Nicole's Horse Whispers 

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Difficult Trot

Posted by Nicole Nauss on February 12, 2014 at 3:35 PM Comments comments ()


Recently I've been helping a friend with her pony, working him on the lunge to bring him back to work and make him more flexible in his neck. The pony is a AA-German Pony cross, he's got a rather long back and very strong minded, yet in about three months he has improved a lot and I can get him trotting, cantering and even doing canter-walk transitions on the lunge with just voice cues.


He's got superb, elastic paces at the lunge, but when he is being ridden, his trot gets very bumpy and slow, it takes a lot of leg to keep him going forward (yet the trot keeps springy and his hindfeet track on his forefeet as at the lunge). At walk or canter there is no problem, you could sit his canter for hours, and I think because of that he has been ridden most of his lfe cantering and at the walk.


I wonder if there could be some issue with his back (having a rider on it at the trot), but then I am not sure if that should show at canter also, and whether there would be some exercises that could help with this. The best option would be to call a chiro, but then the pony is not mine and her owner does not think it is necessary, she says the pony is just like that.


Yet I cannot help thinking that he could improve so much. Would a long back, or pain, show only at the trot when ridden? Yet what could be the reason for his trot keeping springy and overtracking if there is any pain?


You know the answer – if there is a problem, first check for physical reasons. In this case I would look at his back and since his trot is fine on the lunge but not when ridden, I would make sure that the saddle fits and also at the rider.


In trot the horse is moving diagonal pairs of legs so the motion involves more swing in the back than in walk or canter which means that problems show up more in trot than in other paces – after all, why do we trot a horse to check soundness? The fact that the pony has a long back means that there is more back to have problems, so it needs better care, not ignoring.


It always amazes me when people decide that they don’t want to get the horse’s back checked – they are happy for the farrier to come regularly and (in most cases) for the dental technician, but a back specialist…? Similarly many people do not get their saddle fitted often enough – if it fitted him last summer and still goes on his back, why check it? I wish people would get backs and tack checked at least as often as the teeth are checked and, preferably, every time their horse’s work levels or body condition score changes.


You can try and eliminate possible issues by seeing how he works on the lunge with his saddle and with his saddle and rider (with and without reins).

Help With Counter Canter

Posted by Nicole Nauss on February 12, 2014 at 3:30 PM Comments comments ()


wondering if you can suggest some exercises to help develop the counter canter which we are starting to work on after several years of working on the basics of straightness, contact etc. The canter to the left has taken some work to get going forwards, straight and to try and prevent falling in through the left shoulder. The canter to the right has been much better, easy and more rhythmical. However the counter canter on the left leg ie to the right is more easy for my horse and he can maintain the bend. To the right however on our supposed better rein we struggle and the horse wants to fall through the shoulder and break into trot. We are just doing this little by little but wanted to ask whether there are any supplying exercises to do. We do have regular lessons and he has his back checked every 3-4 months. Many thanks.


Counter canter is an excellent tool for teaching your horse to be supple by stretching and contracting muscles, making your horse stronger and more flexible. It also helps train your horse to be more straight in his canter.


Ideally when working in counter canter your horse’s body should follow the direction of movement but remain flexed to the canter lead (ie his jaw is relaxed to the direction of the canter lead).


However, that is the end ambition, so to start with it is better to allow the horse’s body to have a slight bend in the direction of the leading leg (ie when your horse is on the right lead in counter canter he should have a slight right bend even though he is travelling left). This is why your horse is better on the opposite counter canter lead to his normal ‘best’ side as he is more flexible in right bend. This can be overcome with lots of suppling and stretching in both directions


Obviously this can be difficult for the horse to do if he is not balanced, so always make sure he is well warmed up before you start. Do lots of transitions, especially in and out of canter and also some lengthening and shortening of stride within your canter. Once he is warmed up and listening the first exercise is to canter around the school on the true lead in a reasonably collected canter then at the start of a long side make a long shallow loop towards the centre line and then back to the track. You should maintain the aids for the canter lead (and therefore the bend in the horse’s spine) throughout the exercise and the return to the track should be asked for by turning your head only in that direction.


Your horse should not be allowed to change lead of his own volition during this exercise. If he does, bring him back to a walk until he is calm then start again.


Once your horse can do this comfortably you can make the loop deeper with the curves more defined until it becomes a serpentine where he is cantering alternate loops in true and counter canter. From there you can work towards figures of eight. Never attempt to make sharp turns until your horse’s counter canter is well established as he may attempt to change legs or break in to a trot – and since you will be aiming to teach a flying changes next, you really do not want him changing lead at will, it must be when you ask for it.


Once counter canter is established you can work on harder exercises such as riding around the school doing simple changes into and out of canter canter whilst keeping the horse as straight as possible.


More difficult still is to do shoulder in in counter canter down the long side (just a few steps to start with) or to attempt renvers in counter canter on a circle.


Once all of these have been mastered (and yes, it will take time) you will have a well balanced and supple horse – good luck!

Mane Pulling Nightmare

Posted by Nicole Nauss on February 12, 2014 at 3:25 PM Comments comments ()


Help needed please. My warmblood gelding has had his main pulled a couple of times since I bought him 6 months ago now. He has been fine until today when he was not having any of it. He is always double tied and stands beautifully for everything but today he would not let us pull his main. He was throwing his head up and trying to turn his back legs on us as we struggled to tidy up his thick main. I was hoping that he would calm down as the endorphins began to flow as we progressed but no, he get more and more upset until we decided to stop for the day. I am now worried he has won a battle and am not sure how to proceed. Any ideas??


If you think about it, why does any horse stand there and let us pull out their mane in handfuls – it must hurt like hell! I find it painful plucking my eyebrows and am very grateful that my hairdresser uses scissors, not a mane comb.


You can make it a lot less painful for your horse by making mane pulling a daily affair with a few hairs being taken out every time he is groomed rather than waiting until it has grown and he looks like a moth eaten lion and then ripping out all his mane. It is also easier if he is warm when you pull the hairs as that means the pores are open and the hairs come out more easily.


In fact these days I quite often use a solo comb or mane rake to thin the mane – with a bit of practice you can do the job just as well and it looks just as good as an expertly pulled mane. Not only that it is quicker and pain free for your horse and your fingers.


OK, you may feel you lost a battle today and that your horse failed to stand still uncomplaining whilst you pulled out his hair, but would you stand there and let someone do it to you without objecting? Be fair to him and tackle the job over the next few weeks, taking just a bit of hair each time you groom him – and if you have to get it done for a special event tomorrow, then use a tool that is not going to hurt him.

Bad Manners

Posted by Nicole Nauss on February 12, 2014 at 3:15 PM Comments comments ()

Q. My sister's 4 year old Warmblood gelding is very strong in hand and pushy. He will drag you off to places (mostly when he sees food) and sometimes he will nip (playfully) you when being lead.


My friend has suggested a chain shank and jolt him whenever he is misbehaving.


What would you suggest?

A. Your sister’s horse needs to have his behaviour sorted out quickly as with his size he is likely to hurt someone or himself soon.


Whilst a chain shank and jolting him may have the desired result, temporarily, it will not solve the problem that he is learning that he is bigger and stronger than a human and can use his weight to do what he wants rather than what he is asked to do.


It is not just his leading that need sorting out, it is his understanding of who should be in control in the relationship. Leading problems rapidly become problems with grooming, riding and general management, so it is time for this young thug to learn how to be a gentleman

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