Lease Horse – Notes about current training

I thought I’d post an update on the lease horse, and write down the issues I’m having.

I’ve ridden Ellie about  8 times now, over a two week span. She’s still extremely out of shape, but her suppleness has improved tremendously. She’s no longer barging around on her left shoulder. She still falls in, but not as badly and it’s getting easier to move her shoulders back over.

I’m having issues with her curling under. If I push her up into the bit, she gets frazzled.

She doesn’t seek contact. She won’t go out of her way to avoid all contact, but she doesn’t go looking for it.  I have video below. Watch her head. I don’t ask her to put her head anywhere when I’m riding. The only thing I ask of her is to look in the direction of travel.  If I give her the reins, her head stays exactly where she put it.

I’m focusing on teaching seeking the bit at the walk right now. Just when I think she’s starting to understand, that’s when she starts rooting (shoving her nose down and out hard enough to jerk me). I don’t want the rooting at all, but I’m scared if I kick her forward for it that it’ll send the message that she can’t reach out and down for the bit. I’m indecisive on what to do about it.  I did kick her forward for rooting last time I rode, but then I decided just to avoid the situation entirely and we started working on leg yielding instead.

I’m concerned about the head and neck because it’s the symptom of the tight back. If I can figure out how to get her to relax her back and swing then the head and neck can relax and follow the bit. But I think it’s all tied together too. I can’t affect one without the other, and both have to be relaxed before I can get real relaxation. And I can’t get anywhere with her until she relaxes and starts swinging through.

So I’ve tried a few things to trick her into releasing the tension in her back. First I tried working her just slightly under what I believe is her natural trot speed. She was mentally more relaxed, but I felt like she was phoning it in body wise. Her hind end was out behind us somewhere doing it’s own thing.

Nov 7 Trot

Then I tried asking for a slightly more forward trot then she’s comfortable with. The idea being that she has to bring her hind end up under. It’ll build up her strength in being able to carry herself  with a level balance (weight evenly distributed between front and hind legs). The stronger she gets the more she’ll be able to relax the back and swing through.  The more forward she is the harder it is for her to duck behind the contact. Therefore it should allow her to carry herself in a more correct frame and build the correct muscles.


So I made a video of the slower/faster trot work. I know the quality of the video is bad, but look at the overall body of the horse and how she moves. She gets closer to actually tracking up when she’s pushed a little more forward. I don’t like that she seems a bit more tense with the more forward.

The more forward felt cool though. She felt very uphill on the straight sides. She still felt like I could do a ten meter circle at any point in time, or turn anywhere I wanted to turn. I never felt out of control, or like she was too unbalanced to be able to quickly change direction, speed, etc.

My riding is atrocious, and I’m horrifyingly embarrassed by it. I’ll have to work on that.

Video is 2:49 long. At 31 seconds you can see her curl right up. I’m just up there thinking, “Crap. What do I do now?”


Kind of looks the same to me. But her right front in the “more forward” side is in a later phase than the right front in the slower. So she actually stepped more under in the more forward for it to be where it’s at now in a later phase then in the slower side. Maybe. I think.

Funny note: I dreamt I was riding Ellie last night. I was trying to prove that I really could sit the trot well (because I always blame my inability to sit the trot on Ava’s big bouncy trot)… and then I ended up flopping all over the place while sitting Ellie’s trot. I haven’t tried sitting Ellie’s trot in real life because her back isn’t strong enough yet. But now I’m have this compulsion to try to sit her trot.  haha

7 thoughts on “Lease Horse – Notes about current training

  1. This mare reminds me a bit of a horse in our group that was trained with use of side reins in much of her ground work. The trainer was old school dressage, horse in position, drive forward into bit, blah blah. Needless to say the mare was always very touchy/sensitive and behind vertical, heavy on forehand, dragging hindquarters, unbalanced (big horse, too. Canadian Warmblood and Paint mix)
    The trainer/coach we now have worked extensively with Jeff Ashton Moore for two decades ( )and uses many of his training techniques when working with clients and their horses. She has helped this mare tremendously over the last year. The focus on biomechanics of horse and rider greatly helped each of us in our group, rather than the former practice with our other trainer who was more of a drill instructor (and would most likely scoff at what we’re doing now).

    I’m reminded of something Eric Herbermann said at one of his clinics I attended, “it is the absolute curse of horsemanship to force the horse’s head into a position”. That was what happened to my friend’s mare.
    So there is one little technique the new trainer used when we began working with her last year that you might find it helpful ( but first she got rid of the Dr Bristol had a curve to the bars that applied severe pressure on her mouth, very apparent to see when mare would come to vertical as she would immediately back off the bit. It was replaced with a Herm Sprenger Ultra KK bit and the mare made almost immediate changes to her carriage as was much more relaxed in mouth)
    Our trainer applied no pressure to the mare to be “perfect” during their work, no demands for moves, just work at walk and trot, but during walk and/or trot, if Tea would start to “tuck”, she would use a slight uplifting, rolling action with her hands to tell the horse “no, no, I don’t want your chin tucked, I want you to open up and move forward”,

    This action is not dramatic. Her hands are always equal in position, elbows always have a hinge to them. It is a rapid, slight action that does not yank the head, doesn’t cause stress. Kind of a roll action with fingers/hand, and not a pulling back or releasing of; but a mere upward squeeze. So hard to describe! In photos it looks kind of awful but in action it’s brief and the horse soon understood she didn’t need to back off the bit. It wasn’t going to hurt her, nothing would be forced. It took several months (trainer was only riding her once a week with my friend riding her the balance of the time. My friend is a novice and did not practice this technique,) Once Tea became more willing to freely move forward the trainer started asking for a little flexion, inside and to outside, to disengage neck, open throatlatch. And soon enough Tea was able to start accepting more connection (“contact”) without backing off the bit. Six months into rehab training and Tea was becoming straighter, not pushing into left shoulder, trot was rhythmic and not flat anymore. This horse is 14 years old and is finally getting to be a happy, balanced horse that is a pleasure to ride! She is now able to yield correctly, soft yet crisp movement, renvers ‘n travers, a bit of half pass and learning to canter evenly. I’ve known this horse for 6 years and have never seen her so willing and happy to work. She was always obedient but also a bit of a grump. I used to ride her a lot for the former trainer and always thought I was just a terribly crappy rider because I couldn’t get the horse light and responsive.

    I hope this helps! I know I should write on my blog much more frequently than I do (hey, 6 posts this year, haha!) but I’m too lazy. Easier to read the posts of other bloggers.
    To sum up, it looks like you’ve figured out what this TB mare is doing, the difficult part is attempting to figure out the reasons why and what the best approach is to help her.
    I’ve been to 3 Herbermann clinics now and he instills the need for patience. Patience with our horse as much as for ourselves. I’ve got pages of notes that I write down as I watch (winching!) the videos of my rides.
    Good luck! And best to Ava in her recuperation.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Amy, Thank you for the detailed information! I’ve been wondering if a switch to a Ultra KK would help, but since I’m leasing her for free I’m hesitant to suggest a bit change. She’s currently in a Baucher french link snaffle. Which I think has its pros and cons. Good idea about bit changes to help the horse with contact. I’ll talk to the owner and ask why she settled on this bit.

      I had a previous trainer show me the lift technique with the reins, briefly. I tried it on a previous ride, but she curled more. So after reading your description with the rolling I tried it again today and it really did work! I think I used too much arm to lift last time. The fingers were key. I’ll have to read up on this more. Thanks for the tip!


  2. This is Wizard’s big issue- he’s always naturally just tucked up his nose and set his head like that. It definitely is a symptom of a tight back! Switching him to a rubber bit helped, as well as doing lots of long and low and slowly bringing the balance more “up”. It was hard for me to get him to reach for the bit until my lesson with Kofford. It seems counter-intuitive because you’re afraid to touch their face, but Kofford really had me use lots of leg while riding him really deep- but as soon as he started stretching for the bit, release. The key was learning to release, and then he started to learn to stretch and loosen up his back and stretch to the bit. It felt backwards at first because it seemed like you were using a lot of hand, but Linda Parrelli in her game of contact says the same thing, you can’t get them stretching to the bit without shortening the neck first. But working him at a faster trot speed than is desirable helps him too. I do have to lift his head up a lot too, and Kofford was okay with that as long as it was always backed up with leg. And counter-bending helps because it makes them lift their shoulder so they can’t curl as bad. Good luck! It’s a frustrating problem, it’s way harder to fix than a horse that wants to pull. One dressage judge told me she saw it most with horses who were very refined and had elegant necks/refined throat latches-looks like ellie matches the type!! She’s very cute though.


    • That’s interesting about the refined throat latches being more prone to curling! It never occurred to me before, but all of the horses I’ve seen with this issue have had refined necks and throat latches too. Interesting.

      I haven’t had a chance to ride since I posted this, but I was going to play with the too deep forward a bit to see if I could figure out the timing of release a bit. I figure I can’t really make it much worse and as long as I don’t force her into anything. You wouldn’t happen to have any video of doing the too deep training, would you? I’d be interested in seeing that.


  3. Pig had a huge issue with curling when I first got him. He was so finicky about his mouth that we had to spend 6 months just going around not insisting on anything but forward and nose out. Finally, we broke the curling habit, but he took another 6 months to learn what contact was about.

    The key for us was not to pressure him with contact, and keep an obsessive eye on how I was holding the contact. I couldn’t be the slightest bit stiff, or he would disappear. At the same time, I couldn’t let him get away from the contact either. It took a lot of leg, but sometimes just one side or the other. Once he figured out what contact was, we immediately started work on flexion. Now I realize that a lot of his contact issues actually stemmed from him being so tight in the neck and shoulders. As soon as we loosen those suckers up, he figures out how to lift from his withers instead of trying to escape with his head. Big difference.

    Not sure any of that helped, but just wanted to write it to let you know you aren’t alone. It’s a long process and a little different for every horse, right?


    • Thanks, Austen! Pig sounds like he’s been a real challenge to train, but you’ve done a wonderful job with him. I watched some of your videos and he’s such a lovely boy.

      I have a tendency to stiffen through my forearms when I ride (bad habit), and I noticed that when I soften our contact immediately gets better. Ava always reacted by bracing against me, this horse curls. At least it’s more obvious to me on Ellie when I stiffen, so maybe it’s the horse I need in order to break the habit. 🙂

      Thanks again!


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