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Horse Counteracting the Command to Whoa? - Advice by Trainer Shannon Anderson

First… I want to cover some basics that need to be considered. Why is he trying to get away from the bit?

How are his teeth? I always check teeth 1st when dealing with type of issue. Depending on the age of the horse, he/she could be teething. Check for wolf teeth or canines coming in. Depending on the breed even canines can cause problems; i.e. Arabians have very narrow pallets in some cases and canines can come in close to the center of the pallet and drop down as they come in, I currently have a stallion in training that has this issue, he’s being ridden with a soft bosal until they drop down some.

Next look at your equipment. Does the bit fit properly? You want to look at the width of the bit. Is it wide enough or to wide? You want the bit to fit properly. Then look at where it is hitting in the mouth, is it too low or too deep? The rule use to be you wanted a wrinkle or two in the corners of the mouth. In my experience this is a little to deep, I pull the headstall up until I get one wrinkle and then let it down just until the wrinkle is gone. Then you are not creating constant pull on their mouth, helping to keep them soft. You also want to consider the type of bit you are using, it is often the case that a horse will prefer one bit to another… for young horses I start them in a bosal or side pull, and work them into a snaffle.


If all of the above is good then we need to look at training…


  1. We may need to back up to the ground in this case. You want a VERY GOOD whoa on the ground before you ask for one in the saddle. I like to use Clinton Anderson style rope halters. The knots will give you very good control of their face while keeping them super light, and not hurting them or you. With whoa, I want a full stop, voice command only, without having to cue with the halter. (This will help a lot when you are transferring your cues to the saddle work & may even avoid the problem you are currently experiencing).


  1. We also want a good reverse on the ground; the rope halter again will help you with this. I want a horse to back on cue & voice; I simply say back & apply pressure. I want a quick, straight back on the ground before I ask for it in the saddle.


  1. Then we apply this in the saddle, if you say whoa he should stop without you ever touching his mouth. (You’re effectively avoiding that “popping” & “diving” out of the bridle. The best way to solve problems is to avoid them in the first place). Then when you ask for the back you are applying light pressure to the bit/bosal. (I always ask young horses to back after whoa, it helps to teach them to collect, gathering their body & also prepares them to learn to slide if this is the goal.



  1. If you are progressing into a slide you will need to eventually apply the bit at whoa, but by this stage you should have a solid whoa and back, and you’re going to work to combine the processes gradually. Sitting deep in your seat at the stop and pushing your feet forward, and still driving them forward. (I give a little wiggle of my feet to get the back after a slide).


*** Your horse is not going to understand seat cues at first, which is why voice commands are imperative in starting young horses. Voice commands can be transferred to silent cues as they progress.


*** If you are still experiencing this “popping” or “diving” after reapplying all these lessons then & only then will you correct them, with a light bump to the bit. I also like to add training aids like a martingale or draw reins, but not until the ground work has been addressed & readdressed if necessary.


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