Breaks need replacing...
So, I know a very very sweet horse. His name's Tucker and he's one of those "been around the block" type of horses. He's currently a lesson horse and only has one real problem that I've noticed. When ridden by a more advanced rider, his breaks are basically shot. He is incredibly hard mouthed (due to being used for beginner lessons for so long) and when show jumping or out on cross country tries his hardest to take over. There are just enough breaks left on him that it's not a dangerous situation, just annoying and difficult. He also love's to brace on the bit on the flat.
So on to the point of this thread. He's for sale and I was thinking about how if he was a few years younger I would love to buy him. Thinking about that also made me think about what work would need to be done with him if i bought him, and the very obvious thing that came to mind was fix his breaks and make him light in the bridle. So how would YOU go about doing this.
Disclaimer: This is NOT meant to start a fight. Different people have different methods of things, I'm just curious to hear what other people think. :]
Get vertical and lateral flexion and get the hindquarters disengaged and moving freely. Do alot of stops and transitions but don't ask for them untill the horse is prepared for it.
Go back to basics. Throw him in a halter & groundwork him till he's attentive without a bit.
It is very possible to soften or lighten a horse's mouth and make him more responsive, particulary one that's been taught to "tune out" subtle aids, like an old schoolie has.
In this case, all his previous inadvertent "training" has been to ignore all but the most obvious, unambigous aids, and only pay attention to big, crude, rein aids, preferably those that are supported by weight/voice/instructor's voice.
Reschooling is simple, as long as you are absolutely consistent. Ask once, with the tiniest, subtlest, flutter of a butterfly's wing aid. Ask for the second time with a soft to normal aid. Ask for the third time with an OH MY GOD, the world is going to end, we're all going to die, mouth open, whatever it takes, DO IT NOW aid. Repeat. Often. Lots of upward and downward transitions in lots of situations. No excuses. Even if Martians are landing in the ring, if you don't get immediate obediance by the second ask, go for the end of the world as we know it aid. If you are consistent, your horse will start being very, very attentive, listening for the flutter of a butterfly wing aid.
It can be helpful to change to a bit that has a slightly different action - Dr. Bristol from a plain snaffle, three corner from a smooth, double mouthpiece from a single - not necessarily harsher, but different - to help him tune into the new expected response.
The only other caveat is that is if you let him be ridden by beginners, or even a careless experienced rider, he'll revert to tuning out, so be vigilant.
Horses will only rise to the level of the rider. I have lesson horses and there is nothing more frustrating than watching my hard work go out the door in a matter of minutes.
There are so many exercises you could do to make the horse lighter and more responsive to the bit, but as Maura said it is your consistency that will make the horse better. It is also your expectations that will limit the horse. If you expect him to respond to one pound of pressure that is the best he will get. If you expect him to respond to your 'thought' that is how good he will become.
I also agree with Maura's point of the three requests with one addition. I am adamant that the horse go through a lesson to teach a cue. When the horse has a good understanding of the cue, then I will go to ask, tell, do and can use what the horse has learned as a correction. I cannot correct the horse for something he has not learned.
Example: The horse is heavy in the stop. I teach the horse to disengage the hip and add the shoulders back. When the horse understands the lesson and softens, stops and backs off the rein while staying soft, I will use disengaging the hip, shoulder back, shoulder back, as a correction for not stopping when I apply the rein. The horse understands the lesson and the correction makes sense to him.
You can't go to a garage and buy a set of mechanical brakes for a horse.
A schoolmaster horse potentially offers many advantages to a rider but they mostly come with the problem of a hard mouth and insensitivety to the aids. Any experienced rider will know this - a novice rider might not. Some folks believe a schoolmaster is a good choice for novices - that very often is not the case because most school masters have never left the training arena. They are very often herd bound and reluctant to go out alone.
But let us assume we buy a good specimen.
I assume we talk about riding English.
I'd seek to find out why the training centre let the horse go. A good school master is worth a fortune.
I'd make a video of the horse being lunged in the arena.
I'd have the back checked by a horse physio.
I'd have the teeth rasped.
I'd initially fit a stronger bit than a snaffle - a Waterford would be fine.
I'd fit a running martingale - preferably a hunting design which fixes to the rings of the saddle and the girth.
I'd make sure the saddle fitted - I might even buy a new one.
I'd watch the diet - no heating feed. I'd watch the weight carefully.
I'd go back to the training arena and start again as with a young horse.
I'd start with in hand work - my head alongside his head.
I'd introduce it to horse bikkies
I'd do lots of pole work, lots of tight turns. Lots of starting and stopping. Lots of standing four square. We'd go up and down the paces.
There would be short lessons every day.
I'd teach the horse to respond to the legs and the seat.
I'd ride collected. I'd bring the horse's head down - slowly over months.
I'd gabble away to the horse all the time.
I'd stroke the horse - all over. I'd deliberately invade its space.
I'd keep my legs off the flanks.
I'd sit upright and tall - I'd keep my weight off the bars of the sitrrup irons.
I'd avoid going out in groups - I'd go out only with one or two carefully selected horses.
I'd make sure that the horse learned all the local routes.
I'd submit it to all sorts of frightening spooky things in the arena
etc etc etc.
And when I had finished (if I ever did finish) - the last thing I would do, would be to sell this paragon of virtue.
Such school master horses need to learn to belong to one owner. Much depends on how long they have worked in the school as to whether they ever will. Every horse will be different.
Each will present a different set of problems for which solutions will have to be found.
As for brakes (breaks) - well the risk is always that such a horse will bolt when excited especially when in the company of other horses. It is unlikely one will ever stop the urge to run - it will become a question of whether the rider can control the horse at the gallop.
There is no standard process for converting a professional working horse into a private owner's pet. But take such a horse away from its training centre environment then for a time it will be missing its mates. It will need time to settle. Some horses will respond to a softer life, others will try to take advantage of their new owner. Many will miss the heavier work load in the riding school.
As with all horses - the rider's ability has to match the horse's capability.
If this Tucker is a character horse with potential - then keep him.
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