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Learning to ‘Dance.’ The Military Vs. Partnered Dance Class.

Hello Franklin.

About two months ago I purchased an Australian Thoroughbred gelding, Liam, and he just turned 6 years old. Before I get into my problem I would like to tell you a little about his background, which I'm sure will help you find a suggested solution. Liam was born in Australia where he raced on the Australian track for about two years. He was very successful; however, due to two episodes of EIPH (lung bleeding) he was banned from racing on the Australian track. He was then sold to a syndicate and imported to the U.S. when he was 4 years. He was then placed with a Jumper trainer for about a year and a half where he was jumping 5 ft courses. He was then put up for sale again for $50,000, but the biggest offer they got was for $30,000. Since he was owned by a couple of families as an investment horse they could not afford to sell him at that price, so the syndicate decided to put him back on the track in April of 2006. Between the months of April 06 and July 06 he bled twice, so they decided to retire him and find him a good home as a jumper. At the beginning of August 06 he was placed with a handler/horse nutritionist to help him rehabilitate from his last bleed and get him sold. He was laid up for about a month and a half until the handler decided he was fully recuperated and officially put him up for sale. When I went to go see him and ride him, he had not been ridden in two months and the last time he was ridden he was on the racetrack. His mouth was a little hard, his head was high, but he was very calm given what he has been through over the past 6 months. The handler showed me a DVD of him when he was in training with jumper trainer about a year ago and he was very light on the bit with a steady trot and canter. The video also showed him jumping and he was flying over those 5 foot jumps with ease, and he seemed very under control. I basically purchased him based on video, because the handler has never ridden him and knew nothing about him, other than what other people has told her and what she has experienced over the past couple of months.

Now let me tell you some of my problems. I know you probably did not need ALL of the information above, but I figure the more info you have the better. When I first brought Liam home he was very well adjusted right away (I think this is because he has been use to moving around). Overall, he has a wonderful disposition. He is very calm, not spooky, doesn't buck or rear, and walks behind me like a puppy dog. He loves to have this face rubbed and kissed, and will put his nose on my belly asking for attention, but once you pet his neck or side he will pin his ears back and grunt his teeth. Over the past couple of months he has gotten better with brushing, putting on his blanket, and clipping his whiskers, but some days he is really grumpy. I still need to pull his mane and clip his bridle path, but he shakes his neck, lifts up his head high, and gets very irritated.

As far as riding ... When he is ridden in an arena with NO jumps, he will walk on a very loose rein. He does perk up as soon as I collect my reins, but he is still under control and will walk if I hold him back before he tries to trot. After two months of softening his mouth and teaching him to carry himself, his trot is now very controlled and off of my hands He is flexes very nicely, has wonderful leg yields, shoulder in, and shoulder out. His canter still needs a little work. He will start the first 4 or 5 strides perfectly; totally on his haunches, off my hands, round, and very slow. Then each stride gets progressively faster, heavier, and flatter. As soon as I feel him speed up I will hold him back, soften his mouth, and as soon as he gives I will loosen my reins again to reward him. I will have to repeat this every 10 to 15 strides. His flying lead changes are automatic, perfect, and he loves to do them. In fact, when I turn him out he will skip at the canter, changing leads every 3 or 4 strides.

Now as soon as I get him an arena where there is even one jump set up he is a maniac. His trot is a little fast, but still light and under control. However, his canter is rather scary. I go through the same routine when I am riding him in an arena with no jumps: Hold, soften, release. However, when I try to hold him back he doesn't listen, and I am forced to give him a hard bump which causes him to hollow out his back, throw his head up, fight the German martingale, and practically canter/hop in place for a few seconds. He will eventually soften, but 2 or 3 strides later we have to go through the same fight: Hold, bump, his head is thrown up, back is hollowed, jumps in place, soften, then release. If I don't sit back enough when he throws his head he will hit me in the face. At times he will hollow his back and mouth and try to take off. He did this once and his took two laps in a large arena at a dead run to get him to stop. So now, as soon as I feel his mouth hollow out I bump him hard, force him in a small circle, bring him to a halt, and then ask for the canter again. He is a lot better for my trainer because she is able to catch his mistakes a lot quicker than I can.

While Jumping ... This horse LOVES to jump. He is a very powerful jumper. He gets his distances perfectly, and he compensates sticky situations very well. He will shorten or lengthen his stride automatically to take off at the perfect distance (well, about 75% of the time. The other 25% he decides to attack the jump). However, after the jump he gets so excited and strong and looks for another fence to jump. I have a tough time getting him back in my hands to tell him where to go, and with jumpers this is very important because there are a lot of tight turns ... I am not too concerned with jumping him, because I'm sure that once I get him under control on the flat, I will be able to control him better while jumping.

This is what I think ... Liam is a horse that really loves to please, and maybe he was abused in the past when he didn't do what he was told. He gets really nervous when he gets confused with what I am asking.

His tack ... I am currently using a loose ring slow twist snaffle with a figure eight noseband and a German martingale.

His food ... Liam is a little underweight and has a really high metabolism. He gets 1 flake alfalfa in both AM & PM, plus 3lbs grass hay in AM noon and PM. He also gets 1lb rice bran mixed with his supplements. I know this sounds like a lot of food, but if I change the amounts he loses weight. He started to crib after the first couple of weeks, so I am trying to free-feed him grass hay to stop the habit, and it seems to be working. I have not seen him crib in about three weeks.

Prepurchase exam ... He passed his exam with flying colors. I spent almost $1000 to have him fully checked. He has not stones, parasites, worms, Ulsers, bone chips, scar tissue, stiffness (even after flexion test). I had his lunges scoped to see if there was any scare tissue from when his lunge bled, and they were in tip top shape. Nothing is physically wrong with this horse.

I know my email is a little wordy, but I want to make sure that I give you as much information as possible. Please let me know if you need anything else.

Thank you for you time. Alisa

Hello Alisa and Happy New Year to you,

Well that was quite an email. It certainly sounds like you are very experienced, knowledgeable, love your horse and have already covered a lot of ground with him. Here are a few things I have had experience with in similar situations that have worked. First off, running off after a jump. This was a Grand Prix horse that was very high strung and frequently ran off after one or two jumps. He could jump the moon but became so excited as to sort of 'lose it' after a couple of jumps. I had the owner/rider create a smaller space (17 hand horse in a 75-80 foot round pen). We began with caviletti's keeping the horse very calm. In fact, I suggested she ground drive him over the caviletti's for a few days first to make certain he would go over them very calmly. Next was to set up a few low jumps on blocks and ground drive over the jumps. We did this until the horse was as calm as could be going over these jumps. Once it was determined that these basic things were executed as calm and quiet as could be, I rode him in a rope halter and leadrope (tied up as reins) over the caviletti's for a few days as loosely as possible and then proceeded to ride him over two low jumps, each set half way around the round pen. He did great. In fact he did so good that I began to ride him in just a neck rope. He never got excited or began to speed off when jumping. Setting a horse like this 'free' (just rope halter and/or neck rope) and, when ready, asking him to jump even low jumps freely was totally new and different for the horse. Performance and movement had little or nothing to do with reins. The owner was astounded as she had never seen anything like this before. The horse seemed to really enjoy his freedom without going overboard. His head was help at a natural carriage. Not overly collected nor too high or too down. He seemed to love his freedom.

I talked the owner, who was quite a good rider, into trying this herself. She was very apprehensive, nervous and unsure how the horse would be with her. It all went quite well. After several weeks of 'bridle-less' riding and jumping (and raising the jump up to about 2.5-3 feet, we created a very easy jump course in a small arena. I rode the horse first around the course with halter and lead. There were four jumps not more than three feet. The course was simple without more than one fairly sharp turn. The horse did great and then, so did the owner. It was time to reintroduce a bit. I suggested getting away from the snaffle as even a very experienced rider can lay on a snaffle without realizing how much pressure is being put on it. This rider, after all that bridle-less riding, was much more sensitive with her hands and riding twice as good from her seat. We put a modified Kimberwick bit on the horse which allowed for even lighter hands. The horse was rode on the flat with the new bit so both horse and rider could get used to it. The animal collected perfectly and very lightly. No problem. The horse was lighter than ever before. While it may have looked like there was so little rein contact as to be inappropriate, it was perfect for this horse. The rider became more and more calm and confident within herself as time went on. Mostly a horse picks up on the internal process of it's rider. Any clenching, tightening, etc. is noticed by the horse and it responds in kind. The more calm in the rider the better the chances are for more calm in the horse. Any frustration in the rider is immediately picked up by the horse.

The attachment to snaffle bits for English riders of all levels and various competitive endeavors, I think, is overdone. It is too easy for a horse to grab that bit and run off. A bump generally just brings the head up and hollows the back. A good alternative is to try some sort of curb. In sensitive hands, it can be much more efficient and humane than the snaffle. Unfortunately old habits and traditional ways of thinking are hard to even try to modify. Going further back into a horse's initial training is always rarely attempted as more of a quick fix is sought. Most unwanted habitual behavior can be modified over time by going back to the basics. For your horse, it may just be the best answer. But will take some time. Changing what the normal pattern and routine is, can help a lot. Doing something completely different with the horse can change an attitude and overall performance faster than anything else I know of. Consider playing 'at liberty' with your horse for something really different. Consider training him to take jumps at liberty calmly and slowly. Consider ground driving much more. There is a world of things for you to try. I like the concept of 'playing with' rather than 'working' horses. It is a mind set and mental thing even though the action may be the same. It is carried out with a vastly different attitude which is most important. This is something the majority of English riders, whether competing or not, really resist embracing. They tend to be task masters. I don't think this is your problem. But, all training is on the jump course and maybe a little hacking out at most. If they do anything different it is to not ride the horse at all and have no interaction during this rest period. This is wasted time as far as I am concerned. Engaging a horse's mind is just as important as engaging his body. Even simple trick training, looked down on by the vast majority of riders, engages a horse's mind in a wonderful way. It also creates calm and a bond of trust between horse and human that is deep and profound. That bond generally becomes much greater than that between horse and rider. The early stages of starting horses under saddle can help a horse bond deeper and better and develop more trust with a human than anything else.Competitive and non-competitive English riders alike, in my experience, are rather one-dimensional with what they do with their horses. The experiences with their horses are limited to only a few activities. To me, this is a fairly narrow way to experience the world of horses which goes way beyond the human activity of riding the horse. But the vast majority of humans I come across and find myself training horses for, really only go for riding the horse as opposed to experiencing the more natural world of the horse through understanding it's psychology, language, herd behavior, etc. If you ever get a chance to view any of the great horse performance demonstrations such as by Colorado rider, trainer and choreographer Barbara Gardner. You will see more of what is possible. Ballet On Horseback, An Evening of Dancing Horses which this person has been a significant part of would open your eyes to more of the possibilities of varied training techniques and their benefits for your horse. Even if your main focus is high level jumping, your horse and you will benefit greatly from expanded thinking and training into other areas of equine endeavours. Anyway, this email may be longer that yours. I hope I have offered some food for thought and suggestions you think may be worthy to try. I think I am trying to get you to think outside of the box a bit more. I extend blessings to you and your four-legged friend for a wonderful, safe and successful New Year. Please keep me posted.

Sincerely, Franklin

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