Your Horse’s Quiet Place; Teaching the head down cue Logo

Getting your horse to drop his head gives him a serene, quiet place to be. It’s a great horse-training technique.

From AQHA Professional Horsewoman and Certified Horsemanship Association instructor Julie Goodnight.

Your horse’s head is like a needle on a gauge – it can signify your horse’s mental state. When his head comes up in any increment, the horse is tensing; when the head lowers, he is relaxing. When the horse is poised for flight, the head is all the way up, and when he is most relaxed, his nose is all the way to the ground. Signs of relaxation in the horse are synonymous with the signs of subordinance, because once the horse accepts your authority, he can relax and doesn’t have to worry, think or make any decisions.
Dropping the nose to the ground signals a horse’s willingness to accept your authority and his desire to be allowed into your herd. When you show good leadership to your horse, you should see this gesture often, and you should learn to watch for it.

We can teach the horse to drop his nose on command, giving him the same feeling of relaxation and subordinance. This cue comes in handy especially for highly nervous or irritable horses.

The Method

    • With your horse in a rope halter, simply put two fingers on the fiador knot (below the horse’s chin) and put light pressure on the halter. The amount of pressure you apply is equal to just putting your index and middle fingers on top of the knot. Don’t try to pull the horse’s head down – just apply a tiny amount of pressure and wait for the horse to give you the correct response to get the release.
    • When the head drops in any increment, even just a fraction of an inch, release the pressure and praise him, then ask again, releasing the pressure immediately at the first sign of movement in the right direction.
    • The first 4-6 inches of head drop are the hardest to get, but if your release is immediate, your horse will quickly understand what you want. Then, you can hold the pressure a little bit longer until you get more drop. Soon, his head will plunge all the way down with the lightest pressure.
    • In the beginning of this training procedure, squat down as your horse lowers his head, praising and comforting him. But don’t kneel or sit around a horse; you should always be on your feet so you can get out of the way if things go wrong.

In-Depth Thoughts On The Combination Bit Logo

Why would you use a rawhide nose band to achieve results with a lighter touch? Why not just do the training to have the horse understand the lighter pressure with a softer nose band? Rawhide is tough and rough and hurts.

A: Just like with a bit in the mouth, it is only rough and tough in the wrong hands. To me, the horse will actually be lighter in the rawhide and you will almost never use mouth pressure because the horse will respond softly to the lightest feel of the rawhide noseband—making it very easy to ride with lightness. Often horses will lean and pull on a flat/soft noseband which ends up with a very heavy-handed rider, using a lot more pressure to get an inferior response.

Why jump straight to a myler combination? My mare absolutely hates an eggbutt snaffle bit and prefers the simple myler that I have, so I’m not against myler at all. But a combination bit seems like you used a gadget to overcome a gap in training instead of just doing to training.

A: Although it has the look of a gadget, it is actually greatly simplifying the cues to the horse because it allows you to ride off of nose pressure only—the simplest of pressures. Probably the two greatest things about the combo is that it takes pressure off the mouth (which is a godsend for many horses), and that it gives you more control with less stress (those two things turn out to be critical in many cases—especially with sensitive or hot-blooded horses) .The reason why I say if I could only have one bit to ride every horse in the world—this would be it, is because even a well-trained horse without a bitting problem would love the combo because of the comfort and reduction of mouth pressure. Remember, often times reducing stress is the most important thing for moving a horse’s training forward.

Also, shouldn’t the wonderful happy contact with your hands cause a little salivation? Excessive saliva is a bad thing. And saliva produced from the metal of the bit is covering up that your hands didn’t make a happy connection.

A: Horses salivate 24/7 no matter what you do but the tangy-ness of the bit can be pleasing to the horse. While I hope my horse is tolerant of my soft hands, I am not sure any horse is really happy about contact. Yes salivation is good; drooling is not. A horse that is drooling is doing so because he cannot swallow. That means either he is choking or the bit is causing him to not be able to swallow—could be because of too much pressure on the tongue or it could be because the horse is sucking his tongue up into his throat to avoid the bit pressure. That’s why horses usually do better in bits with tongue relief.


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The Dish On Discipline Logo

In a perfect world, horses would never bite, kick or misbehave. You know you need to correct your horse, but how do you know what is appropriate or too much “in the moment?” Here, top trainer/ clinician Julie Goodnight helps you understand discipline and praise.

By Julie Goodnight with Heidi Melocco

Horses need structure and discipline—otherwise how would they know how to act toward people? What you may think of as bad behavior is not the same as what a horse thinks of as being naughty.

For instance, horses bite and kick at each other in the herd. That’s appropriate behavior for them when turned out together. But that’s not appropriate behavior when humans are present. Horses shouldn’t interact in that way when people are around and you have to teach your horse what isn’t acceptable in your presence.

Horses that don’t have rules to follow and ramifications for bad behavior are just like spoiled children. They are poorly behaved and not much fun to be around. The opposite is true, too, if your horse has rules and structure and you are willing to admonish as well as praise your horse, you’ll have a partner that’s wonderful to be around. Horses are the most amazing animals because of how hard they will work to please you if they see you as the leader. That’s the most satisfying relationship to have with a horse—to know a horse looks up to you, feels safe with you and tries really hard to please you. To reach that relationship level, you’ll need to understand a bit of horse psychology and understand how and when to correct and praise your horse.

Horse Psychology

Because horses are herd animals, they seek out acceptance. If you watch a new horse being introduced into the herd, you’ll see that it isn’t a friendly encounter. The horses are brutal and mean to the new horse. With body language, the herd will tell the new horse that he isn’t accepted and that he should go away. The new horse is chased away, bitten, kicked at and more. But still, no matter how mean the herd is, the new horse will keep going back for acceptance. The horse’s survival depends on being accepted and becoming a safe part of the herd. Over time, if the new horse is contrite and consistent, the herd will allow him in and he’ll be able to work his way up in the pecking order.

In your herd of two, you need to be the leader and understand how your interactions with your horse mimic what is taught in the herd. Make it clear to the horse that you are a firm leader (not rough, but worthy of respect) and he’ll soon be requesting your acceptance and working hard for you.

If you try to start a new relationship by pampering and giving treats, that goes against everything he knows in the herd. He won’t seek out your acceptance if your acceptance comes for no reason. If you’re begging him to be in your herd, his herd-instinct tells him that it must not be a herd worth being in.

Once the horse knows that you are willing to dish out the pressure in a correction when it is deserved, you may never have to discipline him again. He’ll learn to be a little more careful around you. He’ll also want to gain your respect and your praise.

Positive or Negative?

So how should you correct or praise your horse to have the best relationship? Let’s review the scientific definitions of positive and negative reinforcement. Keep in mind that negative reinforcement isn’t punishment. Negative reinforcement just means removing pressure. Positive reinforcement means adding an incentive.

No matter which type of reinforcement you offer, you need the horse to associate your response with what they did. Make sure to give the correction or reward within three seconds of the behavior—and the closer to the behavior you can give the reinforcement within that three seconds, the better. Timing is everything when you’re training horses—horses live in the moment and they need the correction or reward to be fast.

What does negative reinforcement look like in action? I recently worked with a young horse owner and her newly-off-the-track Thoroughbred. The horse was kicking out if anyone touched her around the stifle or any time Chloe attempted to wash this sensitive area. I taught her to hold her hand (or the water) on the area as long as the horse was picking up her foot and threatening a kick. As soon as the mare relaxed and accepted the pressure of the girl’s hand or the water, we took away the pressure and gave the horse a rest. Taking away the pressure is negative reinforcement because you took away the pressure when the mare did the right thing. Horses feel pressure keenly and respond well to this method.

In positive reinforcement, you have to wait for the horse to have the correct response, then reward it. You may offer a verbal praise, petting and stroking or even giving a treat or a click. A horse will work hard for praise even when a treat isn’t included. In working with Chloe and her mare, we made sure to praise the mare with soft cooing and strokes on her neck when she tried hard and didn’t offer to kick or pick up her foot. She did the right thing, so got a positive reinforcement immediately.

Time for Praise

It’s so important to praise your horse—and horses will work hard for your praise. However, praise only means something if it’s offset occasionally by admonishment. If you only dish out praise for your horse (if it’s earned or not) and he never gets scolded for doing something bad, why would he keep working hard to earn your praise? If your praise comes too easily, there’s no reason to try to earn it. Just as he needs praise for doing something really well, he needs to be admonished when he does something wrong.

I am very tuned in to effort. I always want to praise the horse for making an effort. I don’t expect my horses to try hard every minute on every ride, but if I ask something more challenging and the horse tries his best, I want to reach down and stroke his neck. Or the best reward you can give is to allow your horse to take a break and to leave him alone. If I’m working on rollbacks with my young horse, Eddie, and he’s done a great job and been responsive, I’ll give him a break and allow him to just stand there and take a breather with no further interaction from me.

Firm But Kind

Every horse is different in temperament and sensitivity. What is a harsh scolding to one horse may go unnoticed to another horse. If your horse is eager to please and is sensitive, the slightest correction will affect him. If your horse is insensitive and strong-willed, you may need a stronger correction. Plus, each situation is different—what the horse did that needs a correction, what prompted the behavior and how motivated the horse was to act that way.

The science based theory of training says that however the animal is acting right now is how they are motivated to act. And if you want to change that behavior, you have to find the amount of pressure it takes to motivate change. And keep in mind that pressure can be mental pressure, a move in his direction, a hand signal, a verbal cue or actual physical pressure to touch the horse. We’re not talking about whips and spurs. An admonishment could be speaking harshly or as I call it, “hissing and spitting” at the horse. I make a hissing sound and stomp my feet and the horse understands that I don’t like his behavior at the moment.

Whatever pressure you use, it needs to be enough pressure to motivate change. If you correct your horse over and over for the same behavior, you’re not using enough pressure to motivate change. What’s more, you’re teaching the horse that you aren’t worthy of respect. He can ignore you without consequence.

Let’s put that in concrete terms: you’re riding around the arena and the horse pulls toward the gate on every lap. If you merely steer your horse away, you are only cuing him and not admonishing him for his disobedience for stepping off course. He’ll continue to veer toward the gate because there was no penalty.

How much pressure should you use? Well, how sensitive is your horse? I err on the side of using more pressure at first to see what reaction I’ll get, in the hopes that I will never need to do it again. You stand to lose more by under-correcting instead of over-correcting. If the horse misbehaves and you use one strong correction, you may never have to issue a second correction. If I under-correct, I may have to correct again and again and that’s a really bad start to a relationship. He won’t be cued in and listening to me.

Fear Of Bugs? Logo

Does Your Horse Have A Fear Of Bugs? Check out this Q and A with Julie Goodnight.

My horse has a fear of bugs, over the last year it has steadily gotten worse to where I am worried he might hurt someone. Do you have any suggestions on how to fix this problem? With horseflies and bees. Even the sound of them makes him want to buck and bolt. Please help!

Julie: Your horse’s fear of bugs that bite and sting is understandable, but it does not give him license to break the rules and do whatever he wants, when he wants. The agreed upon rules of riding are that he goes where you want at the speed you dictate without questioning; he signed onto this deal when he was trained (hopefully). The fact that this has gotten worse over time means you have gone along with his reactions and relinquished control and authority. Step back and take a big-picture long-range view of your relationship with your horse. Are you clearly the leader in all things with your horse? Analyze your interactions and try to understand your horse’s point of view. It’s likely either you are in charge of him or he is in charge of you—that’s horse behavior. Looking at the big picture may give you some more valuable insights. For the immediate fix, I would put the horse to immediate hard and intense work when he starts becoming reactive—do not stop to gather yourself—move forward expeditiously, at a working trot, then start issuing directives— turn right, turn left, turn right, speed up, slow down, circle right, circle left, go over here, now let’s go over there, etc. I would stay in that mode until my horse was breathing heavily and relaxing throughout his body and was totally compliant. Then let him stop and rest. If a bug sets him off again, repeat this process. The most likely mistake you’ll make if you are not a proficient rider, is stopping him too soon—before it was too uncomfortable for him. The goal is that he makes the decisions that his over-reactions and disobedience are not worth the trouble.

To Buy Or Not To Buy Logo

To Buy or Not to Buy?
Do you have your eye on a stock-horse breed for your next surefooted trail horse? Follow top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight’s seven expert horse-evaluation steps to help ensure a successful purchase.
By Heidi Melocco with Julie Goodnight — Photos by Heidi Melocco

You’ve found your dream horse. He looks perfect from afar, but now it’s time to meet the horse to evaluate his suitability.
“When shopping for any horse, top factors to consider are training, temperament, experience, and conformation,” says top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight.
As a trail rider and equestrian traveler, you also need a horse that will easily load into the trailer and travel calmly to your chosen destinations, Goodnight adds.
To help you make a purchase decision, Goodnight will walk you through seven horse-evaluation steps: (1) trust first impressions; (2) ask key questions; (3) evaluate conformation; (4) consider compatibility; (5) observe ground work; (6) go for a trial ride; and (7) make an offer.
In each of these steps, Goodnight will provide green flags and red flags in especially critical areas.
Are you getting the next generation saddled up, as well? Goodnight will also tell you what to look for in a kid’s first horse.

Step 1. Trust First Impressions
“Trust your first impressions about the horse and the seller,” says Goodnight. “Take note if anything doesn’t feel right or seems sketchy. It’s a big step to buy a new horse. You want to feel good about the process and your new trail partner.”
Here’s how to get the most out of your first impressions.

Environment. Start observing the minute you step onto the property. While there can be great horses in less-than-stellar conditions, the overall environment can provide clues about how the horses are cared for. If the place is neat and tidy, it’s a good bet that the horses have a regimented routine and health-care plan, as well. Green flag: Clean, orderly grounds, pastures, stalls, and barn. Red flag: Poor footing, murky pens, ill-kept structures, and barn hazards.

Horse. On your first approach, how does the horse react? Does he seem well cared for? Green flag: A clean, happy horse that lifts his head to greet you. Bonus points if he walks over to say hello. Red flag: An ill-groomed, poorly kept horse that hangs his head, seems depressed, turns tail, and ignores you.

Step 2. Ask Key Questions
As you inspect the environment and greet the horse, ask the seller the following key questions.

Why are you selling the horse? Listen closely to the answer. Green flag: The seller just doesn’t have time for the horse, has too many horses, or has new interests. These answers typically mean the horse just needs to find a new home. Red flag: The seller pauses, or seems to be covering up a health or behavior issue. Keep asking questions until you get at the truth.

What is the horse’s medical history? Ask specifically whether the horse has colicked. Colic is the number-one killer of horses. And horses that tend to colic tend to colic again. Ask also if the horse has taken time off for an injury; length of time can indicate severity. Green flag: The seller reports an unremarkable, colic-free, injury-free history. Red flag: Repeated colic issues, long periods of injury recovery, and signs of evasion.

Are medical records available? Ask to see the horse’s vaccination, deworming, and other medical records. If the seller is organized and has records available, you’ll have a sense of how the horse was treated. Green flag: The seller is open about the horse’s medical history. Red flag: No medical records are available or the records appear incomplete.

What’s the horse’s training history? Ask how the horse has been trained and how many days of professional training he’s had (for example, 30, 60, 90 days, or more). A well-trained horse is typically less costly in the long run than paying for training. Green flag: Any professional training. Professional trainers are typically consistent and clear, leading to a willing, responsive horse. Red flag: A horse that’s been ridden by one rider or has no professional training.

What’s the horse’s current job? Find out what the horse has been used for in the past. Green flag: Trail-riding experience is ideal. But note that if the horse has been shown, that means he’s an experienced traveler and has been exposed to a variety of sights and sounds. Red flag: The horse’s experience doesn’t dovetail with your needs in any way.

Step 3: Evaluate Conformation
You might have fallen in love with your prospective horse via photos on paper or onscreen. Now is the time to step back and consider the horse through an objective lens.
Conformation is one thing you can’t change, so let’s take a closer look at this key consideration.

Balance. To determine balance, stand at the horse’s side and mentally draw lines from nose to withers, withers to croup, and croup to tail. These three sections should be as equal as possible. Then look at the horse’s shoulder angle. A horse with a straight shoulder may provide a bouncy ride.

Back. An optimal back length makes for a strong trail horse, especially on steep hills. Ideally, the horse’s topline (from base of withers to croup) should be half the length of his underline (from girth to stifle).

Hips. The length and turn of the horse’s hips are critical to his athletic ability. In general, larger hips provide more power to propel the horse forward. Each hip should be about the same length as the back. Hip slope should roughly match shoulder slope.

Legs. Look for a horse with straight legs, but note that few horses are perfect. A little crookedness can be acceptable. Consider how high in the leg any crooked angles appear. Green flag: The horse toes in a little bit. Red flag: The horse is crooked in the knees or hocks.

Hooves. Goodnight has found that black hooves are often tougher than white hooves, which can be more prone to stone bruises and chipped walls. Consider hoof quality. Ask to see the horse’s farrier records. Talk to the horse’s current farrier, if possible.

Overall conformation. Overall, weigh conformation pros and cons. If the horse has other favorable factors, but has, say, a slightly long back, that may be acceptable, considering your purpose and budget. But if the horse has too many red flags, move on. If the horse is well-conformed, determine whether he’s the right match for you, in terms of his age, temperament, and condition.

Age. Be wary of young horses unless you’re an experienced trainer. A young horse can seem well-trained, but he may not be consistent as he matures. He may need many more saddle hours to become the reliable trail partner you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a reliable mount, find a horse 8 years old or older.

Temperament. Choose a horse whose personality and temperament match your own. If you’re laid back, look for a mellow mount. If you love to be on the go, look for a spirited, but not spooky, animal. Tip: Through the ages, horsemen have found that a horse with large, wide-set eyes and a flat forehead is often kind and willing. A forehead bulge can mean the horse is more ornery. Green flag: A horse with a steady, kind, generous personality. Red flag: A spooky, nervous horse.

Condition. If the horse is out of shape, you’ll need to condition him for long rides and rough terrain. If the horse is very thin, it’ll also take time to get him in top form. Consider how much time and patience you’ll have for this process. Green flag: A fit horse that looks like he can tackle the trails. Red flag: An obese horse that may have insulin resistance or a history of founder. Only a veterinarian can rule out these lingering effects.

Step 5. Observe Ground Work
You can tell a lot about a horse’s behavior, temperament, and training even before he’s saddled up. Here’s how to evaluate a horse on the ground.

Handler clues. The moment you drive up, watch the handler for clues to the horse’s basic behavior. Green flag: The handler invites you to watch as the horse is collected from the pasture or stall. Red flag: When you drive up, the horse is already tacked up and sweaty; this can mean the handler has worked off the horse’s excess energy for a calmer ride.

Ground manners. Watch the horse as he’s caught, led, groomed, saddled, and bridled. Observe the horse’s reactions to handler cues and willingness to stand still. Pay attention to how the horse reacts when the handler cleans the hooves. Ask the handler to tie the horse. Green flag: A horse that’s well-mannered on the ground and stands calmly when tied. Red flag: A horse that resists being handled, and is put in crossties or is fidgety when tied. This behavior can be difficult to fix

Tacking-up clues. Watch how the horse reacts when he’s saddled and cinched. If he pins his ears or fidgets, he could have back pain or saddling issues. Before the saddle pad is on, note any white marks on the horse’s back — white hairs from saddle rub are a signal that the horse has had saddle-fit issues that could have led to soreness.

Trailer-loading ease. Ask the handler to show you how the horse loads in the trailer. As you watch the process, note that it may not be a red flag if the horse doesn’t load easily, especially if the handler’s body position or loading style stopped the horse from going in. If you feel you’d do anything differently, ask to work with the horse yourself.

Step 6. Go for a Trial Ride
The horse is tacked up and you’re ready to go for a ride. As you prepare to ride him, and while in the saddle, follow these guidelines.

Be cautious. “Never get on a strange horse that the owner isn’t willing to ride,” Goodnight advises. “It could be okay, but the seller could be scared of the horse. Gather more information before you mount up.” Be sure to wear an ASTM-approved, SEI-certified helmet and sturdy boots.

Watch another rider. Ask to watch someone else ride the horse, first. Is the rider relaxed and riding with a loose rein? Or is the rider gripping on the reins and looking tense? If the rider is tense, how is the horse reacting? Notice the rider’s habits and decide what you’d do differently. Green flag: A horse that shows patience when a rider grips and pulls on his mouth. Red flag: A horse that reacts poorly to a tense rider, creating an escalating cycle of harsher cues and increased tension. Decide whether it’s safe for you to ride such a horse.

Stay close. When you first mount up, stay close to the barn, or ride in an arena, until you feel comfortable on him.

Become a passive rider. After you’ve ridden the horse a bit, find out what happens if you become a passive rider — that is, relax the reins, and still your seat and leg cues. Green flag: He continues in the direction you’ve asked of him. Red flag: He moves off on his own or pulls to the gate.

Become an active rider. Switch styles, and become an active rider — that is, pick up the reins (while being gentle on his mouth), and cue him with your seat and legs. Ask him to turn left and right; ride him as though he were yours. Is he responsive and willing?

Ride off. After you’ve tested the horse in a safe environment, find out how he acts when you ride off by yourself. You won’t have to go far to find out whether he’s barn sour or skittish on the trail.

Go back to the barn. If you’re at all concerned about the seller’s honesty — or if the horse was saddled and ready for you to ride — stop by unannounced to find out whether the horse seems the same as he was on your first visit. Ask the seller if you can catch, groom, saddle, and ride the horse as though he were yours.

Step 7. Make an Offer
If the horse meets all your criteria and you think he’s a good match for you, take action right away. Good horses usually don’t last long on the market.
Ask for a trial period, but note that if the seller says no, that’s not necessarily a red flag, according to Goodnight.
“It’s often a liability issue to allow someone else to handle a horse when the owner can’t be present,” she notes. “And if the owner knows he has a good horse, he knows others will be eager to make an offer.”
After you make an offer, but before the sale is considered final, make an appointment for a prepurchase veterinary examination with an objective veterinarian in the area. Book your own appointment, and be present for the exam. Obtain any needed documents before you hand over a check.
Trust your instincts, and act fast when it feels right.

7 First-Horse Tips
Here are seven things to consider when shopping for a kid’s first horse or pony, according to top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight.

Consider age. Older is better. The Rule of 20 says that the age of the horse plus the age of the rider must equal at least 20. Often, you can find a well-trained, experienced horse best suited to a child (and also reasonably priced) in the 18- to 22-year-old bracket.

Consider experience. Look for a horse that’s set in his ways, experienced, unflappable, and used a lot. You want a horse that’s done many different things and worked hard for a living. This horse will be a solid citizen and won’t want to work any harder than he has to. If he’s traveled frequently, all the better. There’s probably nothing that will surprise this horse.

Consider temperament. Babysitter wanted! Look for a temperament of solid gold — a horse that’s calm, friendly, and willing, with an eagerness to please and a cautious approach. Ideally, find a thinking horse that will act as a supervisor when you’re not present. Look for a big, kind eye, a flat forehead, and a calm awareness.

Consider size. Find a horse or pony that’s the right size for the child. If the youngster can brush, clean feet, and saddle up all by herself, she’ll learn to be an independent rider.

Disregard discipline. Don’t worry about the job the horse has done up until now. Emphasize safety and fun. A well-trained, experienced horse from any discipline will fit this bill.

Don’t get cheap. Spend as much as you can to get the best, safest horse possible. Look up the cost of one trip to the emergency room. Add this amount to whatever you were planning to spend on the horse to help ensure a trustworthy, reliable mount.

Save your pennies. If the child is seriously smitten, her first horse won’t be the last. Kids outgrow their first horse after a couple years — not so much in size, but in performance. The child’s second horse may be more expensive as the budding rider moves into more advanced activities.

Finding A Kid’s Horse Logo

Finding a Kid’s Horse
Older is Better—You want a horse that is set in his ways, experienced and unflappable. The Rule of 20 says that the age of the horse plus the age of the rider, must at least equal 20. Often you can find better trained and very experienced horse that is best suited to a child and also very inexpensive in the 18-22 year old bracket.

Been there, done that. Look for horses that have been used a lot, done many different things and worked hard for a living. He’ll be more solid and he won’t be looking to work any harder than he has to. If he has done activities that required him to travel off the farm—all the better! There’s probably nothing that will surprise this horse.

Babysitter wanted! You want a temperament of solid gold. Calm, friendly and willing, with an eagerness to please and a cautious approach. A thinking horse that will act as a supervisor to your child when you are not present. Look for a big, kind eye, a flat forehead and a calm awareness.

Size matters. Try to find something ‘right-sized’ for your child. If they can brush, clean feet and saddle themselves, it will be much better for everyone—but all the stuff above matters more than size.

Discipline doesn’t matter—for a starter horse, what you care about is safety and fun. A well-trained and experienced horse from any discipline will fit this bill—she’ll get more serious later on.

Start saving your money now! If your child is seriously smitten, her first horse will not be her last one. Plan on her outgrowing her first horse after a couple years—not so much in size but in performance. Her second horse may be more expensive as she moves into more advanced activities.

Don’t get cheap. Sad but true: the least amount of money you will spend on this horse is the purchase price. Spend as much as you can to get the best horse (again, buying an aged–but sound horse may give you more bang for your buck). Factor in the cost of one trip to the emergency room and spend that much more money on the horse for your child, in the hopes that you will avoid the doctor bills!

The Secret? Keep It Simple! Logo

July 30, 2015

The Secret? Keep It Simple!
By Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D.

We know they’re out there. Horses who are enjoying life. Horses who are brimming with health – strong muscles, shiny coats, hard hooves, good digestion, normal metabolism, strong immune function – just plain healthy! How does this happen? What is it about their care and feeding that gives them such wellbeing?

We’re always searching for answers. Our typical approach is to study sick horses. But that only helps us to understand disease. We look at fat horses to understand fat horses. We look at horses with pain, metabolic problems, and digestive ailments to understand those who are experiencing the same hardships. While such research is worthwhile, wouldn’t it also make sense to evaluate fit, hearty horses so we can strive to make our own horses be more like them? Shouldn’t we be looking at what healthy horses experience?

Here’s the basic “recipe” for a healthy horse:

Avoid feeding excess calories. Obesity is a real problem and it comes from piling on the calories, combined with lack of physical activity. Forage should be the dietary staple and it should flow steadily throughout the horse’s entire gastrointestinal tract. Pounds and pounds of concentrated feeds can shorten a horse’s life.

Prevent winter weight gain by imitating nature. In a natural setting, feed would be sparse during the winter months. The horse would graze continually, but on fewer calories, so he wouldn’t become overweight. Then, when the spring grasses come, he enjoys them without the risk of developing laminitis because his body has not been unnaturally put in a state of insulin resistance (through too much body fat). To imitate this cycle, the horse should be helped to stay trim by being fed all the quality, varied forages he wants, and only enough concentrates to meet his supplemental needs. Keep up with your horse’s exercise regimen throughout the winter—think of it as substituting for the way a horse in the wild will move over large expanses in search of winter food.

Keep stress to a minimum. The hormonal response to stress is capable of doing terrible things to a horse’s body – making it more likely to develop infections, allergies, and skin disorders, and to become insulin resistant. Stress produces free radicals that potentially damage every tissue in the body, including the brain, blood vessels, hooves, eyes, skin, and digestive tract. Stress also contributes to a horse’s poor attitude. Limiting stressors helps prevent ulcers, laminitis, and colic, and promotes an amiable, willing attitude. So a horse should be able to eat when he wants, and not be bound (stressed) by the owner’s schedule. Forage (preferably fresh grasses) should be available all throughout the day and night so the horse can self-regulate his intake of grasses according to his instincts, which include an innate need to graze, roam, socialize, and eat a variety of plants. He should be unencumbered by contraptions that inhibit his natural way of living. And he should have company. Companionship protects him against threats (real and perceived), keeping him calm, allowing his digestion to work properly, and permitting him to truly rest.

Be an educated owner. Learn the details about the equine digestive system and why forage must flow continually through the horse’s system.

Fill the nutritional gaps and build a strong immune system. Grass when dried for hay loses nutritional value, so supplement a hay diet by giving the proper vitamins and minerals as well as omega 3s. Feed a variety of protein sources to supply a large enough amino acid pool for the body to produce and repair tissues, keep blood proteins where they need to be, and naturally fight off disease.

Make movement a part of the horse’s daily life. Confinement is stressful and debilitating. The horse’s sense of safety depends in large measure on being able to move in response to fear. Furthermore, standing in one place wreaks havoc on his body. If stall housing is necessary, make sure the horse gets plenty of exercise every day – exercise keeps the digestive system healthy and without it, the horse can develop ulcers and colic; his hooves can become weak and thin; his joints deteriorate; and his overall natural healing ability is diminished. Movement also inhibits weight gain; exercise not only burns calories, but it makes the cells more receptive to insulin, allowing the body to burn fat.

Meet the horse’s evolving needs as he ages. Exercise maintains muscle and protects aging joints, so the wise owner encourages movement and feeds enough quality protein, vitamin C, and omega 3s to slow down the progression of arthritis. Care for your horse’s teeth and check his blood for proper kidney and liver function. Since saliva production diminishes with age, moisten your horse’s food so he can chew better, and feed at ground level to help prevent choking, a common problem with aged horses.

Variety is the key to balanced nutrition. Eating the same thing day in and day out, even if it is nutritious, can lead to nutritional imbalances. A pasture that is thick with one type of grass is not going to keep a horse healthy. To thrive, the horse needs different types of grasses, lots of weeds, bushes, berries, flowers, and trees; this is the ideal, to which all you would need to add is water and salt. Most of us do not have this amount of land to offer our horses, and must rely on hay. Choose a mixed grass hay, but realize that hay provides only basic forage for a healthy digestive tract; it is missing so many key nutrients that you must also feed a good vitamin/mineral supplement and provide a source of omega 3 fatty acids. You may also need to improve the protein quality by adding other protein sources.

Keep it simple

We are so busy micromanaging our horses’ lives and their diets that we have forgotten the basics: Fresh air, water, companionship, freedom to move, and fresh grasses and plants. Your horse will thank you. And you can have the satisfaction of knowing that you are giving your horse a lifetime of vibrant health.

Permission to reprint this article is granted, provided attribution is given to Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. No editorial changes may be made without her permission. Dr. Getty appreciates being notified of any publication.

Juliet M. Getty, Ph.D. is an independent equine nutritionist with a wide U.S. and international following. Her research-based approach optimizes equine health by aligning physiology and instincts with correct feeding and nutrition practices.

Dr. Getty’s comprehensive resource book, Feed Your Horse Like a Horse, is available at — buy it there and have it inscribed by the author, or get it at Amazon ( or other online retail bookstores. The seven separate volumes in Dr. Getty’s topic-centered Spotlight on Equine Nutrition series are available with special package pricing at her website, and also at Amazon in print and Kindle versions. Dr. Getty’s books make ideal gifts.

Find a world of useful information for the horseperson at Sign up for Dr. Getty’s informative, free e-newsletter, Forage for Thought; browse her library of reference articles; search her nutrition forum; and purchase recordings of her educational teleseminars. Reach Dr. Getty directly at She is available for private consultations and speaking engagements.

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Relationship Fix Series


Bonding Dos and Don’ts


By Julie Goodnight with Heidi Melocco


Top trainer Julie Goodnight discusses how to show your horse affection without deteriorating your leadership in your herd of two.


How do you show your horse affection while also maintaining respect? There’s nothing wrong with having a bond with your horse. In fact, it’s desirable. But you have to show your affection and bond with your horse in a safe way and in a way that your horse appreciates. Horses don’t think like we do—especially when it comes to how to bond and show affection. Be aware and make sure not to instill human affection behaviors on the horse—such as kissing on the lips. Instead, find out what your horse likes.

We, as humans, are so drawn to the head of the horse. The head and lips are so soft and smell so good. You may want to get your head next to his and love on him. But horses have blind spots around his head and many horses don’t like to have you so close to their heads. For the most part, the head is a good place to stay away from. The horse’s head is big, weighs a lot and moves quickly. I can personally vouch for several concussions and some busted teeth from having my head too close to a horse’s head. Even if it’s a horse you know well, he may accidentally turn quickly and spook–moving with force.

Affection in Horse Terms

Kissing and hugging are human ideas of affection. Horses do spar (play fight) and bite at the lips but that’s more of a reason not to kiss on the lips. That’s a reason to keep your horse’s lips away from your lips. You don’t want him to think you’re playing and be bitten.

Horses only have one known affectionate behavior that isn’t associated with reproduction. Allo grooming (also known as mutual grooming) occurs when two bonded horses face each other and give one another a deep massage with their teeth. Horses mostly groom around the withers and down the neck and back. The more dominant horse in the pair will tell the other horse when to start and stop the grooming sessions and both horses will let each other know where they like to be groomed. .

When I show affection to my horse, I like to mimic this grooming behavior by approaching the horse as another horse would. Then I like to find the horse’s “sweet spot.” If I’m bonding with a new horse, I approach the horse slowly then put my hand out (palm down) to allow him to sniff me. That’s just polite to the horse. Next, I go to the withers and rub him to show him I’m friendly.

Scratching and rubbing on the horse’s favorite “sweet” spot is a great way to show your affection. How do you find this spot? Horses pucker their lips when they feel pleasure. With your fingers all pressed together, dig in with your fingertip pressure in a circular motion and rub around your horse’s withers, neck and chest. When you find a spot he likes, you may see your horse slightly move his lips or you may see your horse reach high in the air, wiggle his lips and show his teeth. Many horses like a deep pressure—if he doesn’t like that deep of a pressure, he’ll let you know by moving away.

Sometimes I give my horse a hug at the withers. On a rare occasion you’ll have a horse that wraps back and hugs you as you stand at his shoulder. That could be another affectionate behavior of the horse but it is less studied. I have had that happen just a few times in my life but it does feel like a bonded and sincere behavior. I’ve heard of a few other similar reports and would love to see research about it!

Know the Consequences

What happens if you pamper and kiss on your horse without first setting boundaries? Your horse may become oblivious to your actions and disrespectful of your space. He may at first turn his head away from you. Then he’ll bump into you. That’s not accidental, that’s sending you a message. If your horse is oblivious to your existence, that’s not a relationship that is bonded from the horse’s perspective.

Horses want a leader and respect and want to bond with a leader. If the behavior is allowed to go on, the horse may escalate from turning away to more aggressively dragging away or turning and biting. Make sure to pay attention to your moves and think about who “owns” the space at any given moment. I can invite a horse into my space but he can never come into that space without permission. Be very aware of space when you’re around your horse. Make sure your horse is conscientious about your space and careful not to crowd you.

Boundaries have to be established before you choose to be “touchy feely” with your horse. If you don’t set boundaries, horses can push you around and run you over. Horses can also manipulate and “train” the people around them. They may train you to give them attention if they paw or reach for your hand with their lips. Think of a Golden Retriever that comes over to you when you sit down. He’ll bump your elbow with his nose until you start to pet him. He has trained you to pet him when he asks for it. Similarly, your horse may be training you to be subordinate by using horse language—moving you out of his space instead of understanding that he must move from your space. You may not be in danger when a dog trains you. When a horse is in charge, there are safety risks.

Your horse being the dominant in the herd of two becomes a problem when you want to ask a horse to do something he doesn’t want to do. If he’s the boss from the moment you enter his stall, he’s not likely to follow your leadership as you tack up or from the saddle.

Pay Attention and be Affectionate

Notice when horses move into your space and make sure to move them out of your space immediately. You want your horse to be careful about your space and conscientious of your moves. This doesn’t mean making your horse fearful, but using visual and corrective pressure to move the horse out of your space so that you maintain your safety.

Of course I’m all for affection. There’s nothing wrong with being affectionate and offering praise—when it’s deserved. Once you know the rules and establish boundaries, you will know your horse and you can stretch the rules if you want to. Make sure the affection you give is appropriate for the horse and is something they will appreciate. If your horse is mindful of your presence, your affection is appropriate to how horses communicate and you don’t reward bad behavior, you’re on your way to a respectful and bonded relationship.

ABC’s Volume 2 Care And Maintenance Logo

First Aid


Sometimes it seems like a horse could hurt himself even if you locked him in a padded stall. Running and playing with other horses keeps your horse happy but may mean he occasionally gets scuffed up. Being flight animals and very social animals, means that wrecks and injuries can happen. With time and experience, you will learn how to deal with minor first aid issues and you’ll know when it is important to call the vet. When daily care and treatment is required, your vet will show you what needs to be done, but there are a few skills that are important for horse owners to have.

First Aid Supplies:
Make sure you have all the first aid supplies on hand that you might need, before you need them. Here’s what I like to keep on hand, readily available in my barn:

Betadine surgical scrub and Hydrogen peroxide for cleaning wounds

Witch hazel (a cleaning stringent that does not sting)

Alcohol and cotton balls (for cleaning implements and for use with injections)

Saline solution (for irrigating eyes or any mucus membranes)

Skin ointment like Corona, for minor scrapes

Medicated ointment like furason (for cuts and wounds)

Blue lotion (spray or liquid, for scrapes and small cuts)

Lubricating gel, Vaseline

4×4 sponges (or gauze pads) for cleaning and dressing wounds

Bandaging supplies: cotton, rolled gauze, vet wrap, Duct tape
Disposable diapers (infant size; great for girth sores or foot bandages)

Disposable gloves

Large syringe and mastitis needle (for irrigating puncture wounds)

Digital thermometer

Bandage scissors



Drugs (issued by vet): bute, banamine

Scrapes—losing a bit of hair but not breaking the skin happens all the time as horses bite and kick each other or run into branches or fences and you shouldn’t worry too much about it. Keep the scrape clean and rub a little ointment on the skin to help encourage the hair to grow back. If there’s an abrasion but not through the full thickness of the skin, I might use Blue Lotion to help dry it up and protect the skin.

Cuts—first determine if the cut is deep enough for sutures or in a place where it needs suturing, like the face or lips. When in doubt, call the vet. To treat cuts, wash the wound with a mild disinfectant soap like betadine (diluted to the color of iced-tea). Scrub around the edges of the wound (you might need to clip away hair) briskly to encourage good blood flow and make sure all foreign matter and scabs are washed away. After it dries, use a medicated ointment like furason and keep the cut dry and clean and exposed to the air when possible. Bandaging is sometimes required to keep the wound clean, but it should be done by someone that knows how. If the wound needs sutures, your vet will give you treatment instructions.

Puncture wounds– are really common, like for instance when a horse runs into a branch and jabs a stick into his flesh. Punctures may be hard to recognize since from the outside the wound is very small but on the inside it could be big. Puncture wounds must heal form the inside out—to be kept clean and irrigated to keep a scab from forming. If a puncture wound is not kept clean and draining, it can turn into an abscess. Look for signs of a puncture wound which may be small on the outside but deep or bigger on the inside and may have debris inside. Wash thoroughly, clip away all hair from the edges of the wound and try to prevent a scab from forming over the opening. Use a mastitis needle and syringe with a mild betadine solution to irrigate the wound daily to insure that it heals from the inside out. Consult your vet if you suspect foreign matter may be in the wound or if the horse may need antibiotics.

Hoof abscesses are common in horses, particularly in wetter/warmer climates. They are characterized by sudden, acute lameness where the horse may not even be weight bearing on the affected foot and/or is pointing his toe. Always consult your vet on lameness but if it is thought to be a hoof abscess, you may need to soak the foot in warm water with Epsom salt a couple times a day for a few days, until the abscess bursts and drains—which should give the horse immediate relief of pain. In some cases, the hoof may need bandaging after the abscess comes out, to prevent further infection. Always follow your vet’s advice.

Cleaning, dressing and bandaging wounds: Usually it’s best to keep wounds clean, dry and exposed to air and sunlight. But sometimes wounds are really hard to keep clean and they may need to be bandaged to promote better healing—let your vet decide. Bandaging horses is tricky and if done incorrectly, the bandage may come off or, in worst case scenarios; the bandage could cause discomfort or further injury to the horse if it gets too tight and cuts off circulation.

Wounds should be cleaned, dried and medicated before bandaging. Only some places on the horse can be effectively bandaged and the most common place is the feet and legs. All bandages on the legs should be padded so as not to disrupt circulation and they should be wrapped well above and well below the injury. Make sure there is an even tension all the way around on the wrap—not too tight. Usually you will have to wrap all the way to the foot to keep the bandage from slipping down. Sometimes a ballistic layer needs to be added at the end to keep the bandage from ripping or being torn off by the horse. Duct tape can be handy. Consult your vet on how often the bandage should be changed and what medications to use.

For your own safety, always keep in mind that a sick or injured horse may be more dangerous or react in ways that aren’t typical for that horse—so use extra caution. Always wear disposable gloves for your own protection from chemicals, medications and infection.

What Supplements I Feed My Horses Logo

With a high-quality forage, horses may not need concentrates or supplements at all, but all my horses get supplements because I want them to look and feel their best. For the most part, my horses get the same type of health supplements that I take for myself.

Vitamins: I give a general vitamin supplement to all my horses because it helps their coats shine and keeps them healthy. Vitamins are especially important for breeding stock. Vitamin supplements can make-up for certain deficiencies that may be in your forage, so the specific vitamin supplement you use should help balance out his diet.

Probiotic-prebiotic: Many horses are fed a probiotic or prebiotic, for their digestive health, including my own horse, Dually. Horses are “hind-gut fermenters,” making the whole digestive system very fragile, in terms of flora and fauna. In horses, the balance of good and bad bacteria is a delicate one and for many horses, a probiotic will make a huge difference in their over-all health.

Joint health: Research shows that glucosamine not only helps repair joint damage, but also helps prevent joint damage in younger horses. Like humans, the older a horse gets, the more arthritic his joints become. A heavy work load and high-impact activities causes wear and tear on the joints. All my horses, young and old, get a high-quality joint health supplement every day. With joint health, you get what you pay for. I use Cosequin because it is tested to have the highest grade glucosamine.

Fat: Adding fat to your horse’s diet will help you add calories, without adding too much energy. I prefer an Omega 3 fatty oil, because it has cardiovascular and immune benefits. A few ounces of fat added to your horse’s grain daily, will bring a sheen to his hair coat, bring out the dapples and help bind the powdered supplements to his grain, preventing waste.

There are many other nutritional and health supplements on the market, often these are designed for use in special circumstances. Your veterinarian should be able to help you determine what’s best to feed to your horse. Just make sure you don’t go over-board on supplements and give your horse stuff he doesn’t really need—it’s a waste of money and it may not be helping your horse.

Horse Illustrated – Julie Goodnight Q & A Logo

Cheating the Circle During Round Pen Work; Following the Herd Hierarchy at Feed Time

Q: How can I get my horse to longe or round pen in a complete circle? He keeps cutting in to the middle and making his circles too small. –Amber Verbena

A: This is a common occurrence in the round pen and your horse may show the same “cutting corners” behavior when you’re riding. Your horse is only obedient if he goes on the path that you choose. If he is veering off course—no matter how you’re working him–he isn’t paying attention to you and he thinks he can go where he wants.

When you work in a round pen, it can be intense for the horse and it’s possible that he’ll have an emotional outburst. Because of that, make sure that your round pen is made of a solid material that won’t bend or shift if he moves toward it and that it is at least five feet tall. Also make sure you have a tool (such as a stick and flag) to defend your space and direct your horse.

Ask your horse to trot in the round pen and be aware of when and where he starts in to the middle. He knows that he is cutting in and h finds that he benefits in some way. Is he being lazy and wanting to make the circle smaller? Or is he chopping off one side of the circle so that he is closer to the gate or to the herd? Watch his path closely. Either way, the fix is to take away the benefit for him and to teach him that it will be easiest to follow the path you dictate. You’ll change his direction to get him working harder at the moment he was choosing to go off course.

As soon as he comes off of the track, take a step to cut him off (using your body language and position to change his direction while staying safely out of his way) and use your stick to cue him to turn toward the fence then let him continue in the opposite direction. Watch again for his feet to come off the path and at that point, turn him into the fence again. Turning is difficult for the horse—it’s not easy to stop, roll back to his hocks and turn toward the fence.

Soon, he’ll learn to take the path of least resistance and stay to the outside of the pen instead of cutting in because it’s physically easier. When he turns toward the fence, it is the opposite direction from what he wanted, so you have taken away his benefit. That means he loses ground and realizes that you are choosing the direction and that he is not in charge.

If you’re working on a longe line, you can’t turn the horse away from you, but you can move more aggressively toward your horse’s shoulder and point your flag toward that point. You’ll drive him forward and make him speed up any time he steps in toward you. Your new posture and cue to move out and forward takes away the benefit for him. He no longer finds it easy to cut in to the middle; in fact, he’ll have to work harder if he tries that again.


Q: Knowing my horses and which is more dominant— should I feed in a specific order at feeding time and turn them out in a certain order? –Sherry Patron

The pecking order of your herd matters and it’s helpful to observe the order and note any changes. That’s great info to know, but it shouldn’t dictate everything that you do.

I want to know the hierarchy in my herd so I can watch to see if those at the bottom of the pecking order need help. Those horses may need to be separated for the night (to have a rest from a dominant or bully horse) or for feeding time (to make sure that they have access to food). Plus, if you see a change in the pecking order, it may indicate a change in health. If a horse that is usually alpha is suddenly lower in the order, it may mean he has a health issue and needs attention. I have seen a dominant horse move from the top to the bottom of a herd in a matter of hours and it was indeed a sign that he was getting very sick fast.

With my own herd of horses, I want to make sure that as soon as I step into the pen, they see me as the leader. The pecking order should change as soon as I step in– and suddenly I am the one they should be paying attention to. And my horses gladly obey, because they are happy to be in the herd and want to stay on good terms.

We train horses so that they don’t get to display herd behavior when a human is around. That’s a safety rule. I don’t want a horse to treat me as a new horse when I enter the pen or attack another horse who then runs over the top of me. That’s not a safe way for horses to act around humans.

I don’t want herd hierarchy to dictate how I go about my horse chores. If I want to feed them in an order that goes against the pecking order—by walking down a barn aisle and feeding in order of the pens—I want to be able to do that without making my job more difficult. I wouldn’t feed the alpha horse first if his pen was halfway down the row. He’ll need to be patient and have manners, just like everyone else.

I also don’t want to make my job harder than it needs to be. If I bring horses in from the pasture and they know that they’ll be fed in their pen when they return, I may allow the dominant horse to come in first. It may cause more problems than it’s worth to work out of the herd’s natural order in that scenario.

No matter their place in the herd, horses will learn the routine; they are very good at learning manners and following rules. They can learn to be respectful and patient and learn the process. Make sure that no matter what order you feed horses in, they are patient and acting properly at the moment you give them food. I want the horses to stand back respectfully and wait for the food (even if I am on the other side of the fence).

Horses often display anxious and aggressive behavior at feed time. All horses will nicker to you at feed time—the nicker means come to me and they know you will bring them food. But it is important not to let a horse control your actions or your emotions. Don’t stop what you are doing and feed them just because they are being demanding.

If a horse is displaying dominance and you walk by and throw hay, he may think that his behavior caused the food to appear.Some of my horses are on fee-choice hay access and 24/7 turnout—this is the most peaceful and least stressful feeding situation in the herd because everyone takes their turn eating and the omegas can steer well clear of the alpha/betas and eat without being harassed.

If a horse has learned to display dominant behavior at a scheduled feed time (such as pinning his ears, moving into me, pawing, or even charging) I would approach that horse with a flag and stick in my hand. I would wave the flag at any horse that approached me and encourage him to back up, out of my space. He doesn’t have to act perfectly for long, he just has to pay attention and be calm at the moment that I relinquish the food. If he backs up and stands still, I can give the food and know that he saw me as the herd-member to respect.

After I leave and step away from the food, the horses will go back to their own pecking order. But while I’m present, I want to make sure that no horse is moving into my space and acting disrespectful. Again, the horse doesn’t have to act right for long, he just has to be acting patiently and attentively at the moment you give the food. With a flag in hand, you’ll teach the horse that backing up, moving out of your space and being patient will cause the food to appear.


–Julie Goodnight,

Expert Trailer-Loading Fix Logo

Expert Trailer-Loading Fix
Learn how to avoid common trailer-loading mistakes, and load your horse every time you ask, with these steps from top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight.

Have you ever had trouble loading your horse into the trailer — even when he’s loaded successfully in his past? There’s a chance you may unknowingly be contributing to his trailering issues.

“It’s easy to train your horse to resist trailer loading,” notes top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight. “Chances are, you may not even realize how you’re contributing to his behavior. It can take years to train a horse to do the right thing, but only moments to ‘un-train’ him.”

Here, Goodnight will help you examine the innocent mistakes you might be making. Then she’ll show you how to squelch a behavior problem before it escalates. She’ll also give you three things to avoid

Before You Begin
Wear sturdy boots and leather gloves, for safety. Outfit your horse in a rope training halter for control. (Caveat: Switch to a gentler, flat halter for trailering.)

Find a quiet place with good footing. Consider backing up your trailer to the barn, close to the fence, so that your horse’s options are limited and the only way to go seems to be into the trailer.

In any case, avoid wide-open spaces that might encourage your horse to think about freedom instead of stepping forward onto the trailer.

Step 1. Perform Ground Work
Begin with ground work. How well your horse handles from the ground will impact how well you can handle him in a difficult trailer-loading situation.

If your horse suddenly decides he doesn’t want to get into the trailer, you need to know that you have fundamental handling skills intact. If he doesn’t normally have good ground manners (for instance, he pulls back, balks, drags you to the grass, and doesn’t stay in step with you), you need to work on instilling those manners before you work on trailer loading.

Make sure your horse will stand still on command. A horse that will stand still on your authority has decided he must abide by rules of behavior. He’s respectful. If he won’t stand still, work on that skill first.

Step 2. Correct Unacceptable Behavior
Does your horse look away from the path you choose? Do you allow him to look away without correcting him? Does he walk in front of you or look where he wants?

These are all signs that your horse isn’t paying attention to you. He thinks he can look and go wherever he wants.

Address those small acts of disobedience away from the trailer — and before the looking-away behavior leads to a turn-and-bolt. Once he learns he can get away from you, it can’t be unlearned.

If your horse has learned to get away from you or turn his nose to the side to go where he wants, he may display these behaviors when trying to avoid something he doesn’t want to do, such as approaching the trailer.

If your horse displays the turn-and-bolt behavior when you’re trailer loading, examine your leading techniques and his behaviors when you’re working away from the trailer.

The first time your horse ripped the rope out of your hand and got away, it may have been an accident. But then he thinks “wow, I got free.” It’s a terrible thing for a horse to learn, because he’ll forever know that he can overpower you. You can dissuade the behavior and remind him not to do that, but he’ll always remember that it’s possible.

That’s an example of “un-training” a horse that once knew the right thing to do but now has learned a new thing. By not correcting him and allowing him to look away, the behavior escalated to getting away. Once he got away, that was a reward for him. You trained him to pull away and be rewarded.

To fix this behavior, do your homework with your horse and have a solid relationship from the ground. He’ll remember that you’re in charge when you approach the trailer.

Caveat: If your horse has escalated his behavior and knows how to get away, you may need to enlist the help of a knowledgeable horse friend or qualified trainer to work through the trailer-training process.

Step 3. Be Confident and Aware
Your horse will always turn away from what he doesn’t like and toward what he does like. He’s transparent. Just pay attention to his focus. Watch his ears to see what he’s “pointing” at. His long neck makes it easy to see any movement toward what he’d rather be doing.

Horses are also keen on your determination and intention level, so pay attention to your own attitude and body language.

Here’s how to project confidence, and read your horse’s intentions and make corrections early on, so the behavior doesn’t escalate.

Be confident. When you approach the trailer with your horse, there should be no doubt in his mind that he’s going in. That’s the one and only option. Be a confident leader. Conduct yourself in a way that tells your horse you both are walking straight in the trailer. Project confidence and determination so he knows the best thing to do is to follow your lead rather than make choices on his own.

Watch your horse. If you’re having a trailer-loading issue, evaluate your entire approach to the trailer to pinpoint what your horse is thinking and what he’s paying attention to. Determine the exact moment when he sees the trailer and realizes that’s where he’s going.

Catch the look-away. If your horse doesn’t want to load up, he’ll tense and look away long before he’s close to the trailer. Be prepared for this reaction. One of the biggest mistakes made in trailer-loading is allowing a horse to look away from the trailer. After you’ve lined him up and are ready to load him, he should look only straight ahead at the goal.

If you don’t notice that small glance away, your horse may look right and left to plan his evacuation route. Correct your horse the second he looks away, before he escalates his plan and balks, turns, or even bolts.
Keep his nose straight. When you approach the trailer, keep your horse’s nose pointed straight ahead. If he even tips his nose to the side, bump the rope to remind him that he’s only to look straight ahead. Out of the corner of your eye, watch his eyes to see whether he’s even thinking of moving back, not forward.

Step 4. Avoid Circling
If your horse is “experienced” in throwing tantrums before trailer-loading, he may learn that if he does turn his head, balk, or even wind up completely out of position, you’ll circle him and approach the trailer again.

Never circle your horse when trailer-loading. It’s a fatal mistake. If you turn him around and allow him to face the direction he wanted to go, he’s gotten his own way for a few steps.

You may think you need to get a better approach by circling back and starting again. But your horse only associates his behavior with what happens within three seconds after he acts. He wanted to turn away and he got the reward of stepping in the direction he wanted.

You’ve unknowingly trained your horse to throw a tantrum by allowing him to turn away. Horses are more in the moment than we are. In the moment, your horse wanted to turn away, and you allowed it. Turning away reinforced the tantrum, so he’ll certainly do it again.

If your horse throws a tantrum and gets out of position, let him figure out how to straighten up and get his feet in line without circling. Then follow the guidelines in Step 3.

Step 5. Stay Out of the Way
Think about your position as you enter the trailer. Horses are trained not to invade your space, so avoid stepping up into the door of the trailer before asking your horse to step up. If he were to follow your request, he’d have to walk on top of you.

A smart, well-trained, agreeable horse will wait until you walk forward and get out of the way to load up. However, a horse that doesn’t want to load will take your placement as a reason not to move forward and to think of an alternate destination.

You may think you’re out of the way, but your horse sees your position as blocking him. Ideally, you don’t want to step into the trailer with him, but some trailers are designed so that you have to step in and lead him to the right place.

If you’re stepping up into a long slant-load trailer, go in the door well ahead of your horse. Keep walking straight ahead, then step as close to the wall as possible to get out of his way. Show him there’s a path to move forward.

Step 6. Retrain Your Horse
If your horse has been known to balk at entering the trailer, approach, then ask him to stop before he enters. When he stops, praise him for listening and looking forward at the trailer. If he looks away, correct him to remind him he’ll be moving straight ahead. When he looks at the trailer, praise him.

Why stop along the way? When you stop, your hose will show you what he’s thinking about. You’ll have an opportunity to praise him for looking forward and looking at the trailer.

Stopping him also keeps your horse in a compliant mind-set — he’s being praised for moving and stopping on command. It keeps him interested in moving forward and discourages him from thinking about an escape.

Your praise instills confidence in your horse. You’ll have an opportunity to maintain obedience. Plus, you’ll encourage his forward interest and his investigative behavior.
For more trailering videos and tips from Julie Goodnight, visit
For more information on equine behavior, see Goodnight’s Guide to Great Trail Riding, with bonus DVD, available from

If possible, don’t trailer-load alone. A travel buddy can help snap the butt bar and close the trailer doors, so your horse never learns he can back out before you can secure him.

What Not to Do
Here are three things to avoid when loading your horse into the trailer.
1. Train your horse on the road. Don’t fight with your horse because you need to get on the road right away. If you’re in a hurry, you may be tempted to resort to different and inconsistent tactics to get him loaded.

Instead, schedule plenty of time (days and weeks) for trailer-loading practice sessions. Let your horse know he’s going in the trailer; there’s no time constraint.

Don’t use a rope or whip. Julie Goodnight has seen many different trailer loading techniques and some major wrecks and injuries. Though a lifetime of experience, she understands that it’s a lot better to teach a horse the right response than to try and force him into the trailer.

To do this, your horse has to be thinking about moving forward. Therefore, avoid touching him with anything from behind, including a rope or whip. As soon as you touch him from behind, his attention is immediately transferred to his hindquarters. Using a rope or whip could also scare him; a fearful horse isn’t going to learn what you’re trying to teach him.

Teach your horse that he should move freely forward. Let him know that you want him to think through the problem and learn that the easy answer is to go forward.

If your horse needs extra encouragement to go forward, enlist a helper to snap a training flag. This technique applies mental pressure that tells him backward isn’t the direction to go. The noise helps your horse associate quiet and easy with forward movement and an unpleasant sound with thoughts of backing up. You’re not physically touching him or applying constant pressure.

Don’t trailer-load alone. If possible, ask a traveling buddy to go with you to help you load your horse. After your horse walks into the trailer, your buddy can snap on the butt bar, close the doors, and help you tie your horse, all in the correct order.

You need to close the back door before you tie your horse, for safety. You don’t want your horse to learn that if you’re alone, he has time to back up before the butt bar is snapped and the door closed.

Before you start each trailer-loading session, outfit your horse in a rope training halter for control. Switch to a gentle, flat halter for trailering.

When you approach the trailer, your horse needs to know that you mean business. Point his nose straight ahead. Don’t allow him to look from side to side.

Keep your horse’s nose pointed at the trailer — no matter what.

Avoid circling. When you circle back around, your horse learns that he can get his way — if only for a moment.

Stay out of your horse’s way as you load him. Don’t stand in front of him.
A well-trained horse will wait until you walk forward and get out of the way to load up. However, a horse that doesn’t want to load will take your placement as a reason not to move forward and to think of an alternate destination.

Horses That Graze on Pasture All Day Eat More Slowly Logo

Feeding Tips from Dr. Juliet Getty

Horses that graze all day on Pasture eat more slowly

If you let your horse out to graze on pasture for only a few hours each day, and provide hay the rest of the time, you’ve likely noticed how he approaches the grass like a vacuum cleaner, barely lifting his head the entire time he is outside. On the other hand, horses who graze on pasture 24/7 are more relaxed, eating less grass at a slower pace, taking time to rest and interact with buddies.

Researchers at North Carolina State University were interested in just how much pasture horses consume at varying combinations of pasture and hay availability. What they found confirms what we have all witnessed. At varying levels of pasture turnout, an 1100 lb (500 kg) horse will consume the following amounts of grass dry matter (all horses were given free choice hay when removed from pasture):

  • 24 hours/day: 0.77 lb per hour (0.35 kg/hr)
  • 9 hours/day: 1.32 lb/hr (0.6 kg/hr)
  • 6 hours/day: 1.65 lb/hr (0.75 kg/hr)
  • 3 hours/day: 2.2 lb/hr (1.0 kg/hr)

The less time you allow for pasture grazing, the more excited your horse will be at the opportunity to have fresh grass and will eat nearly three times faster than if he had access to pasture 24/7.

Note: To convert lb/hr to kg/hr, divide by 2.2


Which should be fed first – hay or grain?  If you’re feeding correctly, this issue is truly a moot point because the horse should have access to forage (hay and/or pasture) 24/7 with no gaps. Therefore, when fed concentrates, the horse’s digestive tract should already have hay flowing through it.

If fed starchy cereal grains (oats, corn, barley, etc.) on an empty stomach, the horse will produce even more acid (potentially leading to ulcers) and it will be leave the stomach quickly. When this happens, there is a risk that it will not be fully digested in the small intestine (especially if large amounts are fed), and end up in the hindgut where starch can be fermented by the bacterial population. This can lead to endotoxin-related laminitis.

If hay is present in the stomach first, it creates a physical barrier for the grain to move out of the stomach as quickly. Starch does not get digested in the stomach so the grain is simply mixed and churned into a semi-liquid mass, which enters the small intestine where it can be digested down to glucose. If there is hay present, fiber mixes with the starch and the whole mass enters the small intestine. Fiber is not digested until it reaches the hind gut, but its presence slows down the digestion of starch, and obstructs the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, leading to a less dramatic rise in insulin.

One thing to note – there is more water involved when hay is present (from increased drinking and saliva production). This is a good thing since digestion within the small intestine cannot take place without water.


“For an adult horse with moderate activity, feed .75 to 1.0 lbs per 100 lbs of body weight.” These are the feeding instructions for a popular commercially fortified feed. If your horse weighs 1100 lbs (500 kg), you’ll need to feed 8.25 to 11 lbs of feed per day. For enough calories? Enough protein? Enough vitamins and minerals?  Yes, to all of the above and more. That’s a lot of feed!  That could amount to three to five two-quart scoops (depending on the weight of the feed) per day. And you’ll need to divide it into multiple feedings since meal size should never exceed 4 lbs (your horse’s stomach is small compared to the rest of his digestive tract).

Chances are excellent that you don’t feed anything close to the suggested amount.  Does it matter? Yes. Most of what you pay for when you buy a fortified feed, are the fortifications. You pay for the vitamins, the minerals, and any special ingredients such as flaxseed and soybean meals to provide omega 3s and protein. The only way your horse will benefit from these nutrients is to feed according to directions. Modify them and you’ll need to “supplement the supplement.”  For example, this feed provides 100 IUs of vitamin E per lb. If you fed half of the recommended amount, say 5 lbs, your horse would only receive 500 IUs per day. That’s the bare minimum, according to the National Research Council, for a 500 kg horse. Most equine nutritionists agree, however, that this horse at maintenance would do better at amounts closer to 1,000 IUs per day. Furthermore, as activity increases, so does the vitamin E requirement. Therefore, supplementation would be appropriate.

Other nutrients such as omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins A and D, minerals such as copper and zinc, and a host of feedstuffs provided to offer enough fat and protein, may need to be supplemented when less than recommended amounts are fed. As you can imagine, it becomes very tricky to figure out just how much to supplement. You could simply give half the supplement dosage if you are feeding half the fortified feed dosage. But to do this accurately, you should figure out how much your horse would have gotten if fed the recommended amounts, and then calculate how much supplement to feed to make up the difference. If you’re not comfortable with crunching numbers, your best source of information would be a qualified equine nutritionist.

Bottom line… pay attention to labels, weigh your feed using a scale, not a scoop, and keep your calculator handy when making adjustments that supplement the supplement.


Regardless of the weather, horses require a daily supply of salt. In cold seasons, salt helps promote enough water consumption to prevent dehydration. In warm seasons, salt replaces what is lost from perspiration. A full-sized horse requires at least one ounce (two level tablespoons or 30 ml) of salt each day for maintenance, this much provides 12 grams of sodium. Heat, humidity, and exercise increase the horse’s need.

There are several ways to accomplish this. The best ways include offering free-choice granulated salt, or adding salt to your horse’s meal (for palatability, limit the amount to no more than 1 tablespoon per meal). A salt block should be available should your horse want more. A plain, white salt block is preferable, but many horses do not lick it adequately since it can be irritating to the tongue. Mineralized blocks often go untouched due to their bitter taste; however a natural sea salt block is often preferred.

Calculate the amount of sodium your horse is getting from any commercial feeds or supplements and add salt accordingly. Always have fresh water nearby.

Ride Right With Julie Goodnight: Confidence on the Trail Logo

It’s easy to lose confidence on the trail if your well-trained horse has defied you or refused to go forward. A threat to bolt or rear can make a confident rider worry and, in turn, contribute to the problem.

In that moment of refusal, you can choose to head for home or to step up and take charge.

If your well-trained trail horse suddenly throws a fit and refuses to ride out alone, chances are, you’ve allowed little acts of disobedience before this blow up.

It’s time to stop putting up with blatant acts of disrespect and confidently ride ahead.

“I’ve seen horses get away with little acts of disobedience and thus start to think they — and not the rider — are in charge,” says top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight.

“Soon, instead of simply turning to look back toward where he wants to go, the horse escalates his threats. He might raise his front end as if to rear, or he may simply balk and refuse to keep moving down the trail.”

When a formerly well-trained horse starts with this type of behavior, Goodnight says riders often lose confidence and fear the worst will happen — that the horse will actually rear or turn and bolt.

If you turn for home, even just momentarily, instead of riding ahead, your horse learns just what to do to manipulate your emotions and “win” a chance to stop working.

“Your horse may just need a reminder that you, the rider, are in charge,” says Goodnight. “He may’ve been testing you, diminishing your confidence and manipulating your ride time. Stop the cycle by showing him you’re calmly in control.”

Here, Goodnight helps you observe your horse’s behavior patterns so that you can identify disobedience at its most subtle level and correct it before your horse has an all-out tantrum.

She’ll help you understand how the behavior escalated, how to fix your focus, and what to do to retrain your horse so he’ll move ahead willingly on the path you choose.

Goodnight will also explain to kids how to watch a horse’s ears to learn what he’s focused on.

Inside the Behavior
Understanding your horse’s motivation and behavior will boost your confidence and help you formulate a plan.

“Horses can threaten a lot of scary behaviors,” Goodnight says. “As much as we love them, horses can be willful and obstinately refuse to move forward. They’re master manipulators if they’ve learned that they can succeed with their antics of turning, stopping, threatening to rear, etc.

“If your horse can get you into an emotional state, he can learn that if he rears or threatens to rear you may turn for home — and he doesn’t have to work. To him, that means he has won points in a game called Let’s Go Home.”

When Goodnight was called in to help a horse-and-rider pair in Tucson, Arizona, she’d planned to observe what happened on the trail. However, she soon realized that the horse wasn’t even willing to leave the barn.

The rider, Liz, reported that she’d ridden her horse on the trail successfully in the past — he was a tried-and-true ranch horse. But lately, his tantrums kept Liz from riding out alone. He wouldn’t step forward; he’d turn his head and circle back to the barn.

“Liz had great riding position and was an experienced rider, but she’d allowed her horse to be disobedient without knowing it,” Goodnight says.

“Every time the horse turned his head to look back at his pen, Liz allowed him to turn in the direction he wanted to go before circling him back to the trail.

“While to Liz it seemed as though she was in control and pointed her horse where she wanted to go, her horse thought he ‘won’ with each step he got to take toward the barn.”

Goodnight explains how your horse keeps score of his steps and your ability to confidently direct his speed and direction.

“Say you want your horse to go right, toward the trail. He refuses, so you circle him around to the left. He has won. To him, his refusal paid off at the moment you turned him the way he wanted to go, to the left.”

In Liz’s case, she’d allowed the turn back to the barn too many times, so her horse thought he was in charge — each time she circled him, he ended up closer to the barn.

When Goodnight took the reins, the horse tried his antics only once. He quickly realized that he wasn’t going to get his way and walked obediently forward.

“This was a trained horse that had learned to test and threatened to throw a fit,” Goodnight says. “He’d learned that the game worked with Liz and that he would get his way when Liz would give up and go home.

“With me, he learned the game wouldn’t work and quickly was reminded of his training. It was time for Liz to break the cycle and teach her horse that his antics wouldn’t control her emotions and confidence any longer.”

If you’re observant, you can tell what a horse is thinking and feeling. Your horse is also very keen on your current emotional status.

Horses are quick to learn how to push your emotional buttons. They learn that when they get a tense, emotional response, they’ll get to turn home in just a few minutes.

Goodnight notes that horses are transparent in their communication. If your horse turns and looks toward the barn, that’s where he wants to go. If he’s whinnying, he’s calling out to find his friends, saying he wants to be back with the herd.

If your horse whinnies, you may be embarrassed, but it’s just horse behavior. It’s an expression of his emotion. He’s saying he feels alone, and he wants to be back with the herd. You can’t punish him for having that emotion, but you [ITAL]can[ITAL] correct the behaviors that follow that emotion.

Here’s how to regain your status as herd leader.

Step 1: Regain Your Confidence
How do you break the cycle and tell your horse that you’re in charge? The key is to put him into action and to make sure you know what to do in advance.

“As soon as Liz knew that she couldn’t allow her horse to turn toward his pen and the barn, she was on a new path,” Goodnight says. “With less than an hour’s practice, she was riding down the trail and away from the barn.”

Horses are great at detecting when your confidence lessens or your determination to move forward down the trail wanes, Goodnight explains.

“When you ride, your body is in close contact with your horse,” she says. “Your horse can feel when you’re tense and when you’re relaxed. If he begins to refuse or starts a temper tantrum, you may tense your body or simply shift your focus down onto him instead of where you want to go. He can feel the difference between when you look ahead. Your posture suggests you’re ready to move ahead on the trail. When you’re tense, you send the opposite message.”

Here’s the fix.

When you start to feel tense, keep looking ahead to where you want to go. Keep your eyes focused — not in a blank stare —and observe what’s in front of you on the trail.

Start to put your horse to work. Turn right, turn left (always turn away from the barn; never circle in the direction your horse wants to go), speed up, slow down, then turn right and left again.

Just changing your horse’s direction will give you more control and therefore more confidence. Any time you change direction, you remind him that you’re in control of where he can go. He’s not in control of the direction he goes.

Step 2. Break the Cycle
Both you and your horse need to make a big change if your horse is going to learn that you’re in charge and that he can no longer throw a fit to get his way.

How long this process will take will depend on how many points your horse has scored in the past. If he has a history of getting his way, it’ll be harder to correct your score.

The moment you step in the stirrup, let your horse know that you expect him to keep his nose in front of him and stand still. Basic obedience and control come first. As the rider, you control his direction and speed.

At first, work close to the barn in an area where you are more confident and feel at ease issuing a command. Chances are you’ll be more worried the farther you are from home. When you’re farther away, your horse will be thinking more about heading home, too.

To make a correction for turning his nose, pick up and bump with the opposite rein, using enough pressure to point his nose back toward the trail and dissuade him from doing it again.

If your horse turns his head toward the right, bump his head back to the left. Don’t allow him to turn to the right, and definitely don’t allow him to circle to the right to get back toward the trail.

If your horse looks back toward the barn (or his friends or the trailer) multiple times, put him to work.

When you ask him to change direction, stop, back up, trot circles one way then the other, etc. He then won’t have time to think about what’s behind him and will start to tune into your cues.

As you ride around the barn, always turn away from the barn each time you change direction. If you feel your horse’s focus shift to the barn and away from you, turn away from the barn and pick up the trot.

“If your horse throws a tantrum, he’ll soon learn that if he’s disobedient, you move him farther from the barn,” says Goodnight. “To expedite the training, I turn a horse toward the barn only when he’s calm and listening. I want to teach him that if he’s obedient and willing, he may get to go home and have a break.”

Gradually work your way farther from the barn. If you consistently insist on obedience, you should be able to work farther and farther away without having a big blow up. You horse will know that you’re now in charge.

Step 3: Get Back on the Trail
If your horse tries his antics on the trail, practice the same skills. Be sure to end your rides when you’re in charge and your horse’s training is on the upswing.

Horses are all different. If your horse has a short fuse or has had much success getting you to turn for home, it may be more of a challenge to ride out on the trail.

If your horse became more obedient when you worked him close to home, quickly changing his attitude, it may be time to push him when you’re farther from home.

If you have a problem away from home, dismount, and perform ground work with a rope halter and lead. Turn him left, turn him right, and make him move his feet.

Keep your horse’s motivation in mind, and don’t reward bad behavior. Even if you have to dismount, if you do that ground work, you’re ending on a good note. You’re letting him know he won’t get a break by pulling his usual antics.

Once you remind your horse that you’re in control, you may even be able to step back up in the stirrup and ride more.

Once your horse is compliant, you can head for home, knowing you’re not losing points.

But be careful — don’t throw in the towel and let your horse get everything he wants. You’re the herd leader. If you feel him (or yourself) getting tense, look confidently where you want to go, and remember that you have a plan.

Once you control your horse’s direction, you’ll boost your confidence and your horsemanship.F

For more on-the-trail skills every rider needs to know, check out  my book, Goodnight’s Guide to Great Trail Riding, with free bonus DVD, It includes:

  • Balance & Posture in Steep Terrain
  • Safety: Emergency Brake, Stand Still for Mounting, & Reprogramming Spooky Behavior
  • Training: Get Your Horse to Go the Speed you Ask—Every Time
  • Jigging: Stop That Forever
  • Sidepassing Skills
  • Gate Opening & Closing
  • Water Crossing
  • Ground Tie
  • Ponying
  • Much More

Behavior Tip: Watch the Ears

Horses point their ears toward what they’re interested in and what they’re looking at. When you’re riding on the trail, watch your horse’s ears to tell whether he’s focused on the trail ahead and listening to you or thinking of heading home.

Practice paying attention to horses’ ears. Make it a game to find out what’s holding their attention. It may be a visiting deer or a horseback rider passing by.

Whenever you pass a field of horses, note what they’re paying attention to. This skill will transfer to your time in the saddle, helping you notice what your horse is paying attention to and thinking about.

When you ride, make sure your horse is looking straight ahead on the path you’ve chosen.