Working With a Horse That has a Problem Maintaining Leads, a Gait and Fluidity
-By Charles Wilhelm-
I see many horses that have difficulty with leads. Sometimes when a new horse has come in for training, the first time I ride it feels as though the front is not connected to the hind end. In that situation I will have our veterinarian evaluate the horse and I will also have an evaluation done by our equine chiropractor, especially if the horse is having a problem with a lead or a gait. I had a problem with a Quarter Horse who was dropping leads in the rear and once she was adjusted, she was able to pick up a correct lead in the rear and to maintain it. I have had horses come to the barn that are strung out on the trot and are not physically fit. It can be an issue with muscle tone. When a horse is strung out and you pick up a rein, the head will come up, the back will hollow out and the hindquarters will not be coordinated with the front end. In other words, the horse’s action is not fluid, it is rough and not coordinated. There can be several reasons for these problems and they can be fixed with patience and perseverance.
Shoeing can also be a major factor in this type of behavior. If the feet are too long or there is too much break over, it can cause a horse to not be able to come under itself. I will have the horse evaluated, trimmed and shod. Also, another area to evaluate is the teeth. Tooth problems can cause resistance to a bit, which can cause the horse to brace and not be able to pick up a lead or maintain a gait.
Some horses that come in for training are too forward because the owner has been pulling on the reins causing the horse to throw up its head and hollow out its back. When I ask a horse to collect, which means picking up on the reins, asking the horse to come from the rear and come through into my hands, the horse stops. This is a problem as the horse is not accepting my hands on the bridle or accepting the bit. When this happens, a horse learns to throw up its head and even come to a stop. Again, this may have been caused by the rider asking the horse to go forward with a leg cue and at the same time holding the horse back by holding onto the horse’s face.
Sometimes problems are caused by improper equipment being used. In the picture, I can tell that the saddle is too small for the rider. The saddle is down hill and pushing up against the withers. The rider’s position can also affect performance. The rider in the picture has her shoulders angled forward and her legs are going back. Also, looking at the pictures I can see that this mare does not have a great top line or good development in the hindquarters. The horse is disconnected from the front; in other words, the front and rear are not coordinating. These are important factors in conditioning of a horse before we can get a nice quiet, collected gait.
You may be working with a lot of issues and things that happened before you got your horse. With these types of problems, my recommendations are first to have a veterinarian and a chiropractor look at the horse. Second, if the horse is not giving to the bit, I would have a dentist evaluate the horse to make sure the teeth are fine. It doesn’t make any difference what type of hardware you have on the face. In the first picture it is a leverage bit but whether it is a snaffle or a bosal, the horse must accept the pressure of your hands and be able to come through. Once health, chiropractic and dental problems have been eliminated you can start conditioning and working the horse to build a top line and hindquarters, to accept the bit and maintain a lead.
There are quite a few exercises that you can do to help with these problems. You can teach the horse what I call concentrated circles (see my books or videos). This exercise helps the horse to develop a supple body by bending around you and getting the inside rear leg to step under the body. There is a change of direction exercise that I would recommend and both of these exercises can be done with a halter first and later with a snaffle bit. Once the horse is giving to the bit by working in hand you can go to long lines to get the horse to come through from the rear. Looking at this picture we can see that this horse is not willing to step under, so she needs to learn to accept the bit and the leg and to get under herself. This can be corrected with in-hand work, lunging and transitions. This should be done on the ground by having the horse trot over poles or cavelettis. This will condition her and build up her hindquarters and top line. She has no top line right now so there is a lot of work to do.
So to recap, when your horse is not able to maintain a gait, a lead or is not moving with fluidity, have the horse checked for medical problems including chiropractic and dental needs. Have your saddle evaluated for proper fit. Do the proper exercises to develop the top line and hindquarters. Establish a forward cue on the ground and in the saddle and establish acceptance of the bit. This will require a good deal of time spent doing groundwork. With patience and perseverance your horse will be more supple and able to pick up leads, maintain gaits and you will have safer and more comfortable rides.