Hyper-flexible horses - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 11 Old 07-16-2020, 05:31 AM Thread Starter
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Hyper-flexible horses

I am following an online dressage course and they briefly explained that some horses are hyper-flexible. Those horses are very easy to bend but present a whole world of challenges which aren't an issue in your average horse. They are wiggly and difficult to keep on a straight line - mainly not due to crookedness but due to responding to tiniest changes in rider balance with each step. It is very easy to over-correct such a horse.

Finally, someone put into words the issues I have been trying to articulate. I have had trouble with instructors because they weren't really understanding what I was talking about and they kept trying to fix a completely different set of issues (mainly being stiff on one side - which isn't the main issue with my horse).

Just to illustrate with an example: I am so proud that I can do a turn on the haunches just with my one seat bone and my head - no hands or leg needed. But the drawback is that I can do a turn on the haunches just with my one seat bone and my head - and you can see how this can get completely confusing when you pair it with an untalented novice rider - that would be me.
Same thing with reversing - just my seat does it. And again, the drawback is that just my seat does it.

One thing I've noticed is that my head position makes an amazing amount of influence. If I'm doing a sitting trot and lift my head up, she stops dead. Just that tiny motion is enough to affect a half a tonne of horse. Same with turning. I turn my head and nothing else - she turns. It sounds great but it can be difficult to ride, especially for a recreational, middle aged novice. I cannot just put my horse into one gear and she stays there on a straight line until I ask for something else. I have to ride with great attention to every single of our combined body parts. My brain is usually fried after 20 minutes so I keep our rides short.


Anyhow, anyone here who has had experience with this type of horse?
How did you deal with it?
How did you make a distinction between leg for forward and leg for bend? I am currently resorting to using just my seat for forward and leg only for bend but I am getting to a point where she bends just from the seat so I have to keep perfectly balanced (on a horse with very high action).
Any tips? Stories? What worked or didn't work?
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post #2 of 11 Old 07-16-2020, 09:52 AM
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"If I'm doing a sitting trot and lift my head up, she stops dead....I turn my head and nothing else - she turns. It sounds great..."

Sounds really inconvenient! Shouldn't your head almost always be up and looking forward? And how can you look around to see things if you cannot turn your head without the horse turning? Seems like the horse is confused about what is or is not a cue, if looking up is interpreted as "Stop". So do a sitting trot with head up, looking forward and use your leg to urge her on if she starts to falter.

"I cannot just put my horse into one gear and she stays there on a straight line until I ask for something else."

Sounds like a reasonable horse to me! They aren't cars or ATVs. And straight lines? Put ANY horse on a straight, narrow path and they WILL move straight at any gait!


Since a horse CAN move straight if they WANT to, isn't a horse who isn't moving straight just seeing no need to do so?

Consider me Confused In Arizona....
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post #3 of 11 Old 07-16-2020, 09:58 AM
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I have had 2 horses that we have always called spaghetti horses. The first was a small paint mare-she was hyper flexible and could almost bend herself in half. Extremely sensitive to everything (sound, pressure etc) I rode with no leg and very little hand. I could not ride her bareback as it just blew her mind. I always rode her very quietly. the downfall was that she could turn on a dime and literally bend herself in half and if you were not sitting exactly right you came off. She would also evade the bit by folding her head and neck to rest her muzzle at my leg or behind my leg but continue to move forward at whatever speed she desired!

My current mare is also very much like this. Very very fluid. I ride her with little to no leg and have to keep my hands very steady or she will evade cues by turning her head to the side.

I have found the key is to learn to control my body and core to help them out, and slow very small movements with my hands or legs. I trail ride so I cannot say how this would relate to an arena horse
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post #4 of 11 Old 07-16-2020, 10:26 AM Thread Starter
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@bsms I agree that I should be riding with my head up - but as most arena riders will tell you - we just love looking at the horse :) Just kidding, that is exactly what happens, I remember to lift my head and she will stop. So what I need to do is lift my head and give my seat a light nudge for her to keep going. If I want to look around, I give a slight (very,very slight) half halt with the opposite rein before I do it so that she knows to stay straight.

I agree with "put them on a path, they will stay straight", but I mainly ride in an arena (due to unrelated reasons).
I am not really complaining about how sensitive and flexible she is, I mainly trying to find some method to my madness from other people's experiences. Most advice out there is how to get the horse to bend - I need the opposite.
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post #5 of 11 Old 07-16-2020, 10:28 AM Thread Starter
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@carshon sounds about the same as what I do with my mare. I am happy that someone else has had similar experiences - I'm not crazy.
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post #6 of 11 Old 07-16-2020, 10:40 AM
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The horse I learned to ride on also turns in the direction I turn my head and hips. The best reining horses in the riding school are the same. I guess they are sensitive and trained by someone that gave very light aid. I think it;s nice to ride like that. I don't like to overly use my legs or reins... But that's just style and what you are accustomed to.



It is weird though that she stops when you lift your head, maybe you unknowingly also tense some other muscles? I know I sometimes (by accident) squeeze my thighs when asking for a stop when I am anxious and on a horse I don't know. This results in a horse being confused because it gets leg pressure and at the same time a reining aid that says: stop. :)
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post #7 of 11 Old 07-16-2020, 10:55 AM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Jolien View Post
The horse I learned to ride on also turns in the direction I turn my head and hips. The best reining horses in the riding school are the same. I guess they are sensitive and trained by someone that gave very light aid. I think it;s nice to ride like that. I don't like to overly use my legs or reins... But that's just style and what you are accustomed to.



It is weird though that she stops when you lift your head, maybe you unknowingly also tense some other muscles? I know I sometimes (by accident) squeeze my thighs when asking for a stop when I am anxious and on a horse I don't know. This results in a horse being confused because it gets leg pressure and at the same time a reining aid that says: stop. :)
I tested it with my instructor - It's just my head that moves. But my instructor explained that our heads weigh a lot and they are practically perched on our spines so any movement with our heads changes our balance. She said that it is unavoidable. I am now testing it, just sitting in my chair, and it is true - even the slightest shift with my head carries down my spine. I have half a mind to go sit on my husbands back and test what he can feel. I don't think he would appreciate being used as a horse substitute :)
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post #8 of 11 Old 07-16-2020, 11:19 AM
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I wonder how long you've been riding this particular horse?

The reason I ask is because I think it takes time for the horse to get to know you and adapt to your cues. Dare I say, I've sometimes found that a new horse needs to come down to my level. Or maybe it IS simply that they don't know me and are trying to figure out what is a cue and what isn't.

I've had horses turn when I'm merely shifting around in the saddle. Or walk like a drunken sailor because I ride on a loose rein. Or shoot forward because I moved my foot and I was just repositioning my foot. Then, after a while, maybe a long while, they learn what is a cue and what is just background noise. I am not an advanced rider so I probably have a lot of background noise for the horse to figure out.

But anyway, I used to say it takes a year to know a horse. And the longer I've ridden, now I think it may take even longer. I've had my current horse maybe 2-3 years and I feel like we are finally really becoming a team. She was always a good horse that I loved and trusted. But I feel like our communication is a lot better now and she knows what I expect from her and she knows what to expect from me. She knows when I ask for something and when I'm just trying to straighten out a slightly crooked saddle.

There are horses that are just super, super sensitive. I am supposing they were started by a rider that every little movement meant something. But I am not that finesse-ful in my riding and it seems like that handful of horses I've ridden over the years have adapted. I've had some you really didn't want to move your legs around on, they were so sensitive.


I think feeling muscle movement goes both ways. Like if a horse tenses his muscles, you can definitely feel it, right? So why wouldn't the horse feel it when we turn or stiffen a part of our body? I think it's not whether they can feel it, but whether they react to it when they don't need to. You sound like you have a sharp, in-tune horse who really wants to be a partner with you.
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post #9 of 11 Old 07-16-2020, 11:38 AM
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I think Katie is as flexible as a frozen carrot but you pretty much summed up how sensitive she is. Any horse I think, that isn't deadened. I love looking at her eyelashes and ears when I ride and now that I think about it, it massively, negatively, influences everything... outside of leaning over to give a treat :P I think it is probably a big contributor to why when hacking out (in addition to other stuff) she doesn't feel I'm as present or as in charge as I need to be. I have been thinking about how I can be just as available/directive in the saddle as I am on the ground where I can take her anywhere and face most challenges just fine. It just doesn't translate into the saddle. I think you really nailed something here. You really provoked some thought now. It takes a phenomenal amount of effort and self-discipline in the saddle to pay attention where I'm going and yet its one of the most basic things taught early on... things to work on when I finally get back into it!

It's actually insane to think about how much potential there is and how most of us that ride "casually", aren't really tapping into that. Either a lack of want or capability in becoming as fit/flexible/self-aware as a horse would need to unlock all the possibilities. Also kinda cool coz I guess there comes a point where the horse just knows its owner/regular riders well enough to know what dialect of "body language" we use :P I guess some horses that speak "latin" will never be happy with "caveman" too haha.

Kinda cool. I think if your horse is sensitive AND flexible then that definitely would add a whole bunch of other issues.
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post #10 of 11 Old 07-16-2020, 02:49 PM
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it's because in most riding schools they team you up with a horse that is really stomped off and needs a lot of leg and rein pressure... That's no good. You can never learn to understand the whispers if they give you a horse that only responds to shouting...
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