Training Wyatte

Things We Learn from Wyatte

Wyatte is a Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse gelding.  He used to gait very well, but has learned to do a dead pace instead.  Our first session was 2 months ago in September.  In that training session, we worked for quite a while training him to softly give his nose.  Mostly we were working on vertical flexion.  He was used to going forward only at a fast speed and with his head up way too high.

In our second session, we worked a lot at trying to get him to stretch down and helping him break up the pace he was so used to doing.  As the training went on, it was becoming clearer that he had lots of tension in his neck and back and wasn’t able to release it.  We then tried to help him do lots of stretching.

It was only after we had done lots of forward stretching that he finally began to relax, lift his back, lift the base of his neck occasionally, and go forward with his head and neck low.


Preparation Training

  • Train your horse to give his nose vertically (vertical flexion) to the bit (or hackamore).
    • If you can safely ride your horse, work on this right away.  I do this first thing on all the horses I ride.
    • This is often easier for the horse to learn while moving forward and on a slight bend.  Check out Mike Schaffer’s dvd “Right from the Start”.
  • Train the horse to go forward with his head low, rather than up
    • Check your hands and then check the bit.  Are you pulling on him and making him put his head up in pain?
    • Low doesn’t mean on the ground, but it might mean that he holds his head and neck level with his withers.
    • Use ground poles to help him stretch down.
  • Train the horse to lift the base of his neck

    • Look at photos and live horses to learn what this looks like.  The underside of the horse’s neck, especially where it meets the shoulder should look like the first photo and not the second photo.
    •  Use exercises like moving the shoulder over while walking to help encourage the base of the neck to lift.
    • Make sure your horse is going FORWARD as you do this exercise.  It doesn’t mean rushing, but he shouldn’t be pokey.
  • Any horse, but especially a high-headed one, has to learn to stretch down and out, telescoping the neck.
    • This should be done at the halt, at the walk, and in the rein back.
    • The rein back was where I first got the clue that Wyatte couldn’t stretch his head down.
    • He would back up, but only if his head and neck were straight up.  If he put his head down, he could figure out how to back up.  Slowly, we used this to train him to stretch down against light pressure on the reins.  When he pushed, I allowed the reins to slide through my fingers.
  • Check for muscle knots in your horse’s neck if he likes to carry his head much higher than level.
    • Try to massage these out a little at a time.
  • Train the horse to back up with a low head
    • Head should be level with or lower than the withers.
    • Take as much time as needed here
    • How the horse backs up is much more important than how many steps he takes

Gait Training

  • Use individual ground poles to help break up a pace or pacey horse.
    • Once the horse has learned to relax and stretch down, walk up to the ground pole and then ask the horse to go forward into gait just as you get to it.
    • Give the horse a lot of rein over the pole and as you ask for a gait.
    • As soon as it gets pacey, slow your horse back down to the walk.
  • Do a lot more walking and stretching/giving exercises than you do gaiting at the beginning
  • If your horse gaits better in one particular spot, use that spot to help him understand that he should gait smoothly.
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat!

In Conclusion

  • All horses are different and need different training techniques at different times.
  • Training a good gait is rarely a matter of “cueing” or “asking” correctly; it is about training the horse to give the correct response.
  • Keep calm and go forward.
    • Forward doesn’t just mean not standing still.  Forward implies that the horse has an attitude of going forward as soon as you ask and with impulsion.
  • Ideally, I would love to see all this work done in a snaffle bit or a hackamore, but you work with your horse where he is.  As I continue to help Wyatte’s owner, transitioning to a snaffle will be one of our goals.

Quote from Wyatte’s owner:

[Ivy] was such a good teacher and I learned so much from her that day. Now Wyatte and I work on the exercises she gave us and I now I can also get him to gait a little and I am sure it will increase. As soon as he paces, back to the circle work he goes.

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