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
I don't know what floated is and I am looking for any help you can provide. I am currently riding her every night for 30 to 40 minutes and each time she breaks out of her walk I stop her and make her stand still and do it over again. but this doesn't seem to be helping. 

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 I 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 
bottom, attach reins to that)...the noseband should rest on the widest part of the bones of the nose, feel with your hand. If you set it TOO low, you can still cause running off, because lower will cut off their wind. Then, put the bridle on, but you will have to let it out a hole or two, being the sidepull headgear will take up space underneath. Then, find a small area to work in. I don't particularly like using a horse's own pasture, as that is their "home" and "vacation place" from us. A small area with even just a "natural fence," such as a clearing surrounded by bushes and/or buildings will do, if you dont have a small ring or roundpen. You want to work off the bitless headgear MORE SO than the bit, that's the safety. Since she will stand, when you mount,calmly ask for the walk-your rein should not
have pressure on her, but just be a fraction of an inch from having it...if she bolts off, stop her, first asking from the bosal, and not in her mouth. She may very well respond right away,being you are using nose pressure and not mouth pressure; if not, ask lightly from the bit, first, before getting slightly harsher. Be careful not to be squeezing with your legs, which sometimes happens inadvertantly when YOU are expecting to get run off with; try keeping your own body relaxed, as if not, the horse will cue off your tension and still try taking off. Working in a small area is not only helpful to confine the horse, and let her know there is no where really to go, but also to the rider to relieve their own tension created by the anticipation of getting run off with. It is important that you stay calm, keep your own body and hands relaxed, and be able to give the release.

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
ability to stop/maintain control if necessary), and creating its own pain, its not you doing it(so dont). You want to just pop her lightly and abruptly with the noseband if you feel her bore into it, to make her back off it; go back to maintaining a release (again, just a fraction of an inch from having any pressure); repeat if she goes back to boring into it; halt and
stand, pet her, get her calm and relaxed, if she becomes persistant; then start again. Remember, you are having to break a long-standing habit that's likely already on "automatic pilot," so dont be surprised if it takes much repeating until she realizes circumstances ha ve changed, and she's going to have to figure out what something new ...and totally opposite of what she's been what will bring her the relief she trial and error, mostly. 

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
self-discipline by only doing what we ask, whats necessary, and they should have as much or more self-discipline than the horse! This can be hard sometimes, and boring, but if we cant do it, then why are we asking the horse to be better at this than we humans can muster? We cannot teach this to the horse unless we can do it ourselves......


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.

Steve Chasko

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 she is
supposed to do the same with you on her back.  If you do not have experience doing this sort of longe line work, see if there is someone in your area who can help you -- it is a very valuable part of training or retraining a horse, and can't be put into words very well.

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
stopping a little differently.  In a mullen mouthed pelham (or a regular egg butt  or full cheek snaffle, or even a side pull if you are familiar with this piece of equipment) start by asking her to walk, slowly, then stopping her by using one rein only, down and to the side, to stop her.  Do this with a pull/slack motion, not a steady pull.  As you ask her to stop, reinforce the rein signal by sitting slightly back in the saddle, and squeezing/releasing gently with your upper thighs.  The instant she stops, release all pressure on the rein. She will probably start up again, so be prepared to repeat the process over and over again until she stands still with a loose rein.

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
made, and insist that she stand still on a loose rein.  If she still tries to take off, repeat.  After each repetition, give the horse a chance to stand still on a slack rein, and if she will not, repeat one more turn. This is a strong disciplinary tool, not something to be used lightly.  It will not work if you do not allow the moment of "parole" on the slack rein
after the turn.

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
and how consistent you are with the three cues in succession.

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
of trying to hold her in with steady rein pressure.

Good luck with this horse -- she is going to be a long, ongoing project in both mental and physical retraining.

Lee Ziegler



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