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I have been told that some horses are more "aggressive"/forward/strong (such as some cross country or foxhunting). I have been told that these horses do better in "stronger" bit that has more "umph"/pre-cue to get their attention.

However, I have also been told that horses that need a "stronger" bit, they are poorly trained and need to be restarted.

So, I guess this is a noob question, but I was wondering how you can decide if the horse is simply "aggressive" or if they are actually poorly trained? For example, if they listen well in a twisted or a gag, but not a "simple" snaffle, such as a smooth French-link.
 

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It is not always a matter of training. A top event horse can do a very good, often great dressage test one day, in a double bridle, the next need a stronger bit to keep control going cross country and on the show jumping day, be ridden in a simple snaffle.

As for deciding whether a horse is strong from excitement or lack of training, that comes from experience.

Majority of people train in a snaffle of one description or another. More novice riders might have problems getting a horse on the bridle so, because the horse is resisting, they resort to a curb bit which because of the different action of the bit, often gets a horse to drop its nose. The horse is still not on the bit but the unknowing rider will think that because the head is roughly in the correct place, it is.

I rarely bitted a horse up for hunting. I have learned over many years, how to hold a horse in a snaffle. However, if I had to constantly fight for control I would use something stronger so the horse would listen without me having to swing off their mouth.
 

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That's a reasonable question with a complicated answer.

For me, at a basic level, if a horse gets really "hot" during it's event it may benefit from having a stronger bit. That prevents the horses and rider from having to fight, or in the case of polo, it's even safer for everyone on the field. And the cues needed will be much less than if a really mild bit it's used.

I would avoid having a green rider on a strong, or hot, horse regardless of the bit used. The rider would likely overreact.

Often, those same horses can be exercised in a halter or Argentine snaffle on a loose rein.

If a horse never relaxes, I consider holes in it's training or that it hates it's job. Or pain from ill-fitting tack. Or the need for body work.

The above is when thinking of sport horses.

For pleasure horses I would want one with a laid back personality. That doesn't have to mean pokey/slow, but easily ridden and cued.
 

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Some horses have been allowed to develop bad habits, most times training and reschooling can overcome these habits and the horse becomes well trained and good to ride. Some even responding to the slightest cues as they have been trained to do and a pleasure to ride. But if this horse goes out on a ride and becomes upset all too often those old bad habits will show up again. Something like bad spooks or bolting and knowing that they can do it can be a problem.

Seems to me that horses will remember things, and more often the bad things when I would like them to remember the good ones and forget all those bad habits that happened long ago but still stay with them.

I will sometimes ride with a Pelham if I know the horse has a record of bad behavior, that way I can ride on a snaffle and if all goes well no problem, but if the horse should misbehave or try to bolt with me I can use the curb action to put a stop to this.
 

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After riding hundreds of horses – many of them “problem” horses – I have concluded that I do not need a “stronger” bit to “control” a horse.

What I need to do is teach a horse than he can relax while being ridden. When the horse is relaxed, it is much more responsive to more subtle influences.

Can a horse be “relaxed” and still perform well in competition? Consider a human athlete. If a human athlete is tense, he cannot move as smoothly and easily as when his muscles are no more tense than absolutely necessary. The more tense the muscles, the more effort is required to move them and the “stiffer” the movement will be.

Teaching others to ride in this same fashion has only confirmed my conclusions.
 

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Bandit was used in relay races. He was ridden in a bosal. His snaffle was only used as an emergency brake. Used harshly when needed, I suspect. They used him for the final leg. They said, "If he could SEE the horse ahead of him, he could BEAT the horse ahead of him. If he couldn't, then he would at least give it every ounce of strength he had!" They traded me for Mia because they wanted a brood mare to improve their stock and felt she was competitive enough to breed horses who would push themselves. Breed more Bandits.

A horse who is strong willed enough to seek to dominate their opponent may ignore his rider. Bandit is very independent. I like that but it means he has no problem with telling me where to stuff my instructions! It also means the horse who could often be ridden in a sidepull sometimes needs something stronger.

Is that a training flaw? Or will I sometimes need to shout at Bandit because his blood is up? I think it is the second. I wouldn't respect Bandit if he wasn't willing to ignore me. And he wouldn't respect me if I gave in to him.

I'm a jogger, not a runner. I dislike running competitively. I've tried it though. At the start of a race, I'm tense. And I wouldn't run faster by being mentally relaxed. If you don't feel pain during the race, you are not pushing yourself hard enough. One coach told me a runner who doesn't collapse at the finish line hasn't done his best! I think the will to win, the will to push yourself into pain and dominate your opponent, won't respond well to whispers. A competitive runner HATES being second. We won't talk about even further back!

Stopping Bandit when he is galloping ahead of another horse usually isn't a big deal. Stopping him when he's galloping BEHIND another horse is a whole different ballgame! That is a feature, not a flaw.

Warning: Foul language in the clip below.

 

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After riding hundreds of horses – many of them “problem” horses – I have concluded that I do not need a “stronger” bit to “control” a horse.

What I need to do is teach a horse than he can relax while being ridden. When the horse is relaxed, it is much more responsive to more subtle influences.

Can a horse be “relaxed” and still perform well in competition? Consider a human athlete. If a human athlete is tense, he cannot move as smoothly and easily as when his muscles are no more tense than absolutely necessary. The more tense the muscles, the more effort is required to move them and the “stiffer” the movement will be.

Teaching others to ride in this same fashion has only confirmed my conclusions.
I totally agree with the theory above. The rider who can get a 'hot' horse to go to 'sleep' when ridden, has a great advantage over one who cannot.

However, I would lay a bet that you have never ridden a horse to Hounds or take a fit horse cross country when it loves its job and wants to get on with it!

When Foxhounds are running and speaking loudly, the high pitched noise excites the horses and charging along in a herd brings out the instinct of fleeing, the ones at the back are more likely to get brought down than those at the front. The odd thing about this is that they are following the noise rather than running away from it.

Several times I have had young horses get het up/frightened by children playing in a primary school. The high pitch of their excited voices and them darting about the playground worries them. They soon get use to it if ridden past the school regularly.
 

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I have a very hot, difficult, quirky horse. She is currently ridden solely in a snaffle. I suspect as jumps get higher I might have to try different bits (not necessarily stronger, as a smooth bit is only as strong or as gentle as the hands using it & I have quite forgiving hands), because even over small stuff she is VERY keen and takes a lot of riding to keep controlled. But on the flat she is and forever will be a snaffle horse.

Many a time I have watched an overeager showjumper blow through a snaffle, and listen in a calm and relaxed manner to something considered stronger. Not just under novices - some of the best horsepeople in the world put strong bits on their particularly keen showjumpers.

It is of course important in this context to be able to feel the difference between excited running and fear bolting. A nervous or anxious jumper needs to go back to ground poles and work his way back up slowly to rebuild the lost confidence. A super keen jumper will always be super keen and while there's a lot you can do training wise to teach them to listen, competition day is a whole different ball game!
 

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Horses can certainly become harder to control under exciting conditions. So can humans. This is where previous training and experience help keep things under control.

Under battle conditions, soldiers can succumb to various emotions: fear, hatred, etc. Proper training teaches soldiers to trust the judgement of their commanding officers over their own emotional reactions. Without this, panic may ensue – or unabated brutality. Either may lead to more problems in the future.

The idea behind proper training is not simply to make a horse perform but to build a relationship of trust. That is why I prefer to work with a horse’s owner, not just the horse.

In his book “The Faraway Horses”, Buck Brannaman relates his introduction to the sport of polo. He had traveled to Florida with some horses he had trained. He visited a polo club and decided to just sign up and figure out how things were done. He was given a jersey and shown how to braid his horses’ tails so they wouldn’t interfere with the mallet.

While saddling up for the match, the man who ran the club told him, “Son, I can’t let you play your horses in a plain snaffle bit. You’re going to get somebody hurt, or get somebody killed” Buck replied, “I know that grounds fees for this club are seventy-five hundred bucks for the three months I’m supposed to be here. Why don’t you just let me play a chukker or two, and if you think I’m dangerous to people, then I won’t come back anymore. I’ll just go back to Montana where I belong, and you can keep the seventy-five hundred bucks, and I’m out of here.”

After a few chukkers and a few changes of horses, the club manager came up to apologize. He said, “I’m sorry to have doubted you....You can play in a snaffle bit around me anytime.”

Buck further wrote. “Riding that fast swinging a hardwood mallet sort of sets you up for a mishap. My horses carried me through. That’s the beauty of the foundation I put on all the hoses that I start. The basics are all there, so you can then finish up a horse to do anything you want him to do, whether it’s ranch work or horse showing or polo.”
 

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@TXhorseman - not sure what ya-hoo Mr Brannaman ran into in FL. Some horses do play polo in a variety of snaffles. Others do not.

As a horse person, you undoubtedly know others can be too free with their advice.

I know Mr Brannaman well enough to know that he uses whatever gear that will make a horse successful.
 

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my loan can be ridden in a snaffle- its just when she bolts you have no way of stopping her with out something a bit stronger...
 

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my loan can be ridden in a snaffle- its just when she bolts you have no way of stopping her with out something a bit stronger...

Most riders naturally react to bolting by pulling on the reins. This, in itself, may present problems. The horse may simply lean on the bit and continue going forward. Usually, however, the rider also squeezes his legs. The horse, naturally interprets this as a signal to go faster.

A “stronger” bit may help. On the other hand, it may cause even more confusion with the horse reacting unexpectedly to a combination of cues it does not understand.

While it is almost automatic for a rider to pull on the reins and squeeze his legs at the same time in reaction to a bolt, it is good to learn how to quickly change this reaction. As soon as possible, the rider should release as much leg pressure as possible without losing balance. The rider should also modulate the rein pressure to regain control without allowing the horse to lean on the bit and run off.

This can prove a difficult skill to achieve. How can we prepare ourselves to respond better to such a situation?

The best way to prepare is to become better at communication with the horse. Many riders think a sign of skillful riding is to ride with slack reins. While a good rider should be able to ride with slack reins – or even no reins at all – it is also important to learn to ride with following contact.

Riders who do not learn to ride with following contact tend to react to unexpected situations by simply pulling on the reins. If the reins were slack, the rider tends to pull too far, too fast. This results in jerking with too much force on the horse’s mouth, startling the horse. Depending on the history, experience, and temperament of the horse a number of situations may result.
 

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...Many riders think a sign of skillful riding is to ride with slack reins. While a good rider should be able to ride with slack reins – or even no reins at all – it is also important to learn to ride with following contact.

Riders who do not learn to ride with following contact tend to react to unexpected situations by simply pulling on the reins. If the reins were slack, the rider tends to pull too far, too fast...
Learning "to ride with following contact" or doing so while trail riding has no relation to being able to handle a tense horse or responding well to a bolt. It neither helps nor hurts.

A British Cavalry riding instructor turned avid polo player who eventually settled in Australia and helped start a dressage club wrote this:


That was my first good clue on how to deal with Mia while she was a confirmed bolter and brutally spooky. In many cases, if you keep slack in the reins, the horse will let you know a problem is developing, and maybe even how the horse thinks it can solve the problem, before a bolt develops. A horse who feels free to avoid a threat is less likely to explode.

Second, when a bolt starts (assuming it is a genuine bolt and not just a squirt away from a scary thing), many slack loving riders will use a One Rein Stop. Others of us will use a Two Rein Stop. But there is nothing about riding with slack in the reins that makes a person more likely to snatch at the reins. That bad reaction can be done by ANY rider. Or not.

A curb bit - often accused of being a stronger bit - can be an excellent choice with a confirmed bolter. When horses bolt in fear, they stick their noses out. A snaffle is a linear bit. It goes in a straight line toward the rider's hands. That pulls the bit against the molars - like a race horse. And lots of horses (including Mia) could tolerate that all day long. In the exact same situation, a curb bit will rotate down against the tongue and bars, applying the cue to the optimal spot.

Most "bolts" are not hard core bolts. Most are squirts forward for 50-100 yards. Then the horse will be ready to slow on their own, provided the rider isn't squealing like a stuck pig, holding on with a death grip in their legs, and hauling on the face in a way that terrifies the horse further. That bad reaction can be done by anyone, although it is much less likely in an experienced rider. Since one needs a certain amount of experience in order to be capable of riding with following, elastic contact, I suppose someone who knows is less likely just because they have more saddle time.

The riding instructor where I took lessons did something unusual that made a lot of sense. Even with a total beginner, she would put them in a round pen on her best horse. The first lesson included cantering. Even if it was the first time a rider had touched a horse. The first lesson included a walk-canter transition. Total newbies reacted with a smile. It was fun! And her point was that if you can stay on a walk-canter transition, and can have fun on a cantering horse, you are far less likely to freak out if a horse squirts forward on a trail. Which, as she pointed out to new riders, could happen the next time they were on a horse.

She taught everyone to ride primarily with slack (western instructor) and adored the One Rein Stop, which she also taught new riders.
 
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