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Friday, 3 June 2011

Too Much Information?

A lot of cars have a sat nav nowadays. They’re handy if you’re lost or you’re on your own but sometimes don’t you just want to scream “SHUT UP!!” as the wretched thing tells you once too often to “Take the next right … turn right … turn right. …”?

Nagging is a destructive habit. It creates tension or ‘convenient deafness’ depending on the personality of the recipient. In the case of the sat nav at least you can switch it off. Your horse doesn’t have that luxury. You may think you don’t nag but some kinds of nagging aren’t immediately obvious. You may not know you’re doing it.

When you ride round the school and come to a corner what do you expect your horse to do? Trot straight through the fence? No? So why do you feel the need to check, squeeze or pull your reins as you ride into, round and out of a corner?

Your horse doesn’t need you to steer him round a corner. He’s perfectly capable of trotting round the school without any direction from you. Your aids are there to give orders or corrections. They’re not there to tell him what he knows already!

The trouble with this kind of nagging or over riding is it fills your horse’s head with too many unnecessary aids. With so much flying around in his head how is he meant to filter out the aids you’re really want him to respond to? He’ll find it hard to focus which will affect his rhythm. His flow from one movement to the next will be broken.

Many riders feel they should be directing their horse every step of the way. They don’t. Once a sat nav’s told you to “turn right” you know, don’t you? You don’t need to be reminded every ten metres as you drive towards the junction. You’re not stupid and nor is your horse.

Go large round the school. Concentrate on what you’re doing before, during and after each corner. You probably check before the corner, ask for more bend to the inside on the corner and push on out of it. That’s a lot of work – and fiddling – for one small corner. Is it any wonder you’re fighting for breath at the end of a test? It’s also a lot for your horse to try to understand. You want him to relax … right?

Your horse will forgive you a misjudged dig in the ribs but give him a pull in the mouth and he’ll tighten his back every time. Think of the number of checks and pulls you did on that first circuit of the school. Is it any wonder your tests don’t flow?

Now go large again but this time fight the urge to fiddle. Ride forward but don’t pull back. It’s not easy. When you feel the urge to pull back use your leg instead. Trust your horse. It’s just a corner. Seriously - he can do it!

Test yourself on turns, circles and changes of rein. Once you’ve put your horse onto a circle stop asking. He knows where you want him to go. Trust him to take you. You’ll be amazed at the difference. If your hands are still he’ll relax and move smoothly from one movement to the next.

Think of the sat nav one last time. When you’ve driven on a motorway for half an hour without a word from it doesn’t it make you sit up and listen when it suddenly pipes up with “At the next exit …”?

Give it some thought next time you ride.

Good luck and enjoy your schooling.


  1. I didnt even think of this!! SO true! But alot of it i feel is from how weve been taught- i was taught to steer in a corner etc ....but i think i may need to un-learn this!! Its such a subconscious thing but now ive read this i KNOW i do it!

  2. You won't be alone! There are hundreds of aids we all give that are surplus to requirements.Test it out and see what you don't have to do. You'll be amazed how relaxing doing nothing can be. For you and your horse! L

  3. thank you for posting this, will try it! my cob has recently become very strong and i always constantly have to be pulling on his mouth to slow him down, but he fights against it. I do try and half halt but the second i relax he trots when I want him to walk. Its the same in trot too, the second I relax, he canters. I want him to learn that its me who is the boss and he cant always go speeding round the school! he is in a snaffle so i was looking into changing it to a bit of a stronger one, what one would you recommend?

  4. Hi Em, thanks for posting. Before you change bits have you had his teeth checked?I only ask because you say this is a recent thing.

    Before you try anything else check out The Other Way of Stopping. This is the best piece of advice I've ever been given! Using your knee and thigh can give you extra brakes - it works on all horses and you should get an immediate effect.

    If not consider a thin snaffle,flash noseband and a standing martingale.The thinner your mouthpiece the sharper your bit as a general rule.The noseband will stop him opening his mouth and ignoring you and the standing martingale will mean he pulls on himself not your hands.

    If you've done all these things then I'm a fan of the hanging snaffle which you can still use in a dressage test. It gives you a bit of poll pressure which may be enough to help you out.

    For horses that lean try any jointed mouthpiece. There's nothing they like better than a straight bar bit to hang on. And make sure you're moving your fingers on the reins. He can't fix if you don't.

    Hope something here works for you. If not come back and shout again! Lorraine

  5. thank you Lorraine for replying. I havn't had his teeth checked so will get that booked.

    When i tack him up he is calm as ever, but as soon as i get on him hes like a rocket always wanting to go and is waiting to explode! When i ride him, i never normally get a 'steady' ride, its always a constant fight between who is stronger, and for sure i definately don't win! He just always wants to bomb around the school but the second he feels my heel touch his fur, he shoots off! Most of the time i dont even need to use my leg, i either click my tounge or say 'trot on' and he will shoot forward.

    A friend of mine suggested using a dutch gag but start off on the larger ring that acts as a snaffle, and if he starts to get strong move it down a ring. But the hanging snaffle sounds like a good idea, i will give it a try.

    Thanks for all your information, it has been great help!

  6. HI Em, just to add a few things.Check out There's More to Legs than Kicking - it gives you some ideas on how to put your leg on without setting off sparks!

    If your horse came to me I'd spend a lot of time walking to get him used to my calf muscle being on his side. Until he accepts that you'll have an up hill battle. It takes patience but it is worth it in the end. Strong bits don't get to the root of the problem but in this case I'd do what you say and try a hanging snaffle because it sounds like you need something!

    Don't forget the standing martingale. I've had great affect from these in the past. If you haven't got one thread your nose band through the rings of a running.

    Best of luck and keep me posted! Sounds like you've got some work ahead. :)

  7. Hi Lorraine - We follow each other on Twitter @EquinePractice. From my perspective as an equine dentist, we overlook a few important things when we look at steering and stopping. They are "flabby cheeks" and the horse's threshold of pain.

    I agree with you on riders "nagging" their horse. I too have been told that a thinner bit is "sharper" but now I disagree. I now say use the thinnest bit possible because it is the least severe. However, the teeth need to be addressed adequately first.

    Here are some links:
    Flabby Cheeks -

    Threshold of pain -

    Thanks and keep blogging. You are good at it. Doc T

  8. Hi Doc T and thanks for this. I love to see things from other perspectives.Re the thinner bits I understand your point. Perhaps the reason we get such a reactive response is that the horse is actually more comfortable? It's a good point.I hope others pick up on these links.As I always say, there's more than one way to school a horse - this just proves it! :) Lorraine

  9. I think that a horse is more "reactive" because it IS uncomfortable. I estimate that half the horses I see have "flabby cheeks" and half of those are very sensitive where the bit lies in front of the first lower cheek teeth. There are some horses that allow me to float without any objection EXCEPT the first lower cheek teeth - even to the point that they need medication just to float this area.

    Standing in front of your horse, place your thumbs in the horse's mouth as if they were the bit (thumbs tips facing each other) and press down on the bars. You can do this one side at a time. Gently but firmly move the thumbs back along the bars towards the first lower cheek teeth (please do NOT get your thumbs between the teeth!). Feel if your thumbs move a wave of "flabby cheeks" towards those teeth. I'd bet half of the horses checked have enough cheek tissue to cover the front of the tooth. If you are brave, safely brace the mouth open and then feel the front of the first lower cheek tooth. If it feels like the bow of the Titanic, then you may have a problem. It should feel like the bow of a tug boat.

    In the horses that these teeth are smoothed appropriately, the rider usually can reduce the size and action of the bit to the least amount while attaining a comfortable response. This is what I mean by "thinner is better." It is even more important when using a double bit (more hardware in the mouth).

    There is a great picture of an extreme case of "flabby cheeks" in the link left in my first response. That particular horse was one of those that would rather die than have me float the first lower cheek teeth without drugs.

    Remember the laws "Seek first to understand" and "Then to be understood" from my book "The Ten Irrefutable Laws Of Horsemanship." It is difficult to ask the horse to do something if we are not listening and understanding what the horse is saying first. Increasing bit severity without understanding the root cause of the horse's distress is not horsemanship.

    Thanks Lorraine for welcoming my comments. Attaining comfort for the horse through equine dentistry is my passion since 1983 (>47,000 floats). Doc T

  10. Everyone's comments are always welcome, especially ones as enlightening as yours. Thanks very much.It's good to have different perspectives on here. :) Lorraine

  11. wow, I think you've just answered all my questions that no instructor could help me with! I've had serious trouble with my 6 year old Hanoverian; he's a big lad & is realising his size & strength. He's usually very quiet & well behaved, but recently he's thrown his toys out of the pram, especially in corners. Our menage is rather spooky (apparently), and there are two corners that he plays up in. As you said in the "on the bit or the buckle" blog, my reaction is to snatch up my reins, making him tense, chuck his head in the air & more often than not, over bend towards the outside & run off with me.

    It's seriously got me down over the last month or so, to the point that I don't want to school him. Our dressage scores have plummeted, from our peak at 78.5%, down to less than 60s. And of course it's affected our jumping, & as we event, our scores & my confident has taken a serious turn for the worst. This blog just makes so much sense.

    I will let you know as & when our theory makes a difference :)

    Tor xx

  12. Hi Tor, this is great news!I hope something will be of help to you.You have my total sympathy I had a similar horse of a similar age.Same scores, same problems.The good news is if you sit it out all will be returned when he's good and ready.

    Unfortunately - and don't shoot me, it's only my opinion! - it is a warm blood trait. They learn VERY quickly but then seem to have a brain over load and lose the plot for a year!

    There's an excellent exercise on here C3 - Could Try Harder. It keeps them busy without asking too much and, especially handy in your situation, it keeps you away from the corners!

    If you love your horse bear with him.He will come round. Avoiding tricky situations i.e shows and corners isn't a cop out it may just relieve you of some negative pressure. Try using 3/4 of the length of your school so he forgets about these corners. Ramming it home will only upset you both and as we all find out in the end horses are much stronger than us!

    I really wish you all the best. Keep me posted. In a few months time you could be back on track. I'd love to know. :)