building lightness. You are accepting the status quo. If that's ok with you, by all means leave it at that. your horse would certainly prefer that.
However, if you want him to be lighter, (and in time he will MUCH prefer this, once he understands what a good deal this will be for him and his mouth) then you have to be firmer than he is bracing. you cannot just meet his resistance and then let go while he is still resisting. the place where you let go is what you'll get next time. the reward must be given at the place where HE LETS GO.
So, you may have to get quite firm to make him become willing to let go.
For example, let's say you ask him to stop. you take up the reins (I am not talking here about the seat, but of course, you would put your seat into a "stop" position very first) and you kind of close your hand firmly around them. horse feels that "stop" on the reins, so he leans on it. you feel him leaning on the rein. (by the way, I always have a wee bit more contact on one rein than the other in any stop). you become firmer, he becomes firmer. you make one rein even firmer and raise it a bit. You don't actually pull the horse's head off to the side, buy you put on as much pull as the horse is , and one ounce more (as per my trainer's instructions) . Wait a bit. if horse adds more, you add more . wait abit. do not release until HE gives to the bit, even a bit. then you can reward.
It's the studied and careful use of of ONLY rewarding him when he responds softly to the rein that builds in softness. Never reward him with a release if he is still leaning on the rein. but never fail to reward even a small give on his part. You dont' always need to fully release the rein. Sometimes a small release will give him the idea of what he needs to do to get lightness from you.
Once he knows that he can get a release from the rein easily by giving to it promptly, he will much prefer that. but you are required to be vigilant to both reward him (never ride the brakes , so to speak) when he gives, and to insist that he gives before he earns a reward.
YOU build in lightness, but the horse will EARN it .
I agree with tiny's comment that you might (or perhaps likely will) have to use a fair amount of pressure to get him to respond at first.
And, as Loosie pointed out, you can do a lot on the ground, too. I like to get young horses flexing on the ground a little before I jump in the saddle. Though your horse is broke (or somewhat broke), he can still benefit from ground exercises.
And finally, though you can learn stuff from this forum, as Loosie points out, it's no substitute for working with a more knowleadgable horse person in real life. I have a hard time explaining how to teach a horse to give to the bit, and I'm not sure people can really understand it until they see AND feel it.
To LisaG: He does respond better when I use ball spurs. He does not fight per se in that he bucks or reacts, but he sometimes will disregard the cue and head in the direction he prefers. When I apply stronger leg and rein, though, he goes where I want him to go. He only does this in certain areas of the arena, so I do prepare when he gets to that spot by deliberately keeping my outside leg against him so he turns into the corner.
To Casey: I am a firm believer in praising, so I will keep up the encouragement when he responds well. He's a quick learner, and I'm working on keeping my cues simple and the same cue every single time. We've been working on the "whoa" section of this article Softening a Horse's Hard Mouth (both bitless/bareback and progressing to bit/saddle) and he's starting to get the hang of it. Rinse and repeat! :)
To Tiny: This sounds like a great idea, and I will try it along with building seat and vocal cues. I'd like him to eventually just work off seat and voice, with reins just there for back-up plan. I'll keep you posted on the progress.
To Loosie: Yes, single jointed. I'm working him on the ground quite a bit. I've largely ruled out bit problems, but I'm having the vet come out soon and I'll grab her opinion while she's out. I prefer working him bitless as well, and that's what I'm going to stick with while I work on cues with him. I used the word "respect" to mean that he is giving in to my cues and doing them, but I agree that I could've been clearer with my words. As for training, I've been asking the trainer at my barn for help, and I really respect her work and methods, so I've got a partner in crime now. :)
Thank you all for your help!
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