Issues From The Saddle: How Much Does Conformation Have To Do With Movement

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Question Category: Issues from the Saddle

Question: Hi,

I have a 5 year old QH gelding that is tall and not very muscular. He has a long back and legs and I wonder if that is why I am having trouble getting him into a nice slow jog. He goes Hunt well, but I’d like to slow him down for western and trail classes.
My question is; how much does his conformation have to do with his movement? He is also “strung out” at the canter and seems to have a hard time collecting. I don’t think he will ever “lope”! I raised and trained him myself and he is quiet and willing, a great horse. I ride him in a simple snaffle, and he responds very well to aids.

Thanks for any advice!
Joanne

Answer: Joanne,

Conformation has everything to do with movement and performance. Horses that are long-backed especially have difficulty bringing their hocks up underneath them and elevating their backs, which is required for collection. I believe you can improve a horse that is not athletically inclined, but you cannot make him into something he is not. To improve him, I would work on conditioning him in a round pen, at liberty, in a bitting device that encourages self-carriage. The type of bitting device I use is called an ‘elbow pull,’ or the Goodnight Bitting System. In time (months), with better conditioning, be can improve his self-carriage and collection, maybe by 15%, but his conformation will always be a limitation.

Again, you cannot put a round peg into a square hole, and not all horses are successful at slow Western gaits. You can make any horse trot slowly, but the ones that are good at it are naturals; the ones that are not good at it present a constant fight and easily become resentful. It may be that your horse is better suited as an English horse, for which long and lanky are more desirable traits.

JG

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Cantering Help: Bucks At Lope

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Question: I recently began training a 7 yr old quarter horse gelding who had never been ridden (or anything else). I was really surprised at how smoothly everything was going, i.e., longeing, saddling, trailer loading, etc. He is very even tempered, but LAZY!! Can you tell where this is headed? I really had to push him forward, but he would move out. Anyway, after 30 days, he had his first trail ride. He did fine. He stayed at the back of the pack, crossed creeks, cantered, walked over down trees, etc. His first trail ride was successful, thus my false sense of security.

Trail ride #2 followed 6 weeks later. I was riding relaxed, with a draped rein, and then the canter. If ever there was a type-A personality for a bucker, his picture is it. I stayed on till the 4th or 5th buck. Given we were on a ridge, all I could do is get back on and wait until I could pick my battle in the arena. We rode another 2 hrs after the fall, and he did everything fine, but I didn’t ask for the canter again.

So, what would you do? Given he’s really still untrained, I want to correct him right. I really should have expected this to happen, but I’ve never started a horse this old before. I falsely thought because of his maturity, and his progress we would skip this part. My gut tells me to start him over, and give him a chance to perfect his bending, and collecting at trotting before I start him cantering. OR Would you pick right up with cantering and address the bucking issue from that point?

I need to make him realize I’m higher on the food chain, and he can’t buck when he doesn’t want to do something. Given his age, I’m just not sure. I don’t have a problem digging in with him in the arena, I just would rather do it there than on a ridge! I welcome your advice. By the way, he was riding in a baby bit, and his only back problem is that I was on it! Thanks as usual.

G W

Kennesaw, GA

Answer: In my experience, the older a horse is, the more difficult they may be to train. This guy sounds like a perfect example of a very willing horse (as most horses are these days) that is very easy to break- UNTIL you ask him to do something he does not want to do. I know lots of people that have fallen into this trap of thinking their horse was so easy to train and so they skip the important stage of basic training (the ABCs) and then when things go bad, there is no foundation to fall back on.

Usually when lazy horses buck at the canter, it is in a refusal to go forward and an evasion of work, but you should always rule out a physical problem first. I think you are totally right in that you need to go back to basics with him and teach him control and obedience. Your training instincts are very good and I appreciate the fact that you are accepting the responsibility for this mis-hap and not blaming the horse.

When I was a young and cocky rider (many, many years ago), I learned a very important lesson from an outstanding race horse trainer that I was fortunate to work for and learn from. The lesson regarded a young, proud stud colt, that would launch into bukcing fits daily as we started him. After the first week of surviving the bucking fits in the round pen, we progressed to riding out on the open track, and he bucked every day, but never quite managed to unseat me. At the end of the second week, I said to the trainer, “I think if I can get him to buck one more time, I’ll have him licked.” The trainer promptly poked a finger in my chest, looked me square in the eyes and said, “Julie, don’t you EVER pick a fight with a horse. If you do, chances are you are going to lose.”

That was a real life-changing moment for me and is a philosophy I have stuck with ever since. Always avoid a fight if possible and never challenge a horse to a duel.

I would not push the canter issue until you feel confident in your ability to control his speed and direction. You may want to try working him in the round pen (unmounted) and teaching him that he has to canter (or trot) until you tell him to stop. This idea of you being in control and him being obedient will carry into your riding as well. Start with small increments of canter and gradually increase the length of time you ask him to canter until he learns to be obedient.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when trainnig is to ask a horse for more than he is capable of giving. If you ask him to hold the canter for too long and he is forced to break gait, you have given pushed your horse into disobedience. So whether on the ground or mounted, just ask for short lengths of canter, then ask him to come back to a walk or trot while you are still in control.

Trail riding comes quite naturally to a horse and he was probably totally enjoying the ride the first time you went out. Then somewhere along the line it began to seem like work and he decided he did not want to do that. Since you did not have a foundation of communication and control to fall back on, it fell apart. So start over in the arena with the basics: stop, start, steer, and obedience. Work your way back to the canter slowly and do not worry about cantering until you feel confident that you both are ready.

When you do ask him to canter, just go for a few strides then back to trot and gradually increase the amount of time you ask him to canter. If he does try to buck, keep his head up with one rein (pulling on two reins when a horse bucks usually spells disaster), but do not let him stop. He should only get to stop when he is relaxed, obedient and moving forward.

Good luck and be careful!

Julie Goodnight

Trainer and Clinician

Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.