Non-USA 5 year old TWH, 6 months Pro Training ridden in mullen mouth, no shanks, no curb, no port and Tennessean saddle in pastures, fields, pens by intermediate level rider.

Question: We're having trouble with our 'whoa' when we are traveling with any speed at all.  His whoa is fine at a walk, seems to understand the verbal command and needs very little cue from the reins to whoa.  

The problem is when we are cantering, he does eventually stop but not to my satisfaction.  I don't like having to turn him all the time to stop him, which is what we're doing now.  I think I would like to try a different bit that would give me a little more control over this very powerful walker.  He has excellent manners, neck reigns well, canters on a circle, does everything else like a real pro but we've lost our ability to 'whoa' using this bit.  I wanted to stay with a very mild bit but is time to change it?  He's a big 15.2 'stout' ranch
horse type walker.  I don't know if this is bit related, but he seems to have forgotten how to 'back' properly as well.  Granted, we do a lot of trail riding and I haven't been practicing this much... what is the best way to teach him to back?  Sorry, I know I've asked 2 questions here, but am thinking they could both be partially 'bit' related.

From Panelist Liz

Hi , I would have this fella's teeth checked first. Have the wolf teeth been pulled and does he need them to be floated . I would check this before changing a bit that he seemed fine in before.

Also in stopping from a canter I would look at this Walkers hindquarter structure , if he does have the tendency to be cow hocked  or sickle hocked stopping quickly can be a hard thing for theses horses to do and cause stress to the horse and make stopping quickly
an uncomfortable thing to do.

When I teach a young horse to back from the beginning or reworking a horse I like to make it as easy as possible for them. I first work teaching them this from the ground using the word back and bumping the halter back toward the chest and when the take a step back I release the bumping and give a verbal "good boy" and a rub on the neck. Once on the horses back when standing if the hoofs in front are even , then I pick which foot I want to move first. Say it is the right hoof first. I will lift my right hip up from the saddle and bump the right rein, keeping just enough pressure on the left that the head will not come to my right foot as I'm bumping the mouth with the right hand. I say back so they will associate the voice command with what they learned from the ground. When the hoof I want has moved back I release all rein pressure and then reverse everything and ask for the left hoof back and when it comes back I again release the rein pressure when they understand this you can start to ask for the hoofs to move back at a quicker pace lightly bumping and  releasing the rein and immediately go to the next hoof. Over time they will start to back with out all the extra aids and just a light bump on the reins backward will produce the results quickly and with no nosing out or mouth gaping. If they do not have the front hooves standing evenly start with the hoof that is forward this makes it easier for them to step backwards.


From Panelist Lee

They may be more training related than bit related ... a mullen snaffle, (which I think is what you are describing) can sometimes contribute to a dull mouth, so if you have a regular D ring or Eggbutt single joint snaffle you might try one of those to see what happens.  Don't try a "stronger" bit -- the problem does not sound like a bit one, but a training/practice one.

What  bit was he trained in to begin with?  That may have some bearing on this current situation, as well.

Meanwhile, you need to stop thinking "mouth" and start  using your seat and legs to stop and eventually back this horse.  Whenever you stop him from the walk, first  sit deep in the saddle, your weight a bit to the rear, squeeze/release with your upper thighs, and follow this with a light squeeze/release of the reins.  Do this every time you ask him to stop, and
practice doing it frequently -- walk, stop, walk stop, until he stops when he feels your weight shift and your thighs begin to tighten before you even touch the reins. (this works only if you do not ride with strong contact on his mouth all the time -- if you are doing that, you have to first teach him to go on a lighter rein, still with contact, but not a steady pull).  Next, work on doing this from a faster speed, first a flat walk, then a running walk, then eventually from a canter -- you want him to slow from a canter to a walk within a couple of steps, then stop entirely, I assume, not do a fast sliding stop?

As for backing -- if he has totally forgotten how to do this, start first on the ground, where you can push on his chest to remind him to move back, repeating the word as you do. Then from the saddle, sit still.deep in the saddle and balanced, weight very slightly to the rear of where you usually sit, Squeeze/release on both reins, in a vibrating motion,  repeating the command to back, and at the same time, vibrate your lower legs against his
sides, just a bit behind where you normally use them to ask him to go forward.  The combination of seat, leg, and rein cues should cause him to back at least one step. Cease all cues with that one step, reward and praise him, then move forward again.  Practice this about 3 times per session, then go on to something else.

You can do all of this stuff while trail riding, you just have to make time for it.  Practice. practice, practice! 

Good luck.

Lee Ziegler

From Panelist Theresa

Very good question with a lot of information to work with. Thank you.

Your problems with backing and whoa are related, and that tidbit of information will help greatly. When a horse is properly working on the bit, he should have a stop to him. A stop is cued in a similar way that the back is cued.

Although many walking horse trainers use only rein to stop or back a horse, I have found that this allows the horse to hollow his back, and then raise his head with his nose tilted upward. At this point the horse is not engaged with his body, and he is off the bit.

To work on this one would begin at the stand still. Set your hand so you have a comfortable connection with his mouth. Keep a deep seat, with all four seatbones connected with your horse. Gradually squeeze your calves, urging the horse forward into the bit.  At this point one of three things will happen. He will either give at the poll,  step forward , or become hollow with a ewe neck and nose tilted upward.  I will address each of these responses.

1) Give at the poll, engagement of the hindquarters (feels like his back rises) this is the ideal response. As your horse gives release the leg pressure and praise him.  This is the engagement needed for the whoa and the back.   To work on the back, as soon as the head gives in the poll, very quietly tap with your heels. For each step back praise the hores. Do not "pull with the reins" as this will encourage the head to raise and the back
to hollow. Be very patient, and consistent. Sometimes  they walk forward as you apply pressure see my #2 response on this.  As you consistently get the give at the poll and the back, then apply the same principle from a dog walk. As he becomes more  consistent at the dog walk, apply it to the flat walk, and so on.  Be patient. This problem took a long time to develop. My rule of thumb is double the time the problem took [to develop and existed] and that is what should be expected for the cure.

2) Horse steps forward out of the stopped position or when asked to back. This is not too severe a problem if addressed. It shows the horse is listening and willing to try to accomplish what you ask. If he walks out of the whoa or back, then release the leg pressure, add some bit pressure, and get him stopped again. This time while standing, achieve the connection with his mouth, and then add a little additional pressure. Now begin with the legs as described above. If he still tries to walk forward, gently apply a little more rein pressure and make sure your seat is staying well engaged. Continue this until he drops at the poll, and then follow directions in step one.

3) This one is a bit more difficult to fix. I usually will place the horse in a bitting rig with a mullen or snaffle bit without a shank.  I will free lunge this type of horse to encourage forward movement while adjusting the contact on the reins a notch at a time until he is able to drop onto the bit. This is a three week or more process, and must be done diligently with experienced horseperson only. A side rein pulled to tightly will cause a horse to rear over backwards, possibly injuring the horse.  (***NEVER RIDE WITH SIDE REINS ATTACHED). Once this horse is moving freely forward and on the bit, I will either begin with step one, or I may use the aid of a draw rein for a very short while. (in arena trail riding with draws). 

In conclusion: The whoa and back are not "rein" aids. They are a combination of aids from the verbal, seat, leg and hand. As you begin to use the combination of these aids, you should find your horse is better able to engage in a nice whoa, as well as good collection while moving forward and nice reverses as going backwards. Be patient and kind and consistent. 

Good luck!

Theresa- dont forget your ASTM/SEI certified helmet when you ride  :o)


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