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Last month I bought a lovely 12 years old gelding. I think he is the best horse in the whole world but there is one thing that is driving me (and him) crazy.
He is such a good buy, we can do all kinds of ground work.

The only "small" problem is, he hates contact. He starts biting his bit and he seems really nervous when he gets his head down. And I mean in riding or when we do ground work with his bit in. Whenever I try to get him lower his head and release under pressure, he would try to get his bit between his back teeth. The weird thing is, I have no problem lunging him, with saddle. The problem starts when I pull the reins and he lowers his head. Most of the time when riding just acts like a horsiraffe (horse+giraffe), head high in the air. After I get him to bend his neck down, he then tries to get is bit between his teeth and just bites it. It is really loud.

I had his teeth checked (all ok but his gums are sensitive because his skin is really thin), he had a chiropractor and equine acupuncture. His back was slightly sore. He is also clearly right handed horse and his back is slightly bent. The vet said I should ride more to the left and everything will straighten itself out.
I bought a new saddle (Kentaur Elektra dressage saddle) and tried 10 different bits, no kidding. Until now he was only ridden with french link snaffle bit. I got a new anatomical bridle.
I tried bitless bridle and the result was the same - head high

I would really like your opinion on the subject. What could be wrong? I am thinking this is a psychological thing.

He was the same with previous owner, but i bought him anyway. Not sorry.

Thank you,
 

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What is his natural way of going? It sounds like he doesn't like bits, but when you mention it seems related to making him put his head down, I wonder if you are asking him to carry himself lower than is natural and it is causing discomfort.

If he has a weak hind end or is unbalanced, has stifle, hock or back pain, he may need to use his neck higher while he gets in better condition.

The sensitive gums stands out to me. It could be the bits you've tried all contact the bars, and if he has pain in that area ALL the different bits could actually be hurting him.

Depending on the style of bitless, some could actually squeeze pressure over the sensitive jaw too. But possibly he would be OK in some type of bitless, but was raising his head because of the different feel and he did not know how to respond yet.

With the bitless did he still open his mouth, chomp his teeth and show those signs of discomfort?

Hopefully the bits you tried had different types of mouthpieces and actions. For example, a single or double jointed snaffle will feel essentially the same even with all different side pieces. To find out if what is bothering the horse is tongue, bars, palate, etc, it is helpful to try for example a much thinner or thicker mouthpiece, unjointed with low vs high port, a curb vs a snaffle, or one with multiple joints for a horse that mainly likes tongue pressure.

If the horse lunges comfortably in a halter, you could try a sidepull.
 

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I agree to always start with the physical issues when diagnosing a riding problem. However, in my experience many horses will suck it up when they are dealing with pain or ill fitting tack.

Most horses I come across have training or rider issues. If the horse is anxious when he wears the bridle then it likely has something to do with the work. Maybe he was rushed through his training and he got confused or can't handle the pressure. Maybe he's worried about what is expected of him or what type of rider you are. He really hasn't had much time to get to know you and being a new home he could still be settling in.

Chewing on the bit is also a sign of tension. Horses that yawn a lot after a ride are likely releasing tension.

If he pulls on you when you use your reins then he is reacting to your hand. Could be he was ridden by someone who's hands were not quiet and light. Maybe he is a really sensitive guy. Maybe he doesn't know what your asking or is afraid you will block him.

If I was working with this horse I would take it back to basics. Ride on the buckle, letting him do what he needs to do with his head and only using the reins when I absolutely have to (slowing down, changing direction only). I would ride (walk only for the time being) using the whole ring because it is less confining and causes less pressure. Only changing direction a handful of times the entire ride. Keeping it short, 20-30 minutes to start. Focus would be on him relaxing in the walk, settling in to being ridden and getting to know the rider. I would always be cautious of the my hands, having a very light feel on the reins or no feel at all.

If his tension builds at anytime I would back off, let him relax before trying again. Overtime, the horse will settle and become steady, no head or bit fussing. But, each new piece (More steering, trot, contact, etc) will bring the tension back up. So, as long as the horse is not building to their limit, where they stop learning, it's ok for some tension to creep up, it will dissipate. If it doesn't then you know it was too much and you back off.

Always listen to him. He is trying to communicate about how he feels in each moment and you want him to tell you.

I know my way of training appears slow, but the horses I've worked with appreciate it, not to mention this training becomes a part of them and the foundation that they are missing. It also build trust in the rider and confidence in the horse.

Good luck!
 

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I forgot to add the reason for going back to basics is the horse needs to be relaxed and moving freely forward before it can accept the contact and to be round in its top line.

If the horse is moving with it's head in the air and back hollow then it's tense in it's neck, chest and shoulders. This tension is likely shortening it's stride and making it too fast or too slow.

Relaxation will lead to a more natural way of moving, which leads to acceptance and confidence for learning new skills.
 
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