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Bit ideas for a pony who throws his head?

Before you start answering based on the title alone, please read the following. (I know it’s kinda long)

This August I bought a 7 year old green pony. When I got him he went in a plain D ring snaffle but after running through one too many fences my trainer suggested I switch him to a corkscrew full cheek. At first this worked great and he backed off wonderfully and we even showed successfully in a small 2’ class. Recently though when he gets faced with a jump he throws his head straight in the air bulges to the outside and runs. Coming in overbent and wiggly ruins any spot that might have been there and then we land and practically race through the corner. Now I have since switched him to a plain full cheek as in my experience it is better to go gentle and work on getting him soft and relaxed and go back to the basics of flat work, poles, low grids, poles in front of jumps, etc. Unfortunately, this is worse because he still has problems over fences but now I can’t stop him from charging the fences at 100 mph. Our courses are disasters (and by course I mean four singles with poles in front) It is not a scary uncontrollable fast and I am not worried for myself, but it is certainly not what I want for a nice hunter pony and it makes it very hard to get to the fence.

First, yes I have checked his teeth, back, withers, pretty much everything to determine it’s not pain or unfit tack.

Second, this is not by any means my first greenie and I have soft hands and am not pulling on his mouth. I’m a firm believer in asking nicely and not getting tight and fighting.

Third, he has a standing martingale on and has hacked in a neck stretcher but I refuse to put draw reins on him in a bit I don’t think he likes.

Fourth, IMO he doesn’t like the corkscrew and so I will not put him in anything harsher than that (this includes slow twists).

He’s on his fourth bit in as many months and instead of me working my way through the bit section one at a time I was hoping you guys could help me out. If you have any ideas for something he might accept better or tips on how to stop his jumping behavior I’m all ears.

I would say horse is too green to be successfully jumping. He needs a ton of flatwork and to go back to basics so you have the tools to control bulge and bend.

Yes you can muscle a green horse over fences. But that leads to problems if you can’t control what happens between fences.

Stop jumping and do a year of good groundwork and dressage basics including lateral flexions and lateral work, and getting the canter adjustable.


this issue has nothing to do with the bit in his mouth. I agree with Scribbler, go back to the start and confirm the flat riding basics.

why was this 7YO green??


Your flat work is missing crucial basics. To begin jumping without those basics in place leads to the issues you are now experiencing. Your trainer thinks that these missing steps can be solved by a bit change and a variety of suppression devices. If he is over bent, wiggly, and bolting at jumps, he needs to learn to stretch down softly and relax, have some confidence in his mouth, some education in his mouth, stay straight, move off your leg, carry himself correctly, and carry his pace himself. You need to go back to the basics of training horses, the classical training scale. Step one: Free forward relaxed motion, at all gaits. Relaxation appears to be missing in your description, and bolting is not “forward motion”, it is resistance, avoidance, lack of understanding of the job, and fear. Then adequate progression through at least some of the next steps. The use of the reins is minimal, just basic navigation, cues and release. Use of the leg is paramount, engagement of the hind end is key. As little use of the rein as possible, the bare minimum. Carriage, and UNDERSTANDING of the job you are asking him to do for you. The bit is not how you control the horse, education controls the horse. Education first in the rider, that is transferred to the horse through training and rewards. Corrupt the Classical Training Scale, and disaster is the expected result. Your issues can not be solved on an internet forum. You need some hands on input from an educated coach. Good luck finding one.


I agree with the above. Spend some time doing lots of flat work like mentioned above. Also, do a lot of transitions, walk to trot, trot to walk, walk to halt, trot to halt, trot to canter, canter to trot etc. He needs education. I am assuming since he is still green at 7 that he was started late and maybe pushed too quickly. You have the right idea about not going to a harsher bit. stay in the snaffle and go back to basics. Lots of circles, serpentines, transitions, ground poles.

Spend some quality time on your flat work and the fruits of you labor will be great.

Good luck with your pony :slight_smile:

Under stress, horses have two modes: fight or flight. Flight is the typically the default, fight typically happens when flight isn’t an option. (Exceptions exist)

So, look at your description. You’re describing a horse that is alternately confused and afraid/stressed. I’m not saying you are trying to frighten him, but you’re describing his state. Most horses that get quick to jump are stressed, green or not, despite the fact people like to label them keen/bold/aggressive etc.

So what do you do? Step way way back. Step the bit down, step the work down. Get control of his balance and his feet. Only trot as fast as he can balance, steady and chill. Only canter as fast and/or as many steps as he can balance, back to trot and up again. Repeat, repeat, give breaks repeat.

Stop jumping, start w-umping. Walk over things: low cavaletti, walkable jumps, walkable fillers, ditches. You name it. Keep it just above ankle height. The goal is to walk over stuff without any stress or hesitation, easy-peasy chill. When that happens start slowly trotting the same. If the speed or balance changes, calmly stop and breathe and then walk over calmly. Throw a party for small successes.

As the strength, balance and confidence improves; you’ll feel he’s able to trot a smidge more forward and keep balance, canter farther without falling forward or getting quick, trot over the poles without tightening up. Then introduce cantering the circle, trot the w-umps. As you progress to cantering towards, if he does anything but maintain, calmly stop and breathe and walk or quietly trot.

The goal is that everything is no big deal. If its ‘exciting’, at all, then slow the progress down. Zen-like and serene is the goal.


Love this, slow progress and Zen

I know you said you have had his teeth, etc. checked, but I would also recommend having someone like a chiropractor or massage therapist examine him. He could have poll pain, TMJ issues, etc. I agree with everyone else’s advice about going back to basics, but if the horse is in pain somewhere, even the basics isn’t going to help him feel better.

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Eh. I have a 7 year old green (ish) pony. I don’t know what the size is of the OP’s but ours is a medium. Unfortunately I moved to an area that is NOT H/J abundant nor are there a lot of smaller riders or good kids that can get him lots of miles.

So he has done a lot of low stuff, but certainly isn’t a seasoned pony like some. So yes, in the world of hunters, I do consider him “green”.

Difference is we are focusing on flat work now that he has a rider who is the right size. He has his leads, his changes. He has experience as far as - he’s been everywhere, he hacks out with Pony Club, he shows in crossrail divisions, she jumps him at home. But yes- he’s “green”.

OP- go back to flat work. Get him solid. Use cavalettis or ground poles to keep him from getting bored. He’s not ready to be jumping.

I agree with the other posters. Back to basics with this boy

Back to basics and get him out of the corkscrew into something softer. He’s probably getting defensive over his mouth.

Defensive over his mouth – good thought. When that head goes up, the pressure moves from the bars to the lips.

Maybe have NO bit for awhile. Work him in a hackmore. Bring him along without messing with his face.

I’m not criticizing your hands – but your horse is telling you something.

For the why is he still green question: he was gelded and broke this May and for 6 weeks over the summer was owned by an old lady who couldn’t ride him. I found him in a pasture and thought he had potential. My trainer wants him doing the large pony division by Jan/Feb to qualify him for Pony Finals. He jumps 2’ (ish) in a lesson once a week and the other 6 days does flat/pole work.
I agree that flatwork is essential, which is why I took him back down to flatwork and getting him soft, relaxed, and listening to my aids. However, I can’t NOT jump him in my weekly lesson and although cantering around on the flat he’s relaxed and responsive, we’re still going much faster than desired.
Also, he is not rushing the fences, he is rushing between the fences. Once we turn the corner to the actual jump we go from lots of pace to no pace at all (plus the whole ‘crap we’re running into the standard thing’). Dunno if any of that helps/changes anything.
Thank you all for your responses.

Ok first off you need to find yourself a new trainer! Your trainer wants this pony to go from unbroke to jumping 3’ courses in 8 months?! Huge giant red flag #1!

He literally does not have the strength to do this! It will take a solid year of work before he should even be jumping at all and then a solid year of tiny jumps. Your going to burn this pony mentally and physically if you keep this up.

Can you not jump in your weekly lessons because your trainer is forcing you to jump? Rushing before, between, or after fences is a sign he does not have the strength to jump the height you are asking.

And as far as the bit goes, not all snaffles are considered equal so keep that in mind. I also really like waterfords as they can be very gentle in educated hands but you still have breaks if you suddenly need them.


poles on the grounds, all over the place, randomly stepped over during flat work. I have no way of knowing how advanced he is in flat work but there is something about the jumps that throw him into attack/flight mode. And then he is taking off without correction… for an entire course? Jeepers!


I did what you are doing now with my green horse, at the same age, under the instruction of my coach. To put it bluntly, this ruined his attitude for jumping. It turned him into an unpredictable stopper and I spent THIRTEEN YEARS trying to ‘fix’ him. In the process, it did incredible damage to my jumping confidence.

As an adult, rushing him like this is probably THE single biggest regret of my riding life. I still look back on it with shame and guilt.

There was no reason to push him like that back then, there is no reason to push this pony like that. If this is how he’s going now? He’s not going to be ready for the Lg Pony Division by Jan/Feb. Full stop. Not without pharmaceuticals or longing him into the ground so he CAN’T rush.

Please learn from my past for the pony’s sake and your own.

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I would not push him to getting qualified for PF… That is a terrible idea. PF will be there next year and the year after that…

Don’t ask me, but I’ve always gone less instead of more - like using a Nathe plastic bit. Then I’ve gone to a lozenge bit
if I needed more finesse.

OP these are wise words. Why on earth is your trainer pushing this pony to Pony Finals if he is having these issues? Back to square one with basics (…and maybe a new trainer)


Thank you all for your responses; I really appreciate them.
Its…mildly disappointing to hear, but in all honesty actually makes a whole lot of sense. I think I knew deep down we were pushing him too fast when my trainer convinced me to show him 2’6" last month (mind you this was his second show ever over fences and only one week after his first time 2’ which was also his first time jumping oxers, Gates, boxes, flowers, whole courses…) but I was assured he wouldn’t mind the height as “height doesn’t matter wether its a pole or a 3’ fence” (quote from my trainer). But I probably needed all of you to make it clear.
Ill make sure we go back to the simple stuff (boy, that’ll be a fun conversation to have) and he can join my new medium in excessive pole work. They’re actually quite similar- she jumps with her head straight in the air at 100 mph too. (Hmmmmm)
Once again, thank y’all for your help.