Horse Too Soft and Behind the Bit

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Horse is Behind the Bit

    2006 Cherry Hill

Dear Cherry,

     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 appreciated.   

  Thanks, D

Hi D:

     I'm happy to offer my advice.

     As 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:


1.  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.

      For 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).

     His 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 development.
Hope this helps.

Cherry Hill



  2006 Cherry Hill 

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