“My horse won’t stand still.”
“My horse seems nervous.”
“I’m constantly fighting my horse.”
These are all common things that I hear from a lot of my clients that are struggling with their horse. They’re frustrated because they feel like they’re constantly fighting with their horse to accomplish a task or maneuver, and just want their horse to be more relaxed. Some of the most common reasons for this “anxious/nervous” behavior are:
Anticipation of pain: When a behavioral problem arises with any horse, it is very important to rule out pain first. The horse could be trying to avoid certain pressure because it is painful. Always consult with your vet if you feel that your horse may be in pain. Once pain can be ruled out, we can look into other causes of the behavior.
Anticipation of the next maneuver: Horses are creatures of habit. If your routine consists of the same maneuvers, in the same order, every session, then your horse can catch onto the schedule and anticipate the next maneuver. This can cause them to seem “squirrely,” because they know what is coming next. Try to mix up your routine to keep your horse on their toes. Additionally, it is very beneficial to pause for at least a few seconds between maneuvers when training to teach your horse to pause, relax, and wait for your next cue.
Too much force/pressure: Sometimes as riders/ handlers we try to micromanage our horse, or use too much pressure or force to try to get the desired behavior. The horse can begin to get resistant and act out, trying to communicate to you that they don’t need that much pressure. Light hands make a light horse. Always ask lightly first, and only increase the pressure if necessary.
Lack of Confidence: When training, it is important to build a horse’s confidence and expose them to as many situations as possible. When faced with new situations, it is natural for a horse to want to avoid a “scary” object or scenario, and even want to flee back to the herd where they feel safe. From the very beginning of training, it is crucial to desensitize horses to different obstacles and objects, and also teach them to be independent from other horses. Whether you use natural horsemanship, positive reinforcement, or a combination of both, make sure to always reward the horse for relaxing and trying, especially away from their friends and the barn. The more confident the horse, the smoother and more relaxed maneuvers will become. This can take time and a lot of wet saddle pads, but will be worth it in the end.
Previously rewarding the horse for bad behavior: “Barn sour,” “buddy sour,” refusing, etc. These behaviors and habits can form even with well meaning owners. At one point or another a rider can reward their horse for a bad behavior without even realizing it, and it spirals from there. A common problem I see is a horse pushing through the bit trying to race back to the barn, where the rider dismounts, unsaddles, and puts the horse away. The horse has learned that the faster it gets to the barn, the faster it can be done working. To change this mindset, you can spend some time working the horse around the barn and relaxing away from the barn. When you return to the barn from a ride, don’t immediately dismount if the horse has been pushy. Continue to work until the horse is relaxed and focused. Then reward. The horse will quickly realize that only relaxation and attention to the rider/handler will be rewarded.
**Each horse and situation are different. Training methods needed can vary. This is based off of my experiences.**
We had a great Mother's Day ride yesterday evening! This little mare doesn't get enough credit. 99% of the time we are riding out alone with the wind, things blowing around, new places, dodging prairie dog holes, and the dogs popping out from random places. She has moments of uncertainty but handles everything like a champ! Plus she absolutely loves being out. She literally refused when I turned back for home! "More adventures mom!"
Lately Ella and I have been practicing when we can for the American Competitive Mustang Club virtual show this month! We are planning on entering several classes including horsemanship, showmanship, and freestyle! She’s never done a showmanship class before, so we’ve been taking our groundwork and working our way into showmanship patterns, including teaching her to set up square. She’s catching on fast 😊
The American Competitive Mustang Club is a great place for mustang and burro owners to compete against each other in a fun atmosphere! There is a yearly membership and a 6 month membership. Members can gain points from shows, track trail miles, working mustang hours, and more! There is something for everyone! If you have a mustang or burro, definitely consider joining the club!
I challenge you to take away the tack sometime.
Too often as riders we rely and lean on our reins, saddle, stirrups, etc too much. What happens if you take them away? Can you still stop your horse? Back up? Pivot?
Don't get me wrong, tack is very beneficial to teach a horse certain maneuvers. It increases the line of communication and helps guide the horse to the answer.
However, taking the tack away can reveal holes in our training that we may not have even known existed. There's no way to pull or force a horse into a maneuver. It makes us truly think about our actions, body language, and vocal cues.
No matter what discipline you ride, we all want light, responsive horses that enjoy their job.
So, if you haven't already, give it a try! Take off the tack (or strip down to a halter). You'd be surprised the transformation that can occur with your horse and within yourself.
Sometimes as horse people we get so caught up with the next show, next thing our horse needs to learn, etc that we forget to just spend time with our horse and be present without "working." Building a solid connection is just as important as training.
Sometimes a productive "training" session includes sitting in their pen, no stress, and pony scratches! 😊
This is Ella 100%!❤
“There’s something different about the way a good mare connects with her rider. It’s special. Like an unspoken agreement. Once a mare chooses you as her person, it’s like she has an instinct to protect you, to fight for you. It’s almost as if she takes ownership of you.
I believe the good mares have a deep sense of intuition. They can read your mind. They know what you’re thinking even before you do. The good mares I know breathe fire in the face of challenge and then somehow, miraculously, know to quiet themselves when a timid child is plopped on their back for a pony ride.
They are clever, cunning and calculated, which can be your greatest enemy or your saving grace. The good mares I know do not tolerate egotistical riding. They do not tolerate force. They demand tact, finesse and emotional control. But once you have won a mare’s heart, you have won all of her. In exchange for your best—and nothing less—she will give you everything.”
Written by: Lindsay Paulsen
My favorite part about liberty work is that once you take away the tack, a whole new level of connection arises. She knows that she can leave/check out at any time. (Sometimes she does! Haha) But when we’re riding bareback and bridleless and she’s totally in tune with me, it’s the greatest feeling ever.
Adding R+ training into my method has made a world of difference for this mare. She tries so hard for me and knows that there’s more in it for her than just the release of pressure. She truly engages a lot more and enjoys learning new things, trying to please.
When using R+ training, however, it is very important that it is used correctly. When working with Ella, I reward the smallest try and improvement by clucking my tongue to signal the correct behavior or movement. Then I reward with a treat. I am always aware of her body language, making sure that she never gets pushy. She knows to stay out of my space, and that I will come to her with the reward. This is also beneficial when doing certain movements. If I say “whoa,” I don’t want her to move from her position just wanting the treat. I make sure that she is still, or I will ask for it again and only reward for her remaining still. This will help in fine tuning our liberty movements. I want to be able to move and stop each part of her body.
Once a horse understands these concepts, the possibilities are endless!
Today was the first day I’ve been able to see and ride Ella since moving back to Colorado.
We lunged on the line before doing some liberty work, but she didn’t need it 😊 She was absolutely perfect and engaged the whole time! She “kneeled down” for me to get on and we did some relaxing riding bareback with just a halter. She didn’t miss a beat!
Recently for our liberty work on the ground, we’ve been working on her staying with me longer at the trot and improving her liberty circles. She still gets distracted sometimes and I have to reobtain her attention by taking a step back and rewarding the littlest accomplishments. The main problem that I run into with Ella is that she will reach a point in our session where she just “shuts down,” telling me that she’s done. I will usually ask her for a little bit more, and if she engages more then I will call it quits.
Once her trotting next to me and circles improve, I will be adding her maneuvers together into patterns, including her pivots, sidepassing, backing two different ways, and bowing for me to get on. I’m looking forward to teaching her the lay down, rear, and Spanish walk! All in good time 😊
For our riding liberty work, my goal is to be able to ride her bareback and bridleless on the trails! We’re continuing our bridleless training within a pen, and will add tons of miles on the trails, hoping to be able to put the two together! She gets better with every session!