My Tennessee Walker Wants to Rush
I have tried several times to make this short with no success so please bear with me. I bought my first horse about a year ago, a grade TWH from what turned out to be a "horse trader," so no background is available on him. On the ground he is wonderful. Very respectful of me, and he listens and complies well.
When I'm in the saddle, he is hot, always wants to pick up speed, nose way up in the air. He doesn't even want to stand still. He prefers to trot, but can rack and, I think, do the running walk. But he does nothing slow, and nothing relaxed. Other TWH owners think he was a show horse. I have heard many times "Tennessee trained."
My horse is sore in his back and stifle area, and now under a vets care. I give him Bute an hour before I ride so he can learn to use his back legs with full motion again. (His toes were too long which caused stifle problem, inverted frame probably caused back problem.) I think all the pain had a lot to do with his under saddle behavior.
I am now riding him with a low port curb with killer 10" shanks, which I am having some success with and a western saddleking saddle with cutback built up pad and no leg pressure. Any amount of leg means go go go! If he was a show horse and or "Tennessee trained," (if you know what that means) what are his cues to stop? Slow down and relax? When I get him responding to me he is beautiful with better flex at the poll, nose down, and legs flying. I don't want to cause him more pain. To get him to stop now, I lean over his left shoulder, he looks back at me and I say, "Smoke, whoa." He then stops and parks out.
I have access to a cut back endurance saddle. Would this be better for him? He was in real bad shape when I got him, but we may be making progress now.
Please, any advice would be greatly appreciated.
You have a rather typical problem, caused by poor training/riding. And please don't think this is unique to Tennessee. . .both good and bad trainers exist in every part of the world. Many gaited horses have been trained to rush, because some gaited trainers, as well as owners, think that the only speed a gaited horse should have is FAST. Usually these horses are trained using pain (both intentionally but also inadvertantly through poor saddle fit and harsh bits), so there's no reasoning them out of their behavior. They're going on reflexes alone, and the way they act is a conditioned response they learned to avoid pain. Think of touching a hot stove. . .would you do it, just because some new person in your life now says it's OK? No--even if you wanted to obey, your conditioned 'survival' response would cause you to snatch your hand back from the object that had caused you pain. You need to understand that it will take time for your horse to learn to trust you, and more time for him to learn how to use his body in a way other than that to which he is accustomed. You don't say how old he is, but the older the horse, the longer the retraining, as a rule.
The good news is, this can be tremendously rewarding work. One of my favorite things, in fact!
Sounds like you're doing a number of things right. . .you have remarkable comprehension of the problems, given your short involvement in the horse world. I congratulate you for having done your homework. But I do have a some suggestions. First, get Smoke out of that 'killer' bit--it will only make things more difficult in the long run. I heartily suggest that you click here to check out my 2nd Generation Imus Comfort Gait Bit
. It has plenty of 'whoa power,' but doesn't cause the horse any pain. It will also permit you to work off a leading rein, without the pain associated with a broken mouth/curb action bit.
By all means, get out of the western saddle and try the cutback endurance saddle. Poor saddle fit is causing pain in about 80% of the horses I work with. That will create rushing and an inverted frame, as well.
Do not ride in a rigid western stock saddle tree. In the event that you absolutely cannot afford a different saddle, then at the minimum invest in a supra-cor closed cell saddle pad. Unless you painstakingly avoid causing pain in the mouth and back, you will not be able to overcome these problems. Frankly, I've seldom found a gaited horse that was comfortable in a traditional, rigid tree, western stock saddle. (The exception being a type of blocky built, racky horse that has little or no action through the back. Rare.)
Once you've got him fit comfortably--and I can't stress the importance of this enough, since it's almost surely part of the root of your problem--work him in an enclosed area for awhile, so you've got his attention, and he won't feel as though he has anywhere to rush to. Start working your horse at a slow walk, do not collect him up on the bit at all. Just let him stretch out his neck as much as he will. He needs to learn to stretch out his topline, and relax at the poll. It may take several sessions of relaxed walking before he will do that--during which time YOU MUST NOT TOUCH HIS MOUTH. As soon as you touch his mouth he will stiffen up, out of conditioned response to past pain.
Transition him from the walk, to stop. (Of course you'll need to pick up on the rein as much as necessary to stop him--so his reward will be that the instant he stops, you let go of the rein.) Learn to use half halts, so that you can communicate from your body as well as the rein.
Once he will consistently walk out in a relaxed, stretched out form, ask for slightly more speed--don't take hold of the reins just yet. Now, ask him to transition between the slow walk and the faster walk, using very light rein contact. No gaiting, & only light rein contact. Next, place some 10'-12' long poles on the ground at 10' intervals, and teach him walk over these poles. It will cause him to put his head down, round up his back, and pay attention to where he's going. Now ask him for transitions (halt to walk to fast walk, nothing more) over the poles. Also ask him to do a lot of bending and circling, to keep his body soft and help him develop flexibility. Use a direct rein, to accustom him to flexing his neck to the bridle.
When he's doing all this in an unflappable manner, begin ever so slightly to take up on the reins when he is in a nice swinging walk. If he flips his head, don't drop the rein! Rather, keep the contact until he's relaxed back into the bridle. If he insists on flipping his head, or rushing, halt and start over again at the walk. Do not permit rushing for any time at all. Over time-weeks-you will be asking him to relax into and down onto the bit, while you take increasingly strong hold on the reins. Keep collected work to 5-10 minute sessions, to start (that is, don't ask him to go in a collected from for longer than that-you certainly can work longer.) Work with your horse until he comfortably collects up on the rein, and calmly accepts your cues for transitions up and down. Now-and not until-you're ready for the trail again.
Yes, it's work. . .but I am confident that you and your horse will enjoy wonderful rewards as a result of these efforts.
God bless--may all your trails be happy, and smooth!