Questions & Answers: Student to Student
(These are excerpts from one of our Horsemanship Classes)
Q: My horse loads on and off a trailer fine but really panics when they have to stay in it. Stomps and starts dripping with sweat.
A: Get the horse very comfortable in and around the trailer before closing it and driving away. Try to park the trailer where the horse can see it all the time, and lead the horse over too it often. Open the trailer wide (all the windows and doors) so you can really observe the horse’s mental state, then ask him to stand unrestrained in the open trailer. Perhaps have a little bonus snack waiting in the trailer. Keep in mind a horse may be passive, but may still be terrified.
Bit by bit start closing the trailer up around the horse, and watch for signs of worry. When a resistance spot is reached, stop and wait for the horse to calm down, talk to the horse, and be firm but kind until they are able to relax. If it was a big worry, then wait for it to pass, praise the horse, then maybe that is enough for that day.
Over several days, keep working with closing the horse in and restraining (head tie, butt bar) him in the trailer, and when he is totally OK with it, even asks to go in the trailer, try a short smooth trip around the parking lot. Check the horse, is he ok? Good, that’s enough for today. Is he freaked? Go back to standing in the trailer calmly with maybe just the engine running for a bit longer. Basically what I am trying to do is make this so not a big deal at each step of the way that when the time comes to ride four hours to the coast, the horse thinks this is my hanging out eating hay spot.
Q: My horse hates being girthed up? He turns and tries to bite, pins ears, and swishes his tail.
A: First check for a physical problem, check his soft tissue around his shoulders & ribcage. Make sure nothing pinches or puts a lot of pressure on the back (like an ill-fitting saddle or girth). See if there are any white pressure spot scars that may indicate past injuries.
If there is no pain, then make sure the horse doesn’t mind being touched in the belly area. Put a rope around his girth and practice tightening & releasing pressure. Try belly rubs with the saddle off then the saddle on. Hold the girth in place with no pressure and watch the horse’s mood. Try to observe at what point the resistant behavior begins, ask the horse to stretch & release their tension, sing the safety song, pet the horse, let them understand that everything is relaxed and casual, but this is what we are doing today. Always put the girth on gently and tighten it slowly without jerking. If the resistance is big, I would wait for it to pass, walk the horse around a little, pet the horse, then take the saddle off and let that be a day.
Take the girth off slowly bit by bit and watch for a reaction. Every time there is a resistance point, take some time and come back to a relaxed state of mind. Try to observe if the horse if worried about the girth, resentful of the act, or trying to express that you are not authorized to touch there and handle them like that. Some horses just need reassurance that you aren’t going to tighten the girth so tight they can’t breath. Also, I like to move a horses around between tightenings, it takes forever to undo the “kick ’em in the gut” technique so don’t do it.
Q: You go out to a pasture to get your horse, who is with 3 other horses, and he won’t let you catch him?
A: Separate him from the other horses & do some work with him in whatever place he is in. A fleeing horse in a small area with herd members can be very dangerous if the target horse is pushing and shoving to avoid capture and thus riling up the other horses and causing them to kick or strike. A human needs to not be caught in the crossfire. If the target horse is calm, and all the other horses are calm, you can follow them around until they give up and think you are ok, but it is not really a long term solution. You can also pet and play with another horse until he or she says “hey, I want to see what she has”. This will “catch” the horse. Once you have the horse I feel it may help to pull the horse from the herd and work in a smaller area to build your relationship with the horse as a member of the herd. An alternative, that felt a lot like cheating, was to build four hitching posts outside the pasture, then remove each individual from the herd each day for feeding/brushing/petting. It took time each day, but within a week I had all the horses just begging to be the first one caught and from there I was able to start asking each one to come in for different reasons. They seemed to feel that the “caught” horse was the special one that was getting something they wanted. To clarify, I went out at different times, and sometimes several times a day, and there wasn’t always food, but there was always something friendly and fun.
Horse paws and digs holes when tied.
An OLD method that does NOT take into account a horse’s inability to deal with their emotions/energy…
“If a horse paws, I would tie them up even longer with his head tied higher, as usual with the young ones. This way, they can’t get their head down to paw. And of course the swift swat one time really works. I would work with her during feeding time to get her to behave at all times. Tie up young horses in the arena for hours at a time so that they don’t have any of those bad habits. And again, their head is tied higher than normal so that they can’t get their head down to paw or get into trouble. “ If you teach a horse to stretch, release their tension and breath, and show them that they can relax within boundaries, this behavior goes away.
Student answers for Reasons why this might occur:
Doesn’t like to be controlled…is being fussy. “You’re not the boss of me.”
Doesn’t like to be away from herdmates.
It’s feeding time…I should be eating.
I’m soooo boooooored
Things to try: Work in the round pen to let her know you’re the leader and she needs to listen to you. Don’t work with her at feeding time. Try grooming and saddling in the round pen, away from the hitching area. Then later bring back to the hitching area.
Don’t leave her unattended while tied…be doing something with her…brush, wash, etc. That is, don’t try her patience further by leaving her untended for a loooong time.
A Horse kicks at people:
Horses kick out of fear (let me out of here), or as an attempt to dominate (get out of my way), so after identifying the WHY you can address it with round pen work and work in hand to teach the horse about trust and respect. Never pick a fight in a small space.
Student answers: Stay out of the kick zone. Desensitize the rear area by standing at shoulder and reaching back with hands or by using a whip to touch back area
Practice in the round pen on not letting the horse turn his rear toward you. Let him know that he has to face you. Send him off if he turns his rear to you or kicks at you purposely…but not if just kicking up his heels because he has lots of energy
Carry a whip out in pasture…if he turns his rear to you, send him off.
When you release him into the pasture, don’t let him spin and kick. Keep the rope around his neck until you are ready to walk off.
Horse goes into a crazy gallop instead of a gentle lope/canter, rider clamps legs on.
Student answer: Get a controlled canter on the lunge line first. Breath out, relaxed arms, give him space, keep him going until he relaxes. While riding, trot first and then try the canter. If he speeds up, do a half halt. If he takes off, sit deep and don’t panic.
A good answer: Assuming you have worked on a lunge line with the horse and can get him to do a nice easy canter unmounted, then you can practice on your up & down transitions while riding in a safe enclosure. Since clamping is NOT part of a downward transition in any gait, a lot of confidence can be gained by practicing transitions between all gaits after only a few steps in each gait.
Q: I’m unable to get consistent responses from horse working in round pen.
A: Improve your communication using your body language and energy — You are a herd of two and your interactions determine who is the leader. It’s his nature to challenge your authority. A weak leader will lead the herd to death. Confidence in yourself will inspire his confidence in your leadership. Walk tall & proud when you want his attention, he’ll notice when your stance and breathing to relax will cue him to slow down or halt. Make the boundaries clear, let the horse know when he runs through a boundary line.
Q: I have difficulty responding to what the horse is doing in the moment.
A: You may be lost in over-thinking — Horses are creatures of the moment. Predators are always thinking about the next move, or a nap after a big meal! You’re right, communication with your horse requires reading their whole body, as well as recognizing that they’re processing information from your whole body as well. They sense when your focus leaves them and goes off to ponder. Stay in the moment with them, if something doesn’t work out, then simply try it again. Keep a positive focus on yourself and your interactions with your horse. Leave self-criticism for outside.
Count in your head, keep the metronome on so you stay focused. Breathe in time with your counting.
Q: Work on my own physical condition and riding ability so I can maintain balance.
A: Physical conditioning — Participate in a very low-key Pilates or yoga class. If you’re hunched over a computer for most of the day, take time to stretch, shift your position and use the balance ball for a break and to work your core. You can program your computer to remind you to do this throughout the day.
If you have stairs where you work you can practice a sitting trot by jogging down the stairs with your pelvis tucked. Going up the stairs let your heels hang off the edges and stretch them down between each step to keep your ligaments loose. When you are in the car driving practice releasing the tension in your body and breathing. Do lots of exercises that work on your core.
If you’re longeing your horse and she keeps stopping and looking at you, how should you respond?
Student A: Is there something you do that you are not aware of that communicates stop to your horse; some type of body language? Try being aware of what you are doing with your body position or hands or breathing. Could also be that she doesn’t want to leave the safety of standing with you. May need reassurance that going is the right answer.
Student B: I agree that it sounds like she’s looking to you for direction. I’d try being more consistent in holding the lunge whip behind her rear so that she knows she’s supposed to continue.
Q: If your horse is mouthy and eats lead-ropes and reins, munching everything like a starving rabbit, how should you respond?
Student A: Feed your horse (kidding 🙂 !!) My question is: does this happen all the time or just certain times such as when you are working with the horse or tacking up? Is this an avoidance tactic? Most of the time this is a nervous habit, you may need to spend more time teaching her how to stand quietly and relax.
Student B: My gelding does this too when he’s tied up and wants to be let loose. I’m trying to treat this as a boundary issue and (very lightly) smack his nose while saying no.
Q: What if your horse steps on your foot while you are leading her?
A: Keep the horse’s head towards you just a bit so their shoulder is pointed away from your hip. You could also walk with a whip between you so she gets the idea that she can’t get into your space. It can help clarify boundaries. Horses are very aware of where they are putting their feet. Definitely a sign that the horse is worried about other things more than she’s worried about you.
Q: Almost every time I send my horse out in the round pen she always wants to go the opposite way from where I wish her to go. She is easy to correct and send the right asked-for direction but why are we going there in the first place?
A: My guess is that she’s physically out of balance and doesn’t want to go the way that causes her pain or discomfort. If only one direction this would be true. If both directions human induced confusion.
Q: How do I find enough time in my busy schedule to work consistently with my horse and make progress?
I have this problem too, but I’m not sure that I have an answer! My horses are here at my house, so I really have no excuse. I think like everything else I’m going to have to make spending time with them a priority. Even so, I’m not home to work with them every day, so we’re just going to have to do the best we can. Convince yourself that you will take 5 minutes to brush your horse each day. See what it turns into.
Q: What can I do about the fact that my new gelding hates having his ears touched (needless to say, this is going to make bridling a challenge) and raises his head to get away from it?
A: Who knows what his experiences have been? He may have very good reason to think something horrible is about to happen. It’s your job to provide him with more positives than negatives from now on.
Q: Even though I have doubled the feed for my mare, she still looks dehydrated and hollow in the flanks. What should I do?
A: Maybe she lost her intestinal flora over the cold winter and isn’t getting adequate nutrition out of the food you’re putting in? Get a good pro-biotic and add some alfalfa and free choice loose minerals to keep horses drinking and help re-balance the gut.
Q: How can I instill trust in my new horse?
A: Horses love peace, security and food. Security means you are a strong and consistent herd leader so he doesn’t need to worry about survival.
Q: How do I get my horse to stand quietly while being tacked up?
Student A: Before you tie him, help him relax. Take the lead rope, breathe deeply and ask him to stretch his neck down. Walk a few steps and stop, walk,stop, and back slowly. Repeat and eventually he will understand that all is calm and safe and that you are in charge and all he is doing is waiting for you to give him the next thing.
Student B: Try to make it easy for him to do the right thing (stand still) and difficult to do the wrong thing (move around). So one way to do this is: if he moves from where you put him, move him back and if he stands still for a short time then praise him before he moves. When he moves again, move him back, and if he stands still for a little bit longer praise him before he moves. Stop on a good note and continue next time. Similarly with the saddle, put pad on, if he moves , move him back, if he stands still then take pad off. Repeat, until he doesn’t move after you put each piece on.
Q: How to I teach my horse to pony from another horse?
A: One of the horses must be VERY experienced and get along with the horse you are going to pony. I would start with both in the round pen, see if I could work them together, walk in each direction, this would be an interesting exercise. If you work more than one horse at a time in the round pen it is quite fun but more like billiards than traditional round pen work. When they are both listening in the round pen, or not, I would ride the experienced horse around, ignoring the other horse, and work him like in a regular lesson to make sure he was paying attention to me and not other horse.
If that went well, and neither paid attention to the other, I would put a long line on the younger horse and start walking around him while riding – just like leading on ground – gradually I would shorten the rope when the leading is well. I would practice in the round pen until I knew I would not be pulled off by the horse I was ponying, nor loose the horse on the trails.
Q: What do you do with a new horse. You have been told he is pretty amazing but you don’t know personally?
Student A: I assume communication (round pen), walking w/lead rope the trail for nervousness meter, and then putting a saddle on and walking around the interior pasture for beginning?
Student B: I would try all the initial stuff to see how that went – grooming, feet, headshyness, can you touch him all over. How are his ground manners? Does he stand tied? Does he respond to pressure to different parts of his body? Can you longe him on a lead rope? How does he do in the round pen? Has he been ridden?
Q: How do I determine the level of energy required for the ask/or correction? Sometimes I err on the too much side, but sometimes I think they aren’t hearing me at all!
A: This all depends on the horse and the level of sensitivity. Mostly depends on the moment, feel the energy around you in the moment. Some horses need large energy put out and some need just the slightest. Also you need to gauge the mood your horse is in that day, if your sensitive horse wants to be with the herd, you may have to put more pressure on them to listen.—to get their attention back on you.
Sometimes if a horse is not listing, it may be good to change the work plan all together. Try something different to keep them guessing what’s next and focusing on you.
Q: How can I improve the timing of my corrections — if I anticipate am I over correcting; if I don’t am I late?
A: You need to know your horse and look for the signs of them not listening. It can be in the ears, their rhythm or head tossing. By looking for these early signs of not listening, you are more likely to be just right in your correction. —Like learning to drive a clutch it takes practice, practice, practice!
Q: How do I find the “right” stretch and consistent cadence?
A: The right stretch comes from beginning to praise the horse when they give you ANY stretch. They come to realize that a stretch means something good.
Keeping the cadence consistent is a combination of half halts, breathing and energy. If you need to slow your horse down, exhale, drop your energy and half halt. If your horse will not slow down, change directions until your horse finds the correct answer and turns his attention to you. –A relaxed horse will stretch.
You must be able to identify when the horse is balanced and relaxed and keep finding it over and over again.
Q: While lunging the horse pulls away against the line.
A: I would try free lounging in round pen then add line once he gets the hang of it.
Lots of ground work so the horse learns to yield to pressure not pull against it.
Look at why he’s bolting — back to herd/barn? Position your lounging exercise to minimize behavior.
Q: How can you tell if the horse is not listening or if you are communicating properly?
A: Horses are usually listening, but may be blowing you off or so distracted by other things that they think are more important. Do lots of transitions, redirection and more difficult requests can often get them to listen and tune in to you. Sometimes working in-hand or round pen before riding can help them tune into you. If you are not communicating properly the horse may be trying but doesn’t understand what you want. Try to break it down and put them in a position where you will get the right response.