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Dear Cherry,

I rode and owned a horse on my grandfather’s ranch in my teens and did some barrel racing and trail and am just getting back into riding 30 years later. I’m wondering if the training method below is cause for concern.

My trainer uses a heavy black rubber cylinder as a tie back when longeing my horse. Here’s how he uses it:

He saddles the horse and takes her to the longeing pen.

He hooks the rubber tube on the left bit ring and the front saddle cinch ring.

He has the horse walk and trot about 10 laps, then switches sides and does the same on the right.

Then he stops the horse, attaches the tube between the bit and the back ring of the saddle.

At this point, the horse is looking sideways, almost to the rear.

He has her walk and slow trot about 5-7 laps, switch sides same thing on right.

My trainer says her problem side is her right side, so she is tied around on the right side from bit to back ring to “stand” for 15 minutes.

I then ride her about 30-45 minutes.

This pattern is done daily, at minimum 5 days a week.

I’m concerned because sometimes she starts “spinning” in a circle and has to be stopped and started again.  She has run into the wooden fence many times.

Jan

 

Hi Jan,

This is a huge topic. I can’t see the training session in person although you did a good job of outlining it. In an email reply, I’m sure I’m not going to hit all the bases. But here is some information that I hope will be helpful. Since it is your trainer doing the tie back, I am writing to trainers in general, not to you specifically.

 

Most horses are stiffer in one direction and many horses are just plain stiff overall when it comes to bending. So part of our training goal to make a horse rideable is teaching a horse to bend in various ways and to condition them so that they can bend. There are many ways to do this. In a nutshell, here are some of my cardinal rules related to bending:

 

All bending lessons should be mastered with a halter and lead rope before a bridle.

Bending exercises should be done in hand before longeing or riding.

Bending lessons are more effective when they are combined with forward movement.

 

And a general training rule – if something is not working (as in 5 x a week, every week and still same stiffness), the trainer needs to stop doing it, step back, take a time out and look at what you are doing, evaluate, change. Repeating something over and over and not getting results just doesn’t make sense. There are much more effective ways to teach a horse to bend.

 

If a horse resists bending, it is likely that some of the ground training has been skipped. Ground training exercises related to bending include this one but there are many more.

Send the horse out on a 10-15 foot line and turn the horse in toward you to change the horse’s direction of travel. Do this again. You’ll see right away that in one direction the horse hurries and is stiff when he turns while in the other direction he will likely make a real pretty symmetric rhythmic walk around turn. Do this back and forth (it becomes almost like a figure 8 or a bow tie) until the horse relaxes both ways. This is the equivalent of a change of rein when you are riding serpentines, small figure 8’s, that sort of thing, a sweeping curvy type of turn, very balanced, relaxed, rhythmic.

Do the same exercise near the arena rail and ask for the turn and change of direction just as the horse is leaving the rail. This makes him do more of a turn on the hindquarters as he changes direction.

I’ve seen dramatic positive results in practicing this exercise with green horses and even use it to warm up my saddle horses before I step on.

 

Now as far as using reins of some kind while longeing, side reins can be a useful tool to help balance, flex and bend a horse but they must be used with great discretion and experience. Less is more.  The situation you describe is not really side reins, but related, so I wanted to mention that side reins, when properly used, can help a horse learn how to carry himself better. But they are usually used in pairs and never tightened to such an extreme as you describe.

 

Specifically to your horse’s training program – It seems to be a common training practice. As you describe it above, there are a few things that are OK but some not OK things going on too.

 

OK things:

Using flexible rubber for “side reins” – if you are going to use them flexible is good.

Using them (at least in part of the session) while the horse is moving forward.

 

Not OK things:

If a horse is so resistant (or fearful or uncomfortable) when bending yet it seems that this method is necessary to be used 5 days a week, I’d think that some training basics were skipped somewhere, such as in-hand work and work in a halter. I’d also suspect that the horse’s mouth might be sore from this every day regimen………and/or it is getting dulled to it all.

A horse should never be tied so short so that it is “looking sideways, almost to the rear” and being asked to go forward on a longe line. This just doesn’t make sense.

Tying a horse around to one side and making him stand is a dead-end as far as I’m concerned and certainly invites the spinning you mention.

When you train a horse to bend, you want him to bend moderately and in balance, not overbend.  Overbending, like overflexing, can turn into a real avoidance problem later on. One of those “it will come back to bite you” situations.

It takes time to make a good horse but it is time well spent.

Best of luck and thanks for writing,

Cherry Hill

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