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El Dia Octavo

Training A Horse To Soften, Keep Head Down

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To CheriWolfe and Historyrider:

I just read a response you wrote back in 2008 to Farmall 706 about how to re-train her 16 year old gelding to stop throwing his head, etc.

My wife has the same problem with an eight year old gelding. He is a wonderful horse in many ways - kindly, peaceful, sociable, no bad habits, no biting, kicking, etc. He's just a good horse. BUT, he is headstrong and will not give to the bit, tosses his head, pushes through when he wants to, and similar behaviors. We, being unskilled, attributed this to the wrong bit or simple bad behavior.

Last night we had a trainer stop by to discuss 4H with our daughter. The subject of this horse came up because we've been thinking about just selling him and buying a finished mount. However, the trainer suggested we give this boy over to a trainer for a while and see if he can be rehabilitated.

She mentioned a trainer would "tie his head down and leave him like that"...maybe all day...to teach him to relieve pressure by giving to the bit. Then she said the trainer would probably tie his head to each side for a "few hours" at a time for the same reason.

At first I felt like this might be pretty severe but then I read your posts. No sensible person, including us, would willingly cause a horse distress with nothing to be gained. But I am starting to think that this lady made sense.

Can you give me some input to help me make a decision on how to proceed - including how to determine which trainer to use?

I don't want to give up on this horse. He's a pleasure to be around, by and large, but if he is unrideable, he loses his charm pretty quickly. Moreover, my wife has lost her trust in the boy - trust that he will do as he is asked reliably and not get her hurt. We need to fix him or move on. Any help you could offer would be gratefully appreciated. You both sound like you have sound thinking on this subject.

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I know you aren't talking to me but I have to say there's a difference between training and torture.

I use "soaking" when I need to. I will tie a horses head around for NO MORE than 10 minutes at a time each way (usually more like 5 or 6 minutes). I will gently encourage the horse (from the ground) to move and feel the bit and learn to give to pressure.

I have also tied a horse's head back both ways but ONLY with light pressure and only when asking the horse to move forward and into the bit in a round pen or an arena. IMO, just tying a horses head back and leaving them there is torture and cruel AND pointless.

Tieing a horse back is a controversial training technique as it is and your description of what the trainer said only proves people right.

NEVER tie a horse back all day. NEVER leave a horse alone while tied to the side or back. I'm horrified that an experienced "trainer" came out to tell a 4H kid this info.

If your horse is as good as you say in all other aspects it probably wouldn't take much to get him softer in the bit by a REAL trainer. I would suggest sending him to one if that's an option for you... but not that one. Get his teeth checked out before you do anything. He could have wolf teeth or a bad tooth that's making him fling. Then move him down to a snaffle bit and work on getting j(edit) lateral flexation. Get in an arena or lot or whatever you have and warm him up. Then start picking up just one rein and asking him to give that direction. If he flings and fights and throws a fit just "go with his head" not putting any MORE pressure on him but try not to relieve the pressure. Don't give up until he offers (even slightly) to turn his face in the correct direction.

When he gives, release the pressure and let him walk off naturally for a minute or so and do it again. Work him like this on both directions until he'll bring his face around for you. Once he's soft on both sides you can move up to asking him to give you (edit) vertical flexation (dropping his nose). You can start doing this by gently asking him to give one side and then asking him to give to the other side immediately. If he's soft vertically he's probably going to give you a confused drop of the nose. RELEASE and relax.

The key (for me) is not to pull both reins back at the same time. This often encourages the youngest colt to brace his jaw and resist. Gentle side to side touches will help him from bracing yet encourage him to give.

Edited by mrs

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I probably was not clear - the lady that came out to help our daughter mentioned the tie-down method in passing and indicated that different trainers use different lengths of time - including just a few minutes to all day or several hours. She was NOT endorsing anything and she was not holding herself out as a trainer. She was just giving me some background information. I am sorry I was not more complete in my notes the first time.

BTW, I posted on this forum for more guideance because I do not know what we should do. I am grateful for your advise and appreciate that you took time to help. I am listening very closely, believe me.

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I am uncertain what you mean by vertical flexation - could you explain? I'm not clear on what you mean by picking up one rein. We started on a similar exercise we studied out of a John Lyons article and he did quite well the first two sessions (last week).

Also, we have all of our horses checked each spring when they get their shots. We had two horses floated this spring - this gelding's teeth were excellent.

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I understand. I'm glad she wasn't endorsing the idea of doing it all day.

Tying back should be used only by an experienced trainer and ONLY for a few minutes at a time. It's kind of an extreme measure though. The better I've become as a trainer the less I've used it.

Lots of people in the english world will lunge a horse with side reins and this is a similar technique to the western "tying back".

sidereins.jpg

Notice in the picture that if the horse is carrying his head correctly there's no pressure on his mouth. This could be helpful for your horse (if his teeth are ok).

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I am uncertain what you mean by vertical flexation - could you explain? I'm not clear on what you mean by picking up one rein. We started on a similar exercise we studied out of a John Lyons article and he did quite well the first two sessions (last week).

Also, we have all of our horses checked each spring when they get their shots. We had two horses floated this spring - this gelding's teeth were excellent.

OK. Good on you with the teeth then. It's just hard to train something when the cause is pain. ;)

Here's a picture of a woman working her young horse on flexing to the left.

Leslie%20Nichols%20Bitless.jpg

shoot... I'm sorry. I meant lateral flexation. Vertical is dropping the nose and softening at the poll. Lateral is side to side. My bad.

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Ahh, now I'm starting to get it. And I thought that lateral was what you meant but I know so little I wasn't sure.

What is the best way to do this on the ground? Say I want to move his head left (I'm standing or walking with him on his left), do I pull the rein back toward his withers or toward me? I'm having trouble figuring out how to lead him forward, keeping his feet moving, and apply lateral pressure to get him to give his head over.

I can see the collection and the give in the photos - just can't see how to do it from the ground, to keep pressure off and then apply it gently to send the message to give or keep his chin tucked.

Also, one cowboy trainer who road this boy a month ago said "he's got no mouth". He had mentioned the "all day" tie down method to me and, when I asked this gal last night, I think she just didn't want to offend me by saying the other guy was nuts or cruel. But both conversations have left me believing something like this might be necessary but uncertain what to do next. Or who to have do it.

BTW, thanks for taking the time to post answers - with pictures, no less. That is a big help.

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I just re-read that bit about English style - do you mean there are reins on the bit and tied off to that strap around his barrel? Is that what is causing him to tuck his chin that way?

Is this what they mean by "collected"?

Edited by El Dia Octavo

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Lots of people in the english world will lunge a horse with side reins and this is a similar technique to the western "tying back".

sidereins.jpg

Notice in the picture that if the horse is carrying his head correctly there's no pressure on his mouth. This could be helpful for your horse (if his teeth are ok).

I don't agree with this, sorry.

You DO want the horse to take up contact when using side reins (they are not the same as "tying back"). Loopy side reins in this picture mean the horse is not connected from back to front. Although the picture you posted shows a horse with a nice 'looking' headset, it is not collected. It's actually breaking a bit at the third vertebrae (poll is lower than the highest part of the neck) and this is not desirable. This horse is avoiding the contact by tucking his chin in.

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First of all, I am a firm believer in NOT tying a horse's head in any manner, for any reason whatsoever. To me, that is a quick fix. And, I think of it as inhumane. I follow Clinton Anderson's schooling/training methods. He teaches western, I ride english....but it is for everyone. Correct training takes time. If all issues of pain have been addressed, and the horse is good to go, I'd begin from the ground with a long lead and halter. Standing on the horses side just behind the shoulder, (as if you were riding) and leaving about 3 feet of lead from the halter to where you should be holding the lead, ask the horse to give to pressure by gently pulling on the lead with your hand closest to his head , bringing your hand back to where the stirrup would be while resting the other hand on top of his hip. At first, he may resist the pressure, so wait til he gives and puts slack in the lead. The second you feel him soften and give slack, release the pressure immediately (as horses learn from release of pressure). Your goal is to get the horse to touch the spot where the tip of your boot would be if you were in the saddle. If the horse doesn't touch that spot at first, but gives to pressure along the way, reward by release of pressure. Repetition will get the horse to relax and finally touch that "boot tip". This should be done on both sides of the horse. When you have mastered it from the ground, it can be done in the saddle - exactly the same way - except that you will be using one rein at a time - pulling the rein to your hip. Again, as soon as the horse softens and gives, give back immediately by releasing that rein ( or as Clinton says, throw it away).

This exercise is the first for lateral flexion, and there are many others that will help this horse soften and begin to give to the bit. This should be done as often as possible and before and during every ride. Lateral flexing leads to verticle flexing at a later date.

If you go to Downunderhorsemanship.com, Clinton has many exercises that will help your horse. I have his book and have seen him working with many horses on RFDtv channel . My horse has come a long way using his methods. Hope this helps you and good luck [Yay]

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Sorry. I had to work. Darn job. LOL

Does he throw his head on the ground?

You can do a lot with lateral flexation from the ground at a stand still. After getting him soft side to side you could learn to ground drive him and get him moving and soft but in the end someone is going to have to get on this horse and fix it there. You aren't going to fix a riding problem completely from the ground.

I would recommend you use a ring snaffle with nice long reins (I prefer no shorter than 7 foot harness leather reins) and stand near the saddle horn and see how soft you can get him from the ground. Don't forget to release. That's his reward for doing good. Don't do treats or anything... just a quiet release of the pressure. Doing this won't hurt anything and will only help if you have him soft. You can even teach him to drop his nose a little for you from the ground if you want.

I feel that if you are uncomfortable and maybe even afraid of riding this horse that you need to get him to a trainer. Just listen to your inner voice and if you think something is cruel or way "out there" don't be afraid to believe in yourself. Don't go with a trainer you feel uncomfortable with in any way. Look at the facilites... wire and junk all over? red flag Are the horses content, healthy, happy and mostly friendly? green flag Keep going from there.

You could go in with a few training questions planned and see what kind of responses you get. Start with what kind of bit they plan to start working with him in. Frankly, if you hear anything other than the word snaffle or maybe a rope halter you should walk away. I know some people start a horse in a soft bosal and that's ok too. Just nothing like "curb bit" or "shanked snaffle" or "twisted wire" anything.

Also try to see them work a horse if you can. Any trainer worth their salt will ride your horse in front of you if you have a horse in training and should have no problems with you sitting in and watching another horse. Most people don't do this but it's something to consider. A good trainer will impress you with their confidenc around a horse and then they will bore you. Training can be a lot like watching grass grow. If it's all yahoo and dust clouds and fighting you could have the wrong trainer. Don't get me wrong, all trainers have a little fuss with a horse now and then but it's not a "way of living" for the good ones.

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I don't agree with this, sorry.

You DO want the horse to take up contact when using side reins (they are not the same as "tying back"). Loopy side reins in this picture mean the horse is not connected from back to front. Although the picture you posted shows a horse with a nice 'looking' headset, it is not collected. It's actually breaking a bit at the third vertebrae (poll is lower than the highest part of the neck) and this is not desirable. This horse is avoiding the contact by tucking his chin in.

oo.. sorry. You're right. I'm not an English person and I totally misrepresented what you are trying to achieve.

I would use a lunging technique that to me looked a little like this. Only I'd have long heavy reins that would go through the stirrups and just tossed over the saddle. The weight of my reins at a jog teaches a horse to get off the bit but they aren't tied hard and fast. Isn't that funny how we train for different things? I do also use this for a "frame" tool. To try to encourage a horse to move more level but not necessarily as real collection.

This horse was probably a horrible example too. What I seen in this horse that I think will help with a head tosser is the "softness" of the jaw. Not collection. In western I would encourage this to help with head tossing and then move on to collection and frame.

Edited by mrs

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I just re-read that bit about English style - do you mean there are reins on the bit and tied off to that strap around his barrel? Is that what is causing him to tuck his chin that way?

Is this what they mean by "collected"?

missed this one. Read what m robinson said. The horse I showed you is doing it wrong for what they are doing with him. He isn't collected but only giving at the face which is what I was trying to show you... but a bad example of what they should be doing with that training method.

That horse isn't truly collected.

Yes, though, the rins are tied to the surcingle which is the name for the strap around his barrel. I wouldn't recommend you do this with out someone experienced to show you how. It's too easy to shorten them up too tight and end up with a wreck or a horse that's behind the vertical. (head tucked too tightly toward the chest) These kinds of things need to be done by someone who knows the proper response and can apply them in the correct way. At least get someone (you, your daughter) and under the guidance of a trainer before you try something like this.

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Truly outstanding input. I understood it all quite clearly and thank you.

No, he doesn't throw his head while on the ground - at least not that I remember. He's a pretty nice boy but "no mouth". When there is a difference of opinion between my wife and him about what to do next, he does what HE wants...too often. He is not controlled and commanded and this is not acceptable.

We are not afraid of this boy - we ride him regularly (at least my wife does...I've got an old retired roper that is so broke he makes me look like I know how to ride). We're not concerned about hopping up on him and doing the exercises you explained. What I was thinking is that we were advised to kind of go back to square one and start over - teaching him properly as if he were a two or three year old. Of course, we'd like to move forward more rapidly than that but neither will we risk doing something wrong with him.

M Robinson and MRS - thank you both. Big help. If you don't mind, I'll be back for some more advise once we worked him with the things you've explained.

I am, literally, building a round pen this weekend. Sand, cedar posts, and rope strung from post to post for the time being. But at least we'll get him out of the pasture and away from his mates for training.

Thanks again...but I still don't understand "collection". LOL

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Well hello there,

To give you a simple understanding of collection just think about it this way. When you "collect" a horse you drive his hind end forward into his front end and shorten his stride. This is not the same as a "headset" but you do need an effective bit barrier that your horse understands to have something to drive up into. This gathers a horse up and rounds his back. The opposite of collection is easy to spot because a horse generally has their head up, their back is hollow like a U and their front legs are about as far from their hind legs as possible. This is lousy posture and if you consider your horse like an athlete than it's no way for them to perform or work correctly. Being collected is a bit like a human when we put a little bend in our knees and spread our legs apart to be ready to move in any direction. It is in fact a "ready" position and is most helpful if not required before you ask an advanced horse to perform the more complex maneuvers you may have seen in Reining or other high end equestrian events.

What I think you are dealing with here is very simply an uneducated mouth. Your horse does not understand rein pressure and what he should do when he feels it. You are not alone but I'm glad it's something you would like to correct. If you are willing to do the work then I will tell you that this is something I feel you can correct yourself but first you are going to have to learn how. You and your wife need some knowledge and some effective exercises that you can use when you ride to change this misunderstanding your horse has. He's not stupid, or hard mouthed, or has anything wrong with him other than he was never taught to yield correctly to rein pressure. Now since Willy has already brought him up I would really suggest that you look into Clinton Anderson's training methods. This forum is not intended to endorse any particular trainer and this person's methods are not singular or completely unique. They are just really easy to understand. You won't have any trouble finding his study at home training material and I have heard that even some libraries and the internet DVD rental companies stock much of his offerings. Since there are two of you it would be very easy to pop some corn and sit down at night to get a taste of what you need to do. Now watching TV alone is not going to make you a better horseman. I don't mean that at all. What is does is show you some excellent exercises that you can do to work with your horse. With practice comes proficiency along with feel and timing for when to pressure and when to release. These things all come with experience but first, you need to know what to do.

The clear change that needs to be made for your horse is that when he feels rein (or lead rope) pressure he should come off of it instantly or yield. He should not root, stick his head in the air, shake his head or set back. All those things show a total lack of understanding and resistance. The way you fix it is to only release pressure when he responds correctly. In other words, like Willy described in her post, work on lateral flexing first. Tip his nose with just a thin rope halter and long lead rope while standing next to your horse (back at the flank might be a bit better). Keep your off side arm over his butt and put the hand holding the lead rope resting on his withers. Now wait. Moving, pulling, shaking or whatever are wrong answers but if he creates slack in the lead line and gives without moving his feet, you GIVE back dramatically. By doing this over and over you create a conditioned response and a new behavior. Where you release is WHAT YOU TEACH. So you might now be able to see how your horse got this way. When he pulls the reins through your hands or roots low or sky high and you let him go, you have accidentally rewarded and thus taught him to take the reins away from you any time he wants.

It really is that simple but if you don't "know" what to do it might as well be calculus. You don't need anything more than a good understanding of what to do and a smooth snaffle bit to retrain your horse understand this better. Hardware, in the right hands, might do it a little faster but if you are going to do it yourself, just take your time and do it right. Once you know what to do, than just being consistent about it is all you need to make a change.

You really can do this.

William (historyrider)

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Historyrider:

Thank you for the well-written response. It was very clear and undertandable, even for a amatuer. For the first time in many months, I have some confidence that this boy is salvageable and I'm looking forward to working with him.

I want to thank you all for the time and effort put into responding. It is more help than you know. My wife woke me up at 5 AM this morning to talk about this horse, worried about what we can do to "fix" him. I told her about what I'd learned on this forum and we're both looking forward to working with him.

If you don't mind, I'll be back for more advise...!

And I think I know what "collection" should look like. I don't know as though I've ever seen it in our horses but I'll sure be looking now. I don't know how to tell when they are wearing saddles but I'm starting to get the idea what to look for.

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I can't see the pictures either.

In all honesty - some horses are just hard-mouthed and born that way and it is an issue you will always deal with. You can make things better, but it is a constant daily process. I am going on the other side of the fence in saying that since you did consider selling him and buying a finished horse for your 4H child, that might be a good idea. Unless you are working with a trainer daily, you can do much more harm than good attempting to train via tying around all by yourself without professional help. Tying around incorrectly can cause major damage to the horse. I don't think this is a training technique that should be used by novices. I worry that you might end up getting in over your head and result in far worse problems than you started.

I recommend you find a professional trainer - one that you respect and trust - to take your horse in for 30 days and evaluate his potential for retraining. A good professional can help you decide whether this horse is a good candidate for training and making into a solid 4H mount.

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I'm sorry, but I don't agree with tying a horse's head around. "softness" and responsiveness comes from the reward of release.

It's most likely that the issue with this horse bracing against the bit, head tossing and being unresponsive is more a function of the rider's timing and ability.

If you were my next door neighbor asking for help, I'd have a few questions for you...

1) How often can you realistically work with this horse? Some people are weekend warriors...some want to pull a horse out once a month for a trail ride, others plan to ride several times per week. There are horses who can accommodate each one of those...but some horses really aren't the type to stay "sharp" when they're not getting consistent work.

2) What are your goals? Are you looking for a "kick pull pony" who is safe to trail ride with? Or are you looking for a more finished horse that you can show?

3) Are you willing to take lessons? Do you have access to a trainer who can work with you AND the horse? Even a well trained horse (IMHO) can get spoiled, sour, and hard mouthed when a novice is the only one handling them. My been there done that kid broke mare is great for novices...very safe. But she can pick up bad habits if I'm not keeping her tuned up.

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