Teaching horse to accept the bit and use his body??

After some soundness issues caused my previous lease arrangement to fall apart, I’ve found a new lease horse to take me through the show season (at training and hopefully first level)!
He’s a QH/ Draft cross. Level-headed and responsive, and the new barn is right next door so i can afford to log WAY more hours in the saddle… YAY!:slight_smile:

Just one problem - he came to the barn just a few weeks ago and has essentially no understanding of contact. :no: He’s a big fan of just throwing his head up in the air and tossing it all over when you try to get a feel on his mouth. From what I understand, it’s a training issue and definitely not a pain thing (the owner has another horse who came from the same place and he apparently had the exact same issue), and the owner/ trainer feels confident he’ll learn quickly.

The trainer sent me out on him today (my first ride on him) and said i could try draw reins if I wanted to… having never used them and not wanting to ruin him, I decided against it,

But as I was riding him, I could feel that there was no sort of connection between his back and front ends. Like every cue I gave him actually had to take an awkward, lurchy second to reach the hind legs. I decided to focus mostly on circles (his shoulders wiggle all over the place), SF, and tooonnnns of transitions, and just kind of let his head be, asking him to stretch down when i could (since I didn’t want to agitate him and encourage resistance, and I know throughness is really a prerequitise to lowering the neck anyway and getting on the bit).

That was just my intuitive sense of what might help him but frankly, I have minimal experience with this sort of problem. What exercises should I do to help him use himself better? If I do use the draw reins (which would be for very brief periods and with extreme discretion) what do i need to know to make sure I’m not doing any damage?

Many thanks!:smiley:

My horse was a racehorse and not used to being ridden in contact. He still gets a little fussy, is much happier on a loose rein. My trainer recommended i lunge him in side reins before I ride, gradually shortening them, to get him more used to working with that feel. But for me part of the problem is me because I tend to give in to him!

In situations like this, unless the rider has very educated hands and even then, I find it best to ride the body. The contact will be better accepted when the body is strong enough to do the required work.

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First - I would suggest NOT using draw reins (at this time). Horse will only learn to come behind the vertical. (I rode in a double bridle when a teenager and was still hesitant to go to draw reins for years until me trainer said she knew I could ride correctly in them and not use them as a crutch).

Instead focus on your elbows. As you ride open them, as you site close them - goal is to keep hands as light as possible while still retaining contact. I had light hands but until I learned to do this effectively the contact was not consistent with the horses mouth.

Horse doesn’t understand so first use leg to push him into bit and “soften” (with elbows not by opening fingers) when he meets contact and doesn’t toss head around. When he’s head tossing try to maintain a light contact and always be consistent. He’s like riding a baby - needs to learn a new “language” with the reins.

He sounds like he is very green. Start from the beginning.

BTW I don’t think draw reins are dreadful…I think they have a use to ‘show the horse the way’ when he is ready to start taking contact, but they must never be the main contact, always a couple of inches looser, so when he is out of position, they come into contact.

One assumes he has had teeth etc. done? Sharp edges can cause head tossing.

He sounds like he is very green. Start from the beginning.

BTW I don’t think draw reins are dreadful…I think they have a use to ‘show the horse the way’ when he is ready to start taking contact, but they must never be the main contact, always a couple of inches looser, so when he is out of position, they come into contact.

One assumes he has had teeth etc. done? Sharp edges can cause head tossing.[/QUOTE]

Yes, his teeth are fine. he just doesn’t understand what to do with the pressure in his mouth. My trainer said something very similar about the draw reins and I do think I might use them once or twice under her direction. I know it can cause them to overflex but I really don’t think that’s likely with this horse. He just needs to get the idea that he can actually stretch down and move at the same time.

There are a lot more qualified people to give advice on this board, but I’m in the process of re-schooling a western pleasure broke show horse (QH breeding, registered paint). He does not understand contact (has been trained to stay backed off a curb bit rather than staying on a snaffle) and his forward has also been disabled. So, not the same thing you’re dealing with, but in a similar vein.

I longe my horse in Vienna reins. I tried side reins, but because he does not understand the contact, he just kept backing up even when they were adjusted loosely. Side reins can be too confining for some horses. He was accepting of the Vienna reins, which are sort of like a draw-rein setup for longe work. I change the angle of them by using different rings on the surcingle, which has allowed him to figure out that he can carry his head above his withers. Unmounted work is good for his fitness and conditioning, but it is also good for me because I can be quicker with my timing in sending him forward as I see it happening when slacks off.

Second, I do a lot of spiraling work. My horse is very stiff and accustomed to being counterbent so it helps with that, but it also allows me to “sneak” him into the contact as I’m using the outer rein to guide him in and out on the circle, pushing him into it with my leg. Now, I should point out that my horse was very accustomed to neck reining, but not to contact, so this was a way for me to bridge the gap using something he already knew. Your mileage may vary, but spiraling is a good exercise for any green horse because it gets them to yield to leg pressure, and introduces the reins to guide the shoulders and neck, which should result in steadier head carriage and acceptance of the contact.

Horses who are unsteady in the bridle are tough because they require the steadiest of hands to keep the contact inviting. There are 2 helpful images from instructors that I try to keep in mind while I’m riding. One is that I picture myself as a “human surcingle” and imagine keeping my hands close together and steady, just like the ends of the Vienna reins, regardless of what my horse’s head is doing. I also like the image of “suspender reins” where I imagine the reins go from the bit, through my hands, over my shoulders and snap onto the back of my belt, and I use my hands, shoulders, torso and hips as one unit to steer him.

And finally, you mentioned that he is responsive, which is great. If you can incorporate a lot of transitions, he can focus more on using himself and less on evading the bit.

This sounds like a fun project horse. Give it time and you will be greatly rewarded. By time, I’m not saying a few weeks or a few months, I’m talking several months or longer,…
Take the time to work on trust, communication, fitting him up, the head will fall into place when it’s ready. Just work on the horse and yourself and you will see the reward. :slight_smile: Best of luck!

If you are asking how to get your horse to begin using his haunches and lift his back, you will begin with the bend. “Bend is your friend”. Teaching the horse to rely on the outside rein bending in a circle, 20 meter circle, plus holding his inside shoulder from falling in (straightness) is more than enough work for several months. It will get him off his forehand, using his hind end, and strengthening his back. You can begin to add loops and serpentines (large ones) when he starts getting the idea of bend on a circle. But he has to understand outside rein, and use that and your outside leg as a “wall” to hold him up, while you hold his inside shoulder up with your inside leg.

You can’t do this without a trainer. Don’t try to put him in a “frame”. He has to get strong enough to begin to use his back and hold himself upright, which takes these kind of exercises, like Yoga.

Good luck.

I also think it is easy to forget how these big animals need to get strong enough for the work…it takes a surprisingly long time.

Lunging in side reins is the best way to teach confidence in the contact. They should not be tight but a length that will initially allow him to do whatever he likes with his head.

Work needs to be done in trot, working on transitions between walk and trot and within the trot. This encourages engagement.

You will be aiming to encourage the horse to lower his head and neck into the contact. Ideally the lunge line needs to come from the centre of the nose from a proper cavesson. When you squeeze the lunge line it effectively works on the outer side rein giving the horse a half halt.

It takes time for all this to work and like others I don’t advise the use of draw reins. I do in some cases use a Market Harborough as it only comes into use if the head goes above the desired height and then releases its action when the head is back at the right level.

Generally I check teeth, poll (chiro), bit type, I tend to use a Fulmer and drop noseband, and saddle fit. If all these are OK then time and consistency will eventually work.

The only time the lunging in side reins didn’t work was because the horse had a bone spur on one of the bars of its mouth found with an Xray, she became a broodmare.

First, do you know what it feels like to ride with contact? True contact, not a horse leaning on your hands or floating behind the bit? It’s very difficult to teach a green horse how to accept the contact if you don’t already know what you are aiming for.

I don’t think draw reins are inherently evil but most of the time you can fix the sort of problem you’ve described without them.

You need to create a space where the horse feels safe and comfortable coming into contact and you need to slowly build up the horse’s strength so it is able to carry itself in contact. That will take time and patience. I’m not sure that a horse that is completely green today will be showing first level this summer.

When I start with a green horse I focus on 1) straight, 2) forward and 3) driving the horse into my hands from behind and accepting the contact when it arrives. You need to be very quick to praise success, even when it lasts only for a few seconds! Think about keeping your elbows soft, your fingers closed and ride the back of the horse.

A few exercises to start with? Large circles, changes of direction, transitions (to keep your hands really, really still maybe ride with a neckstrap so that if the horse fusses he doesn’t pull you out of position), teach him how to turn on the forehand so he starts to move away from your leg, then do some simple leg yields on the circle or along the long side of the ring. Remember to release (a bit) when he starts to soften. That’s his reward. And lots of breaks. He doesn’t have the muscles to carry himself yet.

Good luck!

Oh - and you need to get strong too - abs! Then you can do most of the riding with your weight, seat, eyes, breath and keep off your hands…when that time comes, riding is wonderful. Glad you have an instructor; it sounds as if you have a nice project ahead of you.

Some great advice here. If your plan was to show this season I think I would give up on that especially since he can’t even accept basic contact. Remember good dressage takes time.

Usually when you lease a horse you would expect it to have at least some basic training. Sounds like your paying to train the owner’s horse. If your happy with the project be prepared for repetitive, patient work on developing his fitness and learning how to carry himself. Bend and flexion is your friend to encourage him to take up the contact.

What bit is he being ridden in? Often if they have a low pallet a single jointed bit can cause them pain and to go above the bit. I prefer a french link for this very reason.
My very first horse travelled inverted like this. It was a very long journey to correct previous owners mistakes. Good dressage takes time.