u-neck condition: horse moves shoveling nose out and up with the bit.
…head held high and straight. Consequently, becomes hollow backed with little impulsion from the hind. Using a snaffle requires far more pressure on the mouth than should be necessary to obtain proper flexing at the poll. .. and finds it very difficult to work collected.
w/ a raised head the horse will tölt along just nicely until changes taking a corner when will simply revert to a trot
Not pacey. Not really trotty either, as much as reverting to trot when can't maintain a proper tölt. Each gait, when you get there, is quite clear and comfortable to ride. Not a pacey horse that require a lot of work to obtain a clear tölt.
… Suggested exercises to strengthen neck and back muscles so that he is comfortably working in a proper position?
Answer from Dísa:
You describe your horse in your letter. He seams a little unbalanced and does not know how to flex his neck and give at the poll when you take rein contact. It even can make him unsecure and make him pull against you or hollow his back even more and break into trot? If I´ve understood correctly he is neither pacey nor trotty and his main problem is probably just that he has never learned how to give and flex his neck or collect when the rider takes some rein contact.
Bending exercises, like “kissing the stirrups” often help the horse to lower it´s head and get soft in the poll. It´s good to start from the ground, standing beside the horse and using the reins to guide towards a bend. While standing still you teach the horse to move it´s head to each side, start by getting the poll to flex,then gradually get the whole neck to bend so the horse can lick your stirrups without the legs to move at all. Remember to praise the horse, pat him on the forehead and even give a candy once in a while. When the horse has understood this from the ground the trainer does the same from the saddle. Soon the rider can start moving the horse’s head back and forth, left, right while walking and usually the result is that the horse starts to lower the head and neck, especially if done while riding a circle.
To teach a horse about the rein contact one needs to be very considerate and light in the hands but also consistent in guiding the horse towards the correct position. First you start in the walk, by playing with the reins a little and even moving the horses head tiny bit from side to side. Always remember to be light in the reins and never try to hold the horse in any position, use leading rein contact, not consistent at this point.
As soon as the horse starts moving it´s mouth and giving at the poll the rider gives the reins completely free and even allows the horse to stretch all the way down with the head. Very important factor is though how the rider sits, he needs to sit light in the saddle and even lean a little forward in the beginning, like halfway up to a “two point seat” or halfseat to allow the horse to lift his back up while he brings his head lower and stretches his neck and back.
When the horse has understood how to walk with soft poll and neck while the rider has light rein-contact he can start preparing for tölt. Usually it´s best to start by riding in a circle and little by little collect the walk so the strides get shorter but the horse still keeps his nicely flexed poll. Exercise the shortened walk first and always allow the horse to stretch between. Then slowly the trainer starts asking for few strides in tölt up from the short walk, and then right back to walk before the horse gets his head up in the air again and hollows the back. This requires that the rider sits light, he uses his legs to drive the horse forward but the reins tell him not to go that much faster and keep guiding the neck and poll to be soft.
Remember to give yourself a lot of time to prepare yourself and your horse. Little by little the toltstrides will get more and more secure and you can allow the horse to go straight as long as he keeps soft in the neck and poll.
It´s often very helpful to use double lounge to help the horse understand the way down in the trot. Also is good to ride the trot so that the horse lowers his head and neck and in the beginning it´s even fine it it goes very low.
While riding tölt some horses tend to get pacey while they are learning this new way of moving, and usually that´s nothing to worry about. By getting pacey the horse can lift it´s back and lower the head and train the back musculature easier than when tölting 4-beated. The rider should sit light but always keep the horse properly soft in the poll and bent in the neck. Usually with horses that are not very trotty it only takes few weeks until they almost clear the beat up by themselves. The rider sometimes needs to help by bending and playing with the back with their seat while doing little half-halts.
Building up back musculature takes time and patience, but the result will be that the horse moves more freely, he gets stronger in all gaits and often happier and calmer. Because if the horse is ridden with a hollow back for a long time, it´s like if a person tries to walk around with a heavy backpack all day long and lean back with a hollow back… it hurts! … eventually at least, the strides get shorter, the movements lower and sometimes the mind gets stressed.
I would suggest you start with these exercises, don´t rush and probably it´s best to start with a regular snaffle bit since the horse needs to learn how to respond to a direct reincontact anyway and it´s easier for you to get the feeling of how he responds.
Hope this helped and good luck
Herdís Reynisdóttir, called Dísa, is member of FT, the Icelandic Horse Trainers
Association, with the degrees of a Young horse trainer as well as Competition
trainer and Riding instructor C. She has a B.Sc. degree in Agricultural Science
and is a breeding judge as well as sport and “gaedinga”competition
judge. She has been working with horses more or
less since she was 14, starting and training horses as well as teaching in