Do you have any suggestions for a horse that leans dramatically in the lope? I have a nice little gelding who is triple bred Poco Bueno and has Dry Doc as well. He is young and green. I have been starting young horses for 10 years now and I have never had one lean this badly. He hasn’t done a lot of loping in a smaller arena such as the one in the pictures. I just started putting more arena time on him and he seems very uncomfortable in the lope. The main thing I am trying to do right now is lift him up and guide him and staying very relaxed so that he may do the same. He is very, very soft in the mouth. He bends pretty well, but I am working more on that. I am also trying to get him to move off my legs better. I know both of these things will help him improve, but even so, he seems so nervous when he lopes, that all the other things he knows seem to fly out the window. I try to lift his inside shoulder and keep my inside leg on him while guiding him with my outside rein, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference. I have tried to bend his head into the inside, but it almost seems to make it worse. I would like to try and bend it to the outside, but he is so nervous that I don’t think I will be able to get him to do it while keeping him in the lope. He stiffens up a lot in it. I thought maybe doing that and letting him use the rail for some support might help. I was also thinking going back to basics and ground driving may help. Maybe getting him to do it in a lope with no weight on his back would help. He is not one to fight me at all, he is very compliant and has always done his best to do anything I ask, he is just nervous. My tentative plan is to work more on bending and moving off my legs and keep doing what I am doing. More lope time….making it a positive experience every time. I’ve been trotting him for a few laps, lope him 2-3 then transition back int! o the trot to ease his mind….do some circles….trot some more…lope a couple laps then do it the other direction. I am trying not to do too much of it, but it needs to be addressed. I also worry about reinforcing the behavior. Larry Trocha suggested that the instant he starts to lean, immediately stop him and turn him in the opposite direction of the lean. The problem with this is he is so nervous already, that the more stopping and going will only make him more nervous and he may not want to lope at all because as soon as he goes into the lope he leans so I will be stopping him after one or two strides. He has a very, very good foundation at the walk and trot, so it is not, that he is not ready to lope. He is 5 so it’s not that he is too young and doesn’t know where his feet are. I bought him not broke, as a late 3 year old (definitely older than he should be for not being broke…why I got such a good deal on him) so he hasn’t been ruined. I had a lot going on (illness, move across country, etc.) so his training has been intermittent. It will be very consistent now that I have everything back into place. Everything I have ever done with him has been a very positive experience. He is not set in his ways because of his age, just nervous. I feel like if I do all these things it will improve, but I am hoping for a better suggestion for a quicker fix because he leans so much that he is tripping fairly regularly and I worry that one of these times he is going to fall. His conformation is absolutely perfect. I also make a big effort to stay in center and not lean. I have thought of the possibility of back pain, but I am 90% sure that is not it, but am still open to any and all suggestions. Any would be greatly appreciated. If you would like to see more pictures, I have plenty. Thanks for your help and sorry for the lengthy message! I just wanted you to know the things I have thought trying or have tried and the reason/s they won't or don't work.
Thank you so much for sending me this question. Your detail really helped me to understand what all is going on and the pictures were very helpful as well. So thanks for those.
It sounds as though you know what to do and how to ride a horse, so I am glad you are experienced enough to be starting horses under saddle. You are correct about trying to pick up his shoulder and getting him to listen to your leg cue. So keep working on those things.
As far as being 3 before being started, I really do not start any horses under saddle until they are 3 or older. And that is because their back and legs are not ready to hold a riders weight until that age. I do not like to start horses at the age of 2 years because it causes a lot of wear and tear on young legs and backs. The "set in their ways because they are too old" thing is really just a myth. So I do not think, like you said, that this is at all causing any of these problems.
But here is what I see going on. He is dropping his shoulder because he is not using his hindquarters properly, his weight in the left lead should be in the right hind, his weight is in his left front. He is not bending in his rib cage while in the canter, and his nervousness is the cause for a lot of those problems.
So, I would start on getting him to over bend in his ribs at the walk and trot. Do this by lifting the inside rein (the rein on the inside of the circle) to lift the inside shoulder and then put a little inside leg on him a little forward, at the cinch area. As soon as you feel the ribs bend and he is light in your hands give to him and go straight and then ask again and again, on both sides.
Next for the ‘not using his hindquarters properly’ part. I would ask how your canter depart is? If you have to do a fast trot to get into the canter depart, there is part of your problem. A horse should understand that the canter is not a speed change but a gait change. That means that while in a trot we should be able to ask for the canter and get a canter without changing trotting speed. If he can do this you know that he is understanding the canter as a gait and not a change of speed. (You might want to go back to your ground work and get that transition better, if you think that he needs it.) So rather than working on cantering circles, you need to work on your canter departs. When a horse takes off in a canter, they have to put their weight on their hindquarters to do so. But, when they are in the canter they can put all their weight forward and drop their shoulders. That is why he is tripping so badly. All his weight is forward on the front end.
Also be aware of your seat in the canter and from the trot to the canter. If I want the left lead I put my weight in my right hip and then ask with my right leg back on his side to get the left lead. The reason that I do this is because for a horse to take the left lead they have to lift their left shoulder and push with their right hind. Then while in the canter I still keep my weight off the left front foot.
Also the best thing for a nervous horse after a canter is a Walk, not a trot. In a trot they can still hold on mentally and physically to nerves and muscle tightness. So the best thing for him would be to canter and then walk! So canter half a circle and walk a full circle or until you feel him relax and let go of the tightness.
Here is what I would do: Warm up like normal or do whatever you do. Then work on leg cues and bending in the ribs at that walk and trot. Then do lots of Trot to Canter, Canter to Walk transitions. The trot to canter will keep the weight back on the hindquarters and the canter to walk will help him relax and get soft. So at this time I would only canter like 5 or 6 strides at a time.
If you do this with consistency he will get better. And I am sure you will as you sound as though you are dedicated to this horses’ success.
Let me know how you guys are doing and again thanks for the questions.
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