Jealous Colt

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Hi Julie!
My colt is now 11 hands and 275# and he’ll be 5 weeks old on Monday. He’s learning what ‘no’ means and understands he’s not supposed to bite, but he still is invading my space. When he comes too close, I bump into him with my whole body until he moves back. He does move back, but then starts all over again. The mouth thing is better as far as putting it on me, although he tries every second to get his mouth on me, when he’s not doing that, he’s got the shank of the lead or the lead rope itself in his mouth. That pacifies him but I can’t let him do it forever.

So, any suggestions? I use my elbow, the stick, and have always pinched him when he disobeys, but what of this mouth/biting/putting stuff in it? Unfortunately his mother does not discipline him and neither does his grandmother, my mare’s dam. It seems like I’m always correcting him and I feel he’s going to resent me. But, he cannot be allowed to bite or always have his mouth on something.

Lee Ann Hull
SierraRose Farms
DeWitt, Michigan

Hi Lee Ann,
Well, the good news is that at some point, your horse will grow up and these juvenile behaviors will diminish. Young horses (like young humans) are very mouthy and will push their boundaries until they find the limit.

You must persist in corrections and moving him out of your space. If you seem to not be making progress at all, it probably means you are not using enough pressure; that your corrections are not harsh enough to motivate the horse to change. Horses love to play games, especially the younger ones, so be careful that he doesn’t think you are just playing a game with him. Remember, when male horses play, it is called sparring. They play fight, practicing important skills they will need later on in life (in the wild). Your colt could easily think your corrections are just play and that may be why he persists. If this is the case, you need to make it clear to him that you are not playing and be careful not to let him engage you or start a game.

There is a concept in training that says that however a horse is behaving at the moment, is the way he is most motivated to act. In order to change his behavior, you must apply enough pressure to motivate him to change. Depending upon how motivated he is to act that way to begin with, that will dictate how much pressure is required to motivate him to change. With feisty colts, that is sometimes a considerable amount of pressure.

As for mouthing the lead, nothing works better than the old cayenne pepper trick. Sacrifice a lead or two and coat it with cayenne pepper mixed with Vaseline. This will break him of the habit (this will also break the habit of chewing on the mare’s tail, if you coat it with cayenne). Also, make sure he has plenty of ways to use his mouth effectively by munching on all the grass hay he wants, letting him play with other colts and/or giving him stall toys to play with.

Raising horses is a lot like raising kids. They both do better with rules to obey, lots of structure and consistent discipline. My DVD called Lead Line Leadership will show you how to take a horse, young or old, through a systematic process that teaches him good ground manners and to respect your space and authority. Good luck with your colt!
JG

Until next time,

Julie Goodnight
www.juliegoodnight.com

Reconditioning Program

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Question: Hello Julie,
My horse has been off all summer due to an injury and I would like suggestions as to how I can get him in shape for spring. I will work with him all winter and need help with a plan. Can you help us?
Thank you,
Karen
Boise, Idaho
Answer: Karen,
When a horse has been laid off for a year or a season due to an injury, you’ll want to start slowly in his reconditioning program and build over time. Assuming you’ve had this horse cleared by a vet to start reconditioning, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to ask him/her for suggestions or to go to the AAEP website http://aaep.org/ to see if you can find some answers there.
I can give you an idea of what I’d do, from a horse trainer’s perspective. Let’s say you’ll start your reconditioning program in January—I’ll give you a five month plan that will hopefully have you and your horse fit for summer riding.
In January, I’d start with 10-15 minutes of lead line work—no circling work—4-6 days a week. If your winter conditions permit it, you could just hand-walk the horse down the road/trail for 10-15 minutes. Or you could spend the time actively training on your horse in an arena with specific lead-line exercises, which are thoroughly explained on volume 2 of my groundwork video series, Lead Line Leadership. There are also some articles in my training library on the subject.
The last two weeks of January, I’d start adding some trotting (in-hand). Practice your walk-trot-walk-halt transitions and you and your horse will really get in sync with each other. As a bonus, you’ll get in better shape too!
You can also start using an elbow pull (I call mine Goodnight’s Bitting System) to help your horse develop his top line and work in a collected frame while you work him in the round pen. The tool—much better than using side reins which don’t allow the horse a release—will help remind your horse of your riding days as he feels gentle right-left pressure on the bit, learns to put his head down and works his body in a collected, muscled frame. The Bit Basics DVD teaches you how to use this.
In February, I’d continue with his groundwork but I may add circling work in-hand, depending on the nature of his injury. In the last couple weeks, you can probably saddle him up for some short rides about 2 days a week, and continue the ground work in-between. Keep your rides short with 10-15 minutes of walk only and progress toward 10 minutes of walk and 10 minutes of trot when your horse is ready.
For March, you should be able to transition to riding 3-5 days per week, with the same workout of 10 minutes’ walk and 10 minutes’ trot. The trot is the most conditioning of gaits, so it is good to maximize your time long trotting, but stay away from more demanding work like collection, circling and more advance maneuvers.
In April, assuming your horse is growing stronger and feeling good, you should be able to up the ante a little in his conditioning program. Start by making 1-2 of your regular workouts more demanding, such as long trot up a gentle slope. Adding hill work helps strengthen the horse’s hindquarters and prevent stifle problems. If you do not have access to hills, you could add some canter/hand gallop to your rides. By the end of the month, you could be doing three hard workouts a week, with either days off or light work in-between.
By May, your horse should be getting pretty fit. Continuing April’s program is sufficient to make him buff for summer riding, but this month, you may want to add some more discipline-specific activities, like ground poles and cavaletti or reining maneuvers or even just some simple collected work with bending and lateral movements. For more information on this, see volume 5 in my video series on riding, Goodnight’s Principles of Riding, Refinement & Collection.
If you follow this recipe, by June, you and your horse will be ready for just about anything. Good luck and be sure to monitor your horse’s injury closely and consult with your vet if you have any questions.

Good riding!
Julie Goodnight, Clinician and Trainer, Horse Master with Julie Goodnight TV Host
http://www.juliegoodnight.com

Bitting System

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Using The Goodnight Bitting System
The self-correcting bitting system I use is often called an elbow pull and it is a long harness leather cord with snaps on each end. To use the bitting tool, you place the middle of the cord over the horse’s poll and then run each end through the rings of the bit, between the horse’s legs and up to the saddle. Adjust it so that when the horse is standing square and relaxed, there is no pressure on the bit. The pressure will come as the horse walks or trots; his elbow will cause a pull on that side of his mouth.

It is a self-correcting tool– meaning that when the horse does the right thing (brings his nose down and in), the pressure goes away. It teaches the horse to drop his head, bring his nose in and round his back when he feels pressure on the bit. Since the horse is coming off of the bit pressure, he is required to hold himself in the frame rather than have something to lean against like with side reins. This requires the horse to bring his hind-end up underneath him and lift his back in order to hold himself in the frame while keeping slack in the reins.

I like this training tool much better than other bit-training techniques because it gives an alternating pull on the bit, not pulling on both sides of the bit at the same time, so it keeps the horse very soft and relaxed in the neck and jaw. Also, you can mimic the action of the bitting system from the saddle, by using alternating sponge squeezes in time with the horse’s front legs. Finally, I like this system because it teaches the horse to give to the slightest rein pressure and to seek out the slack in the rein.

I think is very important is to teach the horse to seek out the slack in the rein. From day one, I teach the horse that when he gives to the bit, he will find slack in the rein. Whether the horse is giving laterally (to the side) or vertically (bringing his nose into his chest) you should relax the reins as soon as the horse makes an effort. Again, this will reward the horse for his efforts (all any horse wants is less pressure on his mouth) and will teach him self-carriage.

I am not a big believer is holding a horse in a frame. I believe if you are light and responsive to your horse’s efforts, you can teach him to carry himself in whatever frame you ask of him. This may sound like a simple concept, but I have found that most riders have difficulty with the release. When a rider picks up the reins and asks the horse to give, most riders will continue to apply pressure to the reins even after the horse gives. I think this is in an effort to maintain direct contact, but it is typically done without feel. Therefore the horse gives in some small way but if he does not find a release, he does not know that he has done the right thing. The horse is searching for a way out of the pressure on his mouth. By and large, horses will gladly hold whatever frame you want if they know that in doing so, you will release the pressure on his mouth.

Again, the beauty of this system is threefold. One, the instant the horse gives the right way he gets slack. Two, the elbow-pull creates a rhythmic alternating pull, rather than a static pull on both reins (like side reins), and it is far more effective to use one rein at a time rather than two (a horse stiffens his neck and leans into it when you pull on both reins at the same time). And third, once the horse has learned to respond correctly and carry himself in a collected frame with no contact on his mouth, you can mimic this action on the reins when you are on his back.

This technique is explained thoroughly and demonstrated on my video, Bit Basics. You can also find out more about collection and many other riding skills in my Training Library, JulieGoodnight.com/Academy

–Julie Goodnight

Correction Bit Needed?

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Correction Bit?

Question:

We purchased a 6 year old mare approx. 6 months ago. She was previously bridled with a D Ring Snaffle. We have tried transitioning her with other Snaffles and a Touch Plus. She seems to really fight the bit (tossing her head, etc.). I feel part of this is a maturity and confidence issue, but wonder what would be a good bit to move her to? I have had her teeth checked and there seems to be no problems there. Currently we are doing lots & lots of trail riding and just getting her confidence up. Thanks! Kathy

Answer:

Kathy, The first thing always to do in situations like this is to check for physical causes. Check her teeth to see if she has wolf teeth (very sharp little teeth on the front of the back sets of teeth), which can cause your horse a lot of pain with a bit in their mouth. Not all horses have wolf teeth but the ones that do generally have them removed at a young age. Another thing to check for is scarring in the mouth or on the tongue that may also be causing her pain. Once a physical cause is ruled out, you can assume it’s a training issue. The only reason a horse throws its head and resists the bit’s because the rider is hurting your horse’s mouth and/or the pressure confuses your horse. Therefore, another bit’s unlikely to solve the problem, unless you’re going to a much milder bit. In my experience, about 98% of the time, when a horse has a bitting problem, the rider, not the bit, is causing the problem. Changing bits, strapping your horse’s mouth shut or tying his head down will not resolve the problem, it simply puts a band-aid over the symptom. Most people put relentless pressure on their horse’s mouths, rarely giving an adequate release to your horse. The more pressure on the bit, the more pain in your horse’s mouth, the more your horse becomes anxious and fractious. Often these horses will speed up in an effort to run away from the pressure, which ends up getting them more pressure because the rider gets more tense, and the downward spiral continues.

In this scenario, the rider typically wants to put more bit in your horse’s mouth to control the speed and that generally makes the problem worse. Changing bits will never fix a training problem, only training will. In fact, going to a stronger bit will almost always make a training problem worse, because your horse will have even more anxiety. Taking a fractious, anxious horse to a milder bit and putting a rider up that has good hands and lots of release, will almost always help your horse. To resolve bitting problems, two things have to happen. First, your horse must be taught how he is supposed to respond to pressure: give to pressure and when you give you will find a release. He must learn to give both laterally (to the side) and vertically (dropping his nose down and in). When you put light pressure on the reins, your horse must be taught that as soon as he gives, the pressure goes away. For most people, when your horse gives, they are unaware of it or being greedy and they continue to pull, so your horse loses his incentive to give. Secondly, your horse must be given an escape from the pressure. The release must come within a second of the desired response of your horse; never hold continuous pressure on the reins. So often in clinics I see people applying relentless and meaningless pressure on your horse’s mouth for no reason whatsoever. The rider is oblivious to the pressure, but your horse is not. In fact, there’s a metal bar in your horse’s mouth and he has nerves in his lips, tongue, gums and palate just like we do. No horse anywhere wants pressure on his mouth and he will always look for a way out of it. If giving to the pressure or doing what you asked doesn’t relieve the pressure, he will try something else like gaping his mouth open, tossing his head or running through the bridle. Your horse does not have a bitting problem, he has a rider problem and he will almost always respond immediately to a rider with good hands. I have no idea what a ‘Touch Plus’ bit is, but it sounds like a gadget to me. There are no shortage horse training gadgets on the market because there’s no shortage of people looking to buy a solution to their horse’s problems, rather than consider that the problem is them. If I were you, I would take this horse back to a D-ring snaffle, have her mouth checked for physical causes, and keep her on a lose rein until she learns to trust your hands.

Julie Goodnight, Trainer and Clinician
www.juliegoodnight.com