is Behind the Bit
© 2006 Cherry Hill
My horse and
I have been in show barns with stalls and covered arenas our entire life. This
past fall, I moved to the coast and decided to board C at a place where he would
have a nice, big paddock w/ a sufficient shelter (12x12, 2 sided). Anyway, he
really seems to love rolling in the mud, chewing on his neighbors, etc. The only
drawback is that the facilities do not have a covered arena, thus virtually eliminating
my riding schedule for the past 3 or 4 months - it's only been in the last couple
weeks that I've been able to start really working him again. He's always had a
nice, soft mouth and been very responsive to leg/seat aids. However, I've found
that he's now become TOO soft and, no matter how much I try and move him up, just
hangs behind the bit. I've never been in the habit of yanking or hanging on his
mouth and he seems perfectly sound. I've run into this before with C, but have
always been able to alleviate the problem by driving him forward into the bit
with my legs and seat. But now we seem to be stuck. Any advice would be sincerely
happy to offer my advice.
you probably know, when a horse is too soft to contact, it doesn't mean he is
being ultra responsive, it means he is ultra-avoiding taking a solid contact with
the bit. This is a very common result of being out of work for a while like
you have described.
I have ridden
horses just like you describe - one gelding in particular. When I started him
back to work, I used the same bit and rode as usual but found he was sucking back
- he had a great response to bending and collection but not to taking the solid,
confident contact with the bit that I like when going forward. I like to
feel the horse (whether I am riding dressage or Western) through the appropriate
rein contact for the type of riding I am doing. I was feeling intermittent
contact and some backing away from the contact. What I did, and what I have
always done when I feel this (and you are brilliant for "catching it early")
is the following:
change to a thick but comfortable snaffle (even a contoured rubber bit) or even
a bosal or halter or ???. I am trying to say to the horse, first lets work
on moving forward - forget about your mouth!
2. work the horse on the
longe with slack side reins - I do want the side reins there, kind of swinging
just a little, but no contact - and use the thicker snaffle or you can even attaching
the side reins to a halter or caveson - work in large circles (65 feet in diameter)
at long trot and free canter
3. when I ride, drive actively forward
from the lower leg (not the seat, the seat is more for collection) doing a lot
of posting trot work (posting is better than sitting as it encourages horse to
reach, sitting encourages collection) in long, gymnastic style figures, encouraging
the horse to reach forward and somewhat down but don't let the horse get too "deep"
(low in front) or he will get heavy on his forehand.
horses that do not respond to the lower leg by reaching father forward with their
hind legs, they can often benefit from a reminder: you use the leg, no response?,
then immediately tap with the whip (dressage whip) on the hindquarters.
Be sure the whip taps the hindquarters which causes the horse to reach farther
forward. If you tap the rib cage, it tends to have the opposite effect -
to collect the horse (he curls up).
back must be reconditioned as well as his mouth, as he gets back into work, so
the more posting you can do in the beginning weeks, the better for his back muscle
Hope this helps.