Back Off My Bit!!
Hello HorseForum :)
I've run into a bit of a bump in the road in Cowboy's training progress... Cowboy is my 5 year old (technically turns 5 next Sunday) OTTB. He never actually raced, but did train for the track. We've had him about a year now, and he's been doing AMAZINGLY well. He's a very quick learner, and is super mature.
Unfortunately, I've come to a problem I don't know how to fix. Cowboy has BAD transitions, mainly downward. Canter to a trot is terrible. What he does, is he throws his weight on his forehand, and leans into the bit, almost to the point where he rips the reins from my hands. Trot to a walk isn't as bad, but not very good. He will sometimes lean on the bit at the trot. My trainer wants to bit him up, but I'm ... Very against it. He's already in a slow twist.
I know that putting a bigger bit in his mouth will just make him more hard mouthed, so I want to fix the actual training issue. I'm just not sure how to go about that.
Also, another side issue: I'd like to get him more responsive to my aides in general. Listening to the bit more quickly, and also listening to my leg. He's just a bit slow... Kind of like me :lol: Ways to do this?
Thank you very much in advance!! This is a great forum, that always gives great help :) I'll be glad to provide more information as needed.
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Darn I read an article the other day on retraining OTTB for dressage and it had a LOT of good tips.. can't find it. Will post it another day once it has been found.. it will probably help.
First and foremost, get him responsive to your aids. Don't even worry yourself over the transitions right now, until he will respond immediately to the basic aids.
Start with halt-walk-halts. Ask him to walk off lightly with a touch of your calf and movement of your seat. No reaction, then give him a flick over the backside or behind your leg with a Dressage whip. It shouldn't take him long to figure out that it's easier to go from the light aid.
Same deal for the downwards aids, let him walk, then stop your back and touch the rein for a halt. If he doesn't halt, then a quick 'hey you, wake up!' on the rein will encourage the halt. Again, it won't take him long to learn to respond to the light aid.
You say you are 'slow', is this in terms of your reactions on the horse? Because if your reactions are not lightening fast, you're never going to train a horse to be light. Work on that one!
Now your canter-trot transitions, I believe this is stemming purely from lack of balance and probably lack of confidence on both sides.
If you don't have a balanced canter, you won't get a balanced transition.
Initially I would ride literally millions of walk-trot-halt-trot-walk transitions, get them spot on and staying in balance.
SO many people think downward transition and take their leg off. The leg is there to tell the hind legs to keep coming. Take the leg off and pull the reins, it is the riders fault, not the horse's, that the horse goes splat on it's front legs and loses balance. Especially if you are not blessed with a horse that has it's weight naturally over the hind legs.
Stay on a 20m circle, and aim to ride a transition every 1/4 circle. I don't give a rats backside where the horse's head is, if it looks pretty etc. You just need to be effective, and once you are effective with a reactive horse, it will start to look pretty.
Pick up a loose, balanced trot, leg yield off your outside leg towards a 15m circle, then back out to a 20m circle. Do this a few times until the horse is yielding softly off each leg, remaining in balance.
On yielding back out, at around 18m, slip in your canter aid and continue to ask for leg yield out. Canter for only a few strides, then come back to trot by imagining you are nailing yourself to the ground. Stop your body, engage your core and squeeze your leg on. Keep your body upright, you should not need to use the reins unless he runs through this aid. In that case, a quick upwards 'hey you, listen!' on the outside rein will suffice. As soon as you get back to trot, ride forwards, and continue the leg yield exercise. Asking the trot to be bigger or smaller each 1/4 circle, and sprinkle the canter in here and there. It is so important to keep the hind legs coming through in every transitions, or you will force the horse onto the forehand.
If you allow the canter to come onto the forehand before the transition, you will have a hell of a time trying to ride a good transition.
Even if your horse is not at the level yet, start thinking towards riding canter-walk transitions. Nothing improves your seat in a downward canter transition like canter-walks. You cannot pull the reins in a canter-walk, it must come entirely from your seat, and if you have allowed the canter to get away from you, the transition just won't happen.
xJumperx, here it is!!
Retraining Thoroughbreds for Dressage
WOW!! Thank you both very, very much! Your information is fantastic! I'm going to go out and try your excersises now, Kayty, and I'll be back with feedback :)
I think that all of Kayty's suggestions on the canter is spot on! I started riding my mom's big warmblood mare a lot more this year and her canter used to be no fun at all -- like trying to control a freight train. I think part of it was conditioning; she needed to build up the appropriate muscles to be able to canter in a controlled manner. Part of it may have also been that the saddle fit wasn't ideal -- but we recently had it totally reflocked and it feels great now.
Part of it was me, too. The natural reaction to want to slow a horse down is to pull on their face, but in my case what I really needed to do was relax and give her her face. I have practiced giving her a little more slack in the reins and really exaggerating the motion of my hands moving with her canter. If she starts to dive down on her forehand and get out of control, I lift the outside rein and give a half halt or two to encourage her to rebalance.
It has worked wonders for me. Her canter used to be the least fun gait to ride -- now it is my absolute favorite!! I'd love to just canter along all day like she does now.
Alright, I've gone out and rode the excersises - they work GREAT!! :) He was transitioning at feather-light touches by the time we were done! Our canter-walk transition is still a little sticky, but nothing like it was before. We will continue to do this excersize daily, I'm really liking it :)
Kayty - Just another side question, when you say I need to say 'hey, pay attention!' with the rein, do you mean I would at that point start to really pull, or is it a sharp pull and let go? Not a yank per say, but not really a pull... if that makes sense?
Eolith - I actually noticed that giving Cowboy his mouth really did end up helping! I was able to award him more easily, and he was a happier pony. Thank you so much!
Sky - That's an awesome article!! Thank you greatly for sharing, I saved it to my computer so I can read over it time and time again :)
Just a quick 'tap' on the rein.
You won't give a horse a hard mouth by giving a quick pop and release if you are not getti g a reaction to your seat, as long as you always give the horse the choice to respond to your seat first.
Eolith is right about pulling on the reins, it's a human instinct to pull back abd take the leg off to make a horse slow down but that will only put the horse on its front legs, making it go faster to keep its balance.
Leg on, engage your core, bare down (think of pushing a baby out!!) and allow the horse to 'fold' into the transition rather than fall.
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I love this post.
And mostly I love this quote because I've never had anyone explain it to me this way and it actually really makes a ton of sense (even though I've never had children?). xD
well, bearing down to have children feels exactly like bearing down to have a hard dump. (sorry for the coarse language).
It also helps to exhale at the same time. YOu can even open your mouth and say "haaaa" with the bearing down.
Wish Kayty wasn't so far away. I want her to come help me learn to canter Z better.
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