Hi, it sounds like you're doing well & have some good ideas & understanding for where to go, IMO. Sounds like your horse is a generally nervy character, and I'd also look carefully into diet & nutrition regarding that. For eg. excess potassium & deficient magnesium are 2 very common causes of excessive 'nervousness'. gravelproofhoof.org is one place to find more info on Mg, although it's more about physical health benefits than mental.
1. If I try to use my legs to steer, he doesn't react at all. I don't think he understands what I'm asking. So I've been reinforcing moving away from pressure from the ground (especially behind the girth -- I usually have to exaggerate and get closer to his hip) and I am hoping it will at some point transfer to under saddle. Do I just continue doing this for a while, or what?
Yes, sounds good to me! You want to teach him to 'yield'(respond softly with understanding, not react away or resist) to fingertip & other 'pressure' wherever you direct it. So starting on the ground, teach him to yield his forehand or hindquarters away from you. Yes, you may need to 'exaggerate' to make things obvious to him to begin with, such as yielding his hind end with your fingers way back, but you 'refine' it as he gets good at it, until your fingers are about where your foot would be when ridden.
Also you will also be reinforcing his yielding with rein pressure, so you've got that as another 'cue' in conjunction with legs, to turn him, until he's good at doing it just from legs. **As you also say he is good at neck reining but not direct reins, I'd start out reinforcing the legs with Western rein cues, rather than trying to teach different things at once.
2. He also does not like direct reining at all. I have been using a mechanical hackamore with him and neck reining (which he knows how to do very well), but I really would like to get him to direct rein. I use a french link eggbutt snaffle when I try direct reining. He does great at a walk, but when trotting he throws his head up in the air and sometimes won't move away from the gate in the ring when we get to that end. I know I could probably use a standing martingale, but I feel like that's just a "bandaid". And when cantering, he canters nearly with his nose to the ground. Is this possibly an old western pleasure habit?
I'd personally ditch the mechanical hack & stick to a real one - bosal, or rope halter, or if he's good with it, a curb bit, for 'western'. A bit, or 'sidepull' bitless will be clearer for English. BUT ignoring the levers & attaching the reins where the chinstrap attaches will give you a direct 'sidepull' with the mechanical hack. I agree with your sentiments about a martingale & don't advise that either. 'Bandaid' is one thing too, but they often make matters worse by causing a horse(who maybe doesn't understand, or is worried too) to resist further - gives them something to fight against. If you do try a martingale though, I'd avoid the running ones, and use a straight 'tie down', that allows him relative freedom of movement, except to the degree that he can put his nose right up & 'evade' bit pressure.
Sounds like he maybe just hasn't been taught well. How does he go on the ground, w/t/c with a snaffle? I'd ensure he *yielded* reliably on the ground to direct rein cues first up close, then I'd start 'ground driving'. I don't advise lunging with a bit & 'contact' - too much constant pressure & your 'cues' will be 'stronger' and likely not so consistent, if you're not very experienced/careful with it.
Both on the ground and then in the saddle, I would ensure he was really good at the walk, before I asked for a trot, really good at the trot before cantering.
Yes, I reckon the cantering with his nose on the ground is probably due to western training. Showies like this exaggerated low head thing. Sounds like you've got a way to go before you're up to 'correcting' that if you want. He's learned that is the 'right' way to do it, that's what 'works'. You just need to, as fairly & clearly as possible, teach him this no longer works. Eg. he will feel pressure in that position, but not when carrying his head in a more natural(& comfortable for him) position. *For that one, I do feel a 'bandaid' of an 'overcheck' or 'grazing rein' can be helpful to begin with, especially when re-teaching from the ground.
For this, I have been using the bit when we ride, but neck reining or direct reining with very loose reins. Is there something else I should be doing, or do I need to just give him more time?
Yeah, I'd forget 'contact' until he's good at yielding basically first, but 'very loose' may be too much, exacerbate any inconsistency in your cues with a snaffle/direct cue, so I'd 'set neutral' at a *slightly* loose rein.
If you want to teach him English & he's only western trained, then I think it's helpful, at least to begin(for both of you, if you're a learner too), to differentiate with equipment & aids quite clearly. Eg. don't try to mix them up yet. Use only Western gear & signals & loose rein when you want Western, the snaffle or sidepull, and shorter reins & direct rein cues when you want English. 'Exaggerate' differences & clarity of cues to teach, and 'refine' or start mixing things up only once the horse 'gets' it.
Max used to be pretty herd bound, but he's better with that. He's just a very nervous horse by nature and the one time I tried to ride away from the barn (with someone on the ground), he bolted twice and after that, I made the stupid decision of getting off and walking back.
Firstly, that wasn't at all a 'stupid decision' IMO. Primarily because safety is of utmost importance - best to get off than stay on 'for training's sake' if the horse is feeling 'dangerous'
But it sounds like your horse could have been reacting in fear, so it was all just too much for him - not a good thing to try to push further anyway. Always remember too, that horses learn from *instant* reinforcement/consequences. That he was nervous & bolted, but you obviously managed to get control to stop before dismounting(you didn't say you fell off in his blind panic), then took him back home, to his 'comfort zone' sounds like a good thing to me.
I do however, work to minimise reactivity, not the least for safety's sake. But as mentioned, by the time they're in that 'state of mind', it's gone beyond a 'learning' state of mind. So I agree that it is indeed a good move that you work *gradually* as you've suggested. So get things going well at home first. He needs to learn to understand & trust you to be in control first. You need to become his respected leader, so he can trust you to keep him safe when the rest of his herd aren't around.
So yes, I teach horses to go out confidently with gradual desensitisation, 'approach & retreat', to 'stretch' their comfort zone without sending them over the edge. This is effectively the same approach as I use to get a horse comfortable with anything 'scary'.
I find wherever the horse's 'comfort zone' *starts* to fray. Eg. he might start getting worried at the idea of just walking out the property gate. So I wouldn't ask for much more than that, ensure I turn around before it gets up into actual fear, until with repetition, he's blase, no longer concerned about going in & out that gate. *I'd also include lots of positive reinforcement too, be that treats, a nice patch of grass, a paddock mate camped outside the gate... to help change the association from Bad to Good. Do whatever you can to motivate him to WANT to go there! Then just work in 'baby steps' to 'stretch' that comfort zone further. Yes, it sounds tedious, and can well be, to begin with, but I have found that if you work in such a way, the horse gains trust in you to look after him quickly & be in control of 'dangerous' situations, and it soon progresses quicker & quicker - it's usually only the early training that may be tedious.
(Side note - I've also been on two trail rides with another horse, one recently after we got him and one last month. He did better last month, but still was pretty anxious and just wanted to canter. He was also drenched in sweat when we got back - he sweats like mad when he's nervous.
Yeah I was also going to suggest that you go out with other horses to begin with if possible, before going alone, but as with above, it sounds like it was just too much for him for that stage. Short, easy rides or outings first, that don't get him 'in a tizz'.
How do I get him to take bigger steps?
Sounds like you need to get the basics before you start asking for 'refinement' such as that.
When I lunge him, I can see that his hind hooves just don't track up very far.
Could be hurting, or otherwise needing a chiro adjustment or such?
And another side note.. He does not lunge well - he is hard to make move out in a circle to begin and usually won't continue walking, but then other times I can't get him to stop trotting/cantering. If I can get him trotting then he'll move out on a circle nicely. But when I try to stop by stepping into his space/turning my body to be in front of his head, looking him in the eye, and "sending waves" through the lunge line he generally just keeps going. Tips? Am I doing something wrong?
Has he been taught? Have you had someone experienced at lunging ask him for it, to see if the problem isn't what you're doing? There are also different styles of lunging. Assuming you're sure you're doing everything 'right', I'd just assume he hasn't been taught. Lunging is just like any other yielding/leading/driving, but at a distance. I teach a horse to yield with up close, hands on signals/pressure to begin with, teach them to respond to the same with a hand/whip/stick, that the 'gesture' comes before actual 'pressure', so they're reliable about going forward/faster when 'pressure' is behind them, slow/stop from pressure in front(or on rein/halter), yield the forehand away when I direct it anywhere from poll to shoulder, yield the HQ away(& 'face up') when pressure is anywhere from rump to behind the drive line. Then I just gradually increase the distance until they're 'lunging'.
5. He also has an issue with standing still. If I put him in the cross ties he does okay, but he moves around - forward, back, and side to side. He also will NOT stand still when getting a bath,
Perhaps he's never been desensitised to being restrained, and perhaps he's been tied up & had scary things happen, such as being 'bathed', so he further associates being trapped in this way with 'danger', so he CAN'T stand calmly. As a horse's first line of defense is to escape, nervousness tends to lead them to NEED to move their feet.
So I firstly wouldn't tie him up to 'do stuff' to him. I use gradual desensitisation again, to get them confident with being in the tie area, then with being 'tied' without firm pressure(eg. long rope round a rail, Tie Ring, etc). Remember, *instant* reinforcement, so if you take him out, back to his 'comfort zone' when he's antsy, that's what's being reinforced. Do what it takes - whether it's working VERY gradually to begin, offering a feed or other Good and distracting things... to get him 'practicing' & being reinforced for the Right behaviour as much as possible. Once you get it, then you can start putting a cue on it too
*Ed to add... I wouldn't be lunging a horse for exercise generally - hard on their joints doing lots of circles. I keep that for training.