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jillagin

degree of contact on young horse, ottb

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I've only posted a couple of times but wanted some opinions on the degree (or lbs of pressure) of contact you take with a young horse. Here's the story (sorry it's long)...

4 yr old OTTB mare. Very level headed and quick to learn. She's been off the track about 1 1/2 years and in work seriously almost 3 months. She wasn't too cool with sharing the arena with other horses going different directions and (gasp) even going faster then her. Especially when I've got people kissing, clucking, and cracking whips while lungeing their horses. Her brain was short circuiting, she'd spin or just sull up throw her head up and just blank. She's not dangerous,no taking off or bucking just brain freeze.

So, I grounded myself and have been working 4-6 days a week on the lunge line with side reins. The benefit is her balance is improving and her neck is no longer upside down. She's also much better about other horses and I can keep her attention on me for longer periods of time. I've also just started long lining her and working on lateral work that way.

Here's the question - My incliniation when riding her is to have just a bit of slack in the rein at first. I'd alternately ask for a give at the poll to bit pressure and then go slack again, generally increasing the time she can tolerate the contact and carry the frame. She's capable of relaxed walk, trot, and canter though she rushes through transitions. She'll change bend and kinda do leg yields. I can get a decent frame around the short end of the arena (for an estimate of her stamina). Sometimes she feels like she's "walking on egg shells" but if you just talk to her and bend her side to side a bit, change bend and circles in both directions, she'll calm down and put her mind to work.

My dressage instructor gets on her and immediately has solid contact - she freezes or goes "on egg shells". He says, we need to go back to ground work and not ride for a bit. I think his theory here is that she "needs" the communication from her rider. That when you through away the contact you "abandon" her. He won't go beyond a walk and usually only rides less then 10 minutes. The mare is not too worried, but I think she's confused. Her eye is relaxed after he rides her and I don't think he's harming her.

Do any of you think the other option would harm her? Do any of you agree with me that what she really needs is more miles and wet saddle blankets??

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Interesting problem. Young horses, of course, need some freedom of their neck and head to learn balance. Having been on the track she should have some idea of contact, but not necessarily giving to the contact. She's probably been worked "on the muscle" and held herself up with the bit.

I agree with asking for only short periods of contact with a nervous horse. Relaxation is the first thing you need to consentrate on and is one of the first things on the training scale. The thing to remember is don't throw the reins away. Your contact must stay elastic. Yes, allow a little release when she excepts the contact but don't let them go slack. This is inconsistant contact and most horses find it very frustrating. Allow or don't allow.

Let me add that between the work (gait or movement work) is when you let her have her head completely (free walk) to relax and stretch. Very important for ANY horse at any level IMO. she will learn that to try hard when you ask and look forward to that relax reward.

She needs to learn the give and take which leads to the half halt. Sounds like you are on the right tract (so to speak).

[ 09-14-2005, 07:08 AM: Message edited by: lightness ]

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You shouldn't throw away your contact, and if you are having a training disagreement with your trainer, that in general doesn't end up working because somebody general gets tired of taking/give advice and it being ignored, so I think I agree with your trainer in that he is working your horse on steady contact even when the horse "walks on eggshells" which will actually steady the horse.

I think your issue is more of an issue with your trainer and you are either going to 1) take what he has to offer and try it 2) do what you think is in your best interest and go seperate ways 3) find a new trainer with a different insight 4) continue to work with current trainer and do your own thing which will probably frustrate you both.

The thing he seems to have some pretty good insights on your horse, so if you give it X amount of time, what would it hurt because she is young and still pretty fresh off the track. What you are doing right now is going to have an effect on her dressage career for the rest of her life. Sometimes with a hot horse, stepping back and giving them time to take a deep breath can make a big difference, and she is young.

On the other hand, you seem to be pretty determined, and strong minded--in a good way--, very self-confident, so I don't know if your mind is made up that your way is better.

For me, I would tend to agree with instructor and due to her age, her being hot, and from her reactions, I would just go back to basics as he suggested--but then again, I've spent the better part of a year getting a better, slower canter on a very hot horse before we went back out to show--it just may be that there is too much information coming at her right now. We don't think of bending, leg yeilding, change of direction, contact, w-t-c, on contact as much, but in coming from a totally different field, like racing she is having to reconform her body, her social skills, rider weight, balance, and maybe breaking things down more slowly will help her to relax and not react and be so tense.

Good luck with your decision.

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more miles, wet saddle blankets

light, but steady contact (I agree with the elastic concept), let her drop her head down and follow her as she looks at her way forward (setting the scene for her following your hand down somewhere in the future). Don't 'abandon' her.

get out of the arena, out of 'serious work' - and put a good foundation of trust on this horse (see - you can go down a steep rocky bank with me on your back! See - I told you the log wouldn't eat you!)

Trust and relaxation are the prerequisites of working - you can't have rhythm without relaxation - you know, step one of the training scale

[smiley Wavey]

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I can give you a little insight into the reasons for your horse's responses to all these things. As far as pounds of pressure etc. it varys so much from horse to horse it's hard to say.

She wasn't too cool with sharing the arena with other horses going different directions and (gasp) even going faster then her. Especially when I've got people kissing, clucking, and cracking whips while lungeing their horses. Her brain was short circuiting, she'd spin or just sull up throw her head up and just blank

She probably isnt used to working in such close quarters with other horses. The only time we usually let them be this close to others is working in company(They usually maintain the same pace as their partner), or in the race.(Kissing , clucking and cracking whips)AM workouts at the track there are occasional close contact situations but not like this. So, be patient.Count your lucky stars! I've had them just leap straight up and hit the ground running in this type of situation.

When we ride a racehorse contact dictates degrees of speed. Not so much at the walk, more at the trot, mostly at the canter (Tons of pressure there) then we release at the run.)Watch a race on ESPN and keep an eye on those reins if I am not clear on this.To her a relese of pressure means more speed. It takes a while to unlearn this.(Email me if you want to hear how we do it It takes too much time to explain here)

The way your horses young training probably went:

Pulled from pasture just before turning two.

Saddled in the stall, rider on 1st time(IN stall)and spun in circles until calm etc.

Ridden in company at the walk and trot on the track. (Most trainers do very little round pen or longe work if any)All that horse has to know is left,right, stop , GO-GO-GO ,and back(Just a Little)

She was taught that as soon as a rider applies pressure, GO, rush into it you don't have time to do a slow transition this is a race!

Your trainer is right about back to basics and short riding times. I really do not agree with a lot of pressure or contact though. Believe me your horse has had plenty of miles and wet saddle blankets already.

She just has to unlearn the track stuff and at the same time learn what the average horse her age has known for years! Ground work, lots of bending and when you start really riding her alot of SLOW long distance. Hope this helps some. sorry so long.

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OOOPS!

She was taught that as soon as a rider applies pressure, GO, rush into it you don't have time to do a slow transition this is a race!

I mean RELEASES pressure not applies sorry. [Crazy]

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Thanks all for your input, it definitely helped. I wasn't unsure of my coach's techniques until I saw this other trainer ride her. Then it caused those questions to rattle around in my head. I'm going to discuss it with my coach and see if there's something in his bag of tricks that will conform more to my preference of a light, following contact instead of the heavier contact I see him use. It may be that his contact is lighter then I'm seeing - and his short ride times are more of a planned thing then a "she's not ready for this" kind of thing.

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