Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What is the best way to supple a horse?


I have been reading your blog since you started it and I do love your blog.

I have a question for you.

I sent my 5 year old mare out for training last year, she is my reining horse, and even though I have had her for a few years, I am relatively new to this.

The problem that I am having, is that when she stops, she dives on the bit and damn near yanks the reins out of my hands. She is being shown in a shanked snaffle this year and my trainer says she will probably stay in that bit for a while..

We have had the vet out and have checked the mare's teeth and everything else that the vet could think of that may cause this problem.

My trainer has bitted my mare up in the shanked snaffle to try to get her to give a little more but that has not helped. And since my trainer has been bitting my horse up in the shanked bit, she has also started to brace on the bit when we go through our transitions.

I have read your blog where you say that you like your horse to be supple and soft when you get on them. Do you do that on the ground or do you do that on their backs?

Is id a good idea to bit a horse up in a shanked bit?

And one other question, I have heard some of these cow horse people use the terms cow leg and herd leg, what does that mean?



Let me start with your last question about cow leg versus herd leg.

When we ride pleasure horses we refer to the outside leg which is the leg that is the closest to the rail, and the inside leg which is the leg that is on the inside of the circle. The same goes for the cow leg, when we cut a cow out of the herd, the leg that is the closest to the cow is the cow leg and the herd leg is the leg that is closest to the herd.

Diving on the bit can be indicative of other problems such as lameness, soreness in the mouth or back etc. So it was a good thing that you had the vet check your mare for any health problems that may have caused this problem.

But as a training problem, we usually see this when the horse is continuously pulled into the stop instead of the rider letting the horses face go when he stops. The reason that the horses dive on the bit when we pull them into the stop, is that they are simply looking for a release so they are more comfortable in the stop. Another thing that will cause this, is if the horse is stopping on the front end first.

There are a few things that you can do to fix the problem.......

1) Work on softening the horse laterally. I know that I repeat myself a lot when I say this, but it definitely helps. Get the horse to relax and lift the shoulders by lateral flexion, do plenty of that as well as counter flexing. In other words get the horse to bend to the inside of the circle and to the outside of the circle. Lots of circles doing this. Once again, do not pull on the horse, but rather, gentle tugs, just enough to get the horse to bend.

2) After you have softened your horse. then start working on the stops, asking the horse to shut his hind end down first. If he stops on the front end, then back him a step or two and ask for the stop again. Do this at the trot first and then, ask for the lope and work on the stop.

3) When you stop, sit down and ask for the stop without pulling on him, if he does not want to stop, then you can pull on him a little until he does stop. If you have to pull him into the stop, then keep the pressure on him until he backs a step or two rocking him back onto his hind end.

All of these exercises can be done in a regular snaffle so there really is no need to work your mare in a shanked bit at this time until the problem is fixed.

As far as suppling my horses, I do none of it in the ground. Though we may say a horse looks soft and supple, that really refers more to a feel than a look. So keeping that in mind, I would rather feel whether or not the horse is soft and supple while I am on his back rather than see it while I am watching him run around me in circles.

One other thing that I need to mention because I am asked this all of the time, and that is,"Do you back your horses to soften them"

The rule out here is that you back a soft horse but do not back a horse to make him soft.

Bitting a horse up in a shanked bit is a no no! I do not care how loose the reins are, this can lead to the horse tossing his head and then on to other problems. Especially if you have snaps on you reins. The horses hear those snaps and start to try to figure out what is going on, next thing you know, the horse is trying to flip over. We never use snaps!

I have seen several bad accidents when the horses are bitted up in shanked bits, primarily because the person working the horse did not know what they were doing. Unlike when you are on the horse, you are unable to feel what the horse is doing or how he is reacting to the bit so you are unable to help him through any problems he may be having. And if the horses is having issues, then you can let him go rather than there being no release.


GoLightly said...

"The rule out here is that you back a soft horse but do not back a horse to make him soft."

Oh, I like that. Well put, JR!
I won't even say..

I do not understand this, JR. Could you explain?
I've read elsewhere that keeping their head low/low/low "shows them the way to the ground=relaxation".

How can such a low head carriage lend itself to a stop originating in the hind end?
That confused me.
Doesn't it make that type of properly balanced stop harder for the horse?
Maybe I'm just sleepy.
Or dopey.
yeah, that's it....

I'd ride the horse forward into the stop. Keep my own head up, and sit "up".
That seemed to be all I needed to do, with most horses..

fernvalley01 said...

My first thought was ,Why a shanked bit? It doesn't sound to me like the horse is at all ready. I kind of look at curbs or shanked bits this way .You don't use them until you don't need them. If you need that kind of leverage for a stop, then back up and "set up the brakes" properly in a snaffle.

JohnieRotten said...


the rider should always stay perpendicular to the ground when the horse stops. So sitting up is important.

A low head does not allow the horse to stop on his hind end, that is why we want the horse to learn to lift his shoulders. If the horse is lifting his shoulders then he is lifting his front end allowing him to drive his hind end underneath.

I am out of breath now.

Dena said...

I am impressed. Hmmmm... Washington you say?

Fern that is the ideal with shanked bits.
You don't use them until you don't need them.

Seems so simple doesn't it?

I try to respect that people have their own methods but bitting with shanked bits does send me on a rant.

And snaps while convenient in some sports create false and confusing signals when sliding around on the bit rings.

And GL I have learned that the only good time to look down is when you have determined to pick your spot for those unplanned

kestrel said...

Great advice all around...a horse that's 'diving' into a shanked bit is an unhappy horse.

The bit wouldn't happen to be one of the jointed curb snaffle thingys would it? I've seen a lot of horses that hate all the extra rotation and pinch.

Drillrider said...

I bought a horse that was diving into the bit at a stop. I realized she was trained to stop on body language ONLY and was pissed that I was pulling on her mouth. When I stopped pulling on her, she stopped on her hind end and without the ear pinning and yanking on the bit.

Drillrider said...

P.S. Good post!

GoLightly said...

Thanks JR. That makes great sense.

LOL, Dena!
so true!

(happy dance)
kestrels' back!!

cattypex said...


What are you talking about?

It's so paradoxial, isn't it, that a good reiner will need to "lift its shoulders" to effectively engage and stop - because it has to lift up out of that motherf**king headset that shouldn't be there in the FIRST place.

JohnieRotten said...


Some trainers put scissor snaps on the ends of their reins so they can switch them out easily.

cattypex said...

Oh, yes, I am familiar with those.

I guess it stands to reason that they'd be distracting - but if so, then what's up with the slobber thingies on snaffle bit horses? Or are those just do add a little "heft"?

The longer I think, the ignoranter I get!!

SpotMeSomeColor said...

The slobber leather things are hilarious. My horse would get pissed with those swinging around, just like with metal clips. A lot of horses that are tape in those look SO pissed off.

JohnieRotten said...

Yes those slobber straps are a pain in the ass. I have never seen a horse that is happy with them.

JohnieRotten said...

They actually make a slobber strap with a silver plate on them, imagine poor horsie having those bang away at his face.


The slobber straps are designed to prevent wear on your reins or a mecate.

horspoor said...

I'm not a fan of slobber straps. Awkward things (hey had to look at the way I spelled awkward five times. It just looks, well... awkward). They add a stiffness I personally don't care for. (This from a woman that used to ride with romel reins that had filagree silver rounds that weighted them, but hey that's different...they're pretty. lmao

Another thing I notice is some people trying to get a good butt dragging stop on a horse...grind their ass into the saddle. For me that is just the opposite of what you want to do. I tip my hips a hair, put some weight in my stirrups and just lift the rein. This gets my fat butt alittle off of them giving them room for their backs to come up under me, drop that butt and slide...or at least stop from behind. As soon as I feel the horse rating, I lower the rein and ride the stop through.

If you are sitting too heavy your horse is going to tighten up to try and protect themselves. Some are more forgiving about it than others.

JohnieRotten said...


I always tell my students to push their heels down and forward like they are pushing on the brakes of a car. That makes them roll back on their seat and automatically puts them in position for the stop.

horspoor said...

Yeah, but some go to far with the forward deal. lol They get their feet stuffed way to far in front of them, and are out of balance and more of a hinderance to the horse, than helping with the halt.

I was riding a horse that had been being ridden by somebody else. (A wannabe trainer). I was cracking up. The halt was but your food forward. Nothing else...just put your feet in front of you. So of course I had to show the owner. She was cracking up too. She used to work and ride for Hank Weiscamp back in the day. It's not like she doesn't know her way around a horse.

She breeds Skipper W paints. She started her 'herd' with a stallion off of Hank's ranch and a couple good mares.

She has really backed off over the last few years. I think she has two babies this year. She's kind of in a holding pattern like the rest of us.

horspoor said...

uh, food forward? (yeah I'm starving, almost lunch time). Should have been foot. lol

JohnieRotten said...

Some of them do go too far forward Thais why I tell them to make sure they sit up. Cuz I hate when they lean back too far as well. When they do the horses hollow their backs and stop on the front end.

horspoor said...

Yup, and dive on the bit. Hmmm, there is a pattern here. Ya think? lol

cattypex said...

I get the impression that what you want is for the rider to stay perpendicular to the horse's back, no matter if the horse is parallel to the ground or tilted in a sliding stop??

You need a little toy or statue to illustrate, maybe?

And that your hands should be quiet...

Yarn reins, I'm tellin' ya! That'll learn 'em!!

horspoor said...

Think weebles. Weebles wobble but they don't fall down? lol Or liquid in a tip the glass but the water stays level.

JohnieRotten said...


at some point we will do pictures of these things. We are even going to work on a video as well. Just kinda waiting for a little cooler weather

cattypex said...

Sally swift did a great job illustrsting this in Centered riding with a punching doll. She also complimented correct Arabian Western pleasure... But that was in the early 80s.

The young Appy mare I rode on vacation was nice and soft, went so nice in a snaffle. I so wanted to save her from her fate as a HUS horse. Why are there some trainers who start colts so well, who then turn around & crank down their heads & ruin their gaits?

This isn't a rhetorical question.