Getting my young horse to flex/work over the back/use hind leg

Right. I know this is a long topic, merely because I do not know what come first and I cannot get it all together. When I backed my WB a very slow walk was his idea of working. Initially I only concentrated on him getting the idea of moving forward at a decent pace. (actually I’m still working on it continuously but he is much better). Besides that he was perfect, but curly in front refusing to take any contact.
Fast FW (because I don’t know when or how it happened). He is still curly in the walk, in the trot he takes a mean (and I mean ripping arms out of socket) contact and doesn’t want to flex or soften. Canter - takes a contact, lifts his head somewhat but I can get him to flex and soften and I’m happy with his way of going in this gait at his level.

Getting advice from various trainers, and I’m (of course) Puzzled!
One wants me to just keep getting him to use the hind leg with “forward, bring back and balance – exercises”. Which is great. Except I know he is not working over his back at the same time and he is locked in front at the same time. Going on a 20m circle takes pulling and pushing and manipulating, to keep him on the track, which I DO NOT agree with. But trainer says ignore it for now???
Next trainers say – Get the back, get the back, get the back, then you can ask for more impulsion. So how do I get the back – get him to soften in the neck and jaw. How? Open inside hand on circle and slide the bit until he gives. He does not give. He sets his neck to the extent that when I let go of the inside rein he turns his neck and head to the outside. Trainer says to just keep doing it until he gives in.

I’m in the middle of the 2 trainers and I love this horse. He has a SUPER nature and I do not want to make his riding life hell. He is sweet and honest and I HATE the pulling – because this is what it turns into to steer him as he is so blocked in front. I know steering come with the legs and hips and he is very good with that – until he sets himself in front and then he kinds of not react to the body aids (which I’m sure is not perfect either from my side)

Do I make sense. I do not know what is the best way of training this, of getting him to understand what I want from him.

(Did I mention – no physical problems, all treatments up to date)

Any angle out there to help me?

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Hi Puzzle, I'm assuming the horse is a youngster strait from the breaker? The first things I do with the babys is a lot of lungeing on the chambon, this will build up the top line and the strength in the horse to carry itself . The other thing is lots of up hill ,and I mean a steep hill, riding . Starting with walking , standing in the stirrips, so find a hill nearby , it doesn't have to be hugh, just enough to make your horse work up. You might find a small but steep hill , so you can go up and down 5 or 6 times. Once the horse starts to feel fitter you can trot up, don't canter though, it's too easy for the horse. I combine the chambon with the hill work with all my horses when they come back into work, or with the youngsters as a starting point to build the strength for the work I want them to be able to do later. It takes about 6 weeks for horses coming back into work or 8 weeks for the youngsters. All the time not asking for the horse to give any more than contact, not even asking them to go on the bit , just to have a contact. When you've done that the horse is super strong through the top line and when you start to do lots of upwards and downwards from trot to walk and visa versa the horse is very willing to go onto the bit, they tend not to be heavy in the hand because they have the strength to do it easily. I'm right there with you when you say you don't like pushing and pulling , it just makes them heavy in the hand . There is a really good blog by Tim Stockwell about flexibility , it's in the video section. William Micklem is another one to keep an eye on , he has some great concepts about developing the carrying power and the impulsive power in a horse. He's posted some great blogs on this over the last few months, it would be worth searching back through them. Good luck and Cheers Geoffrey
Hi Geoffrey. Thanks for the feedback. I will search the posts. I've also seen some nice posts by Jane Savoie which I will try.
I agree with Geoffrey. I would not be concerned with your horse's head at all at this point. Just make sure you have a steady contact in both reins at all times and with a young horse that means making necessary adjustments quickly and constantly i.e. shortening/lengthening your reins to maintain the even feel of his mouth. You want to have a contact so that when he starts to look for support from you, you'll be there without having your reins flopping around. The main things you should be focusing on are maintaining a steady rhythm and forward impulsion. Do lots and lots of circles and turns. Also do lots of transitions. Let him find his balance. If you're having trouble turning him, rather than pulling his head around, keep your hands low and focus on turning his shoulder or whither with your outside rein. If he insists on trying to get you to pull on the inside rein, carry a whip in your outside hand and slap him on the shoulder with it to help him get the message. Also use your upper thigh to help you turn his whither and make sure he's going forward enough that he can't stall out and refuse to turn in the direction you want.

Focus more on what his body is doing. Feel if he is pushing his ribcage at you in either direction and use your leg to push it back. Make sure you're not blocking his ability to bend by sticking your inside leg too fare back or your outside leg too far forward. Some horses do require more hand than others at first but hand should always be backed up by leg. Also, you should not be trying to ride a green horse on the bit at the walk. Just have enough contact to steer him. If you try to collect him too early, this could interfere with his natural way of going and that is very difficult to get back. Horses that are taught to walk with too much contact too early often start to pace and they lose their four-beat rhythm. If your horse is curling, he has been ridden with too much contact and it's preferable that he poke his nose out and lengthen his neck as far as you can get him to.

I would also recommend lunging your horse with sidereins. I would put them on low (about halfway down his sides) to encourage him to stretch and just tight enough so that they pull at the corners of his lips when he's standing in a relaxed fashion. When he's used to them you could try shortening the inside one by a couple of holes or if they're flapping around too much when he trots you should shorten them. Fasten the line to the inside bit loop and drive him forward with your whip while keeping a feel of his mouth with the line. Encourage him to bend around you and do lots of transitions. You can also lunge him over trotting poles that are placed on a circle. Start with three so they're not too overwhelming for him. They will encourage him to stretch down as well as strengthen his topline.
Thanks Hank. A agree with you.

We have def been making progress.

I am using trotting poles - 4 on the O and he really enjoys it. Also been concentrating on getting his neck out, working into the contact.

I have to admit I need to concentrate more on my thigh for stearing!
I also need to do more lungeing.
Lungeing will help you a lot. Belinda Trussell talks about it in this week's video on cross training for the dressage horse.
You can use the chambon or the side reins, but he must be lunged by someone who is very good at it and who can get the horse stretching ON to contact and not curling up (which could happen with the side reins).
In one of his posts (I can't remember which) Tim Stockdale talks about the "fives". five steps forward, five back. Five steps walk, five canter, etc. I use the exercise all the time and it really keeps my horse on the bit, but not pulling.

Oh, also, Belinda just did another video on round vs hollow backs! It's here under Ask the Olympian.
Let us know how you are progressing! :)
Hi Barbara. I'm really only doing transitions within the gait due to his level of schooling. At the moment I'm working on getting his neck out which is making a huge difference - I maily concentrate on that during a schooling session and it's improving so much that I feel I can start doing more - I think the key to our problem is contact - for him to take the contact and for me to have the correct hands to support him in that.
Lunging is a fantastic tool, but so is a leadline. I've found that doing leading exercises a few minutes a day makes a difference in the amount of contact my gelding is willing to take. It's made him lighter in the mouth and more flexible through his back and haunches. I use the exercises presented by Bill Dorrance in his book True Horsemanship Through Feel. Mostly the idea is to get his attention focused on you such that the slightest suggestion through the leadline (or reins) causes him to move any part of his body. Once he feels good and relaxed, hit those walk trot transitions. Ask for the trot and let him take a few good steps, then before the fighting starts, ask for walk, then trot again before he has a chance to slow down, all in a forward seat. You too will get a good workout. ;)
Hi Puzzle,
I think you are getting good advice here. You can't go wrong with Jane Savoie, either. I will say, as I am starting to come out of this faze with my five year old, steering is way harder to get down then I would have thought. My guy doesn't lean on the bit, but he wiggles in every direction. You didn't say how old your horse is but it sounds like he is trying to find his balance with this new weight on his back and you would be well advised to stop worrying about his head and look to getting rhythm and straightness from behind. And transitions, transitions - it will help with his rhythm and balance.

Oh, and a motto a friend and I have been using (she is working with a five year old too), if you don't like what is going on now, wait a week. They learn fast and change constantly. Pay attention to little improvements and keep with the program (ie if he did one more trot circle in balance than last time - hooray!)
Have fun!
Just an update. We are now working on getting the neck out because he is sucking back the neck (perhaps he has been doing this all along and I didn't realise it until now) And now that I'm really only concentrating on getting the neck out it has opened a new world for me. When he gets his neck out and relaxed all the other things fall into place. It's like the magic tool I never had before! As you say - new thing next week but for now I am so happy to have discovered this (thanks to a very good friend). He is generally improving on all the basics (straigh, balance, fw,...) - which is what I want for now. I was really stuck before.
Chambons are really great for teaching a horse that is kind of stuck to lower it's neck and stick its nose out. I don't use them as often as sidereins because I find they can teach a horse to go on its fourhand but it sounds like in your horse's case it might be worth a try. The action of the chambon works best when you do lots of transitions. I even ride with it on sometimes (after I've lunged them with it for a few minutes and they're well used to it) just to reinforce what they've learned on the lunge. You have to be very careful that you let the chambon do its thing and don't interfere by using your reins too much at the same time. I don't ride them in it for a whole session either.

My current horse liked to throw his head up in the air for trot/canter transitions and no matter what we tried, he couldn't not figure out that he could keep his head low and bring his back up through the transitions. Five minutes lunging in a chambon had him doing transitions like a western pleasure horse with his neck stretched out as fare as it would go. I lunged him with it maybe two more times and I haven't used it on him since.
Hi Hank,

I concentrate on getting the neck out especially during the warm-up fase and once he is stretching, everything just falls into place. He then, later in the session, come up more in the whither while he is still beatifully on the bit. I am not always sure how to used the different aids like the chambon so would rather not use it. I think I should add that i'm really blessed with this horse and all the problems are very much rider related. - wish there was a chambon for me!


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