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I bought my horse (Holsteiner 12 yo gelding) 6 months ago. I knew he was having problems with contact when I bought him so it was no surprise to me. He is such a wonderful horse (with some issues obviously) and I am obsessed with him. :love:

About the contact. He hates it, fights it, resists it.
At first I thought he was having some pain problems so I did everything to check he is fine. And he is, he is in NO pain. His back is fine, his teeth are great, his legs are fine, his stomach has no ulcers. I had the saddle fitted and he is using an anatomical bridle with single jointed bit (I tried MANY different bits).

Now I know, it is the character. He is the leader of the herd and wants things to be done his way.
I can ride him in longer reins in REALLY light or no contact and he goes great. He responds really well to leg pressure. When I take a little more contact he goes into the Giraffe mode (head up, hollow back, bit chomping). But I cant always ride him with little or no contact because I dont feel so safe.
I can make him go forward, apply light contact (loops in reins), and he eventually lowers his head but that is not being "on the bit".

Let me just tell you, he is amazing at ground work. When hacking he goes crazy if he walks behind another horse. He roots, wants to go faster and faster, shakes head...not fun at all.

What can I do?
 

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Have you tried him in a Happy Mouth, Nathe or Herm Sprenger plastic bit?

I’ve had success with these type of bits with horses that avoided contact by getting above or behind the bit

If the horse gets a bit strong in it, I add a Kineton noseband
 

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Why do you have to ride on the bit? Apologies - I ride western with a loose rein. to get to that point is a lot of learning to release pressure at the right time so a horse remains soft. Sounds like your horse is really good with very light contact and body cues. In my world that would be perfect.
trail riding - a technique to help a horse that can not be behind is to get a couple helpers on the trail. Have them start out in front. When your horse gets ahead of them like he wants to have your friends reverse and go the other way. Eventually your horse realizes he is alone and you turn and join the group again. Repeat and repeat. May take some trips but a horse will figure out that if he surges to the front everyone will leave him.
 

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Hi,

First thing first, forget the 'dominant' lable. It is incorrect. He may be 'assertive' at telling you what he thinks of things, he may resist because he hasn't been taught well(or at all - perhaps some novice just tried to make him, without understanding they needed to teach him) hasn't had good leadership, is trying to communicate pain, but he is not 'dominant' or 'just his character' to fight an irritation & cause (more?) pain to himself.

About the contact. He hates it, fights it, resists it.
At first I thought he was having some pain problems so I did everything to check he is fine. And he is, he is in NO pain.
So, firstly, it's great you have checked out the physical things you have. But still, you cannot rule out & say definitely he is not in pain. Eg. if it was just a regular equine vet that checked out his back, they often don't recognise there are issues unless there is obvious pain or lameness when they ask for something. Saddle fitters can be wrong. Horses can have hind gut ulcers & other digestive issues you can't see with a gastroscope, certain bridles/bits won't suit everyone, and even if it doesn't otherwise, when he's 'fighting' the bit, it's definitely causing him pain then. And have you tried bitless, to see if removing that from the equation helps? So, as said, great what you've done so far for him, but just don't be too quick to say 'not in pain' definitively.

Now I know, it is the character. He is the leader of the herd and wants things to be done his way.
Regardless where he is in the herd, again, he is NOT doing this because he is 'dominant' or because it's his 'character' to argue with you. That he is responsive & easy when you're not asking for 'contact' proves that too.

I can ride him in longer reins in REALLY light or no contact and he goes great. He responds really well to leg pressure. When I take a little more contact he goes into the Giraffe mode (head up, hollow back, bit chomping). But I cant always ride him with little or no contact because I dont feel so safe.
I can make him go forward, apply light contact (loops in reins), and he eventually lowers his head but that is not being "on the bit".
Sounds like he has been ridden/trained well on a loose rein, but just badly when it comes to 'contact', so he's come to associate that with pain & frustration, so 'argues' against it - which of course, is a 'self fulfilling prophesy' regarding pain, as his behaviour is perpetuating it. So you need to find a way to break that association, if you want him to learn to accept contact. As it's often directly associated with a bit, going bitless is one way to get around it. Just forcing the issue, by tying their mouth shut or such may well make him 'put up & shut up', if he's not too assertive, but is not the way, imo.

If you have 'loops' in the reins, you are not riding with 'contact'. A horse being ridden 'on the bit' doesn't mean they're any more 'under control' than otherwise(esp if they resist it, when there is less control). If you can get him to relax and accept that, that's what I'd be asking & reinforcing him for. I definitely wouldn't be asking for more than that, if it takes a while for him even to come round to that. Wait until you're getting him softly & reliably accepting of that, before asking for a little more.
When hacking he goes crazy if he walks behind another horse. He roots, wants to go faster and faster, shakes head...not fun at all.
Perhaps he hasn't learned to 'hack' confidently either.
]
 

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It sounds like he has never been taught to give to the bit or stay light in the mouth. This is an education problem, not a behavioral problem. There's a book called lessons in lightness that discusses how to get a light, responsive and sensitive horse without forcing the headset.
 

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Are you wanting advice on how to get him on the bit? or, advice on having a safer ride out on the trail?

Does he 'giraffe' for anyone who rides him? Some horses will react this way if the rider is not 'dipllomatic' enough with the hands.
 

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Hi,

First thing first, forget the 'dominant' lable. It is incorrect. He may be 'assertive' at telling you what he thinks of things, he may resist because he hasn't been taught well(or at all - perhaps some novice just tried to make him, without understanding they needed to teach him) hasn't had good leadership, is trying to communicate pain, but he is not 'dominant' or 'just his character' to fight an irritation & cause (more?) pain to himself.



So, firstly, it's great you have checked out the physical things you have. But still, you cannot rule out & say definitely he is not in pain. Eg. if it was just a regular equine vet that checked out his back, they often don't recognise there are issues unless there is obvious pain or lameness when they ask for something. Saddle fitters can be wrong. Horses can have hind gut ulcers & other digestive issues you can't see with a gastroscope, certain bridles/bits won't suit everyone, and even if it doesn't otherwise, when he's 'fighting' the bit, it's definitely causing him pain then. And have you tried bitless, to see if removing that from the equation helps? So, as said, great what you've done so far for him, but just don't be too quick to say 'not in pain' definitively.



Regardless where he is in the herd, again, he is NOT doing this because he is 'dominant' or because it's his 'character' to argue with you. That he is responsive & easy when you're not asking for 'contact' proves that too.



Sounds like he has been ridden/trained well on a loose rein, but just badly when it comes to 'contact', so he's come to associate that with pain & frustration, so 'argues' against it - which of course, is a 'self fulfilling prophesy' regarding pain, as his behaviour is perpetuating it. So you need to find a way to break that association, if you want him to learn to accept contact. As it's often directly associated with a bit, going bitless is one way to get around it. Just forcing the issue, by tying their mouth shut or such may well make him 'put up & shut up', if he's not too assertive, but is not the way, imo.

If you have 'loops' in the reins, you are not riding with 'contact'. A horse being ridden 'on the bit' doesn't mean they're any more 'under control' than otherwise(esp if they resist it, when there is less control). If you can get him to relax and accept that, that's what I'd be asking & reinforcing him for. I definitely wouldn't be asking for more than that, if it takes a while for him even to come round to that. Wait until you're getting him softly & reliably accepting of that, before asking for a little more.


Perhaps he hasn't learned to 'hack' confidently either.
]
Thank you so much for the time you took to answer me. :)

About the pain... I had 3 different chiropractors (from 3 different countries) work on him. They checked everything. He was stiff in the neck and slightly misaligned, but nothing major.
I had 2 different equine dentists check and fix his teeth. I will also do an x-ray next mont to check if anything is broken or infected. He is eating well (since I bought him he did gain a lot of weight).

I bought 3 different bridles. I am now riding in Schockemohle anatomical bridle and Happy mouth bit. He is not happy in french link snaffle, straight bar was a disaster. I tried copper one with roller, rubber one. And I did try bitles, but he acts the same. There is NO difference riding bitless. I also lunge without a bit and he gets tense and grinds his teeth when working from the back.

I do also think that maybe he was not trained well and associates riding with pain. Oh, and he was before ridden with draw reins, maybe that is the problem. I don't ride with draw reins.

In have a really soft approach with him.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Are you wanting advice on how to get him on the bit? or, advice on having a safer ride out on the trail?

Does he 'giraffe' for anyone who rides him? Some horses will react this way if the rider is not 'dipllomatic' enough with the hands.
First, get him to accept contact and get on the bit.

Yes, he giraffe with everybody. He is the best with me. If they shorten the reins too much he even rears.
 

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RockyB, I think that might be actually what OP is saying the problem is...

OP, sounds like you've been diligent so far trying to figure out physical issues - wasn't meaning to say you weren't, was just pointing out it still could be...

Sounding more & more like he's just never been trained to do this, but has been attempted to be forced into it. Therefore, those already strongly associated feelings/reactions to the unpleasant pressure, esp being early experiences, will 'stick' & make it a lot harder for you to disassociate the feelings/reactions from what you want. You may never get him to the point of comfortably & happily being 'on the bit'. But, if you really want to do this, start at the beginning again and see how he goes.

Personally, I'd be happy just to accept what he's happy giving you now, and would not ask a horse to 'go on the bit' unless he were comfortable & relaxed about it.
 

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Are you wanting advice on how to get him on the bit? or, advice on having a safer ride out on the trail?

Does he 'giraffe' for anyone who rides him? Some horses will react this way if the rider is not 'dipllomatic' enough with the hands.
RockyB, I think that might be actually what OP is saying the problem is...

OP, sounds like you've been diligent so far trying to figure out physical issues - wasn't meaning to say you weren't, was just pointing out it still could be...

Sounding more & more like he's just never been trained to do this, but has been attempted to be forced into it. Therefore, those already strongly associated feelings/reactions to the unpleasant pressure, esp being early experiences, will 'stick' & make it a lot harder for you to disassociate the feelings/reactions from what you want. You may never get him to the point of comfortably & happily being 'on the bit'. But, if you really want to do this, start at the beginning again and see how he goes.

Personally, I'd be happy just to accept what he's happy giving you now, and would not ask a horse to 'go on the bit' unless he were comfortable & relaxed about it.
Yes, I think so too. His schooling was pretty rough.

I hired a trainer but he had a really hard approach towards him (short reins because horse will "eventually let go", use of spurs and whip to punish - he REALLY does not need that). He thought he was just a spoiled horse who hates to work and just wants to eat bananas all day. I am more of a soft approach and baby steps kind of girl. I dont need my horse to be perfect I just need him to trust me and feel comfortable when I ride him. I will get a new instructor who trains dressage horses and he has a really gentle approach.

What about hacking and him being cranky (rooting and head shaking, even bucking) when he is not the first in line? I am now afraid of even going hacking, because I do not feel secure in the saddle.
And I am not a total beginner.
 

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I really dont know. But when he does give in I pat him and tell him he is a good boy. Always.
As odd as it sounds, horses don't always understand praise. What they do understand is pressure, and release of pressure. It's also a lot easier to get correct timing with release of pressure. So when this horse puts his head where you want it, you need to push your hands forward to soften the contact, the instant he does it. That's how he knows he's giving you the "right" answer. While I'm sure he appreciates the praise, it's not necessarily going to connect the dots for him in his brain. With a well-timed release, he learns that when he does A) (puts his head where you want it), he gets B) (release of tension on the reins) much more clearly.
 

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I really dont know. But when he does give in I pat him and tell him he is a good boy. Always.
Do you also release the pressure instantly? That's the most important part of the lesson.
 

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What about hacking and him being cranky (rooting and head shaking, even bucking) when he is not the first in line? I am now afraid of even going hacking, because I do not feel secure in the saddle.
And I am not a total beginner.
As you haven't told anything about this, who knows whether he has also just not had experience/training on that front too. Maybe he's never been asked to follow & is frightened to be made to. The 'leapfrog' approach, or having other horses turning around, as explained earlier, can be helpful, if the prob is simply he doesn't want to follow, but is he confident about being out in the first place?
 

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Do you know how his previous owners rode him? What tack did they use, on what level did they ride? How was he during your test ride? How has the horse been trained?

When you ride with long reins, what does that look and feel like? Does he accept contact then, or is he just not giraffing?

I'm obviously not an expert, but if pain is ruled out, I'm thinking either the horse doesn't understand the concept of contact, or you haven't yet figured out how to ride him. I once rode an ex-eventing horse who was used to very light contact. I wasn't on her level and I couldn't do anything with that horse. Giraffing and teeth grinding from start to end, unless I gave her a lot of slack. My current lease horse giraffes too, but that is because she isn't really familiar with the concept of contact (former trail horse). I'm retraining her with Warwick Schillers method.
 

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RockyB, I've worked with a couple of horses like this. What I have done as retrain from the ground up. I teach them to move back to front to the bit with in-hand work first. It would be difficult to describe, but it is somewhat similar to this:

When the horse moves forward down to the bit, I'd allow them to bring the bit forward, then reward/ take a break. I did this until the horse was able to keep stretching down to the bit at least half the arena, so that took a couple of weeks of consistent work. I then started introducing things like shoulder-in and leg yield (by manipulating the outside rein) and this helped reinforce the idea of connection before I hopped back on them. For more exercise, I would add in trail rides (with hill work, if possible) and lunging (again encouraging the horse to relax, do many transitions and pole work). These in supplementation, would help build the muscle I needed to make my undersaddle work easier.

Once I got back under saddle, I did the EXACT same thing at the walk. I wanted the horse to connect the two; however, if the horse went giraffe style, I would lift my hands up with his head to keep contact and encourage him to come under with leg. the lift is not pulling, but just keeping a light contact with the corners of the horse's mouth. This takes some practice. When the horse relaxes (the literal moment), I would slowly lower my hands down and forward, encouraging the horse to follow up to the bit. I did this because when a horse puts his head above the bit and hands remain low, the bit goes into bar pressure. Lifting the hands brings the bit up to work on the corners of the horse's mouth again.

Just like the in-hand work, incorporate lateral work to help put the horse's body in the correct position and be sure to set a nice forward rhythm. I also liked to put in fig-8s, walk-halt transitions, and serpentines for some change. Do not introduce the trot until your horse is consistent with taking your rein forward and connecting with the bit. When this happens, you can introduce 2-4 strides of trot, using the same procedure as walk. As the horse becomes more consistent with that, you can ask for longer periods of trot, then canter etc.

I've used a variation of this process with several horses with good success. If done correctly, your horse should be able to work on any length of rein and seek the bit himself without you touching the rein (leg and seat will control rhythm and direction). At the end of this process, I was able to give my rein forward, ask for the hindend through leg & seat, and have the horse move down to the bit themselves. Instead of "taking the rein" and having the horse "hold" a frame, it becomes giving the rein and having the horse fill up the rein themselves, which in my experience makes for a much happier working horse.
 

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At first I thought he was having some pain problems so I did everything to check he is fine. And he is, he is in NO pain. His back is fine, his teeth are great, his legs are fine, his stomach has no ulcers.

About the pain... I had 3 different chiropractors (from 3 different countries) work on him. They checked everything. He was stiff in the neck and slightly misaligned, but nothing major.
I had 2 different equine dentists check and fix his teeth. I will also do an x-ray next mont to check if anything is broken or infected.
If you have not done so, I would xray his neck and his back, and send them off for interpretation to a vet that knows what they are doing.

Everyone is probably getting sick of me telling my story, but I recently found out that my 10 year old gelding (who I have owned since age 6 months) has a congenital neck issue where the vertebrae in his neck have a structural abnormality where they are tipped forward and sideways, which narrows the space for the spinal cord. He is most likely having some spinal cord compression because of it. I started having various issues with him last year, one of which he was getting very pushy in the bit and pulling on me. I couldn't ride him in anything but a high ported curb bit, which I hated. I used to be able to ride him in a little shank 3-piece mouthpiece no problem. Now I know why.

He's had it his whole life and clearly has compensated very well. But not anymore.

And yes, I had had several different chiropractors check him over the years too. No one ever said anything to me when I would ask him "are there any issues"? The most recent one, I told her what's going on, and then she goes "yeah it always seemed like that area didn't want to move on him so I didn't do much there". Which kinda made me mad. He's always been a stiff type horse for his neck, but I've owned him his whole life that that was just him, so I didn't think too much of it.

I use a very good lameness vet but there's even some areas she isn't as experienced and she will be the first to admit it and then find someone who does have the expertise. It took her about 5 months to find this excellent neck person at a University, but she sure knows what she is talking about.

So......... usually most things are indeed training problems but my moral of the story is do not be so quick to dismiss pain. It's amazing what these creatures will do for us, despite having pain issues we do not know about.
 
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