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Young race horse

Hello Franklin:

I have recently purchsed a tried race horse, he has no vices and is a very nice horse, he has a habit of locking his jaw and wanting to hang in (turn into the fence) Right , We tried a lugging bit with solid bar but just seemed to make him worse, we have only had him for 1 start he had 3 starts with his previous owners, he isn't sore and his teeth are perfect. I think our next move is a norton bit and maybe remove the blinkers.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated

Hi Mark,

For a situation like this I do not think the bit has much to do with it. Sounds like he is a pretty unhappy horse. Behavioral issues like these tend to go beyond what kind of bit is in the horse's mouth. I would, at least for a while, make a drastic change in what you do with this horse. I suggest beginning to school the horse on the ground (lungeing, ground driving, suppling exercises like bending, lots of directional and speed transitions) and all should be done by a quiet, very skilled and gentle trainer who will begin to develop some trust with this horse through skillful direction of movement. What this does is show some respect for horse and what is going on for it and not just change the equipment. Attitude adjustment does not come from equipment nor does it come for use of any force (coercion (which makes things worse). It comes from how the horse is handled and how and what is asked of it. Additionally, whether or not the horse is rewarded for good effort at compliance. For instance, if he attempts to move beyond his habit of locking his jaw and does try to move off the fence a bit, that would be the right time to remove the horse from the track and put him away. That is the big reward. It creates a winning cycle for the horse and you (request, attempts at compliance and immediate reward).

I travel internationally a lot. Unfortunately the worldwide racing industry does not seem to have time for the sort of training I advocate (which is found to be very effective). Everyone seems to only want a quick fix and they feel that behavioral training is too much trouble and they do not seem to take it seriously anyway and hold it up to ridecule. Occasionally, adding or changing a piece of equipment can help. Like when Monty Roberts discovered that a particular horse was being bumped by the sides of the starting gate and, therefore, was too afraid to leave the gate. He developed a pad the went over the animals hips and was attached to the gate. So, when the horse broke from the gate the pad came off the horse and stayed with the gate. The horse was not longer afraid of being bumped or too confined by the gate and the problem was resolved. This 'pad' idea has now been used widely.

Your horse sounds like it is certainly not happy with something going on. That 'something' could be making it uncomfortable, causing pain and/or is so unpleasant that the animal has decided to simply check out of the process of running a race. If what the horse is being asked to do is that unpleasant or somehow painful, you cannot expect it to try to comply. Very often, if the horse is given enough respect by its owner that the human changes what is going on for the horse for a while, developes some trust and respect with the horse through appropriate re-schooling, etc., often times things turn around for the horse. It does not have to take very long either. In my experience, racing trainers tend to not desire to develop the sort of relationships with the horse I am suggesting. Many do not have the beliefs about horses in place that support this philosophy of training. They tend to think it is babying or coddling the horse. The horse is supposed to always comply with the human, sort of like a slave, unless it is really physically unable, and then often it is simply put down. I don't think this is how you are.

Anyway, I would school the horse on and off the track somewhat gently for a while, on the ground and in the saddle. I would avoid a lot of pressure on the horse for a while and make it as pleasant as you can for him. Get him trusting again, that it is safe for him to run. You may discover the source of its discomfort and pain during this process. At the same time you can try removing the blinders and play with a change of bits. This gives you the opportunity to try a few different things in a safe and gentle way fo the horse w/o much pressure on the horse. But, please consider letting the bottom line be the development of the animal's attitude in the direction of trust and feelings of safety. Good Luck.

Sincerely, Franklin

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