||Non-USA, 4 1/2 year old TWH ridden in a mullen
bit with Tennessean saddle in pasture, field, etc. by intermediate rider.
Question: My TWH could do a fabulous rw when he was just 3, but
seems to have lost it. He is in shape, very well muscled shoulders
and hind quarters. I have a couple of questions.
Question 1: Are all paces bad? He seems to have a type of
pace that is really very smooth and easy to ride. It's not jarring
at all, but I do know that his feet are
moving together on each side, so it has to be a pace. If you
let him move out too fast, it will turn into a harsher pace, although still
ride able, but I always check him back down to a walk when he does this.
Usually if a turn him and back him a bit, he'll start to walk properly.
He has a fast walk, but when I ask for anything faster I get this smooth
pace or a slow canter if I'm lucky. I work him up and down hills,
and in plowed fields but I'm wondering if the bit I'm using is incorrect.
It is a mullen bit. It has a fairly thick solid mouthpiece, it has
no shanks or curb or port. I ride with loose reigns except when I
try and collect him a bit to bring his head up to help him gait, which
is usually unsuccessful. He is a beautiful, easy going, intelligent
horse. I think he's trying to tell me something.
Question 2: Is this bit too mild for him? Do I need more control?
From Panelist Lee
In answer to Question 1: "Bad" is a relative term -- compared
to what? A smooth broken pace, which is what you describe, is certainly
less "bad" for the comfort of the rider than a hard pace or a hard trot,
for that matter. It is still not as "good" as a running walk for the long
term soundness of the horse and his balance up and down hill.
To turn this gait into a running walk, you need to modify a few things
about the way you are riding/working this horse. First, start to
ride him with some even light contact, not with loose reins. Ask
him to work on contact with a slightly *lower* head, pushing him out of
the ordinary walk into a flat walk. (just a bit faster than what he is
doing now at the walk). To do this, ride with your hands low, on
either side of his withers, and separate, about a foot or so apart.
Try not to lean forward as you do this.
Do NOT ask him to raise his head to gait, as that will only produce
more of the pace/stepping pace. Ride up hill when you ask for speed
beyond a slow walk -- for the flat walk, and eventually the running walk,
uphill is best. Do not ask for anything but a slow walk down any kind of
incline, even a very small one. When he will reliably keep his head
and neck lowered, with some light flexion at the poll, on medium contact
in your mullen snaffle, in a consistent flat walk (about 5-6 mph in speed)
begin to ask him to work a
little faster, still keeping his head down. He will eventually
build on the speed of the flat walk and start doing a running walk.
Do not allow him to pace -- at the first sign of that, slow down, lower
his head, and start over.
If the horse is behaving, not running away or acting up, then there
is no reason to change bits. Control does not come from a severe
bit, but from training and correct riding.
From Panelists Annette
This is not a problem of lack of control. Pulling his head up is the
opposite of where you need to go with this horse. Here is a basic principle
you need to understand: weight to the rear of a horse pushes it to the
lateral. So, when you pull his head up, you are telling him to pace, and
your beautiful, easy going, intelligent horse is doing exactly what you
are asking him to do, pacing quite nicely for you. And he is apparently
one of those horses, probably with a long sloping shoulder and equally
long flexible cushioning pasterns, that is able to pull off the stepped
pace quite smoothly.
But no matter how good the horse can pull off the stepped pace at slow
and moderate speeds, it gets rough as you know when the horse is pushed
to speed. You are doing the correct things with working him up hills, and
in plowed fields, and your action of turning and backing him is also correct,
but not for the reason you think. What you are not
understanding, is that collection is not a matter of pulling a horse's
head up, contrary to popular misconception. Collection actually comes from
the horse's hindquarters and back, not from the head. It is the act of
the horse rounding or basculing his back under the rider. This is what
he has to do when you back him, if you back him correctly, and that is
why when you back him and he moves forward afterwards, he's in the running
walk, because you have gotten him to round his back under you which is
the correct position for the running walk. And you must be backing him
correctly, or you would not get that response. Correct backing requires
having the horse's nose down and tucked and the back basculed. Incorrect
backing is seen when the horse has its head up, nose in the air, with the
rider usually sawing away at the reins. A horse in that position will have
a hollowed back, and believe me, when it comes forward out of that it will
be in the pace, because a hollowed
back is the recipe for the pace.
And that is what you are doing when you pull his head up without getting
him to bascule his back, you are telling him to hollow his back, and he
is, so he paces for you, just as he thinks you are asking him to do. So,
back, back, back, back, all the way across the
arena with fingertouch control, that is your goal. And understand,
what you are doing is not so much strengthening the muscles along the backbone,
what you are really doing is strengthening the abdominal muscles. When
a human has a bad back, what do the doctors prescribe?: abdominal muscle
strengthening exercises. The abdominals are what the back muscles are anchored
in, the other end of the suspension bridge system of a horse's
anatomy, so the work in plowed fields and up and down hills, backing,
trotting over cavellettis, all of those exercises are to strengthen the
abdominals, which have the effect then of strengthening the muscles in
the back that allow the horse to bascule that back under the weight of
As to your bit, what you want this horse to do is to relax and reach
in the front. In my experience, a snaffle produces that effect better than
a mullen. I use a mullen for trotty horses, a snaffle for those that
when they fall out of gait, head for the pace as your guy is doing. You
know that running walk is in there, you just have to find the key to getting
consistently. This horse doesn't need more control, he needs to be
asked to do the running walk instead of being asked to do the pace as he
is being asked now, from his point of view. A full cheek snaffle will encourage
him to get his head down and relax and extend his neck. You should find
that then you can get him to flow smoothly from a dog walk, flat walk,
then running walk just by keeping him relaxed, nodding his head in that
rhythm, and in the same rhythm while asking for more speed, using your
hands and body to feed back to him the same motions. The Tennessean saddle
should be ok for him, they are good saddles for the higher withered horses
that the TWH's tend to be. Put your saddle as far forward as you can, without
interferring with his shoulders. To check that, put the saddle on him,
then lift his leg up so his foreleg is parellel to the ground, and check
where the top of his shoulder has rotated to. If it is behind the swell
of the saddle, which is where the forks of the tree are, the saddle is
too far forward. The leather can be ahead of that farthest point of the
rotation of the shoulder, but the swell and the forks of the tree should
not be. Sit with your hands low, even down on either side of the withers
at first, and
put your shoulders slightly ahead of the line of your hip to your heel,
not so much that you are off balance leaning forward, but enough so that
the whole effect is to put your weight toward the front of the horse. The
corollory to the general principle I stated above, that weight to the rear
pushes the horse to the lateral, is that weight to the front pushes the
horse to the diagonal, which is what you want in this case, to bring
him into square, even timing at the intermediate speed.
Hope this helps.
Annette L. Gerhardt