Rehabilitation Behaviour Issues

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Question: Hi I have just started to care for a 5 year old Irish Draught x TB – he has a tendon/tendon sheath injury and was about to be put to sleep by his previous owner, due to lack of time and money and the possibility that he may not be able to be ridden again – but as he is normally such an impeccably behaved chap I said I would care for him. He has been stabled now for three months and apparently has not been behaving very well in his 12 foot x 12 foot stable (he is 17.2 hh) – I have moved him to a much larger stable in a quiet yard and he seems much calmer and is great to handle in the box and on the yard. However the vet advised that he can now be taken out for short walks 10 mins twice a day (increasing weekly by 5 mins each walk for the next 4 – 6 weeks) and to do this I take him across to a barn – he is perfectly behaved going to and from the barn but once we get to the barn he is fine for 5 minutes or so and then from nowhere at all comes a little rear – this morning though he did a massive rear and was absolutely vertical -once he came back down he behaved like nothing had happened and wanted to be fussy with me etc. Although I have had my own horse for 10 years now rearing is something I have never had to handle before so I was wondering (a) do you have any ideas why he would be doing this or do you think it is purely a boredom/excitement kind of reaction (he has been known to rear with his previous owner when ridden on the odd occasion). (b) what should I do to stop this behaviour and (c) how should I react when it has occurred. I have only been looking after him for 1 week now and the vet thinks he is likely to be stabled for another three months. When he has done his little rears I told him off in a firm voice and then have just carried on walking him around. Today I stood my ground which was pretty scary and then when he wanted to cuddle and be fussy I just pushed him away from me and told him off – by his reaction it looked as though he was expecting to be thrashed and kept on pulling his head up as though he had also maybe been hit in the face before. If I was able to longe/freeschool him I know I would be able to do something with him but right now due to the injury all I can do is walk him in hand. I hope you will be able to give me some advice as I don’t want either of us to end up injured and three months of this behaviour seems a long long time. Thank you for your help
Best Regards, Georgie
Answer: Georgie, The most important consideration right now is that the horse is rehabilitated. I think from reading your email that you have a very good sense of what is going on with your horse and you are handling it just fine. Imagine the horse’s frustration at being held prisoner in his stall and getting small glimpses of freedom. In this situation, you have to have a great deal of patience and empathy with the horse. Where you would normally not tolerate his disobedient behavior and take corrective action, you are limited in what you can do in this situation. His fractious behavior is stemming from his confinement and is not his fault. The corrective action you would take would be to circle the horse forward when he rears and make him work hard, but you cannot do that because the risk of re-injury is too great. If he just throws one little rearing fit and then is relatively manageable, then I would just ignore it. There are several articles on my website about rearing, but basically, it is either a refusal to move forward or a reaction to having his forward movement inhibited. In your case, I would guess the latter. The solution is always to move the horse forward. In the case of a horse in rehabilitation, when he rears I would just move out to the end of my lead and continue walking forward like nothing was happening. Make sure you stay well clear of the horse’s hooves. I am sure that you have cut back the horse’s ration drastically and it would not hurt him at this point to go down in his weight. Less feed will help prevent him having too much energy in his confinement and the lower body weight will help his recovery. One more suggestion would be to use a rope halter with a 3-4 meter training lead. The rope halter gives you much more control over the horse and is a far superior tool for control and training than is using a chain over or under the horse’s nose. I think you are right on in your intuition about this horse and that you are handling him well, so keep up the good work! I have known plenty of horses to fully recover from tendon injuries. The key is to give them enough time to recover which in some instances may be a couple years. The biggest mistake I see people make with these types of injuries is to try and bring the horse back into work too soon. Once the vet has cleared him from confinement, I would seriously think about turning him out to pasture for a full year. Good luck!

New Horse Issues

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Question: Hi Julie:
I just recently purchased a horse in October this is my first horse and boy I am not starting off very well. This horse was 200lbs underweight when I got him so to say the least I baby him (oops). He has successfully gained 100lbs and I am very excited. He is a very loveable horse and has no bad habits except for the following. My first problem is every time I saddle him I cannot get him to walk as soon as I say walk he will for only a second and he immediately goes into a trot. Now that the winter has set in on warm days I walk him on the roads (I am not mounted on him) and just keep saying walk good boy…Now this weekend I am going to try and ride again but I am getting nervous and discouraged. My second problem is I cannot for the life of me get him in a trailer it takes me about 1 to 1 1/2 hours but once he is in he is fine. I am now at the point where I am putting grain and hay in the trailer but he will not go in for it. Any advice would be greatly appreciated…
Thank you,
Vickki

Answer: Vickki,
Thanks for your email and it sounds like you are going through some fairly common scenarios with your new horse. Most often, horses are jigging because of the anxiety over the pressure on their mouth. It could be that your bit is too harsh or that you are holding too much contact on the bit and not giving a release in a timely fashion (about 95% of the horses I see jig for the latter reason). This Q&A will give you some food for thought.
As for the trailering issue, my first question is, did he load well when you got him? If so, he may have just learned to be disobedient and what you’ll need to do is basic groundwork to establish yourself as the leader of your horse. If he did not load well when you got him, he needs to be trained. There are many good techniques for training horses to load and I can share with you the technique I have found the most success with. However, it will be difficult to really explain this thoroughly enough to address all the variances that can occur with an individual horse when it comes to trailer loading. You may be better off enlisting some help from a qualified trainer and perhaps some of the things I mention may help you determine if the techniques you or the trainer use are effective. We recently did a Horse Master TV episode and DVD called “Loaded Up” that might help you understand the whole process.
First, let me mention the things I would definitely NOT do. Do not use butt ropes, whips, chains, tie a horse to the trailer or hit him on the rear with any objects. Most horses do not load because they are afraid of the confinement. Forceful techniques generally increase the horse’s anxiety, not alleviate it. Also, when you start forcing a horse with ropes, chains, whips, etc, the chances of him getting hurt are greatly increased and if he gets hurt in the process of loading, you’ll really have a big job ahead of you and you’ll never be able to undo the fear memory that was logged in his brain from getting hurt trailer loading (this is documented research). Finally, I do not like to put pressure on the horse’s rear-end in anyway. I want his attention focused forward and if you start hitting him or putting a butt rope on him, his attention is focused back and he is thinking about defending himself, not moving forward.
What we want the horse to do is move forward, willingly and calmly. It is important before you train a horse to do anything that you know exactly what the desired response is and design a training plan that leads the horse to the correct response. There are a few fundamental principles that I like to keep in mind when training a horse to load. One is that he has no choice except to go where his nose is pointed. So I will do my best to eliminate all other options for the horse by backing the trailer into an enclosure or up close to a fence, to eliminate as many escape routes as possible. Also, I must be able to keep total control over the horse’s nose and make dead certain his nose is pointed toward the trailer at all times once I am asking him to load. Once I begin to approach the trailer, I will not take him away for any reason, until he has loaded. I will keep the nose pointed at the trailer and make it clear to the horse that there is only one option for him- and that is get in the trailer.
Secondly, I need to keep in mind what the right thing is and what the wrong thing is. The right thing is to move forward when asked; the wrong thing is to move backward. Then I will make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard (one of the fundamental principles of natural horsemanship).
As I approach the trailer with the horse, I will ask him to move a few steps forward then ask him to stop. Then reward him with a rub on the neck and give him a moment to relax and look at the trailer. It is important to ask the horse to stop before he stops himself, that way you maintain control. If you ask the horse to move too close to the trailer too soon and he balks and slams on the brakes, he is now being disobedient and we want him to stay in an obedient frame of mind. So ask him to take a few steps forward then stop and relax and praise. At no time is he allowed to turn his nose even slightly to the side. Hopefully, if you have done good groundwork with your horse, you will have control over his nose. If not, you may need to work on some more basic things first (see my website for more info on groundwork and my Lead Line Leadership and Roundpen Reasoning DVDs). Give him all the time he needs to be comfortable where he is and do not ask him to step forward until he is calm. Every horse is different; for some you may be stopping 100 feet away, others won’t get nervous until they are closer to the trailer.
I like to use a rope halter with a 12′ training lead for this type of work, because it gives you much better control. I do not like to use a chain on the horse’s nose or chin, because that will add to his anxiety and it is much more difficult to release the pressure on his face. You can order a rope halter and lead from my website if you need one.
The next part of the equation will require some capable assistance for you. You’ll need someone to operate a flag, which is simply a stick of some sort with a plastic bag or piece of tarp on the end. The helper will stand very quietly back behind the horse, some distance away so as not to distract the horse. The assistant’s only job is to watch the horse’s feet VERY closely and at any time the horse begins to move backward, the helper will vigorously shake the flag, stopping the instant the horse moves forward at all. This actually takes a lot of concentration and excellent timing. You must shake the flag the INSTANT the horse moves back and stop the INSTANT the horse moves forward. The shaking, rattling plastic will be an aversive stimulus to the horse and it will scare him. He will quickly learn that he can make the scary thing go away by moving forward and that he can avoid it altogether by not moving back.
Through the use of the flag, the horse will learn that moving back is not an option, only moving forward is. If you have good control of the horse’s nose and he cannot move back, he will, in short order, realize that moving forward into the trailer is the only option for him. Do NOT use the flag to make him move forward. You ONLY use the flag to discourage backward movement. I cannot over-emphasize that the flagger must concentrate carefully on the horse’s feet and must have perfect timing with the flag, both starting and stopping the flag. In my experience, the flag is harder to do well than controlling the horse’s nose, but both are hard. Although the flag is hard, leading the horse is the most dangerous position so you must be very careful not to get hurt.
The first time you flag the horse, he is likely to explode forward, so be prepared and be careful and make sure you keep his nose pointed toward the trailer. This may be too big a job for a novice horse handler. Let him stop and settle before you ask him to move forward again. After he has stepped back a few times and gotten the fright of the flag, he’ll quit backing up and start thinking about what his other options are.
If your trailer is small, you won’t want to lead the horse into the trailer so you’ll need to have a long rope to run up through the trailer and back around to where you are standing beside the horse encouraging him to move forward. Take whatever time you need as you are training the horse. Don’t get in a hurry and give yourself plenty of time; the horse needs to know you will out last him. Once he accepts that backwards and sideways are not options, and that you will be persistent but patient, he will give in and load right up.
Once he gets in, he should find a grain reward so that his efforts are rewarded. But do not use the grain to bribe him into the trailer. When the flagging technique is done correctly, you’ll have the horse, no matter how bad he was, loading right up in no time. Keep loading him a few times a day, with him finding grain in the trailer each time and soon he will see the trailer and trot right in.
Again, I want to stress that this is very dangerous stuff and it is very easy for you or your horse to get hurt. It is advisable to get qualified help, but do not let anyone beat or force your horse into the trailer. With this technique, the horse decides on his own that getting in the trailer is his best option and when you can train a horse this way, you’ll always have a calmer and more cooperative horse. Good luck!
Julie Goodnight, Clinician and Trainer, Horse Master with Julie Goodnight TV Host
http://www.juliegoodnight.com

Gate Sour Behavior

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Avoid Gate Sour Behavior…

Is your horse gate sour? Does he want to stop at the gate and think he’s headed back to the barn? All horses have this tendency instinctively, and if not handled correctly, it can escalate into very difficult behavior. Sometimes known as “gate gravity” and it is an indication that your horse is disobedient and does not trust your leadership skills or respect your authority over her or want to have anything to do with you.

First, you need to have better knowledge of horse behavior and the whole leader-follower/ dominant-subordinate part of horse life. You can get all the information you need on this from the articles and Q&As on my website, It is worth your time reading a few articles to make sure you have a thorough understanding of the fundamental principles of equine behavior that governs a horse’s motivation for the comfort and security he gets from the herd. Only by emulating the structure and hierarchy of the herd, and being a strong leader to your horse can you give the horse the confidence he needs to feel safe with you.

You can attain this level of authority and control of your horse by doing groundwork with your horse so that she respects your authority, looks to you as her leader and is calm and obedient. There are numerous articles and Q&As on my website about this groundwork process but you may need help from a qualified coach to execute the groundwork correctly. The articles will give you a better understanding of the principles behind groundwork, but reading is never enough. You’ll need some coaching as well to make sure you are safe and using correct technique. Groundwork done poorly can make a horse irritated, defensive and even aggressive and if you have a proven track record with your horse of not having authority, your horse will likely resist your attempt to take charge.

Secondly, when you ride any horse, it is important that you choose the path that he walks on at all times. If he is making decisions on his own at any time about where he goes or how fast he gets there, then he will become increasingly disobedient. In my clinics, I see people eroding their authority with the horse all the time with little things like letting the horse walk or trot without being cued or letting the horse come off the rail a step or two when riding in the arena, letting him cut the corners, slow down/speed up or walk off when you mount. Each time the horse is allowed to make a decision unauthorized by you, it erodes your authority and leadership and leads to more unauthorized decisions, like no, I am not leaving the barn right now.

Consider that if every time a horse got away with disobedience and unauthorized decisions that he had scored a point of dominance over you. Typically before the rider realizes that she has a control problem, the score is already 250 to nothing and now she has a lot of catching up to do. Being persistent and particular in the beginning with a horse and insisting that he walk exactly where you say (not approximately) will put him in line in such a way that he wouldn’t think of varying from the path.

But to do that, you need to ride correctly and give clear, consistent and meaningful signals to the horse; not signals that are conflicting with each other, like pulling on both reins when you want the horse to turn or pulling back on the reins when you want the horse to go. My audios and videos explain how this is done, but again, you’ll probably need some good personal instruction too.

You need to learn to correct the horse with one rein, not two and by lifting up or sideways with the rein, not back. Pulling back on the rein, whether it is one rein or two, always opposes a horse’s forward motion and makes him want to stop (which is what he would prefer to do at the gate). Lifting your hand up or to the side will give you turning control without opposing his forward motion. You will also use your legs at the same time to both push the horse back into a straight line and keep him moving forward (the horse should move away from your leg- left leg makes the horse move right- both legs together makes the horse move forward). There are lots of articles on my website about using your aids properly, just make sure you are not pulling on both reins at the same time.

When a horse is moving out of the designated track you put him on, often just a lift up toward his ears with the outside rein is enough to block the horse’s movement in that direction. Which is the outside rein can become a little confusing at this point. Remember, the term outside or inside has nothing to do with the arena fence and has solely to do with the horse’s arc or bend. In your case, if the horse is pulling toward the gate, his nose is probably pointed toward the middle of the arena and his body is pulling toward the gate, so the outside rein is the one closest to the rail. If the horse were coming off the rail toward the middle, his nose is probably pointed toward the rail and his body is coming in toward the middle so the outside rein would be the one closest to the middle. Clear as mud, right?

Finally, make sure that you have good arena training practices. NEVER stop a horse at the gate. Never dismount at the gate and leave the arena; never ride your horse out of the arena. I always dismount far away from the gate and lead the horse out of the arena, so as not to make him focused on the gate. Furthermore, you may even want to ask the horse to work hard at the gate (ask him to trot every time he approaches the gate) so that he associates the gate with not such a great place to be. Similarly, if you ask a horse to circle and change directions every time he comes off the rail, he will eventually learn that the rail is not such a bad place to be because he doesn’t have to work as hard.

Remember, learning to ride and handle horses competently is a life-long pursuit. Every month you’ll be better and better, especially if you have some competent coaching along the way. Good luck to you!
–Julie Goodnight

Troubleshoot Gate Openings

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Question:
My mare knows that when I lift the rope off the gate, I’ll then open that gate. She’s started “helping” by turning her body and using her nose to throw open the gate without waiting for any cues. Am I doing the wrong thing by letting her do this? Or should I let her go ahead and fling open the gate on her own? She figured this out herself seems to enjoy doing it.
Jessica Litwin

Answer:
Jessica, I think you’ve answered part of the question yourself — you admit your mare did this without a cue and that you’re “letting” her fling open the gate. Should you allow the horse to open the gate without a cue? The simple answer is no. It’s disobedience.
Don’t worry, though. The fact that your mare is well-trained and quiet enough to have learned how to work the gate tells me you’ve done a lot right.
I can help you correct this problem by teaching you the proper steps to open the gate, then helping you correct your mare if she rushes through any point.
First, you’ll learn the steps in order. Then you’ll learn how to mix up your sequence, so your mare learns she can’t always anticipate your requests. She must learn to listen instead of anticipate and hurry through the gate-opening process.

A Safety Issue
Disobedient behavior and anticipation at the gate can lead to a safety issue. What if you’re opening the gate for a long line of fellow riders and your mare speeds through the process and won’t wait?
Or, what if you’re on an unknown trail and need to open a tricky gate that’s hard to latch or has slick footing all around? If your mare speeds through, you won’t be able to cue her for safe behavior, and injuries could ensue.

How Horses Learn
Horses learn our patterns, then learn to associate quickly. Your mare has learned to associate your hand on the gate with pushing it open. When she first pushed open the gate on her own, you accepted this behavior, so she’s assuming she’s doing the right thing.
You’ve now trained your mare to fling open the gate by allowing her to anticipate this step and move on her own accord. This has created a bad association, because she now thinks it’s okay to initiate a behavior without a cue from you.
When you do the same things in the same order every time, your mare learns your pattern and will anticipate. Anticipation also teaches a horse to walk or trot off as soon as his rider puts a foot in the stirrup. The horse knows what will come next, so he thinks he’s helping things along. In reality, he’s being disobedient.
To correct your mare’s anticipation of the gate-opening process, you’ll change up the order of the steps. You’ll also expect her to wait for your cue before acting.
First, you’ll need to know the correct gate-opening steps. Then you’ll ask your mare to wait in between each step. You’ll also mix up the order, so she won’t be able to anticipate what comes next.

Gate-Opening Steps
Here’s a rundown of the gate-opening steps, broken down into smaller pieces than usual. Breaking down the process into small pieces and pausing in between each one will help you re-train your horse and slow down the process. Pause between each step for varying amounts of time each time you practice.
Step 1. Approach and stop. Mount up, and ask your mare to walk up to the gate so that you’re parallel to the fence and your knee is even with the latch. Then stop and wait.
Step 2. Open the latch. Open the latch, and back up so that your mare’s nose will clear the fence post. Keep your hand on the gate at all times.
Step 3. Open the gate. Push open the gate, and walk forward.
Step 4. Stop and wait. Stop your mare, and ask her to wait so she doesn’t rush through.
Step 5. Turn. Make a tight U-turn around the end of the open gate.
Step 6. Close the gate. Ride forward, pushing the gate shut as you walk toward the gatepost.
Step 7. Get parallel. At this point, you might need to take a step or two of a turn on the forehand so that your mare is parallel to the fence.
Step 8. Back up. Back up so that you’re parallel to the latch, and latch the gate. Then ask your mare to stand still so she doesn’t learn to rush away.

The Fix
Now that you know the steps, you need to correct your mare any time she makes a step that you haven’t asked for and that isn’t part of the above plan. You need to stop her behavior, then mix up your order so that she knows the same process won’t necessarily happen every time she’s near a gate.
Step 1. Lay down the law. Because you’ve condoned the behavior for a long time, you’ll need to lay down the law. Hiss, spit, and use a tone of voice that lets her know that you don’t condone the behavior. Many times, a strong tone of voice, just letting her know you disapprove, is enough to correct an otherwise well-trained horse.
Step 2. Correct her position. If your mare also steps forward or turns her nose to push the gate, correct her nose position with one rein. Say “whoa,” and firmly correct her forward motion with the reins. She should move forward only when you give a cue.
Step 3. Mix it up. Now, mix up the order. Sidle up to the gate as though you’re going to open it, wait five seconds, then walk away and do something else, such as trotting a circle or negotiating an obstacle.
When you approach the gate, stop, and make her wait. Then walk up to the gate, put your hand on the fence, and walk down the fence line parallel to the fence for a while, with your hand on the top rail.
You’re teaching your mare that your hand on the gate doesn’t always mean that you’ll open it. You’re breaking the pattern so she can’t anticipate. You’re teaching her she must wait and listen for your cue to know what comes next.
Step 4. Keep her guessing. Any time you feel your mare automatically moving onto the next part of a maneuver without your cue, do something different, so she never knows what to anticipate.
When your mare learns to wait for your cues, you’ll have the “first mate” you want and a perfect trail-riding partner. She’ll learn to look at you as her captain, and she’ll know she’s with a proven leader

Horse Turns Toward Gate And Stops Working

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Common Complaints

My horse heads for the gate and stops while we’re working.

Follow Julie Goodnight’s advice to teach your horse ignore the gate and work steadily.

If your horse thinks turning toward the gate is his cue to slow down, ride with a purpose and direct him straight past the opening.

Does your horse slow down as you pass the gate and speed up when you turn toward home? Does he break gait again and again in the same place in the arena? When leaving the barn, do his legs suddenly become leaden and you feel like you’re dragging a ship’s anchor?

If you’re nodding your head, knowing the scenario describes you and your horse, it’s time to make a change. Here, we’ll discuss why your horse may act out this annoying and disobedient behavior then give you steps to take to teach your horse to work steadily around the arena and leave the barn at the same pace he returns. Soon you’ll have a steady horse that acts like a champ and respects your authority.

The Reason
Gate gravity is actually herd gravity; it’s a horse’s nature to be herd-bound—staying safe by remaining close to his fellow horses. The instinct is strong. Whether this problem occurs while you’re riding in the arena, trail riding or working on the ground, your horse is being disobedient and making unauthorized decisions. Your horse needs to see you as his trustable leader and know that he’s safe in a herd of two with you.

What horses seek beyond all else in life are two simple things: safety and comfort. When you ask your horse to leave the safety and comfort of the herd to go out and work, you’re asking a lot of him. He may feel alone and vulnerable.

Horses are also instinctively lazy, preferring to conserve their energy for flight, should it be necessary. Your horse doesn’t really want to lope circles and leap obstacles in the arena. He’s looking for any relief available and thinks he may get a break if he heads to the gate. He’s always thinking about going back to the herd; if he can get away with slowing down or stopping for a moment or two, he may think he’s made progress and that you’re allowing him to head for home.

Horses also challenge for hierarchy within the herd. When your horse challenges you—by stopping at the gate—he’s testing to see who’s really in charge. Within the herd, each horse is either dominant over or subordinate to every other individual. One horse is at the top (the “alpha”) and one is at the bottom (the “omega”), with all the other individuals fitting somewhere in between. Subordinate horses respect and admire the leader of their herd and will willingly go with them anywhere; the alpha can herd and direct subordinates and the latter will go at any direction or speed dictated by the boss.

If your horse respects your authority as the leader in your herd of two, he’ll go in a direction and speed that you indicate—without making any unauthorized decisions such as slowing down or speeding up. You’ll have to convince your horse that you’re taking the helm and accepting the captain’s seat and that he’ll either toe the line or be swabbing decks.

Whether your horse just slightly slows down at the gate or gives you a constant battle leaving the barn, there are some simple steps you can take to fix this common complaint.

The Solution
First, you have to realize that your horse’s “problem” stems from your lack of authority. It’s time to take charge.
Examine other areas within your relationship with your horse. Is he responsive to you on the ground? Does he respect your space? Does he focus on you, looking to you for directives and guidance? Is he peaceful and docile in your presence, knowing you’re in charge? Or is he looking at the herd and whinnying? When you ride, is his head down and his nose pointed in the direction you have asked for? Or is his head up and is he changing his path and speed impulsively?

If you’re nodding your head, you and your horse are good candidates for a systematic series of groundwork exercises. You’ll have to teach him to accept your authority on the ground first then carry your newly found authority to mounted work. My groundwork DVD called Lead Line Leadership will take you through this process with step-by-step explanations. The Complete Groundwork Package includes two DVDs and all the equipment you need for groundwork.

After spending some quality time with your horse from the ground, you’ll also have to address your authority with your horse from his back. You must act like the captain and your horse must accept his position as first mate. As captain, you dictate both the direction and speed of the ship and your first mate carries out your orders. The captain makes all of the decisions and any insubordinate behavior from the crew is met with strict consequence.

Your authority in the saddle starts when you put your foot in the stirrup to mount and ends when you hop off.

Professionals teach horses that they should keep doing what they’re told until they’re told differently. If you allow small infractions, such as making the unauthorized decision to slow down at the gate or veer from the dictated path, you’re eroding your authority. Once your horse realizes that you don’t have complete control, he’ll push the limits and the erosion continues until the dam gives way.

As soon as you mount, begin by not letting your horse walk off without a cue (see last month’s issue about standing for mounting), then take him directly to the rail and deep up into the corners. Immediately correct the smallest infraction of direction or speed until your horse gives it up and just does what he’s told to do. Depending on your assertiveness, this process may take one time around the pen or a few weeks.

Make sure your corrections are adequate to motivate your horse to change his ways. If he stops at the gate or breaks gait at any time, there must be ramifications and the punishment must involve enough pressure to motivate your horse to change. If the ramifications are insignificant to your horse, he’ll happily endure it if it means he gets to rest for a moment.

In this case your corrections might range from more leg pressure to a bump with the spur or a spank with a crop or the tail of your reins. If he breaks gait with me at the helm, I’ll make sure he not only gets a spanking, but that he has to work harder. I only allow him to stop or slow down when he’s working willingly forward, without me having to push him.

Each horse is different in the amount of pressure it takes to motivate him to change, but you’ll know if it’s enough by his reaction to the correction. If he blows it off with an expression meaning “so what?” then you didn’t use enough pressure. If his head comes up and he jumps to attention with a look on his face like, “what do I have to do to make sure that doesn’t happen again?” then you’re making an impact. I don’t want you to cause your horse undue pain. However, you’ll need to use enough of a correction to let your horse know you’re in charge. If your horse doesn’t see you as a leader, you may be in much more danger later on.

There’s an old saying in horse training that says it always gets worse before it gets better. That means that if your horse has been getting away with things for a while, he’s not going to immediately give it up the first time you lay down the law with him. If he has been stomping on your authority for a while, he’ll challenge your first attempts to correct him by threatening you with a kick or buck. Make sure you have the ability to ride through his resistance or engage the help of a more qualified hand to help you. Never let his antics get to you emotionally—if he learns he can control your emotions, he’ll keep pushing your buttons. Instead, be calm, firm and persistent in your request for obedience.

Once you learn to be the 100% authority figure that your horse needs, he’ll gladly do what you ask. To reach this point, you’ll need leadership and consistency.

With repetition, good timing and lots of enforcement on your part, your horse will soon be steady, responsive and obedient.

 

For a wealth of information on the skills and knowledge needed to gain complete authority over your horse and cue him correctly visit www.juliegoodnight.com.

Are Mules More Difficult Than Horses?

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Question: Dear Julie,

I was at the Ohio Equine Affaire and was able to sit in on one of your talks. It was the one on ‘herd dynamics.’ Very, very useful information!
I have a three year old john mule, imprinted at birth and basically a very nice, well bred mule. Do you work with many mules? Are their characters more difficult than a horse?

I want to get him started under saddle (western style riding), soon. Unfortunately, he has to have a hernia repair before I start riding him; I hope to get started by May or June. I do have a trainer that will start him for me, he too has mules…..I am just trying to get as much information as I can so that I do NOT make mistakes that can’t be “fixed” at a later date.
I am up for any information that you might be able to help with.

Thank you for your time!

Sincerely,
Colleen

Answer: Colleen,

Too bad I didn’t have more time in my presentations on horse behavior to get into a discussion on mules. While the training and the eventual outcome is about the same for a horse and a saddle mule, there are some very clear differences in how they behave. Mules are not horses.
Horses, as everyone knows, are flight animals—it is their strongest instinctive set of behaviors and defines them as a species. Donkeys, on the other hand, are not flight animals at all. And in the case of a cross between a horse mare and a donkey, mules tend to most often take their behavior from the donkey side when it comes to flightiness. This has a bearing on some of the training techniques you would use—for instance, chasing a mule around the round pen endlessly will get you nowhere.

Often mules are cussed as being “stubborn,” when in fact, this is simply a matter of their natural behavior. They are more likely than horses to stop and think, or even turn and fight, when faced with a problem. This is one reason why you’ll see mules and donkeys chase after dogs more aggressively than horses and why they are sometimes placed in a herd to protect the herd from feral dogs, coyotes and the like.
The thinking side of their nature makes them better problem solvers than horses and also makes them less appreciative of repetition in their training. Once I get a mule to give me the correct response, I’ll generally move onto the next thing. If I ask it repeatedly, he’ll eventually refuse and look at me like I am an idiot—and then I’ve taught him to refuse me.

Unlike a horse, you cannot compel a mule to do something that may cause him harm. He’s smarter than that. A horse, will jump off a cliff if you ask him to and if he is accustomed to obeying your commands; a mule thinks for himself and has a higher sense of self-preservation. And if you ask him to do something stupid, you risk training him to be defiant and disobedient.

In fact, mules think so well that they often out-think their human handlers. They are very good at training people, which is one reason they don’t always have the best reputation. Mules learn dirty tricks easily, like dragging you around and running through their shoulders (when you ask them to turn right and they go left instead) and they can learn to avoid work and make you do their bidding. But like horses, mules have different temperaments—some are easy and compliant; some are tricky and shifty.

I’ve trained and ridden quite a few mules in my day and since all I knew was horse training, I pretty much used the same procedures and cues for mules as I did for horses. But I learned with mules to avoid repetition and keep the work sessions purposeful. Because mules may learn a little faster than some horses, you must be very careful that bad habits do not develop in his ground manners and over-all obedience. Getting help from a trainer that knows mules will certainly help and giving him a good foundation of training, combined with good handling will put you on your way to having a great saddle mule.

Mules are often considered superior to horses when it comes to trail riding—there’s nothing better for riding in the steep mountains. They are more sure-footed, tend to be smoother gaited and because of the aforementioned self-preservation and less flight response, some consider them safer than horses. Although mules compete in pretty much every discipline of riding and driving that there is, they usually don’t have quite the athletic ability of a well-built horse.

Have fun with your mule!
Julie Goodnight

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Issues From The Saddle: Not Wanting To Go Forward

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Question Category: Issues from the Saddle

Question: Julie,

I have seen you several times at the Equine Affaire in Columbus over the past few years and respect your training skills. I have a particular problem with one of my horses with “not wanting to go forward” & I sure could use your help. Just to give you a brief background about my horse and me, I am 44 yrs old and just start riding about 5yrs ago. For the first 1 ½ years I took lessons & worked at a local stable one day a week. I would consider myself a confident intermediate western trail rider. I have 2 middle-aged geldings, which I keep at home. The 1st one I’ve had for about 2 ½ years now. The other horse that I am having a problem with is named BJ. I’ve had him for about a year now. He is a 10yr old Tennessee Walker. Overall he is a great guy, but from time to time he can be a little stubborn and will test my leadership. When I first brought BJ home he was a lot “buddy/barn sour”. I couldn’t even get him to leave our property (we live in a rural area on a dirt road). With some ground work & a little patience he overcame the fear of leaving our property. When both horses go out together, BJ is much better. The specific problem I am having is that BJ will not go forward when we get to certain areas of our ride. We ride on the edges of all the dirt roads around us and an occasional field. Generally, he is OK when there are open fields on both sides of us, but when we get to certain wooded areas he just stops & will even back up. He does startle somewhat easily, but I try to reassure him. I don’t want to force him forward if there is something up ahead that he is afraid of (I can’t figure it out what it is). What I’ve done so far has not really been successful, and I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong & I need your help. What I have done so far is to 1st kiss to him, and then apply light leg pressure (no spurs). When that doesn’t work I apply stronger constant leg pressure, while all the time keeping him facing forward. Usually, when I do that he will even start to back up. When he backs up I tell him “whoa” & he will stop. Maybe after 30seconds or so of constant strong leg pressure he might take a step or two forward. Immediately after he takes that first step I release the leg pressure, but then he stops again. I have also tried kicking type leg pressure and even a smack on the butt with the end of my leather rein. None of which had any great success. I have also tried changing his focus by working him right there in small circles, backing him, turning on the forehand & haunches. He does all these willingly, but he still will not go forward willingly. It may take me ½ hour just to go a few hundred feet. I can feel that he is tense and not relaxed (I try to stay very calm & patient). Only when he knows that we are almost done with our ride will he drop his head, snort & relax.

Thanks for your help!
Ray

Answer: Ray,

As always, it is hard to totally diagnose a training problem, without being able to see the whole picture. I find that an objective and knowledgeable observer will always see more than the rider thinks is going on. If I had the chance to observe you and your horse in action, both when you are having trouble and when you are not, I might have something totally different to say to you. But for now, with this imperfect means of communication, I will share with you the thoughts that go through my mind, based on experience, as I read your description of the problems you are experiencing.

First, whenever a horse refuses to move forward, I always want to look to a physical cause. Is there a saddle fit problem or a lameness or chiropractic issue that is preventing or discouraging the horse from forward movement? In your case, if the horse is only refusing at this particular place and he is moving freely forward at all other times, then it is probably not physical, but I would still rule it out. For instance, a small pain from the saddle will make the horse more stressed; then when you add additional stress (like going into the scary trees) the horse reaches a melt-down point that he might have tolerated were he not already stressed.

The next thing to look at is the training of both the horse and the rider. Does the horse have solid fundamentals of training, meaning he knows how to respond to the aids to go, stop and turn and he has a strong work ethic that makes him understands that he should not question the authority of the rider, even if that means he has to do something he doesn’t want to do. Horses are such willing animals that we often mistake willingness for training; because he is willing to do what we ask of him, we tend to think he is trained to do it. He’s not really trained until you can ask him to do something he doesn’t want to do and he is still compliant. Often willing and compliant horses are thought to be trained when they really aren’t. Your horse may need to go back to some fundamental training.

Also, it is a very strong trait of human nature that makes us always place the blame squarely on the horse: “my horse goes too fast,” “my horse won’t do flying lead changes,” “my horse bucked me off.” Most of the time, it is the rider causing the problem by either giving confusing or conflicting signals to the horse or asking him to do something that is not possible like go and stop at the same time and thus forcing him into noncompliance (a very common rider error). One thing I have seen repeatedly in my career is that when horses are backing up, it is usually because the rider is pulling back on the reins (typically in an effort to stop the horse, but instead it makes the horse back up further). So always look within and try to understand what you are doing to make the horse react the way he is.

One thing that is clear from your email is that by trying and failing repeatedly, you have most likely trained your horse to be disobedient. Whatever your horse is doing when you release him, is what you are training him to do. So every time you have asked and failed and given up, you have trained your horse that by refusing, he gets what he wants. You are better off not asking a horse to do something than to ask and then fail to reinforce your request.

Two things will help you in this regard: first, make sure your horse is obedient to you in less challenging circumstances. Work both from the ground and the saddle on refining your control and improving your relationship with your horse (there’s lots of information about this on my website and in my groundwork videos), before you tackle the woods again. Part of the reason he doesn’t want to go into the woods is because it is scarier and he doesn’t trust your authority or leadership. Secondly, when you are ready to tackle the woods, at the first sign of your horse balking, get off and lead him through. I might even drive him in a circle around me as I make him pass through the woods, so that he learns that not only will balking not get him what he wants, but it will make him have to work harder. Don’t take your horse away from the woods to correct him (as you describe), continue to make him move into it because he may prefer a little hard work away from the woods, over actually going into the woods.

Finally, there is a concept in training that says that however a horse is acting at a particular time is how he is most motivated to behave. In order to change his behavior, you must apply enough pressure to motivate him to change. Depending on how motivated he is to act that way to begin with, that will determine how much pressure it takes to motivate him to change. My guess is that you are not applying enough pressure to motivate him to change. Sometimes a spanking will go a long way with a horse like this. Numerous mild corrections (nagging) are not always effective in motivating the horse to change and often result in an angry and irritated horse. I’d rather see one harsh correction than continuous nagging (and so would the horse).

There are numerous Q&As on my website that may help you with this horse, so be sure to spend a little time reading and thinking about it. You’ve made a lot of progress with this horse so far, from the sounds of your email; I think you’ll be able to work through this rough spot with your horse, with a little hard work and persistence. Good luck!

JG

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Issues From The Saddle: How Do You Stop A Horse When He’s Running Backwards

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Question Category: Issues from the Saddle

Question: How do you stop a horse when he’s running backwards?

I was trail riding over the weekend, and my horse took a dislike to the horse behind him. I saw the symptoms (making faces) and tried to get his attention on me, but he would have none of it! That awful equine behind him clearly needed to be taught a lesson (he must have been several feet back). So my horse (an appaloosa) RAN backwards!

I wasn’t very effective in stopping him – just tried to kick & push him with my legs into forward, and he finally did stop without a catastrophe. But how could I have handled this? Pulling back – as one instinctively does to stop – is obviously counter-productive. It seems to me that pulling his head around with one rein might cause him to fall. Does clasping the rein tightly at the neck work in this instance?
Thanks! This situation might not arise again, but I like to be prepared.

Janet

Answer: Janet,

You’re right! Pulling back on the reins when your horse is running backwards is not a good idea and will probably make the horse backup faster or rear. While forward motion is what you’d like to ask for, in this instance, because the horse is threatening to kick someone, it is more important to stop the backward movement immediately by disengaging the hindquarters.

There is a lot of information about disengagement and rein aids on my website; it is executed with the indirect rein behind the withers (a rein of opposition), by lifting the rein up and back toward your belly button or opposite shoulder. It will move the hip away from the rein aid and cause the horse to cross his hind legs and stop his impulsion. Although you might not want to use this technique if a horse were running forward and bolting, it is unlikely to make him fall or even stumble while backing.

When a horse is threatening to kick, the best solution is to turn the horse’s head toward the horse he wants to kick. When you turn toward, it makes the horse’s hip move away from whatever he is aiming at. So your solution is to disengage the horse’s hindquarter, in order to stop the horse’s impulsion, while turning the horse toward his intended target. When two horses threaten to go butt to butt, always bring their noses together.

Your horse is extremely disobedient to act that way while being ridden. Horses need to be taught, in no uncertain terms, from day one of their interactions with humans, that when they are in-hand or under-saddle, they are absolutely forbidden from displaying any herd behaviors, especially acts of aggression. Toward this end, horses should never be allowed to fraternize or even move a nose in the direction of another horse when being ridden together. They are perfectly capable of understanding this rule, when it is strictly enforced.

In punishment for such a disobedient act, once I got him under control, I would have immediately taken him away form the group and tried to work the shoes right off his feet (hissing, spitting and growling at him all the while). My goal is for my horse to associate being ostracized from the herd and having to work hard with his aggressive actions. Like all training, timing is critical to get the horse to make the right association.
My guess is that you need to work on your horse’s manners both on the ground and in the saddle. Again, there are scores of articles on my website that will help you with all of these things.

Good luck!
JG

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Issues From The Saddle: Horse Pulls To Arena Gate

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Question Category: Issues from the Saddle

Question: Hello,

I am have a Tennessee walker and she rides around the arena fine until she passes the gate. Then it happens, she starts to walk sideways in to the gate. I am a new rider so I’m not sure what to do. When I try to correct her she thinks I’m telling her to stop. How do I do it?

Answer: Your horse is simply gate sour and wants to stop at the gate and go out of it and back to the barn. All horses have this tendency, if not handled correctly, and it is sometimes known as “gate gravity.” This is an indication that your horse is disobedient and does not respect you as his leader or respect your authority over her. When you try to correct her with your hands, you are probably pulling on both reins, which means stop, and that is exactly what she wants to do anyway. In England your horse would be referred to as a “nappy” horse, which is a horse that refuses to respond to properly applied aids, particularly as it relates to leaving the barnyard. There are many ways to combat this problem.

First, you need to have a better understanding of horse behavior and the whole leader-follower/ dominant subordinate part of horse life. You can get all the information you need on this from the articles and Q&As on my website.

Then you need to learn to do groundwork with your horse so that she respects your authority, looks to you as her leader and is obedient. There are numerous articles and Q&As on my website about this but you will probably need help from a qualified coach to execute the groundwork correctly. The articles will give you a better understanding of the principles behind groundwork, but reading is never enough. You’ll need some coaching as well to make sure you are doing it correctly. Groundwork done poorly can make a horse irritated, defensive and even aggressive.

Secondly, when you ride any horse, it is important that you choose the path that he walks on at all times. If he is making decisions on his own at any time about where he goes or how fast he gets there, then he will become disobedient. I see people eroding their authority with the horse all the time with little things like letting the horse walk off without being cued to walk or letting the horse come off the rail a step or two when riding in the arena or letting him cut the corners, slow down/speed up or walk off when you mount.

Every time a horse gets away with something like that he has scored a point of dominance over you. Typically before the rider realizes that she has a control problem, the score is already 250 to nothing and now she has a lot of catching up to do. Being persistent and particular in the beginning with a horse and insisting that he walk exactly where you say (not approximately) will put him in line in such a way that he wouldn’t think of varying from the path.

But to do that, you need to ride correctly and give clear, consistent and meaningful signals to the horse; not signals that are conflicting with each other, like pulling on both reins when you want the horse to turn or pulling back on the reins when you want the horse to go. My audios and videos explain how this is done, but again, you’ll probably need some good personal instruction too.

You need to learn to correct the horse with one rein, not two and by lifting up or sideways with the rein, not back. Pulling back on the rein, whether it is one rein or two, always opposes a horse’s forward motion and makes him want to stop (which is what he would prefer to do at the gate). Lifting your hand up or to the side will give you turning control without opposing his forward motion. You will also use your legs at the same time to both push the horse back into a straight line and keep him moving forward (the horse should move away from your leg- left leg makes the horse move right- both legs together makes the horse move forward). There are lots of articles on my website about using your aids properly, just make sure you are not pulling on both reins at the same time.

When a horse is moving out of the designated track you put him on, often just a lift up toward his ears with the outside rein is enough to block the horse’s movement in that direction. Which is the outside rein can become a little confusing at this point. Remember, the term outside or inside has nothing to do with the arena fence and has solely to do with the horse’s arc or bend. In your case, if the horse is pulling toward the gate, his nose is probably pointed toward the middle of the arena and his body is pulling toward the gate, so the outside rein is the one closest to the rail. If the horse were coming off the rail toward the middle, his nose is probably pointed toward the rail and his body is coming in toward the middle so the outside rein would be the one closest to the middle. Clear as mud, right?

Finally, make sure that you have good arena training practices. NEVER stop a horse at the gate. Never dismount at the gate and leave the arena; never ride your horse out of the arena. I always dismount far away from the gate and lead the horse out of the arena, so as not to make him focused on the gate. Furthermore, you may even want to ask the horse to work hard at the gate (ask him to trot every time he approaches the gate) so that he associates the gate with not such a great place to be. Similarly, if you ask a horse to circle and change directions every time he comes off the rail, he will eventually learn that the rail is not such a bad place to be because he doesn’t have to work as hard.

Remember, learning to ride and handle horses competently is a life-long pursuit. Every month you’ll be better and better, especially if you have some competent coaching along the way. Good luck to you!

Julie Goodnight

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Issues From The Saddle: Gate Sour Horse And A Tom Thumb Bit

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Question Category: Issues from the Saddle

Question: Julie,

You have a similar question presented to you being great on the trail but terrible in the arena that you have already answered. That statement is also mine but a different problem. This seventeen-year-old Fox Trotter gelding is new to me and is being ridden western with a tom thumb. All tack fits but I believe there is a small amount of barn sour in this horse’s mind due to his speed home on the trail (holding him to a walk is constant) and having to push him in the arena at the gate. He does ok at the walk and trot in the arena until you get to the gate and have to apply more pressure. Asking him to turn half way down the arena, I really have to pull his head around and his hindquarters fall to the outside. The big problem starts when you ask for a canter. He acts like he’s never done it. For instance, he will take the correct lead half way around the arena, as he makes the turn toward the gate (even half way across the arena) he will break. When I attempt to correct him, he picks up the incorrect lead. I tried ignoring leads entirely and just tried to get him to complete a circle without breaking and I have been unsuccessful, I even tried spurs. I decided to go back to basics, meaning groundwork. He will longe at the walk and trot but I am not able to get him into a canter at all. I have tried a round pen and I am unable to put enough pressure on him to go into a canter. I have found myself becoming very frustrated. I realize it is hard without seeing the exact situation, however, any helpful advice would be appreciated.

Sincerely,
Charlene

Answer: Charlene,

The problems you describe are certainly very common and while that might not make it less frustrating for you, at least there is some hope in knowing that you are not alone and that you can resolve these issues with your horse.

Your horse is certainly gate sour (or barn sour) and this is simple disobedience that he has learned he can get away with. All horses go through this stage but when a skilled rider is riding them, these problems go away quickly because the horse learns it doesn’t work or it is not worth the effort. Sometimes when we think we have won a certain battle (because we got the horse past the gate, for instance) the horse also thinks he won (because maybe he got to pause momentarily or break gait).

One of the best ways to resolve these types of issues is to simply think ahead of the horse. You know exactly where he is going to cause a problem each time around so instead of waiting for the problem to happen and then taking action, be proactive and do something ahead of time, like make the horse speed up before you get there. Also, make sure you are not reinforcing his behavior by stopping him at the gate or dismounting at the gate or, heaven forbid, riding him out of the gate. I always make sure not only that I dismount as far away from the gate as possible and lead my horse out, but also that I work the horse extra hard when he is near the gate so he comes to associate the gate with a not so pleasant place to be. If your horse is disobedient in these areas, chances are he is disobedient in other areas as well, whether it is leading, standing, staying on the rail, staying at a steady speed, or whatever. This is generally one symptom of a horse that is not subordinate to you and does not think that you are in control of him. So, as always, more groundwork is in order.

I prefer to use a flag to do ground work with a lazy horse. A flag is simply a 4’ long stick with a plastic bag in the end. Often, the lazy horses that do not respond to the physical pressure of while, rope or spur will run off easily with a shake of the flag. There is more info on this in an article on my website called “Understanding Natural Horsemanship.”

One final thought: the Tom Thumb is a very harsh bit and not a very useful training tool. There is a Q&A on my website that explains the Tom Thumb that you may want to take a look at.

JG

Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.

Issues From The Saddle: Gate Sour

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Question Category: Issues from the Saddle

Question: Hello, I am have a Tennessee walker and she rides around the arena fine until she passes the gate. Then it happens, she starts to walk sideways in to the gate. I am a new rider so I’m not sure what to do. When I try to correct her she thinks I’m telling her to stop. How do I do it?

Answer: Your horse is simply gate sour and wants to stop at the gate and go out of it and back to the barn. All horses have this tendency, if not handled correctly, and it is sometimes known as “gate gravity.” This is an indication that your horse is disobedient and does not respect you as his leader or respect your authority over her. When you try to correct her with your hands, you are probably pulling on both reins, which means stop, and that is exactly what she wants to do anyway. In England your horse would be referred to as a “nappy” horse, which is a horse that refuses to respond to properly applied aids, particularly as it relates to leaving the barnyard. There are many ways to combat this problem.
First, you need to have a better understanding of horse behavior and the whole leader-follower/ dominant-subordinate part of horse life. You can get all the information you need on this from the articles and Q&As on my website.

Then you need to learn to do groundwork with your horse so that she respects your authority, looks to you as her leader and is obedient. There are numerous articles and Q&As on my website about this but you will probably need help from a qualified coach to execute the groundwork correctly. The articles will give you a better understanding of the principles behind groundwork, but reading is never enough. You’ll need some coaching as well to make sure you are doing it correctly. Groundwork done poorly can make a horse irritated, defensive and even aggressive.

Secondly, when you ride any horse, it is important that you choose the path that he walks on at all times. If he is making decisions on his own at any time about where he goes or how fast he gets there, then he will become disobedient. I see people eroding their authority with the horse all the time with little things like letting the horse walk off without being cued to walk or letting the horse come off the rail a step or two when riding in the arena or letting him cut the corners, slow down/speed up or walk off when you mount.

Every time a horse gets away with something like that he has scored a point of dominance over you. Typically before the rider realizes that she has a control problem, the score is already 250 to nothing and now she has a lot of catching up to do. Being persistent and particular in the beginning with a horse and insisting that he walk exactly where you say (not approximately) will put him in line in such a way that he wouldn’t think of varying from the path.

But to do that, you need to ride correctly and give clear, consistent and meaningful signals to the horse; not signals that are conflicting with each other, like pulling on both reins when you want the horse to turn or pulling back on the reins when you want the horse to go. My audios and videos explain how this is done, but again, you’ll probably need some good personal instruction too.

You need to learn to correct the horse with one rein, not two and by lifting up or sideways with the rein, not back. Pulling back on the rein, whether it is one rein or two, always opposes a horse’s forward motion and makes him want to stop (which is what he would prefer to do at the gate). Lifting your hand up or to the side will give you turning control without opposing his forward motion. You will also use your legs at the same time to both push the horse back into a straight line and keep him moving forward (the horse should move away from your leg- left leg makes the horse move right- both legs together makes the horse move forward). There are lots of articles on my website about using your aids properly, just make sure you are not pulling on both reins at the same time.

When a horse is moving out of the designated track you put him on, often just a lift up toward his ears with the outside rein is enough to block the horse’s movement in that direction. Which is the outside rein can become a little confusing at this point. Remember, the term outside or inside has nothing to do with the arena fence and has solely to do with the horse’s arc or bend. In your case, if the horse is pulling toward the gate, his nose is probably pointed toward the middle of the arena and his body is pulling toward the gate, so the outside rein is the one closest to the rail. If the horse were coming off the rail toward the middle, his nose is probably pointed toward the rail and his body is coming in toward the middle so the outside rein would be the one closest to the middle. Clear as mud, right?

Finally, make sure that you have good arena training practices. NEVER stop a horse at the gate. Never dismount at the gate and leave the arena; never ride your horse out of the arena. I always dismount far away from the gate and lead the horse out of the arena, so as not to make him focused on the gate. Furthermore, you may even want to ask the horse to work hard at the gate (ask him to trot every time he approaches the gate) so that he associates the gate with not such a great place to be. Similarly, if you ask a horse to circle and change directions every time he comes off the rail, he will eventually learn that the rail is not such a bad place to be because he doesn’t have to work as hard.

Remember, learning to ride and handle horses competently is a life-long pursuit. Every month you’ll be better and better, especially if you have some competent coaching along the way. Good luck to you!

Julie Goodnight

Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.

Issues From The Ground: Why Won’t My Horse Listen To Me?

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Question Category: Issues from the Ground

Question: Hi Julie,

Training concern: Horse won’t stand still to be groomed. I have a 16 hand QH gelding that I have had since October. I am a new horse owner and up until about 3 weeks ago, have managed to cross tie or tie him to a hitching post to groom and tack him. His behavior has changed in the last 3 weeks and he won’t stand still. He moves from side to side, head high, whinnies at his friends and is very disrespectful. I try to correct him without success. What I end up doing is taking him into the arena, and longeing him so that I can get him to be responsive to me. He settles a bit, but continues to be a challenge. Once I am able to saddle him and bridle him, riding is not a problem and he settles down. I’m at a loss as to how to correct his behavior so he will stand still to be groomed and tacked in a safe environment. What used to be a pleasurable experience has become exhausting, scary, and a challenge! I know he is not respecting me and I’m not sure how assertive I should be to get him to be obedient. How much and what types of pressure should I apply to get him to listen to me? I have watched both the round pen and lead line DVD’s. How can what I have learned from these be applied to getting him to stand still?

Thanks

Answer: A: If you have studied the ground work DVDs, then you already know what to do to train your horse to stand still on your authority—the entire first part of the Lead Line Leadership DVD is devoted entirely to that. Once you have control over your horse’s feet, you should be able to cue him to stand still at any time—leading, mounting, or grooming.

As the leader, it is up to you to make the rules and enforce them. When you are doing groundwork with horses, you are explaining the rules (stand still when I say, don’t look around, move when I move, don’t crowd me, always move out of my space). He learns by making mistakes (like unauthorized movement) and then getting corrected for them (by you applying pressure with the rope the instant he makes the mistake). When he is doing the right thing, you leave him alone—that’s his favorite reward—and that’s how he learns that doing the right thing is easy and doing the wrong thing means he gets in trouble.

Rules are rules and you have to enforce them 100% of the time—whether you are practicing your ground work or standing at the tie rack or riding. To a horse, you are only the leader if you act like the leader all of the time. If your horse is becoming increasingly disobedient, he clearly does not accept your authority and is increasing his efforts to make sure you understand that you are not the boss of him. He’s probably better when you are riding because he has more training under saddle to fall back on (he understands the rules better). But eventually this erosion to your authority will become increasingly apparent under saddle too.

Being a new horse owner, there is so much to learn and so many mistakes to make! Right now, you probably don’t even know what mistakes you’ve made that have led to the erosion of your authority, but your horse does. My suggestion is that you review my groundwork videos again—with your recently gained experience you may get more out of them now. It is a proven formula for success and I guarantee you it will work, if you do it right, for teaching your horse to respect your authority, to have good ground manners and learn to stand perfectly still whenever you ask him to.

After reviewing the videos again, you should have a good understanding of the technique you will use to teach your horse to stand still, but there are two important concepts that you must understand before you will have success: timing and pressure. These are science-based concepts in animal training and horse behavior that are critical to having success with training your horse.

Horses learn by making associations between their actions and a reward or punishment. With training techniques, we are trying to make intentional associations like when I say “whoa” you stop. Sometimes horses make associations that we do not intend, like he gets stung by a bee when he is looking at a mailbox and he associates the pain of the sting with the mailbox and becomes permanently afraid of mailboxes. As you train him for riding, he learns that when he feels pressure from your legs, if he speeds up, the leg pressure will go away—thus, he has made an (intentional, or trained) association between your leg pressure and him speeding up.

In order for the horse to make an association between your actions and his actions, the reward, release or punishment must occur within three seconds of his actions. But the sooner in the three seconds the correction (in the case of unwanted behavior) or reward/release (in the case of wanted behavior) occurs, the more likely the horse is to make an association and the stronger the association will be. The optimal time frame is one half of one second. So when a horse is not responding to your corrections, it could be because your timing is too slow.

A half of a second comes and goes quickly, but it is not by any means impossible to be this quick in your correction. If you understand what behavior it is you are correcting and how to apply the correction, you should be able to do it within a second. A huge factor in how successful you are as a trainer is because of timing—both on the correction and on the release (reward). As a novice horse person, it is hard to be as timely as you need to be, because you still have to think about it. A seasoned professional reacts without having to think about it so the timing, and therefore the training, is much more effective.

In addition to having good timing, you also have to know how much pressure to use—and for each horse and each scenario, the amount of pressure is different. However, the science-based concept of training all animals (including humans) says that however he is acting right now is the way he is most motivated to act. And if you wish to change that behavior, you have to find the amount of pressure that motivates change. In other words, it has to be enough pressure that makes the horse stop and think about what he is doing and think about how he can avoid that pressure in the future.

Many factors influence the amount of pressure that you use, including how sensitive your horse is to physical & mental pressure. Does he flinch easily, is he sensitive to criticism, does he feel and notice everything or nothing? An insensitive horse will always require more pressure to motivate him. A highly sensitive horse doesn’t need that much pressure and sometimes just the thought of getting in trouble is enough pressure to motivate him to change.

Other factors in how much pressure is required to change behavior is how motivated the horse is to be acting that way to begin with and how hard is it for him to comply? If he’s just fidgeting because he’s bored and wants to look around, he’s probably not that motivated. But if he is throwing a wall-eyed fit at being separated from the herd, his motivation may be greater—therefore require more pressure.

In the case of standing still, it’s not very hard for him to comply. Standing still does not require much physical effort at all (although in some situations it might require a huge amount of mental effort for the horse). Doing roll backs or piaffe would require a huge amount of physical effort for the horse, so it may require more pressure to motivate him to execute these maneuvers (which is the reason why you often see the use of whips and spurs in higher level training).

Whenever you find yourself making corrections over and over again for the same bad behavior and nothing changes, it is for one clear reason—you are not using enough pressure to motivate him to change. I have written a lot about this and you will find numerous articles about it in my Training Library. Teaching a horse to stand still is quick and easy when you use enough pressure to motivate him and have good timing, making it easier for him to make associations.

How do you know if you’ve used enough pressure? That’s easy—you’ve used enough pressure when the horse notices it (maybe throws his heads up and jumps back and looks at you like “what was that for?”). As soon as he notices it, he’ll start looking for a way out of it. I will always err on the side of too much pressure on the first correction I make—I’d rather only have to correct him once. Numerous corrections with not enough pressure is simply nagging your horse and not only does it not motivate him to change his behavior, it teaches him to ignore and disregard you and leads to a lot of animosity.

Hopefully this will give you some food for thought on how to be a better leader to your horse. When a trained horse’s behavior deteriorates, it is either because of physical issues or because the handler is un-training the horse. Horses do best with structure, rules, ramifications and rewards. I think you will find that if you rise to the occasion and take control, your horse will do just fine.

Good luck! This is a long journey.

Julie

Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.

Building A Better Relationship: Horse Testing Rider

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Question Category: Building a Better Relationship

Question: Hi Julie,

I am a beginning rider, and have been taking lessons twice a week for about three months now. I have wanted to learn to ride since I was a little girl so this is a dream come true for me (I am 37 now). Initially I was very nervous approaching the horses, but more frequent visits have helped. I’m no longer afraid to get on the horse, but after we’ve walked around the ring a couple of times the horse will start testing me (either that or I’m not giving good cues but she parks at the barn and sidesteps across the ring). I end up yanking on the reins to get her back on track. Then I get tense and the whole thing makes me frustrated and I want to give up. I don’t want to jerk the horse around by the mouth to teach her who is boss but I can’t make her do what I want if I don’t. She is a 9-year old mare and an experienced trail horse. I want to move to faster gaits, but I can’t even get her to trot around in a circle. The men I ride with are naturals and don’t understand why I can’t just get on and ride. I can’t just “get on and ride” because I know I can’t control the horse and that makes me very anxious. I know if I could gain confidence through experience I could relax because then I would feel safer, but I can’t do that if I have to fight the horse every time. I wrote to you because I have read many of the articles on your web site and I think you are brilliant. I hope you can help me realize my dream of cantering across a field unafraid. Thank you so much.

Rachel

Answer: Rachel,

You have a lot of different issues in your question and they are all very common issues that beginners everywhere are dealing with. I will attach another Q&A that I just wrote along the same lines (Gate Gravity), which may help you with your issues of control.

Without fail, the biggest mistakes I see people make when having control issues with a horse is two things that come instinctively to the rider but are the worst things you could do for the horse and only exacerbates the problem. The mistakes are:

1. Pulling back with both reins at the same time,

2. Turning the horse in the direction he wants to go and then circling him back,

When the rider feels like she is losing control of the horse, she instinctively pulls back with both reins, sometimes with a turning motion. When the horse feels that much pressure on his mouth, he locks up, leans into the bit and generally does the opposite of what you want– if you want him to slow down, he speeds up, if you want him to turn right, he turns left. It is known as “running through the bridle” or “running through the shoulder” and are common responses of the horse when he feels steady and unrelenting pressure on both sides of his mouth at the same time. This horse becomes very defensive of his mouth and sticks his nose out and begins to feel to the rider like he has a steel pipe down the middle of his neck.

Sadly, this horse is often labeled “hard mouthed,” like it is his fault. In my opinion there is no such thing as a hard mouthed horse and I have never yet found a horse that could not be rehabilitated to become a very light and responsive horse, and we get a lot of these horses in training. Also, I have seen many school horses learn that all they need to do is get the rider riled up emotionally so she freezes up with both reins and then the horse knows he can have his way with the rider and go where he wants. When you lock up into a tug o’ war with the horse, he will always win because it becomes a pound-for-pound race.

Always try to use your reins one at a time and in rhythm with the horse, in a pulsating or dynamic fashion, not a static white-knuckle pull; always be quick to offer the release. Learn to ride through problems, not lock up on the reins. Your horse mirrors your emotions so when you feel frustrated, you horse is feeling the same thing. Try to keep your emotions in check. Some horses learn that all they have to do is challenge you a little so that you get emotional and lock up and then they know they can do anything they want.

When turning right, first slide your hand down the right rein, then slowly pick up on the rein toward your chest, releasing with the opposite rein. The slower you move your hands, the softer the horse will become. The outside rein should be totally slack– do not try to turn with that rein too, because as soon as you start pulling with both reins, the horse stiffens and you lock up. Keep the horse moving forward in the turn by reaching forward with your hands and closing both your legs on the horse’s barrel in a pulsating fashion. Don’t pull BACK on the rein to turn, that will interfere with his forward motion; gently lift the rein up or to the side.

The second problem is that when the horse becomes nappy and will not turn in the direction you are asking, most riders will give up before the horse does and turn the horse the other way, planning to circle back around to that spot you wanted to go to begin with. Although it often works long enough for you to get the horse positioned where you wanted him to begin with, you have just trained your horse to be disobedient by letting him turn the way he wanted to go and he most certainly will do it again. In the horse’s mind, he only knows he got to turn the way he wanted; he will not make the association of having to go back to where you wanted because too much time has elapsed in his brain. He was rewarded for refusing the rider.

The other problem you mention is with confidence on your part, which exacerbates the control problems that you have with your horse. This is a huge issue and I guarantee there are thousands of people out there that know exactly how you feel. There is an article on my website on dealing with fear that should be helpful for anyone. There is also a book coming out soon called “Ride with Confidence!” in which I am one of five contributing authors. The book is being published in England and should be out this fall and I think it is going to be a good one. I’ll be sure to publish it in my newsletter when the book is available.

One of the most important components when dealing with fear is to surround yourself with understanding, empathetic and supportive people that can help you reach your goals. Also, you should pick the company that you ride with carefully. If you do, you’ll gain confidence more quickly, with more good experiences. I hope you can find a riding instructor or friend to help you work through this control problem. Read through all my Q&As because you’ll probably find other issues that relate to the problems you are having. Don’t worry, you’ll get there, just be persistent.

Julie Goodnight, Clinician and Trainer

Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.