OK my horse used to always have a nice head cariage. ( no I do not meen a fake head set) Now he does not. He gets heavy in my hands and or puts his head in the air like a giraff. My riding instructor says to push him forawrd into my hands. I do do this but he still does not come on the bit. He does have a sore back but he has always had it. He sees a chiro and both him and the vet say he is fine. Any tips for getting him to come into better on the bit contact? (I do not want to seesaw)
Well if the back problem is definitely not giving him problems (it is hard when they can not tell us I would do some lunging.
I’m not a fan of lunging every day, but you might have some success if you lunge with a surcingle and side reins. This will help get your horse working well and eliminate him arguing with you in the beginning. I alternate a riding day with a lunge day with a new or unfit horse. It allows them to build fitness and muscle.
Which brings me to my next thought, has anything changed? Has he dropped condition or gained too much condition. Has he lost muscle tone etc. If so it might just be a case of getting him fit again and then trying for more collection.
But if it is not that then I come back to the soreness (as he was ok before). So lunging will give you a good opportunity to see him from the ground and to assess his movement. Push him forward into a good working trot, as it is a bit easier from the ground and see if he will naturally collect, once he is engaging his hind quarters
Also incorporate transitions in the session. Another good way to see if soreness or stiffness might be an issue. This is not about tying his head down, side reins set correctly are not dragging the head in dramatically and it is before the vertical so he will bring his own head in if he is able to. I have a stop watch with me, I time everything to make sure the horse is worked evenly on both sides
The question of collection gets asked a lot, I will give you my standard answer to it. I was taught by a grand prix dressage rider. It may or may not be relevant to you
To get your horse "collected" your horse must be truly working on the bit and engaging their hind quarters without false aids. If you pull your horses head in with your hands (I’m not a fan of sea-sawing on a horses mouth or the pulse) when you release the pressure then the horses head pokes back up and out.
You need to drive a horse forward with your seat and legs and maintain a contact on the reins. Think of a tube of cream, if you squeeze without the lid on it will squirt out, if you put the lid on then it will move to the top of the tube and fill the area. But if you close the lid really tight and then squeeze the tube it will explode.
Your horse is the same, if you don’t hold some contact with your reins then when you squeeze she will just go quicker. If you pull his head in and kick hard then his energy will explode out in some way. You need to maintain contact with the reins and apply your seat and legs, get that hind quarter working hard and he will figure out it is much nicer to accept the bit.
With the above I would also assume your horse has a certain level of fitness, it would be very hard for a horse who does not have enough muscle to maintain that position. Think of it like going to the gym for the first time in a year, she will be sore. Do small amounts each ride and build it up.
You can lunge with side reins, but the same applies, start with short sessions and SLOWLY build him up, also start with the side reins quite loose and slowly tighten them until you have him just before vertical, no more. This allows the horse to bring their head into vertical and work kindly. You also need to lunge in a good working trot so they engage and work properly. The side reins are especially good if you don’t feel you have steady hands, you don’t want to be jagging at his mouth each stride. They are a tool and if used correctly can be kinder than a rider with hard hands.
Just remember the horses hind legs must be working as hard if not harder than the front. Your horse can be round but not be on the bit, you really want your horse on the bit. So this is not about getting your horses head in, it is about making his hind quarters work hard enough. When you get it right your horse will be soft on the reins.
Take it all slowly, if you don’t lay a good foundation, then the house will fall down. You need to have your horse supple and responsive. As to how long it will take, it will depend on her level of fitness and the amount of work you put into him.
Some horses cannot achieve "round" so really having their head vertical can still be on the bit, as long as that hind quarter is working hard enough. You ride with your seat not your hands, when your legs are sore you will be doing it correctly, you will need to condition yourself, just like you will your horses muscles.
Without leg pressure the horse would naturally want to stop. So you need to maintain enough pressure with you legs and seat to drive him forward into a working trot that engages the hind quarters. You WILL feel the difference when he is working correctly and your smile will be huge He will be light on the contact and will be working forward from behind.