What makes a 'strong' horse or pony? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 18 Old 02-16-2020, 11:58 PM Thread Starter
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What makes a 'strong' horse or pony?

Is it just a horse that has too much go? Is it a horse that just doesn't respond to cues to slow down? And is it a personality or training issue?

If any of the above is correct, i've ridden quite a few of them and I can't for the life of me cue them to 'chill out' but circling them. These horses really opened up my eyes about how useless bits can be because half of the time said horses are dead in the mouth/ignore any resistance nor seat cues. I'm riding literal freight trains at times.

Some listen to spoken voice though, and I can only infer sometimes strong horses are just really tense horses. But is there not much to do but circle-mania? I ride lesson horses so I can't change anything, but i'm just curious in general what could be done, for any horse.

cantering on, into the familiar and unknown
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post #2 of 18 Old 02-17-2020, 12:19 AM
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"Strong" is such an unspecific term. Does the horse pull? Does the horse just not listen well to the bit? Is it too keen to jump/run? Does it take off?

My mare doesn't listen very well to the bit when she's over-keen but will halt from gallop in a few strides with just a loud exhale. Is she strong? Not as far as I'm concerned. I can still stop her, safely, without having to haul on her. I strictly ride her in a snaffle.

Circling does not work. People always say it does but I've had multiple "strong" horses (strong for differing reasons) and not a single one has responded to circling by slowing down.

A strong horse is not a safe lesson horse. Sorry, not sorry. If it doesn't stop easily, it isn't safe.

"Strong" in most contexts means that the horse doesn't stop easily. I know one person who uses it to mean "the horse pulls" but usually it's about stopping.

It is usually training. I have a very hot, very sensitive OTTB who had absolutely no understanding of bit and rein cues when I started working with her. I have since retrained her, but if you pull her mouth in a gallop, she'll lean into you and go faster, because (here at least) most racehorses are trained that way. Doesn't make her strong, though; like I said she'll halt in a few strides if I ask the right way. So what did I do?
I remouthed her. Mouthing is the process of teaching a horse what the bit is for. Remouthing is repeating that training, as a reminder. You do this on the ground to start with, and then once they're good and consistent you do it from their backs, starting in walk. Only once they're consistent with stop, go, turn, and reinback do you trot, and only once you have a nice consistent trot to halt do you canter. It takes... about a week, with most horses? It's really not that difficult if you have timing and feel.

As part of remouthing I teach flex to halt/one rein stop. I feel it's important to be able to safely stop a horse with only one rein, because what happens if one of yours breaks?!

So if remouthing has not worked to break the horse of being strong, you would then one rein stop it. Do this carefully in a controlled area as they CAN and some WILL gallop with their nose on your boot.
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post #3 of 18 Old 02-17-2020, 12:23 AM
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Hmm. I think you are onto something in saying they are tense. But I guess it also depends on each person's definition of "strong." I guess a horse could be strong (high energy or powerful) but not tense, but in my (limited) experience, I think most strong horses are nervous and tense.

I guess to me, strong would be forward and high-energy. But I guess it could be defined multiple ways. In my own horse experience, I think there is also a barn sour component. That is if my forward, barn sour-ish mares were considered "strong." And I'm not sure if they are/were. But they are definitely forward and high energy. And on the bit and on the muscle when you turn for home.

It will be interesting to see how others define a strong horse. A strong horse might simply be a forward horse that doesn't want to come back down to the rider's requests.

Circling has never helped me either. Sometimes I will actually stop them and make them face the direction that they don't want to go, just so they will stand and I can have a break! If I ride enough the barn sour and hurrying goes away. But those first handful of rides for the year are interesting!


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post #4 of 18 Old 02-17-2020, 12:57 AM
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Oh boy, strong horses I have had a plenty!

I do not agree that it always goes along with tension either.

Many of the jump racehorses could be very strong and on the gallops would hook off with a not so experienced rider. A lot of it was just because they wanted to run. All were ridden in a snaffle.

The 'art' of getting them to settle was to never let them get into a stride but to swing them from side to side so they were never in balance. Once they realise that they cannot just go, they settle and listen to the bit cues much better.

When I started riding there was Pony Racing and several of the riding school ponies raced. This did make them quite strong but they were perfectly safe to use in the riding school. A couple were kept for lead rein riders, but all were perfectly safe off a lead in the arena.

Another thing I found with many a strong horse was to use a neck strap and pull up on that rather than the reins. Most soon settled.
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post #5 of 18 Old 02-17-2020, 01:12 AM
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Originally Posted by Foxhunter View Post
Another thing I found with many a strong horse was to use a neck strap and pull up on that rather than the reins. Most soon settled.
It's interesting you mentioned that, because on the other thread, about not having reins and riding home in a handbag strap around the neck.......they were talking about the importance of riding with your seat and legs, and the result is presumably a horse you can ride with a strap on it's neck.

But back when I was green as could be, with my first horse, I could ride him in an arena with a neck rope and he responded beautifully to it. So know it wasn't my brilliant riding skills because I never had a lesson at the time. And yet, he knew how to respond to a neck rope. I kind of have a theory that if a horse knows to move off your fingertips (like backing up on the ground) then maybe he responds to a neck strap the same way. What do you think?

I bet a lot of horses would steer and stop in a neck rope (otherwise bridle-less). I just would never trust them out in the open with it. But I think a lot of them seem to know what you are asking with it.
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post #6 of 18 Old 02-17-2020, 01:20 AM
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Originally Posted by trailhorserider View Post
I bet a lot of horses would steer and stop in a neck rope (otherwise bridle-less). I just would never trust them out in the open with it. But I think a lot of them seem to know what you are asking with it.
My mare sort of steers and stops with a neck rope. I was working on getting that consistent/better with her bridle on her as a backup (reins knotted so I could grab them but they weren't hanging down by her knees) before she hurt herself. I may take the opportunity (she's only cleared for walk under saddle at the moment) to do some more with it.

The point is, while she is actually pretty well educated on the flat, I'm doing specific training. Could I safely ride her with only the neck strap? Probably. But only as far as stop/go, she doesn't steer very well. And with a bridle on? She steers off seat.

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post #7 of 18 Old 02-17-2020, 01:29 AM
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Originally Posted by Finalcanter View Post
Is it just a horse that has too much go? Is it a horse that just doesn't respond to cues to slow down? And is it a personality or training issue?
Yes, depending on context/situation. A horse can be 'strong' but happy & still in control too.

Quote:
If any of the above is correct, i've ridden quite a few of them and I can't for the life of me cue them to 'chill out' but circling them. These horses really opened up my eyes about how useless bits can be because half of the time said horses are dead in the mouth/ignore any resistance nor seat cues. ...I can only infer sometimes strong horses are just really tense horses. But is there not much to do but circle-mania? I ride lesson horses
In that context, I'd agree that the horses are tense, unhappy, have probably not learned to relax under a rider, may not have been well educated at all, and have learned that bit pressure(or at least, pulling back on both reins) is just another uncomfortable but meaningless affair to be ignored. There may also be a matter of 'excess energy' if they 'come down' & become 'soft' after doing lots of circles. If these horses are educated and behave well under an experienced rider, it may be that they have learned novice riders are just something to be resisted and endured.

LOTS of stuff you can do, depending on specifics, but not so much to be done if you're just having lessons on a horse like this... except ask for a different horse. Of course, perhaps these horses are indeed OK after a couple of circles or such, and your instructor is meaning to teach you something specific about riding horses such as these, but my knee jerk reaction to your post is that if you are paying for lessons to learn to ride, then your instructor is not doing you any favours by putting you on horses you have no control on & I'd suspect a different riding establishment, where they put you on horses who you can learn on, would be a good move.
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post #8 of 18 Old 02-17-2020, 01:40 AM
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There was a judge who said “I don’t know how to define pornography, but I know it when I see it” so that.

I find that strong horses respond best to working on the outside rein, along with responsive, nice horses. Working on the outside rein doesn’t really work for lazy horses, at least in my experience.
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post #9 of 18 Old 02-17-2020, 03:57 AM
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Since I ride with such an emphasis on being soft and having a loose rein, I very rarely have a horse that will pull on my hands (not including colts and horses I'm training who don't know any better). And honestly, the only times I've had horses get 'strong' is after a long layoff, for instance after Mirage's colt was weaned and I started riding her again after being off for her foaling, or in the spring with Dreams since we don't do a lot of riding in the winter up here. But when they do get strong, I too find circling to be useless. BENDING, now, bending is good. True bending I mean, with the horse moving his ribcage off your inside leg and arcing his whole body, and his inside tracks stepping into his outside tracks. Serpentines, yielding the hindquarters, backing, shoulder in/out, two-tracking … I've found the worst thing to do with a strong horse is let them go straight. With a real runaway I'll one rein stop (again, a TRUE one rein stop, taught correctly from the ground before I ever climb aboard, with the horse disengaging his hindquarters and stepping across his outside hind with the inside one) and then we'll move right on into bending, yielding the hindquarters, etc.

But first and foremost, I want softness. Who here has ever had a horse run off on them while still giving to the bit and being soft in their hands? I don't mean running off with his nose on his chest with you holding onto the reins for dear life, because we all know they can do that. I mean galloping off while you pick up the rein with your thumb and forefinger and the horse gives to that pressure. Don't know about any of you, but I've never had a horse do that. And I've yet to hear someone complain about their horse being too soft on the rein, either. No one ever comes home in a huff and says "Doggone it honey, we gotta sell this nag because every time I pick up on the reins the darn thing give to the pressure!" I'm not saying it can't happen, but in my experience it hasn't.

So if I ask Dreams to lope down the trail for the first time this year and he tries to squirt out from under me, the first thing I'll do is ask him to give to the bit or bosal. Asking him to be soft instantly brings his attempt to reach Maximum Warp down to a dull roar and says "Hey now, listen to me please", and we can bend at the lope around rocks and bushes or do serpentines, etc until he's got it all out of his system if I feel like his speed is unsafe. If I ask him to get soft and listen to me and he doesn't, that's when I bring out the big guns and one rein stop him, then we go from there. A soft horse by definition is not pulling on the reins - which to me is what defines a horse being strong. So, to eliminate 'strongness', I work on encouraging softness.

-- Kai
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post #10 of 18 Old 02-17-2020, 05:07 AM
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A tense, worried horse can get strong with a rider, but also agree with @Foxhunter that strong horses may not be particularly tense either.

You can help a tense, worried horse improve, but you may not necessarily prevent a horse from getting strong by training or experience, if they have a certain temperament.

I'll say that I expect horses to learn not to jig and rush at slower gaits, and even if they revert back to some behaviors like that after a lack of exercise from bad weather, injury, etc., I expect them to be responsive again once that problem is overcome. Every horse should be able to learn to relax under normal circumstances at the walk, trot and canter, and feel responsive.

That being said, some horses will always be strong when excited or galloping at times, especially when in groups of horses, open country, or competition. To me this is not a training issue because this can be true for horses that can do very nice canter to halt transitions, for example. It's not that they aren't trained well to cues, but still you may end up with a horse that gets strong at the gallop.

I wouldn't call a horse that ignores cues "strong," but would say the horse does not have enough training, is in the wrong bit or in a circumstances where they are overwhelmed and running off.

To me a strong horse might be one that needs reminders to slow when and where the rider asks, such as half halts or counter-bending as @Foxhunter describes. That horse will push forward strongly and might keep accelerating without these cues, or at top acceleration (full gallop) may need some strong cueing and core strength from the rider to break down into a slower gait. The horse will not ignore the cues, but will feel "strong" or require strong cues for incentive.

A strong horse is an "at times" prospect, while a horse with a training issue will be consistently ignoring or pushing through cues.

I'm perfectly comfortable galloping a strong horse full out, because they will respond to my cues. I will not gallop a horse that is unresponsive to cues, because that is an unsafe prospect.
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