The Gadgeted Horse

Ah, gadgets. What a can of worms that topic is. I’ve used my fair share of them in my life, although granted I haven’t touched any in a really long time and don’t particularly care to. But fear not, I’m not here to lecture anyone on the evils of draw reins or german martingales. I’m here to talk about what a struggle it is to try to fix a horse that has been over-gadgeted, or gadgeted incorrectly.


Draw reins especially are very common. More in h/j-land than in eventing or dressage, but you still see them a lot. It’s not even uncommon to see them on the racetrack. I’ve gotten more than one horse OTT that had the tell-tale “break at the 3rd vertebrae, duck the nose behind the vertical” signs of one that has spent time in draw reins. But all of them have paled in comparison to Henry.

When I first got him, anything more than the lightest feather touch of contact would send him practically nose to chest. To the point where sometimes I wondered if he could actually see the fence he was about to jump, it was so extreme. Of course, you can chunk the reins at a horse like that all you want, but that doesn’t fix the problem. Once one learns that the answer to contact is to come BTV, it’s a very hard thing to undo. Add on top of that a horse that’s really mouthy about the bit and fussy in general, and I had quite the issue. He didn’t like contact, he didn’t like pressure, and he was more than happy to go around BTV.

fine dude, lets start without a bit

First I had to take the bit away completely and just get him more rideable in his body. Six months later I was able to add a bit back into the equation, and while it was for sure a thousand times better, his immediate reaction to contact was always to tuck his nose in. He thought that was the right answer, and how to make the pressure go away. We struggled with it for SO LONG… what contact we could manage was really a fake contact, he wasn’t truly in my hand. We could fake it enough to put in a fairly passable dressage test, but it wasn’t really correct.

king of the fakers

To be honest, I never thought we would fix it. I never thought that tendency would go away, it was so deeply rooted in him. It really didn’t hit me until one day this past summer, when we were struggling with a few things in a lesson and his reaction was to come ABOVE the bit (like a normal damn horse, hallelujah)… he hasn’t ducked nose to chest in a while. In fact, if you didn’t know how he used to be, I don’t think you’d be able to tell by riding or watching him. We’ve finally made it to square 1.

oh, put your tail down, drama queen

NOW he can finally learn real contact. NOW he can really be ridden forward into the hand. NOW he can balance himself properly. NOW he is tremendously more rideable. Sure, he still hasn’t really mastered impulsion plus contact, not completely, but the BTV tendency is gone. He no longer seeks nose-to-chest as his safe refuge. He’s finally at the point where most horses start out… it only took 2.5 very long years. The struggle, it has been very very real.

24 thoughts on “The Gadgeted Horse

  1. I appreciate your emphasis on “over-gadgeted.” There are definitely a lot of horses that have been snapped into any number of gadgets with no end in sight, that end up with baggage like Henry’s. It’s nice to know that with patient and correct work, the baggage does eventually fade away!


    1. The gadget vs no gadget debate is a whole nother conversation (I grew up in a heavily-gadgeted barn and now am pretty firmly anti-gadget, for a myriad of reasons) but I didn’t feel mentally prepared for that one today! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My first eventer had been trained as a reiner… talk about a horse that wouldn’t touch a bit. Nothing like being yanked repeatedly with a 7 inch shanked bit to make a horse not trust. I think it took about 6 years before he would take anything but the lightest feather touch on his mouth, and even then, a Happy Mouth bit was the only thing I could use. He preferred a sidepull to anything else.


  3. Yanks was very similar and would tuck his nose at the slightest contact. Nearly impossible to ride something that so tight and not really in your hands. Though this stemmed directly from the racetrack–not once have I used draw reins. Took ages to fix! then theres B who loathes bits and contact and we are ever so slowly getting him to accept it. He giraffes though…


  4. I’ve been in a similar situation with Eli, although he was probably over-gadgeted AND, uh, over-aided? What would you call a horse that learned to fear any and all whips or crops? The chin tucking is mostly at the walk now, which is why I just walk him on a long rein. It’s a long-term project …


  5. It has been really interesting to see Henny progress through your blog. I have had a lot of people tell me to just ride Annie in draw reins but that won’t fix anything long term. She has gone in them but she doesn’t live in them. I try to be very sparing with gadgets so that I don’t end up creating a problem that is worse than whatever I was hoping to “fix”.

    I really hate nothing more than seeing a horse going around with his head cranked to his chest with draw reins. I want to ask the rider how they would feel if I tied their lower jaw to their chest. Answer: they wouldn’t!


  6. AMEN!!! This is my pet peeve! A pretty headset is all the rage, never mind actually learning how to ride your horse properly to teach it to move properly. Recently I saw a local kid marketing her “OTTB Makeover” horse for $15,000…..ummmmm not only is the horse waaaaaaay overpriced, but the poor thing has CLEARLY been ridden to death in draw reins and who knows what else. Not something I would ever invest that much cash in LOL!!


  7. runkle does the SAME thing, and I know he’s never been ridden in anything but a plain snaffle with nothing else. I think that’s why it didn’t take nearly so long to fix.

    except he hates bridleless. I tried him in a hackamore and yeah he untucked his nose but he also put a little rear cherry on top of the shit sundae so we abandoned that pretty quick.

    its so satisfying to feel them slooowly change into something more correct!


    1. A regular hackamore has a shitton (official measurement) of leverage, it’s way too much “bit” for Henry too, for anything but galloping. I always see people touting it as being gentle, but it’s really not… there is never really a true absence of nutcracker action on the nose, unless you ride with zero contact. Some horses are okay with that, others really object. I can see why Runkle would have objections. Henry likes his little “noseband” style hackamore a lot better, as do I. I’ve really wanted to try the LG Zaum style, which has a little bit of leverage but nothing near what a regular shanked hack has, I just haven’t wanted one badly enough to shell out the cash.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. i REALLY like the idea of the LG zaum a LOT.

        I did get the micklem multibridle and we tried the hackamore literally the day before he got the splint or else I was going to try the ‘bitless’ setting on the micklem.

        maybe when we’re back in work!?


        1. I have a fun bitless bridle I bought a few months ago I’m going to review soon on my blog. Problem is, my horse that uses it mostly only walks, so it’s a little tough to really test it. He did have a little leaping session the other day though, so I’ve got a tiny something to write about at least.


  8. This post is so accurate what the effects over-gadgeting has…my mare I went through a similar process and basically restarted her in a nathe and rubber mullen bit to encourage her to seek that contact. There are no shortcuts to achieve correctness! Glad you two have figured it out!


  9. “… it only took 2.5 very long years.” I am so totally familiar with this number. That’s how long it took to get my mare to lift her back and the base of her neck. And she still is very inconsistent about it, but at least she now knows what it is. There are no shortcuts (ones that produce correct results, anyway). So true.


  10. agreed completely on how tricky it is to work through the ‘ducking btv’ stage. my mare was fairly rooted in that as her evasion du jour… and not bc she was draw reined or overly gadgeted. it was just her first first answer for a long time (obviously not helped along by my own green understanding of how to get good contact).


  11. This problem is VERY hard to undo, I am working on it myself. But I have no gadgets to blame. I just rode my horse like a hunter with a loop in the rein for so long, that when I switched to dressage he was totally claustrophobic in any amount of contact and also decided behind the vertical was the best way to cope with it. It’s been a long, slow process but we are finally getting somewhere. It’s the best feeling when they finally want to take the bit a little!


  12. It is crazy how I am starting to see more and more horses on the track going in draw reins. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be galloping with those. But even the ones who don’t go in draw reins will tuck nose to chest. With some, that is because of the rider, and others just go like that without ever being forced or gadgeted. Bacon was one of those. I still struggle with her. When I first brought her home, I rode her like my western pony. No contact. She learned to balance herself and all was well. And then I ventured over to eventer land, where you kind of need contact, and she went back to BTV. It is a work in progress, and if she is relaxed, she has a beautiful light and consistent contact, but if she is nervous, she gets heavy and curls. You have made such progress with Henry, hopefully we get there some day.


  13. Oh wow yeah…. I could not even deal with C if he had all his current issues and this stacked on top. Good on you for taking your time with Henny and best of luck in the future.

    And by luck, yeah I mean time and patience.


  14. I didn’t realize track horses used draw reins. Maybe that’s why Romey bites mine? I’ve used them on Romes when he’s extra fresh because he loves to scoot and spin. They aren’t tight but when he throws his nose down and out to scoot that’s when they catch him.
    I’m not anti gadget in the right hands. But I’m 100% on board with how often they are used incorrectly.


  15. Anti-gadget here. I will accept that for some, they are tools, but I have no interest in quick fixes, and what amounts to people trying to look like they are advanced. Fixing the overgadgeted horse is a nightmare! I frankly feel sorry for them because they are trying so hard to give what they have been conditioned to believe is the correct answer. Fantastic you took your time!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I totally understand this struggle. I don’t know if Kachina was ever ridden in gadgets, or what her early training consisted of, but she definitely had the BTV tendency as well when I got her. We also had that long period of time to just get to square 1. We’re there at square 1 right now. I still sometimes have to remind myself that I have to do something to fix her being above the bit because that’s a new (relatively good) problem for us. Of course we’re still trying to address her head twisting problem so we’re maybe not fully at square 1 yet (is head twisting the result of any gadget over-use?)


  17. You responded to a comment earlier about the gadget vs no gadget and my response turned into too much of a novella so I figured I would comment solo rather than ambush the original comment. Cause clearly I have many thoughts. Yay me.

    I do hope you make a post about your anti-gadget views as it is something I really admire about you, how simple Henry’s setup is. (Simple as in it is basic, not implying it’s poor quality!) Though it is very controversial topic and can easily get panties in a bunch… Personally, I really, really dislike gadgets. Draw reins, side reins, training forks (I’m mostly western), they all teach a horse to avoid contact. Side reins while lunging do not develop a top line because the horse is ducking behind the pressure as there is no leg to encourage him to accept the bit and move properly. There’s actual science to back this up, too. …And don’t get me started on those who think a baucher bit works on poll pressure. Again, science! Haha. At the end of the day I’m going to care about my horse working from back to front and not get fussed about a headset, because that’ll come with time.

    Anywho! I liked this post and as I’ve creeped back a long time on your blog when I first stumbled across it, I’ve seen the progress with Henny and it’s pretty great. You two are a great duo and I think you’re lucky I don’t live in Texas. …though I do have two brothers down there should I need a place to stay while plotting to “borrow” Henny 😉 but in reality I wouldn’t do that cause he’s so damn happy doing xc and those jumps scare the bejesus out of me.


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