Camp Horses/Evading the Bit
Hey all! So at the camp where I am barn manager we are slowly starting to buy the horses that we rent every summer. These horses are all really nice and basically bomb proof because when they weren't owned by the camp they were used as commercial trail horses, but other than that they all seem to have some major holes in their training. These holes don't make them dangerous for the kids, just sometimes they don't understand what is being asked of them so they revert back to what they would have to do on their hourly trail rides... follow the horse in front of them and stop at the gate. Now that the camp is starting to buy them off of the lady who ran the trail riding business I have more access to help fill some of the holes in their training. This being said, I will probably end up posting here a lot because while there is major buddy sourness going on, every one of them has their own little "quirk" and I would really like some tips as where to start/where to go next. I have been riding horses since I was like three and working with them since I was fifteen and I am now 22, I helped start and re-start several horses both with help from a trainer and by myself, but always have had someone there to call if I needed help. I by no means know absolutely everything but I am knowledgeable and comfortable enough to do most of the "training" without being supervised. Also, I do have a trainer that can come out and help but she won't always be available so it would be nice to have some starting/ending points to work on without having to rely on her. Especially since she won't be able to come during the week when there are campers there, so it would be helpful to have some exercises to work on without her having to be there.
Note, all of these horses have been vet checked, their tack fits, they have their feet and teeth done regularly. I am not looking for top notch performance horses, but it would be nice to help make them a little smoother for the campers since most of them have never ridden before.
The first horse I really want to work with is an older arabian mare. She was a rescue horse before she came to camp, they literally found her along the side of the road with her foal o.O It is assumed that she was some sort of brood mare that had little to no riding experience. She has had some very basic training done. She goes when you squeeze your calves and cluck, turns left and right by pulling on the reins, and stops when you sit deep and pull back. She is a calm little girl and is actually my favorite horse out of the bunch! She does, however, have her flaws. Because she has had such minimal training she doesn't understand a lot. She doesn't understand how to yield to pressure. To her, any kind of leg means go faster! and any kind of rein pressure means turn of stop. She has also gotten into the habit of if she is ready to be done she will continue to walk around the arena until she gets to the gate. Even if the rider is sitting deep and is pulling back and saying "whoa". She will continue on with her head flung into the air and her little grey lips pointing skyward and she'll keep on truckin'! She won't go any faster than a walk while doing this and is as calm as can be, she just does not want to listen to that bit! She is also really hollow in her back when she trots. She does come down calmly to a walk but still evades the bit and always has that head up like a giraffe!
I started to work with her a little bit last summer on trying to get her to soften to the bit. I took her back to ground work and did lots of disengaging, backing, lunging, ect... we also worked under saddle in lots of circles, did lots of flexing, and lots of half halts! I was just wondering if you guys had any more suggestions on how to help her. She rides in a plain 'ol loose ring snaffle, although I was debating to picking up a french link for her and seeing how she likes that! Like I said, she is a really good horse and really smart! She just has holes in her training and it would be nice if someone could help me find them so I can fill them in!
Thanks in advance for any advice and brownies to you if you read through the whole thing! :lol:
I'd try the french link and work on transitions in speed and direction another week before thinking that isn't working.
That is a good suggestion. I don't think she quite understands how to carry herself very well and just don't think that the snaffle is helping her. I guess before I started working there she used to be ridden in a hackamore, but the kids were absolutely wailing on her face and it make her giraffe neck even worse! Sooo they switched her to the snaffle, which I guess helped a little, and only let the more "experienced" campers ride her and for hand led trail rides.
The hard part with her transitions is that head flings up as soon as you ask for a decrease in speed and she still is pretty unsure about what the rider's seat means so even when I try to use mainly my seat she is confused. I have plans to take her down to basics all over again because she is a quick learner.
She really isn't at all horrible to ride, I read through what I have written and it makes her sound really untrained... she just gets confused because I think somebody rushed through their basics so that they could start using her as a mediocre trail horse :/
I think that what you have been doing sounds fine. Lateral flexion is the key, and this girl should be able to be trained so that when the one rein stop is actived, she stops. Don't worry too much about getting her to have much finesse, she is unlikely to learn to really get under herself, and even if she does, let kids ride for a day or two and forget about it.
If you can teach her to stop with the one rein stop, and then teach whichever kids that ride her that it is her "emergency brake", and have them practice it with her, you will have made good strides getting her to be a safer camp horse.
That actually goes for all the horses. They need to learn to give laterally and park it when the one rein stop is asked for. Also though, the campers have to practice it. I used to board my mare at a ranch that did summer camps. I cannot tell you the number of times I saw a horse walk or trot towards the gate with a helpless child aboard while the instructors are screaming, "one rein stop!!!", and they are just frozen. They need to practice it often at the walk and trot, or they definately will not be able to do it when they are scared. I saw the instructors demonstrate it plenty, but I never once saw a child actually practicing it. Practice makes perfect.
What is it that these horses need to do? What is their job? If their job is to safely plod along the trail and you only have them for the summer or whatever, this sounds like a waste of time to retrain them if they're going back to their regular trail work. Not to mention, depending on their age they may be very set in their ways and resistant. It just kind of sounds like a losing battle to me. Just MO.
Don't let the kids hang around the gate and rest the horses there; they will associate the gate with rest. The should rest/dismount far away from the gate, work near the gate.
I agree that beyond making them reasonably safe for the kids, expecting them to be trained more than that is probably not fair . And the one rein stop idea is good, too
The camp is buying these horses, you said? How many weeks will they be used for camp? What will they be used for when the camp is not going on? If they are going to be used on a regular basis, i see no problems with "filling in the gaps" and training them more.
I have no idea if any of this would work, but...
You could try doing head down cues using the halter & pressure on the poll to lower her head. When she gets that OK, try using a bit that includes poll pressure instead of a snaffle. I've been trying that with my mare, and she responds better to poll pressure than pressure in the mouth. The problem I could see from that is those bits often can be abused by new riders.
For a hollow back...my mare Lilly did that when I first started riding her. She was green broke, weighed maybe 750, and my 180 lbs + tack meant I was at 28% or so of her weight. For trotting, I simply started her with it riding in two-point (and yes, in a western saddle). May have looked odd, but she figured out quickly that she could start using her back without pain. As she gained weight and experience carrying weight, I didn't need to do it any more...although I still do it with my 3 horses pretty regularly.
The problem I see is this...You are going to put time and work into this mare (along with many of the others), she will improve, and then a totally green-pea kid is going to climb aboard and the whole program will unravel because the rider has no clue. Correcting some of these issues takes time and consistancy. I feel sorry for the horse. A first-time rider kid, along with many long-time rider adults, have no idea how to solve some of these issues.
If this is an equestrian focused camp I would think the horses should have good basics as a lesson horse would have. If this is a camp where the kids do a lot of other things and riding is just one activitity, then maybe having a group of "happy plodders" is best. Learn to groom, saddle and ride quietly. It doesn't sound like most of the riders will be helping much in the education of the horse department. If most of these horses are used to being in a trail string and are safe that way, that doesn't sound like a bad thing to me.
Good luck with the greenhorns and Happy Trails!
I agree. If they are safe doing what they do and they're going to continue to be used in the capacity they are, I would leave them be. It's a waste of time to retrain them if they're going to continue to be used as they are.
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