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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I've finally gotten the horse I have been working with to relax and stretch down. When she stretches her head out and down is the only time that her pace is even and balanced. However, I think in asking for her to stretch down I inadvertently taught her to snatch the reins out of my hands. She is incredibly sensitive to tension so if I try to hold even the very lightest constant contact she fights the tension and ends up speed trotting and occasionally breaking into canter. But if I don't have contact she takes that as an invitation to go faster. The only "happy medium" is to allow her to take her nose to the ground and ride on the end of incredibly long reins once she has decided she will relax, which only happens after lots of circles and serpentines. I would like to be able to have contact with her mouth (even if she drops her head), but any contact at all causes her to bring her head up, tense up, and dart off.

How do I still encourage her to relax while discouraging her from snatching the reins from my hands? I hope I sorta made sense.
 

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To me it sounds like she was never (or isn't) accustomed to contact. Maybe its the bit or past training, but I'd start with making sure that her bit is comfortable- maybe check teeth?

After establishing it isn't the bit or mouth problem, go back to establishing contact.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Her teeth were checked a few months ago and were fine. She is fine with contact at the walk. She fusses with the bit for a second or too but then is fine. It's once you trot her that she is a totally different horse. She tenses up and and works her way to a speed trot and starts pulling the reins from you. After you trot her you can't get her back to a calm walk for a few minutes. And if you canter her, well you might as well forget relaxed walk for at least 10 minutes. I don't know how to start establishing contact with her in the trot and canter when it just seems to tense her up and make her panic more than she already does.
 

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You might consider ignoring contact until the horse moves more calmly at a trot and canter. If she tries to speed up out of control, shut her down - full stop. Or turn in a spiral until she slows down. If you try to hold her back with 'contact', you might do what I did with Mia - teach her how to get the 'bit in her teeth'. :oops:

FWIW, a western curb can help. Stretching down hard doesn't give them any relief, so they stop doing it.
 

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My horse does the same thing! For her it's really bad anticipation (or really good anticipation depending on how you look at it). Any time I make contact with the reins and put my leg on her for a little collection she thinks I'm going to ask her to canter and because she tries SO HARD to understand me and please me she goes ahead and canters (or trots or whatever) without me asking like "see mom? I know what comes next!" In my case it's not my horse being "bad" and fighting me, it's her trying overly hard to give me what she thinks I want. As soon as I drop everything, hold just the buckle of the reins and let her drop her nose to the ground, her whole body instantly relaxes.

Question for you: does she do the same thing if you ride her in a standard or rope halter (or bosal, hackamore, or bitless bridle if you've tried any of those)? If yes, then it's probably a similar over-anticipation deal to what I have and you just need to REALLY relax your seat and breathe deeply even if you're picking up the reins while you do that. And maybe do an entire ride or two with NO trotting so she stops anticipating. I tend to anticipate my horse's anticipation without realizing I'm doing that, and then it just becomes a vicious circle of anticipation! I have to remind myself to relaaaaaax and think "Sunday afternoon in the park. Aaaaahhhhhhhhh......" If no, then I'd go right to teeth too, but since you said they were fine, then it sounds like a balance issue to me.

Another girl at my barn is having an issue with decent walking but crazy trotting, and her trainer "diagnosed" it as a balance problem. She gave her an exercise where you trot ONLY down the straight sides of the ring, then walk around the corners without dropping her shoulder (bump her with a crop on the dropped shoulder if she drops it and "falls" around the corner). The trainer said "whatever you do, don't trot around corners yet" because that's when the horse gets off balance and tried to fix it by speeding up and pulling through her rider's hands. Perhaps that exercise would work for your girl too? Oh, she was also told to lunge her horse before riding, to get a little excess energy out and make it easier for her to keep control of herself. She does 10 minutes in each direction or as long as it takes before her horse can do a calm pass or two at the trot. Then she gets on....

Good luck! :)
 

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Just having a bit in her mouth constitutes contact. To ride holding onto her mouth all the time even if lightly would seem to inevitably invite her to root her nose and the more you do that the less responsive to the reins she'll become and the more likely to tune you out and follow her own ideas. I am aware that this is a style of riding, but does it really make them light in the end? How is the horse meant to learn to carry herself in balance and lightness jf she's taught in the early stages to resist your hands? I'd like to understand this.
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Just having a bit in her mouth constitutes contact. To ride holding onto her mouth all the time even if lightly would seem to inevitably invite her to root her nose and the more you do that the less responsive to the reins she'll become and the more likely to tune you out and follow her own ideas. I am aware that this is a style of riding, but does it really make them light in the end? How is the horse meant to learn to carry herself in balance and lightness jf she's taught in the early stages to resist your hands? I'd like to understand this.
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I think you have a misunderstanding of what cantact means. It isn't the bit in the mouth, or the reins in your hands pulling on the bit. Its an elastic connection between hands and mouth- in establishing contact, we ask the horse to be accepting of the bit itself, and to the requests we make through the rein aids.
Making a horse resistant to the bit only happens when we allow him to be irresponsive to the aids.
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Her teeth were checked a few months ago and were fine. She is fine with contact at the walk. She fusses with the bit for a second or too but then is fine. It's once you trot her that she is a totally different horse. She tenses up and and works her way to a speed trot and starts pulling the reins from you. After you trot her you can't get her back to a calm walk for a few minutes. And if you canter her, well you might as well forget relaxed walk for at least 10 minutes. I don't know how to start establishing contact with her in the trot and canter when it just seems to tense her up and make her panic more than she already does.
So essentially she isnt really resistant to contact- shes stiff and hollow at the trot and canter, which will elevate her head and neck and trying to pull on a horse in that scenario only ends up exacerbating the problem, as you said.
That is common, in my experience, in young horses or horses with weak backs. The only solution to that is more work at long and low- and possibly work on the lunge to get her strong and balanced.
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I think you have a misunderstanding of what cantact means. It isn't the bit in the mouth, or the reins in your hands pulling on the bit. Its an elastic connection between hands and mouth- in establishing contact, we ask the horse to be accepting of the bit itself, and to the requests we make through the rein aids.
Making a horse resistant to the bit only happens when we allow him to be irresponsive to the aids.
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That may be, though it seems to me that the weight of the bit and reins alone is something that a horse can feel and so constitutes contact. If you just take your buckle between two fingers and lift the reins she can feel that. If she can feel it, she can acknowledge it and respond to it through a change in posture and/or the feet. That's probably getting away from the original question, but it's something that could produce some good results if contemplated a little bit (I know it has for me).

But a simpler way of answering the original question might be to say "she throws her head because you're not letting go. You're trying to keep her too often and for too long". Or, as a good French dressage rider I knew a few years ago used to say "when there's nothing to pull against, the horse won't pull".
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Thanks everyone for you input. Sorta like what bsms said, when I'm bringing her back down to a walk from a faster gait, if she starts speeding up I one rein stop her and after a few times in one direction will change direction. After a few times she usually will calm down enough to walk. Does this seem like a reasonable thing to be doing?

Skijoring: This horse actually seems to be opposite of the horse the girl at your barn has. I would actually like to work her on circles more since she seems to balance and relax better on a circle and tenses and bolt on straightaways. But she always falls into the circle. I try to push her out with my leg, but that too is perceived as tension and she darts off. Is there anything I can do to make her less reactive to my leg or is that something that will just come with time as she relaxes?
 

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That may be, though it seems to me that the weight of the bit and reins alone is something that a horse can feel and so constitutes contact. If you just take your buckle between two fingers and lift the reins she can feel that. If she can feel it, she can acknowledge it and respond to it through a change in posture and/or the feet. That's probably getting away from the original question, but it's something that could produce some good results if contemplated a little bit (I know it has for me).

But a simpler way of answering the original question might be to say "she throws her head because you're not letting go. You're trying to keep her too often and for too long". Or, as a good French dressage rider I knew a few years ago used to say "when there's nothing to pull against, the horse won't pull".
Contact, as described in relation to equetrian sports, means the elastic connection of hands through rein to the mouth. What it may mean to you could be completely different and thats fine. However if you are are teying to understand true contact, its only going to be confusing. There are many ways to communicate with a horse; contact is not altogether necessary but it is an extremely useful tool. Heres some good info on contact Listening Corner: Contact and “On the Bit” | Horse Listening
,
 

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Ian, you seem to have very little concept of the english "contact" and no in English riding the reins and bit do not have sufficient weight.
The Contact is soft and elastic and the horse should stretch into it pushing the poll forward and bringing the head onto the verticle.

OP, I would suggest that the problem lies more in your seat and core. a horse that is not working properly from behind will snatch at the reins.
If I were riding the horse I would be holding a contact and when she snatches downwards riding her forwards up into the bridle using my leg to go forwards and my core to contain the energy. Snatching downwards is an evasion
 

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Skijoring: This horse actually seems to be opposite of the horse the girl at your barn has. I would actually like to work her on circles more since she seems to balance and relax better on a circle and tenses and bolt on straightaways. But she always falls into the circle. I try to push her out with my leg, but that too is perceived as tension and she darts off. Is there anything I can do to make her less reactive to my leg or is that something that will just come with time as she relaxes?
Sorry, I may have been a bit verbose in describing the girl at my barn's horse's problem but it's the same thing. If your horse really was relaxed and balanced on a circle, she wouldn't be falling into the circle. Falling in around corners is classic lack of balance, and speeding up on the straightaways is classic trying to compensate for the lack of balance.

Trot her on the straightaway, and have her walk around the corner collected, bending properly around the corner and not dropping her shoulder. Then trot the next straightaway, walk correctly around the next corner (no dropped shoulders and falling in!), etc. She'll learn to carry herself correctly around corners, and once she develops balance and enough muscle tone, you can teach her to do the same thing at a trot, one corner at a time. If she falls in again, bring her back to a walk and walk a correct, balanced, properly bent circle to remind her she needs to hold herself up.

If you have trails with hills near you, trotting those is a GREAT way to build muscle tone and increase balance.

Just my 2 cents. :). Sounds to me like you have a lack of balance and not over-anticipation like I have with my horse. I look forward to hearing your progress!
 

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That may be, though it seems to me that the weight of the bit and reins alone is something that a horse can feel and so constitutes contact. If you just take your buckle between two fingers and lift the reins she can feel that. If she can feel it, she can acknowledge it and respond to it through a change in posture and/or the feet...."Or, as a good French dressage rider I knew a few years ago used to say "when there's nothing to pull against, the horse won't pull"."
FWIW, I agree. The weight of the reins, combined with a leveraged bit, creates a valid form of contact, although the goal in western riding does not include a vertical headset, or any headset at all. I would argue the highest level would be with a spade bit using how the bit vibrates and tiny changes in the weight of the reins to give a constant flow of information to the horse.

But with a snaffle, that wouldn't work as well.

Also FWIW, VS Littauer eventually concluded that most inexperienced riders, or riders who didn't ride regularly, should avoid riding with contact. Adding contact was his major difference between a beginner (or infrequent) rider and an intermediate rider. After watching thousands of students, he felt it wasn't fair to the horse to have someone trying contact until they had a solid seat and soft, following hands.

For the OP: Harry Chamberlin wrote that a 'puller' is usually the response of a horse to hands "that fail to give proper freedom of movement to the neck and head". "This should be the thought in using the reins; to maintain a balanced seat and resist rather than pull...the aim always should be to let the horse put his head in a natural and comfortable position as soon as he has ceased resisting..."

Riding And Schooling Horses: Harry D. Chamberlin, John Cudahy, Edwin M. Sumner: 9781163173299: Amazon.com: Books


It is a variation of pressure and release, and if the rider doesn't release immediately when the horse gives a little, the horse learns the opposite lesson and becomes a puller. The book has a chapter on the use of hands, and I highly recommend it.

After I turned Mia into a puller - MY fault, not hers - I switched to a curb. I refuse to get into a tug of war with her. If I need her to ease up or stop, I'll cue it with my seat and then 'bump' the reins. If she puts her head down, I refuse to give, and the pressure on her poll quickly taught her that form of evasion didn't work.

Today, when we passed by some kids jumping with their bicycles about 50 feet from the trail, I used one bump to let her know we were not going to gallop. [Note: To Mia, anyone who flies on a bike is pure evil from The Wizard of Oz.] I allowed her to trot, but took some slack out of the reins in case I needed a quick bump to slow her down. She knew there was little slack, so we stayed at a fast trot for about 50 yards, then I added slack as she started to relax.

I'm not an instructor or trainer and I don't compete in anything. One of the worst things I have done to Mia was teach her to pull on a snaffle, or to stretch her head out so the bit pulls ineffectively against her teeth. The solution was to refuse to pull. But that is tough to do if you are not certain you can get the horse to stop...

I'm not an English rider, but the book I recommended is well worth reading.
 

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Also FWIW, VS Littauer eventually concluded that most inexperienced riders, or riders who didn't ride regularly, should avoid riding with contact. Adding contact was his major difference between a beginner (or infrequent) rider and an intermediate rider. After watching thousands of students, he felt it wasn't fair to the horse to have someone trying contact until they had a solid seat and soft, following hands.
THAT'S the piece I was looking for about this, thank you!
 
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