Sunday, July 11, 2010

Going Straight

So, Pippin doesn't think he needs to walk around in circles....but he does it and he is developing a nice bend. I am so pleased with how responsive he is. Then, there is Doc. He is like riding a Mack Truck or an M1A1 Abrams Tank without power steering. Actually, I know the tank would steer better than Doc does!
I am frustrated beyond belief. I am looking for suggestions - I am at a loss!

First, a bit of background on Doc. I purchased him a year ago. He was 'broke to ride and drive'. He was an Amish horse. I believe he has had more experience driving than riding.  I think he is very green under saddle and very unsure of what a rider is asking of him. When I ride he brings his head down and stretches it out in front. I tried lightly playing with the bit to ask him to bring his head up, but that seemed to backfire on me - he just began to get excited and wanted to go faster, perhaps a bit evasion thing. I've also tried driving him forward into the bit, but he just seems to continue to bear down on the bit. So, I've gone back to looser reins and only doing something with the reins when I want to communicate to him. He will move laterally in response to my leg. But, again, whoever trained him must have thrown a lot at him too quickly and he isn't too sure about it all. He will quickly respond to my leg, moving away from it. But, sometimes if I ask him to go in the other direction, he does not. He moves toward my leg. I've been working on moving away from pressure on the ground and in the saddle, asking only for 1 or 2 steps at a time.

A bit about me: I rode a lot in high school and college. Most of my training was through Pony Club. I achieved a B rating, which, if  you are not familiar with PC, is quite advanced. I have done some 3-day eventing and fox hunting, with a little showing thrown in here and there. I have had 4 horses of my own, 2 that had only been backed when I got them. I did the training and I hunted and evented one of those and did some Western pleasure with the other. 

So, back to my frustration. Imagine riding a big piece of spaghetti. That is Doc. He will neither go in a straight line nor in a circle. He wanders more or less in the direction I suggest.

Let's begin with circles.
I ask Doc to perform a circle, using inside leg on the girth and outside leg behind, and trying to get him to flex at the neck so I just see the eye on the inside. Oh, I am also turning my body in a bit and I'm looking where I want to go. What I get is no movement of the shoulder to the inside. He often will continue straight, or move in towards the center a bit, but not as far as I had envisioned. If I get frustrated and pull his head in, he continues to resist, still not following the path I am trying to prescribe. Then, he will make a sudden shift. I can feel him move in towards the center, but he overshoots my line and we made some sort of weird egg-shaped circle.If I wanted him to stay on my envisioned path, I'd need to pull his head to the outside...not just a little, but a lot!

It used to be that he'd almost do this on the lunge line. He'd go around, but would stiffen and pull away from me on one side of the circle. He seems to have gotten a bit better about remaining on a circular path on the lunge.

Yesterday I tried asking for a circle, and waiting. When he finally dodged in, overshooting my line, I'd have him walk or trot a few steps then ask for a circle in the other direction. Again, when he ducked inside, I'd ask him to go the other way. We zig-zagged across the pasture like a drunken sailor. I'm not sure that any of this did anything for my issue with Doc.

Then we have the not-so-straight, straight lines. If I'm walking right along a fence line, Doc will almost always go straight. However, if I decide to make a trek across the pasture, he doesn't get from my point A to my point B unless I do a lot of intervention. I have been making a point to stare at a house, fence post, tree or some landmark and aim for that. If I am indeed going to get there, Doc's head is often at an angle, or I pull his head to the side I'm aiming at, release, pull again, release, etc.
I've heard that going in a straight line is much more difficult than a circle. But we can't seem to manage either.

I can't decide if some of this is the bit. I've tried a snaffle and then switched to a Kimberwicke. I think thought he is better in the Kimberwicke because it connects along the side of his mouth, instead of a round ring that might slip through. Yesterday he was horrid, though.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. As I said, I'm at a total loss.


  1. I had the exact issue with Poco, but it is better now than I am looking where I'm going. There are still times when I have to steer every step of the way.

  2. It sounds like he just doesn't know very much, and you'll have to teach him slowly and patiently. I'd start on the ground with some in-hand work, teaching him to respond to pressure on the bit from each rein separately. You can do backing in hand, turns on the forehand and also the equivalent of leg-yielding.

    Under saddle, I wouldn't worry at all about where his head is. Until a horse learns to use his whole body - from the core, using the hindquarters as the power - what the head is doing doesn't matter. Some people get obsessed with head position, and just "ride the head" without thinking about anything else.

    I'd focus for now on getting his to respond to the very softest cues, both in hand and under saddle, and leave the head stuff for later. As he learns, try doing your turns using your seat, leg and focus (look where you're going and not at the head), and use the reins only for a bit of support. The turn, and the bend, need to come from behind.

    You'll get there but you'll need to break things down into tiny steps and make it easy for him to learn. I expect he's confused and clear guidance from you will make it easier for him.

    Good luck!

  3. I agree with Kate. The head will come naturally once the body is doing what it's supposed to.

    With both my horses I did serpentines and used my entire body when I made the turns. Look with my head - over exaggerate the turn with my shoulders and hips, inside leg on, weight in the inside stirrup and bump with outside leg if needed to move around. Each successful turn on queue is rewarded with less use of aid and lots of praise.

    Good Luck!

  4. Thanks, everyone. I had a slightly better ride the next day. I really focused on NOT LOOKING at his head, and looking far, far ahead. We will persevere!

  5. I think Kate has it right when she says to start with some ground work. You can ask him to give to the bit while standing next to him. Apply pressure on the reins asking him to lower his head and do not release until you feel the slightest of response then release the pressure. The release is how they learn they are doing something correct. Timing is everything.
    Check out some John Lyons or Parelli books or Dvds, they will really help when starting a horse.


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