|Kentucky 10 year old Saddlebred ridden in
one ear hole headset with a 6" shank bridle (what the reins attach to)
and a pretty harsh curb bit and a roping saddle.In pasture
only by a rider who rode a lot, probably average rider.
Question: Hello my question is regarding my wide eyed 10 yr. old saddlebred "puddin". She is absolutely Wide open all the time. It is my understanding that the kid that owned her before me let her run at will, and believe me you can't wear her out. I have been trying for 14 months to slow her down, but I am having no luck. She is eager to please and has responded to basic training such as standing still until asked to go. Standing while you mount, dismount and such. All of this was foreign to her when I got her.
I have tried different bits and what I would think would work as a training method. Today I put this harsh bit to the test, at the advice of a tack shop owner. After only about a 3 hour ride she was fighting the bit again. only now the chin strap wore into the flesh and her gums on both sides were bleeding from the pressure to keep her from running off.
I rode with a couple more saddlebreds today and although they were spirited
they did not act like her. nor did their owners have any advice. Other
than maybe her teeth need to be
Do you think it is her mouth? What type of headset/bit combination do you recommend? and do you have any training tips to help this otherwise beautiful and thoughtful horse to maintain whatever gait she is asked to be in.
Thanks for your help in advance.
From Panelist Stella
Most horses that are runaways do so to escape pain, often from the bit and/or rider's hands. Many people think the solution is to go to a more severe bit, and of course, our own fears cause us to hold the bit harder, which only makes the problems worse. The horse anticipates this pain, and starts its defensive reaction even before the pain starts. Have you ever had a toothache or abcess? What's the first thing you do?...put pressure against it with your hand to relieve the pain, and that's exactly what the horse does- counteracts the pressure in the mouth with its own pressure against the offending bit and hands. I have had horses brought to me with tie-downs or martingales,along with very severe bits, and the first thing I do is...get rid of all of them!
Lack of teeth floating may well indeed be part of the problem; on an older horse, at least once a year is often required; have the horse dentist show you how to check for "points" that cause pain by rubbing into the flesh of the cheek when wearing a bit. The other advantage of having teeth done, especially as horses get older and over 10, is more efficiency in chewing and digesting their food; it helps not only keep them easier keepers, but prevent impaction colics, so its well worth the money.
First, go back to a lighter bit. Being I train Pasos,who are never started
immediately with a bit, I have bosals that will fit under a bridle....sometimes
use a western sidepull, and that may work well too, without interfering
with the bridle with the bit. Put the sidepull on first(unless you can
find a really heavy duty noseband, to which you can add rings to the
What you are trying to do is retrain her to realize that when she walks
off(always start with a walk in retraining), and doesnt run off, she will
be "rewarded" by the release, the absence of pressure from the bit. Keep
your hands low....a horse cannot walk without lowering its head. The idea
of keeping a release initially is for the horse to figure out IT is moving
INTO the bit or noseband(again, start with that, the bit's now just there
for your safety and
Stay at the walk and halt, adding reverses and smaller circles, serpentines, etc. once she "gets it," to insure she doesnt speed up without you asking thruout any exercises you give her. The other thing that helps staying at the walk is getting her calm, where shes not overwhelmed, to help change her mindframe about being ridden; dont even give her an opportunity to go to her old behavior under saddle. Dont forget to reward for good work. YOu want a "good pile" of successive good experiences of just calm walking between her old behavior and what will be her new, once moving out...and nice, relaxed calm ones, to set the new "tone" of being ridden. Then go on to a nice relaxed intermediate gait, asking lightly with again, a release...if she reverts to the bad habit, stop, calm and start again by repeating the walk she knows, then on.
The most important thing is that you stay calm and have the patience
and self-discipline to stay at this "baby level" for as long as necessary,
so that you win out thru your perseverence. Riders must remember that they
are asking the horse to have supreme
From Panelist Steve
Common problem. The answer is quite simple.
First, have her teeth looked at and floated (filed). This alone could solve your problem. Make sure the saddle is comfortable for her. I use Abetta Endurance saddles and my horses love them. They are cheap and hold up great and are VERY comfortable for the rider.
If pain isn't at fault then she just has an exuberant personality. As you try to stop her with the curb, you cause her pain...terrible pain. Horses flee from pain. So stop hurting her. Do the following:
1. Switch to a Wonder Bit. These bits are humane, yet will stop any horse in an mergency. Later, as you learn to communicate with her, you won't need any bit.
2. Attach a bitless bride (or neck loop) ALONG with the Wonder bit/bridle. Use the bit only if she doesn't respond to the other pressure. If you need to know more about this bitless equipment, let me know.
3. Learn how to disengage her. John Lyons and Pat Parelli have good sections on this.
4. Do the 7 Games of Pat Parelli before every ride. Will take about 2 minutes after she gets the hang of it and teaches her to think about you. Right now, she isn't.
5. If you have trouble teaching the Seven Games then she should be round penned by someone who is humane and knows how. I find I seldom need to do this.
From Panelist Lee
Sounds like you have an interesting project. I hope you are a good, experienced rider, because what this horse needs is complete retraining, starting on the ground. This will take time! You need to reeducate her mind, and recondition her mouth to understand that a bit is not for pain.
First, get rid of the bit that made her mouth so sore, obviously it did not work as intended. A harsher bit is never really a solution for a horse that is inclined to take off .. often a milder bit, used more intelligently is a better answer. I think I would try a Pelham with two sets of reins on this horse (gives you a curb and a snaffle effect) but the solution is not more leverage, it is really reeducating her mouth. Floating might be a good idea-- it is a veterinary dentistry procedure in which the rough edges or hooks and points that develop in a horse's mouth over time are filed down. At the age of this horse, there are probably some that need attention. This won't make her more responsive to the bit, but it will make her more comfortable in her mouth and improve her chewing ability for eating hay.
If you have a round pen, or a small corral, teach her to work on the
longe line, slowly, paying attention to you at all times, doing frequent
transitions from walk to stop, walk to trot to walk, canter to trot to
walk, to stop ... If she can't do this stuff on the ground with you on
the end of a longe line directing her speed, she will not understand that
Ground work accomplished, you can then start riding training. I would not be riding her until she had learned control of speed from the ground on verbal command.
You may have to teach her a "one rein stop" and doubling, as well as working on half halts to get her energy under control under saddle. The last thing you want to do is get into a pulling match with her to try to keep her slowed down. It won't work very well, and in the long run she will just learn to pull harder. So, what to do:
Teach her to walk on a slack rein. (really, no pressure through
the rein). To do that you will need to work at first in an enclosed area
-- no trail rides until you get her to pay attention to you at home in
the pasture. Try to work in a relatively small enclosed area -- even a
small corral if you can find one, at first. You have already made
a start on this exercise by working on walking/stopping, then walking.
Now you have to try to do the
Once it has sunk in that she should stop and stand on a slack rein (this may take a while, depending on if you have been holding her still in the past), you can go on to the next part of this process, teaching her to slow down but keep moving. Allow her to move out with some energy in a fast walk. Apply a "half halt" to slow her down ... do this by first squeezing/releasing with your upper thighs, shifting your weight a tiny bit to the rear of the saddle, and following by a squeeze release on both reins. Repeat this process until she goes into a slower walk (keep nagging with these aids:, legs, seat, hands, release, legs, seat, hands, release until she slows down. Do NOT try to slow her by taking a tighter pull on the reins). Practice, practice, practice, until she will walk slowly when you ask, and stay slow on a slack rein. (slack means there is no tension through the rein to your hand, not the same as a thrown away Western Pleasure Q horse type rein)
Next step -- work on an intermediate gait at a controlled speed. The
sequence is the same, however at this faster speed she may decide to take
off with you when you slack the rein. Be prepared to double her is this
happens -- doubling is a useful western skill, for dealing with horses
that misbehave or try to take off. It must be done only in a snaffle (
a full cheek is a good one to use) or a sidepull or bosal. When the
horse starts to take off, *instantly* double her by strongly pulling with
one rein down and to the side and back, pulling her into a sharp 180 or
360 turn, at the same time slacking off with the opposite rein/hand, and
strongly "booting her through" with the leg on the side away from the rein
you are using to turn her. (right turn, left leg) Instantly slack
off as soon as the turn is
Practice riding at the intermediate gait, then slowing to a walk, using
half halts to slow her down, with less and less rein pressure as you ask
for the slower speed. If you are consistent in using legs, seat and
following with squeezing and releasing the reins, she will start anticipating
the slowing from your leg and seat use and you will not have to be pulling
on her mouth at all to slow her down. How long this takes depends
on how often you ride
When she will slow down and stay slowed down from an intermediate gait, *on a slack rein* you can then try this from a canter (if she does one) .. This will not be for several months up to a year, if your description of her current behavior is accurate) Again, the same drill -- legs, seat, hands to slow, followed by slack. Never try to slow with a steady pull on the reins.
This entire process will take a long. long time -- don't expect to have
her listening to you in a week of lessons, when she has gotten this far
in her life without being trained in the basics of control. And don't
expect her to stay "retrained" once you have gone through these lessons
if the first time you take her out and she tries to take off you revert
to the old habit
Good luck with this horse -- she is going to be a long, ongoing project in both mental and physical retraining.
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