Issues From The Saddle: Barrels To English

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Question Category: Issues from the Saddle

Question: Hello Julie,

I’d like your opinion. I have a 14-year-old quarter horse mare that was trained to run barrels. Since I’ve had her (almost 2 years now) I have converted to the English way. She’s a smart girl but also very stubborn and thinks she knows everything. Trouble is she so resists our “English ways”. She fights giving to the bit and bending and just about anything else that requires any real work. She’s fit and has no health issues that would keep her from complying with my requests. The question is this; can you teach old horse new tricks?

Thanks!
Barbara

Answer: Hi Barbara,

The trick with a horse like this is to go very slowly and make sure you are clear in explaining to her that you want her to do something totally different. You are definitely going from one extreme to another going from barrels to English. I would start with teaching her to accept riding on contact.

I suggest using my bitting system to teach her to give to pressure on the reins. It is a self-correcting device and it teaches the horse self-carriage and a relaxed and level frame. Once she has learned this from the ground, it will be much easier in the saddle.
Ask her to come on the bit for short stretches (just a few strides) then release her to a loose rein when she relaxes and accepts the pressure, then ask again. Gradually increase the length of time that she is expected to stay on the bit until you are going down the entire long side of the arena, then half the arena, then all the way around. Make sure she is released to a loose rein every time she softly accepts the contact- don’t get greedy! If you ask too much of her, her neck will begin to ache and she will come out of the frame before you have had an opportunity to release/reward her, then you have not made any progress.

Next I would work on bending and elevating her shoulder in turns. Make sure your body position is correct and that you are centered on the horse- not leaning into the turn. Leaning into the turn will always make a horse drop the shoulder rather than bend. Elevating the inside rein slightly and using your inside leg at the girth will help the horse bend. Using the indirect rein in front of the withers (lifting up and in on the inside rein in an upward diagonal pull- no backward pull) will help move the horse’s withers out and create a better bend in the horse.
Yes, you can teach an old horse new tricks, but you must go VERY slowly and break down each and every skill down into its smallest component and then work just on that small component with LOTS and LOTS of rewards. Horses are usually very wiling animals and certainly are always looking for the path of least resistance. Most of the time when a horse seems “stubborn” it is really just confused about what is expected of him. Since this horse has considerable history in one discipline, you have really rocked her boat by asking her to do something totally different. Take your time and be patient.

Good luck!

Julie Goodnight, Clinician and Trainer

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