I was recently filling out an application for the Thoroughbred Makeover challenge for trainers ( http://www.retiredracehorsetraining.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=section&layout=blog&id=16&Itemid=373) and was writing about how I truly enjoy working through all the issues that green horses faces and developing more tools to be an effective trainer. I am the type of person that enjoys a bit of a challenge.
I sold Ridge to a wonderful person who is boarding him at my barn. I was so excited that he was staying with me because he has been one of my favorite horses. Not only is he fun to ride but he is easy to live with which is super important on my small farm. He doesn’t care about anything. You can put him with any horses. He can go out alone. He doesn’t care about friends. He is an easy keeper. He is neat in his stall (um, love that!!!). I love his personality. He is a great horse to go out and about with and great company for my babies out on trails. He is just the perfect all around horse. Anybody can ride him and you just know he is going to be safe and fun. I also really love his owner. She has been a friend for a long time and she is a great fit for our small no drama barn 🙂
His new owner is really enjoying him. We have had some awesome trail rides together which is so much fun. She can’t believe how good he is for such a green horse. Her goal is to eventually compete him in dressage at some of these Tb shows and some other local shows. The issue with Ridge is that we truly never really addressed his dislike of contact.
I would say his dislike of contact ranks right up there with Letterman but perhaps even a bit tougher because he thinks he may die if you touch his mouth. I had just started to work on it when he had got his injury and then he sat around for a while and she ended up buying him before I ever really got it ironed out.
I hate being that person that says to somebody..hey can I do some training rides on your horse? However, she was just coming back to riding and he is NOT easy. It is a classic case of a situation where things could go wrong if there isn’t a middleman to explain things to the horse so he doesn’t get confused and then teach the rider how to ask the horse. It doesn’t mean he isn’t a good horse or that she isn’t a good rider but green on green sometimes an equal black and blue. I sort of kept quiet for a bit (hard for me….ya know :)) but I saw things going the wrong direction so then I did speak up and she was absolutely on board.
So what is the issue? Well he is complicated so it is a variety of things. He hates being touched in the mouth and is developed underneath his neck. Remember he used to look like this when he got to my farm and started in work.
Pencil neck, muscled underneath and just overall lack of muscle. If you let him go with a loop in the rein he was happy but he carried himself all yucky. Sort of like this
I sort of promised his new owner that it would all be okay and that I was absolutely confident I could get him to accept contact. Challenge accepted 🙂 Oh boy now I had to start to figure out what worked and what didn’t.
I gave some instructions to work him on the lunge line in side reins and let him get used to contact. He seems to do this very easily with no fuss. Yet add the rider and you get inverted, pissy, not going forward and every other evasion in the book. I did try to teach her on him but it wasn’t quite productive because he is HARD. I needed to feel what was going on for myself.
I start by going to my favorite bit for horses who hate contact- the herm sprenger duo. Just a mullen mouth flexible piece of rubber. He was extremely fussy in his mouth with any other bit and often times no bit is going to be a magic fix but you want something soft to encourage them to take the contact.
I don’t think he likes the flash so we took that off. Not sure he liked the spurs either so those came off. I carried a dressage whip to encourage forward no matter what.
Most of the time, I prefer to start at the halt or the walk just slowly asking them to soften to the contact but with him it was really really hard to get him to go forward. Too much feel and he would actually just stop and go backwards with his rider on so I had to really work on keeping everything loose and supple. I wanted to loosen in jaw and with him this was a complicated process. I remember in my lessons with Letterman that Kelly showed me that it can be more aggressive than you think it needs to be to get them to soften the jaw. You actually feel him just holding all the tension so I focused on not only moving him laterally off my leg (inside leg to outside rein) but also gently moving the bit in his mouth. Not a see saw but more of just a sponging type of feel. Sometimes it is more of a give and take with the elbow because he is really really holding on tight. You have to loosen them. As soon as he would soften that I would immediately soften as well. When you think contact you often think a static contact where you just hold but with this horse when you hold he pulls and boy can he pull. He can pull down, up and often straight out. He can jerk you right out of the saddle but with me he can’t pull me all around and if he tries than I just kick him forward and soften for a minute and then ask again. The timing of all of this is the tricky part and why it was so complicated to teach somebody on him. Sometimes you are soft, then strong, then you move him laterally, then you give and just keep trying to figure out what is required at each moment. I have to anticipate what he is going to do before he does it and that is hard. He has so many different evasions you often don’t know which one is coming so by the time I could tell them to fix one, he was doing another.
I was able to really get him soft in the walk so I could move to trot.
When you start to ask you get this..obviously inverted and you can just tell he is sucking back and not going forward
You have to have forward to have them pushing from behind so you can’t take too much contact that will back him off. I almost think the trot feels a bit like it is running at this point but it honestly takes that MUCH forward to get him to come to the hand so that I can even feel his mouth.
Here I am just going forward asking him to come from behind and just gently feeling his mouth.
Even though he isn’t in the contact he also is soft and not bracing which is sometimes where you have to start.
When I start to ask him to connect to a bit more of a feel I sometimes get this which is where he just pulls out and there is nothing soft about it. I will add leg so I can send them forward and then think about moving the bit to get them to soften the jaw and stop pulling forward
This is a little series all taken in a few strides which shows what this can look like
He pulls down and out and I close up the leg and sponge the hand to ask him to stay soft. This is the next moment after the pull
He has responded to my request by pushing back into the contact.
We just continued to add more and more contact until he was steady, soft and supple into the bridle by the end of the ride. His owner came out tonight to ride him and was amazed. She said she didn’t even know what to do with all the new buttons because it now feels like she has no horse in her hands (he was really stretching down). I will continue to work with him and teach her at the same time. So much fun!!!!!!!!
While we are on the topic of contact and challenges, I have to post some pictures of Letterman. You all remember how he protested about flatwork and I had to very slowly bring him along so he didn’t get super angry. Well he had four months off due to his stupid splint. He is now in his second week of riding work where I am doing about a 15 min ride. OMG, is this my horse???? Wow, just wow. I have always loved him but he is really turning out to be as nice as I always thought he could be. I have worked super duper hard to learn how to ride him and I still have a lot more to learn but I know that I am on the right track.
Ha, okay I will stop with the photos but I really am just excited. I LOVE my horse. He isn’t near the fanciest horse that I have had come through the barn but we just get along. I love the way that he feels and perhaps that he is a challenge. We all know that I don’t like a boring horse 🙂