Dear Catskill Horse:
Q. I need help with my OTTB gelding who I cannot get to go on the bit. He spends most of my riding time with his neck stuck out in front and won’t flex at the poll. Can you give me some tips to fix the problem?
Jan F, Torrington, CT
A. Dear Jan:
There could be a number of reasons why your horse does not accept the bit and I’d begin with having his teeth checked to make sure there are no sharp edges. If his teeth are floated and fine, it could also be a lameness issue, gastric ulcers or his neck could be out of alignment. It’s always good to check the overall health of the horse before you look elsewhere for the reason.
After that check the bridle fits and that the bit is the correct width for his mouth. You don’t mention the type of bit you use but generally I’d recommend a loose ring French snaffle if you are happy with that. Also check your saddle to be sure that fits properly.
Given that all is well with the above the next thing is to teach your horse to yield to the bit pressure, which can be done at first from the floor. A great resource for this is the Lessons in Lightness DVD from Mark Russell. Once your horse is yielding to the bit pressure from the ground you can help him learn further by longing him in side reins. If your horse has not been trained to longe, then find a trainer to help you start him or a friend that has the knowledge as it takes two people to start a horse on the longe.
Once your horse understands the elastic action of the side reins on the bit he will find it much easier to step up to the bit under saddle. Longe work will also help him develop the correct muscles for bit connection and help his back and topline develop correctly to help carry the rider’s weight.
Review your actions in the saddle and how you are asking him to connect through his back to the bit. The number one rider issue is the push and pull factor. When you ask him to walk forward, by leg aids, be certain you are not pulling him in the mouth. You cannot pull a horse into bit connection, you have to drive him from your seat and legs into a restraining hand. Do not pull back. The connection to the bit is easiest to attain at the trot. If you don’t have an independent seat then post to the trot but do not post up and down with your hands. Your hands should stay down four inches above the horse’s withers. Also don’t allow the reins to loop or you’ll snap him in the mouth every stride. Review your horse’s head position, you should be able to just see his eye on the inside. Circles are the best place to initiate bit contact as you will have a connection automatically from your inside leg into your outside hand. If your horse will still not respond then take him large on the arena and take his head to the outside in counter flexion. Often a horse is just blowing off your outside leg and by switching your horse into counter flexion your outside leg will now effectively become an inside leg and you will be able to use your leg at the girth on that side.
When your horse yields to the bit it is important that you soften your rein contact immediately. This will encourage him to relax and stay soft and in the right frame. Your leg aids should not be gripping and pushing but tapping and releasing.
I’d consult a trainer if you need further help. It is hard from a letter to know whether it is a rider error or horse’s lack of understanding. Books and DVDs can also provide useful resources. Additionally there are several articles in our article archives that might help and on this blog Dressage Art In Motion.
Dear Catskill Horse:
Q: I recently purchased a three year old gelding for my daughter who is ten. The man told me he was broke. I went to ride the horse first and he bucked me off. I am too nervous to get back on him now. I called the man and wanted to send the horse back but he won’t take him back. I have a bill for the horse and I paid cash. It says sold ‘as is.’ What can I do? I am not happy to own the horse anymore.
...Sharon S. Green Ny.
A: Unfortunately if the seller won’t take the horse back, there is not a lot you can do. If he had misrepresented the horse within certain guidelines, for example, the horse was a cribber and it was undisclosed, you might have a good case for return and refund. While you can always sue anyone and claim the horse was misrepresented it is unlikely that you would get a favorable ruling as the horse was sold ‘as is.’ This means you accepted the horse just as it was presented.
I would ask the seller for more information about the horse in respect of its training. Perhaps the horse was unused to the tack or was nervous in his new environment. The best way to tell is to enlist the help of an experienced horse trainer to evaluate the horse. Certainly it does not sound a good horse for your child to ride or yourself.
As the horse is only three years old he most likely has not received much training and is simply bucking because he is scared. It could be that the tack didn’t fit the horse or that the horse has a soundness issue that needs to be resolved, or any mix of all three factors. As you don’t know what you don’t know it is a good idea to seek advice from someone who has sincere knowledge of horse training.
Before you give up on the horse consult a professional and take their advice. You have a few options:-
• Have the horse professionally trained so that he can be ridden by yourself and ultimately is safe enough for your daughter to ride too.
• Sell the horse on the open market.
• Give the horse to a friend or trusted home where they can put the work in he needs to become a good riding horse.
• Exchange the horse for another one from a trusted resource, one that is perhaps older and more accomplished that would better suit your daughter.
I urge you not to send the horse off to auction or give up on it. Most horses are good souls who just need to understand what we want them to do and be shown how to do it. Please explore all the options above and seek the advice of a professional trainer before you make any decision.
Good luck. I am sure with some due diligence he will work out long term.
Dear Catskill Horse:
Q. The barn I board at is great because it is so cheap and they had been doing a good job. I went out there at an unexpected time when I had a day off work and was upset to see my horse had not been mucked out and stood in muck. I asked the manager why my horse wasn’t turned out and she told me it was because of the poor weather and mud. My horse is eighteen and needs to move around every day. I am not happy that he is being turned out every day now. Also she said the stall person just hadn’t gotten to my horse’s stall yet but that was usual on a Monday because they came in at lunch time. She promised she would turn him out earlier and talk to the stall mucker but a friend checked in for me last week during the morning and he was in the same situation and now he has thrush. What would you suggest? I cannot afford to move as there is nothing else close enough to my home and work.
… Dorothy P. Gloversville, NY
A. It sounds as though the Manager has not made a big enough effort to resolve the issue and it might be best to try to talk to her again. It might pay to take another look around for a Plan B barn option just in case she is not prepared to do more to resolve the situation. There is always another barn! If your horse suffers because he is not being properly cared for then a cheap rate may be false economy. If the care was good before and now isn’t it sounds as though there may be staff issues or that the poor weather has also had a detrimental effect. Try talking to the Manager politely again and explain the situation has not improved. Applaud her efforts but ask that she review why things have changed and give you some specific guarantee that things will be taken care of as your requests are not unreasonable. There are usually two sides to every story so communication is key. Worst case scenario, you’ll have to move.
~ CH Staff
Dear Catskill Horse:
Q. I would like some advice on how to go about finding a pony for my daughter. She has taken lessons before but not recently. She does love horses. I have no horse experience myself.
J. Heckman, Worcester, MA
A. Dear J:
That is very exciting! Here is a link to an article we published some time ago on the very topic. I am sure you will find it helpful. http://www.catskillhorse.org/volume-1-article-4.html
I suggest that you find a local barn with a good reputation and have her start riding again before embarking on a pony purchase.This article may help you select the right trainer http://www.catskillhorse.org/volume-19-article-2.html. You can then seek the advice of her trainer as to what might be suitable for her and perhaps they can recommend places in your area to look for the pony. I would advise that you have the pony vetted ( a pre-purchase exam), and be certain that she rides/tries the pony before purchasing to be certain they are a good match. Do not necessarily buy a pony directly from the training barn.You should feel free to look on your own though with your limited experience a knowledgeable horse person would be a very good idea. If someone helps you search ask them what their commission or fees are for the service beforehand. Also be certain that you can afford it. Itemize the monthly costs for keep, allow for out of pocket expenses as well as for unforeseen circumstances such as vet costs in case of injury or disease.
You can visit our article archives for several articles on this topic. It is helpful to look at articles from the seller’s point of view so you can ascertain the expected protocols of buying a horse.
I would also recommend books as a good resource to learn more about the purchasing process. http://www.thehorsestudio.com/book-be-a-smart-horse-buyer.html
The Merry Band at the Catskill Horse
Q. Dear Catskill Horse:
I have a horse that I keep at home and have just sent him out for training to be put back under saddle. He is an eight year old TB and I had not ridden him for a few years because of being busy at work and having two kids and was not confident to start him back myself. I went to the barn to see how he was coming along ( I am paying for 3 lessons a week) and the trainer showed me how he was coming along.
He looks obedient and seems to be doing O.K. manners wise but he has lost a lot of weight. I asked the trainer and she was very defensive saying he gets plenty of hay and is grained twice a day. I am torn between whether to leave him in training or bring him home. I don’t have a ring to ride at home though and she doesn’t have an indoor but does have a small outdoor ring where she works them.
I checked the hay he gets and it looked awful. She told me if I didn’t like it I was welcome to buy my own and she would feed it. What to do?
Thanks in advance.
A. Hi Jessie:
Sorry to hear that your horse is not doing as well weight wise as you would like. It sounds as though he simply is not getting enough quality nutrition or perhaps he needs more because of the additional work. You also did not mention if he was turned out and whether or not he is blanketed? Horses that are highly bred often feel the cold weather and benefit from the addition of a blanket. This can help them maintain better weight and overall health.
If you have checked the hay and it is not of good quality then the barn owner/manager/trainer should work to address this as other horses in their care are probably in a similar situation. It is false economy to feed poor quality hay, not just because of the lack of nutritional value but also because of the risk of colic. As you have already approached the trainer and they are not willing to improve the hay quality you may have to either supplement the hay with better quality hay ( perhaps an alfalfa blend) from your own pocket and hope that the trainer feeds it to your horse and only to your horse, or you have no choice but to find another barn or to bring him home.
If the horse shows any signs of illness or disease this could also affect his overall health. I assume that he is healthy and well other than his weight as far as you can ascertain? If in doubt have a health check done by your vet.
I have a five year old horse and he is very spooky. It is hard to take him out on the trail as he shies all the time. What is the best way for me to teach him not to do this? He is fine in the indoor ring it is just when he goes outside.
Cathy P. Monticello, NY
A. Dear Cathy:
When you are riding your horse it is important to ride your horse proactively. This means that you must be aware of things in his environment that may worry or scare him and be ready to take action.
As you say your horse is well behaved in the ring it is a good place to start. You need to school your horse to be obedient to your leg aids and he needs to move or give, when you press your leg on his side. Think of this as training him to the shoulder in. Take his head to one side and put your leg on the girth on that same side, take your other leg and place it behind the girth and tap slightly with both.
Now you can place an object, such as a barrel or garbage bin, or any object which you feel might worry him and practice riding past it. Do not ride straight toward it but ride to the side of it and to begin with keep a slight distance. Be ready for him to react and get there ahead of him. Look straight past the object, take his head away from the object and place your legs on as explained above and expect him to walk past. If he stops do not pull, kick, shout or otherwise add negative energy to the situation. If he is frozen in place or tries to turn and run simply turn him onto a small circle and repeat the exercise of shoulder in position calmly. Sit squarely in the saddle and be patient. You can repeat this exercise in both directions and gradually walk closer and closer to the object.
If your horse still balks after yo have repeated this several times, then you will need to dismount and lead him past the object placing yourself closest to the object.
The exercise is all about trust and keeping the horse in a positive frame of mind. Whenever you see something in the environment which might scare him, remember not to become tense but to become active with a quiet forward leg aid and by taking his head away from the object.
It is always best to start de-sensitizing your horse in a controlled environment so you know how he will react and can be ready to aid him to overcome his fear. It is also important to start with smaller objects and move on to larger ones as your horse improves his comfort level.
If you are riding on the trail it is a good idea to have a schoolmaster horse ridden alongside if possible. Your horse will take confidence from the If for any reason you are too scared to follow the directions above then have a professional help you with the exercise.
Good Luck! ~ CH Staff
Q. Dear Editor:
I have recently purchased an OTTB mare and am trying to introduce her into my herd of four geldings. The boys are not happy and keep bullying her. I have three paddocks but they share fence lines. What can I do to keep her safe but still give her company?
Cheryl D. Westmoreland, VA
A. Dear Cheryl:
Congratulations on your new horse. What an exciting time. There are several things you can do to help forestall issues with introducing your new horse to the existing herd.
Hopefully you have some understanding of the herd dynamics of your existing herd. When introducing a new horse it will most likely be those horses that are lower on the pecking order that cause the most trouble, looking to jump up the ladder. It is a good idea to pull hind shoes especially on horses that you know are troublemakers.
For this reason when you introduce a new horse into a group it is a good idea to begin with choosing one pasture mate for the new horse and having them get to know each other first. The dynamics of a herd, whatever the herd size, are always to maintain a pecking order and while you may know who the dominant horse is by their behavior, this may not be the leader of the herd. For more on understanding this please review the DVD from Paul Belasik, The Lost Quixotes, where he looks at the Chesapeake herd and explains how to tell who is who and what is what.
Introducing mares to geldings can be tricky but with some patience should be achievable. Choose a horse in the herd that is mid range and who you know to be kind and secure in their nature to introduce her to first. Start by nose to nose, one in their stall, preferably the gelding so the new horse feels free to leave. You should have a halter and rope and correctly administered chain over the nose in addition if you feel the need for extra control. Once they have met and calmed down you can put them together in adjoining pastures and keep a watchful eye. Be sure that the fence between them is sturdy and safe. Always do this in daylight so you can keep an eye on them.
Given that this has gone smoothly you can now put the two in a pasture together. Before release make sure both horses have been grained and fed, and that the paddock has no areas where the new horse can become trapped e.g. block off run-in sheds or corners of paddocks and ensure there are no obstacles or equipment in the field that a horse in a panic may run into or over. Leave halters in initially in case you need to separate them. Do not leave the two together for more than a few days so avoid co-dependency.
Every time to move the horses from inside/outside they have to reestablish their pecking order in the field so try and avoid having to separate them in the first 24 hrs or so. Once they get along you can add a third horse. This horse could be slightly higher in the pecking order than the first, but in any case keep a watchful eye over the new brood. Gradually you can add all the horses together but one by one.
If you find that one member of the group just does not get along then you may have no choice but to either split the herd for a dynamic that works or possibly keep her alongside the others in her own fenced space.
Horses by nature will run, snort and posture to establish their social position. The horses may run for brief time and be excited, but this should calm down after they become tired and breathless. If it does not pause then it may be an indication that there is more animosity there than is safe and you made need to separate them for their own safety.
While most horses get along, some geldings may become bossy over a mare and claim her as their own to the detriment of the rest of the group and create infighting. In all cases stay vigilant and be ready with grain bucket distraction and rope to catch a horse and intervene if necessary. It is important that you stay safe throughout so having a longe line handy is also a good idea.
~ CH Staff
Q. Dear Catskill Horse:
Love reading your publication and love that it is free. I am new to horse ownership and have many questions. So to focus is hard, on just one question I mean. My first horse, a lifelong dream. His name is Ollie. We spent $1500 on a horse and the seller said he was trail safe. I have had two accidents already. One time he bolted. Second time he twirled and ran for home. I did not come off. That is amazing. I am not a great rider but hung on by the reins. I have a trainer. She won’t get on him. Said send him back. I called the seller they said no. It is my riding they said. What should I do? Can I file a claim or something?
It does not seem fair. I hoped to put my kids on this trail safe horse but would not dare now. The boarding fees are expensive. Can I sell the horse to someone else? I feel bad, please help.
Jennifer F. Middletown, NY
P.S. He is an OTTB who is 9 is we think. Had him vetted and vet said he was OK for trail.
A. Dear Jennifer,
We are glad to hear you enjoy Catskill Horse and hope you find this helpful.
You definitely have a complex issue and a multitude of questions, so I will do my best to address them.
First, if he is an OTTB, you can look up his tattoo, located on his upper lip, and find out a little bit about him; like how long he's been off the track.
Second, the vet exam was certainly a good course to take. However, while the vet says he's ok for trails doesn't mean he was trained for the trails. If they found that there is no physical issue as to why the horse is doing this, then we are most likely looking at a training issue.
Third, when you were purchasing; did you take the seller at their word or did you try him before you bought him? Did your trainer look him over and try him out for you, and with you? If you tried him and he was good, was he alone or in a group? Did he seem a little too quiet? I recently had a client who went, looked at a trail horse and fell in love with him. He was quiet on the trail and did everything the rider asked him to do. I went back with them to look at the horse and we found that he wouldn't go out by himself. He was fine as long as he was following another horse. My client did end up purchasing him, with the understanding that the horse needed training. They invested in several months of training and lessons before taking him home.
If you didn't try him before you bought him, that really is a 'shame on you' (and your trainer). You should never purchase a horse you haven't tried and been able to successfully ride for the purposes you intend it for. For example: testing out a horse intended for trail and only riding in an arena.
There are so many reasons why a horse might behave this way; lack of training, buddy sour, barn sour, pain, rider error...
I am very curious as to why your trainer won't get on him. Do they deem him dangerous? Just not willing to work with him? This confuses me. I get on problem horses for my clients all the time, especially when there's an issue. Sometimes it is the rider, sometimes it's lack of training. You're not really going to know unless you have a professional evaluate him.
I wish I had better news, but unfortunately, unless you had him on trial or have a contract, you have no recourse with the seller. The seller is not required to take him back. Ethically, one would hope they would if it wasn't a good match, but they are not required to.
You could try to sue the seller but you would have to be able prove that they intentionally sold you a dangerous horse.
I would recommend having a professional do a complete work-up on him. You really need to know if it's you or a training issue. Either way, whether it's a training issue or rider error; you'll have to decide if you want to try and keep him and work with him or sell him. A professional will be able to help you make the best decision for you and help you market him honestly if that's the route you decide to take.
Q. Dear Catskill Horse:
I have just purchased a horse from an auction and brought it home to my backyard. I want to ride him but am not sure where to start. He is about 7 years old, 15.2hh chestnut gelding, probably an OTTB. He does not have a tattoo. He is a bit underweight. Any advice on what program I should employ? I am an experienced English rider and could just get right on but not sure what he knows. I am hoping to make him into a hunter.
Linda F. Downsville, NY.
Bringing home a new horse is always exciting. You're in a slightly different situation than a regular purchase as you don't know his history.
If he was an OTTB, you would have been able to research a little bit about him through his tattoo.
As far as riding him, if you are comfortable just getting on-go for it! No better way to find out what he knows.
However, if you're not sure it might be best to take it slow.
When in doubt- go back to basics.
Start at the beginning. Work with him to find out what he knows. If he stands well for grooming, move on to tacking, then lunging or standing for mounting, and so on.
At each step, read his readiness to move forward to the next. If he starts pinning his ears, swishing tail, stomping, bucking or kicking- take a step back to evaluate what's bothering him before trying to move forward.
As a trainer, I am an advocate for non professionals riders to seek a trainers help when working with new or unknown horses. They are equipped to deal with issues in the moment and will often see things well before they happen and be able to help you out. In lieu of having a trainer help you, it would be best to have someone nearby when working with a new/unknown horse- just in case you need an extra hand.
Good Luck with your new baby.
Q. Dear Editor:
I have been enjoying my free read of Catskill Horse magazine and the articles are very helpful. I wondered if you could help me with this problem? I am currently training my horse for 3rd level movements and have started work on flying changes. My horse constantly runs through the tack. Either that or switches late behind. Any advice?
Thank-you in advance.
Carol H., Buffalo, NY
When you experience problems training the flying change there are a myriad of self checks that you need to address before you start. I am not sure exactly where you are in the process but here is a link to my blog which covers the subject in some depth across a few posts. I hope that you will find it useful. As you will read everything is in the ‘set up’ and preparation. Some horses find the changes easier than others, same with riders. But this should give you some key advice. Let us know how it goes!
Q. Dear Editor:
I have my horse at board at a small farm and am unhappy with the care my horse is getting. The owner says he is turning my horse out daily but other boarders say my horse only goes out for 2 hours when he is supposed to be out all day. They are not feeding him enough hay and on Mondays when they are closed I don't think they muck him out or do much but throw some hay in. I have asked the owner about it but he denies it. I work full time so it is hard for me to catch him out. I don't have a contract and this barn is the closest and also the only one I can afford right now in the area. What can I do?
You're in a really tough situation. Sounds like you've already tried to discuss your concerns with management. Unfortunately, from what you have said, you can only go by what others have said. It's now a he said-she said. You can try asking a friend to stop in during the day and document their findings to take to management. The big question is: are they willing to work with you to resolve your concerns?
The reality is, without a contract, there's very little you can do short of moving to a new barn. A boarding contract is essential. It not only specifies what you pay, it spells out what services your getting. Without one, you really have no recourse.
My concern is the nature and professionalism of a barn that DOESN'T have a contract.
You can try going to management again and ask to sit down to discuss the situation. If they seem open to discussion, you can try and ask for a contract.
In the end you need to decide if the current level of care is something you can live with or if you'd be better off looking for a new facility.
Best of Luck
Q. Dear Editor:
I have been out of the saddle for nearly ten years and want to get back into riding again. I have been searching for a horse and have found a lot of options online and have visited many. My previous experience was in hunt seat but I'd like to try dressage. I have found it really difficult to find a horse in a reasonable price range so have now headed down the rescue road. This appeals to me, giving the horse a home etc. It seems that rescues all have different requirements and fees. Can you give me any advice? How do I know if I pay the fee that the horse is sound and if it back because it doesn't work out should I expect a refund. I don't want to have to choose another one from the same place and be locked in. Should I have my own vet check it? Some rescues I've visited charge a lot, $800 or more and won't refund and say their own vet has Ok'd the horse. Should I expect the rescue to let me have the horse on trail? Is there a website I can visit that gives reviews on rescues and does it matter if they are not non profit.
Thanks for any help you can give.
Karen P. N. Adams, MA.
I applaud your choice to try and help a rescue horse. Finding a dressage-suitable rescue can be difficult but certainly not impossible.
First thing I would do, if you haven't already, is find a good instructor/trainer in your discipline of choice. Not only can they help you identify horse suitable for your needs, they can help you navigate the complex world of rescues.
I wish there was an easy way to answer your question but, sadly, rescues are tricky business these days. There are so many “rescues” out there, it's sometimes hard to tell if your dealing with a legitimate rescue or a horse flipper. You definitely want to do your research on your rescue of choice. You can also check with local vets and other horse professionals for recommendations for a “good” rescue in your area.
When your looking into them: Do they have a good reputation, mixed reviews, or flat out bad reputation? Do they check references? Can they provide references? Do they know the horses? Do they use scare tactics, such as, “Owned by kill buyer- shipping TODAY!”? Do they have a high turnover rate?
The reality is; if it seems shady, it probably is.
Most rescues have a contract; if they don’t, they most likely aren’t a rescue. Sadly, there is no set criteria for adoptions. Contracts will vary from rescue to rescue. As with any contract, you should be comfortable with its terms and content, and have it reviewed by a professional before signing.
Everything should be spelled out in their contract, from animal information to terms of their adoption. This should give you a clear understanding of what they expect from you and what you should expect from them.
As far as returns and trials; Rescues that truly have the horses best interests at heart will have clauses in their contract for returning the animal. Sometimes things happen and you can’t keep them. You need to know if you are able to sell them of if they have to be returned to the rescue.
Most rescues will also allow a certain amount of time for trial. Some rescues will do ‘foster to adopt’ trial periods with their horses, in which the horse comes to live with you for a period of time to see if it is a good match before finalizing the adoption. Some will offer 30 days. This really does depend on the rescue you choose as it varies from rescue to rescue. I’d be leery of any rescue that has an ‘all sales final’ attitude as that is not a rescue, it’s a sales barn.
Vet Exams: Unless you are looking for a companion animal that you know you aren’t planning to ride, you absolutely should be allowed to have your own vet check the animal over before completing an adoption.. If the animal is healthy and sound there should be no issues with this.
Fees: The fact is rescues incur expenses taking care of these animals. We aren’t just talking about the routine day to day care of the horse. Many come in with medical issues, injuries, starved, poor hoof care or any number of other issues. Most adoption fees aren’t even covering a fraction of what most rescues are asking. Again this depends on the rescue. In my experience, rescues that fundraise for their day to day care costs and ‘emergency’ rescue cases, tend to have lower adoption costs since they aren’t trying to recoup a loss.
That being said, I also have seen some pretty excessive fees. Lets be honest, some of the fees out there are high enough you could buy a horse on the open market, without any restrictions or conditions. While its only my opinion, anything over $650 is no longer an adoption it’s a sale. In the end you have to decide what your comfortable paying for an adoption fee and any conditions that come with it.
I have yet to find a general website that lists rescues and offers reviews. Generally, if you enter a rescues name into the search engine, you can find information about them.
Good luck with your search.
Q. Dear Editor:
I have a young horse that shies at everything. All. The. Time. I have tried to take him out in company and he does the same thing. He spooks constantly and seems to make stuff up. I consider myself an able rider but it is very tiresome and definitely means my plans to show hunt seat are not happening. My trainer says he is so bad she won't risk herself riding him. He takes a look at something, spins around quickly and bolts off. On his own he is even worse. I asked the vet to check his vision but he says it is fine. The tack fits well and he is sound. What can I do?
Jane W. Cortland, NY
Young horses certainly can try the patience of a saint sometimes. They take time and lots of patience.
Your letter doesn't tell me how 'young' your horse is, his level of training, if this is a new behavior or how long this has been going on, so I'll try to help you as best I can.
First, did the vet check just check his eyesight or do a full work-up to check for pain? Pain will often times cause a horse to be reactive, so if he's not had a full work up, I'd start there, especially if this is a new behavior.
Next, is he truly scared or is he being 'baby stupid'? Young horses can go through phases just like a toddler. Some take longer to get through the 'silly' phase than others. If he's just being 'baby stupid', the spooking may have started as real fear that is now just a really fun game. A good way to move him through 'scary ' areas is to bend him away from the offending object while asking him to step towards it with your inside leg(leg yield) continue asking him to step through the area in this manner.
If he's truly fearful, then he needs lots and lots of groundwork. Not all horses are brave and inquisitive. If they aren't naturally so, they will need to learn how to be brave I'd start by introducing him to everything. Lead him to the scary or new stuff. Let him sniff it. Walk him past it in multiple directions or over it when possible. Then repeat the process under saddle.
Your reactions to the spooking may also be a factor. If you are getting tense expecting the spook you may actually be causing it. Be sure you are relaxed and soft as you are asking him to go forward.
The fact that your trainer won't work with him is a little concerning. I'd consider consulting another trainer that specializes in young and/or 'problem' horses. Sometimes just having a fresh set of eyes will see something your missing or have corrections to give you in the moment. It may be a simple fix or something that needs a little more intensive schooling.
Q. My horse is having a problem learning his lead swaps. He is great over a course and never balks at a jump, but he gets confused and rushes and cannot find his leads. I cannot afford a trainer and have done all my work myself. He is an OTTB and is seven years old. Can you please tell me what I can do to school him to do it without rushing off. He doesn't rush after the fences, just when I ask for the swap. It seems he doesn't listen or understand. I ride him in a twisted snaffle, should I try a different bit?
Amy B, Malta, NY
Thank you for your question. Having trouble with your lead changes and rushing before or after is a common problem that can stem from a multitude of reasons, including rider tension, leaning through or into the change, incorrect aides or lack of training for horse/rider. It's tough to say why your boy is rushing since I can't see what exactly he's doing.
To start, I don't generally jump to switching bits when something gets sticky. We must first rule out rider error and training issues with the horse.
The first thing that sticks out to me is your comment that you 'can't afford a trainer and have done all the work yourself'. Whether you only need them for one session or several, I strongly recommend finding a trainer. Nothing can replace eyes on the ground helping you in the moment. They would be better equipped to help you diagnose and solve this issue, as they would be able to see exactly where the problem is. You should be able to find one in your area that can work within your budget. You can also check out the CatskillHorse.org directory to help find one in your area. That being said, congratulations on your hard work, it's not easy working by yourself all the time.
In regard to the 'lead change', my question for you is this; did you ever teach him to do a flying change? The aids for the change? Do you school them on the flat?
If your answer is 'No', then the best advice I can give you is: Flatwork-Flatwork-Flatwork.
A great jumping partner starts with great flatwork. If the horse can't school a change on the flat he's not going to be able to do so over the fence. Go back to basics, work on your changes until your both comfortable with them.
If the answer is 'yes', the we are most likely looking at rider error. The most common mistake asking for the change is leaning to the new direction when asking for the change over the fence. Make sure you are balanced, square and cueing with your leg; not throwing you weight into the direction you need him to change toward.
You can work on this by schooling the changes over a small fence or pole on the ground until you both are solid and he understands what your asking for.
Put the pole or small fence in the center of the arena and work large circles (creating a square 8). Start at the trot. Trot in from the left-canter out to the right and vice-versa. Once he can do that move on to canter. Canter in, simple change, canter out. Gradually moving up until he can canter left-change-canter right through the exercise. Make sure you are balanced and quiet while asking and not throwing yourself in the direction you going. Don't get frustrated or mad if he's not getting it, just take a step back and try it again.
There should be no difference in the horses rhythm approaching or landing a jump. Rushing the fences can come from anything from rider tension to the horse's inexperience. If he is only rushing when you are asking for the lead change (and he knows how to do a change), then you are most likely tensing up in anticipation of the change. He'll get confused and rush since he doesn't understand why you have suddenly gone tight. Use the above mentioned exercise to help.
You also don't say how high you are jumping. If you've moved him up before he's ready, it can cause him to rush as well. Bring him back down to poles on the ground. Canter the poles in both directions, do "courses". Does he rush? If no, then slowly start moving him up in height. Only move him up a level when he is comfortably, consistently and quietly schooling the fences at that level. If yes, is it only in one direction or both? If it's both then he definitely needs more work on his basics. If it's only in one direction, it's either you or a physical issue. We are all stronger to one side or the other and will find that some horses seem 'harder' or tighter to one direction. This applies to both horse and rider. If your both weak in the same direction it just makes it that much harder. Be sure that what your schooling in one direction you spend equal time schooling the other direction.
It's also possible he has a physical issue making him sore or 'rushy' in one direction and he should then be checked out by a vet.
There are so many variables when your jumping, that help from a knowledgable friend or even having someone videoing you so you can see what's going on can help. I hope this helps. Good Luck.
Q. "I am starting my young horse under saddle and he doesn't walk forward when I get on. He stands quietly but he won't move forward. I've tried having someone lead him but he just pulls back and gets upset. I've tried having someone walk a quiet horse ahead but he doesn't care. If I use my legs either soft or hard he ignores them. He longes on the voice but when I use my walk word in the saddle he ignores that too. Someone suggested throwing a bucket of water on him from behind but am scared to try that. I also tried tapping him with the bat behind my leg but that just irritated him. Please help."
Denise C. Chatham, NY
Thank you for a great question. I love working with babies and young horses. The two things that I can guarantee:
1. Each horse is different. Some 'get it' right away while others force us to get a little creative.
2. You need lots of patience. In everything we do with the young horse we should endeavor to make it a positive, confidence building experience so we have a happy confident working partner when we're done. Sometime this means getting just one thing right and ending your session so you can end on a positive note.
It sounds like you have a great start so far. You've got him longing with voice commands, which will be useful throughout the training process, and standing quietly for mounting.
You have to remind yourself at each step, that he doesn't know what your asking for. He doesn't know what your leg cues mean or what the touch of a crop means. Even though you've taught him voice commands, he's not going to entirely understand them while your on his back, as you are now, in essence, asking him to follow you blind.
I personally start all my young horses bareback with a halter and lead rope to try and make the first experiences as resistant-free as possible. In this way, I also know the only thing bothering my horse is me, not something with the equipment, and can adjust accordingly. Only when I have them comfortable doing walk/trot work do I add a saddle.
Not everyone is comfortable with this method of starting, so I'd start by making sure your saddle fits him properly. Many horses are happy to move forward in ill fitting equipment on the lunge but refuse to move once someone sits on them because they are now getting pinched.
You'll also want to check his saddle fit throughout the training process as their backs will change as they gain muscle.
Once you've established that the saddle fits and nothing is pinching him, there are several things you can try to get him walking.
1. Wait. Get on and wait. Most young horses will get bored just standing there and will take a few steps on their own eventually. Be sure to use your voice commands as soon as he moves and lots of praise. Kicking him or pulling at the reins just promotes resistance.
2. Leader. Ask someone to lead him with you on. Again, no force, don't try and pull him along, just clip on a lead rope and ask him to walk like your leading him to the pasture.
If you have someone willing to help you, he may lead easier with you leading vs someone he doesn't know. Have them mount and you lead him. As soon as he moves a foot you praise and then ask again.
3. Bribery. A little bribery can go a long way. Bring out his favorite treats and use them to encourage him to move forward. Once mounted have your assistant hold them just out of range of his nose(making him stretch for them) as soon as he steps towards the treat, use the voice command, then praise and give him the treat. Repeat this- making him take more and more steps before giving him the reward.
4. The whip. The whip can be used to encourage going forward IF you first teach him what it means from the ground. Otherwise all you doing is hitting him and he doesn't understand what you want.
Stand by their shoulder facing them, left hand on the lead or reins. In the right hand hold the whip or crop in the position it would be in if you were on them(preferably in the behind the leg position as it's the back end that needs to move first). Now lightly tap him and say 'walk', continue to lightly tap until he moves. As soon as he moves- lots of praise and then start the process again. The light repeated taps should never sting as they are meant to motivate not hurt. Be sure to practice this on both sides of the horse.
Once he is comfortably and consistently walking forward when you tap him, then you should be able to try this while mounted. The process is similar. Sit with a lose seat, use your voice command and lightly bump with your leg, if he does not step forward, repeat the voice command and lightly tap until he steps forward. Always praising when he moves forward.
Few things to keep in mind while working the young horse.
First- Work towards positive reinforcement. Lots of praise for the little things he does 'right'. I agree with your choice not to throw water on him to get him to move. I know what my reaction would be to that and I can't say that would be a very positive experience for him either.
Second- Make sure your seat and leg is relaxed throughout the process. Tension equals resistance.
Third- Keep in mind bearing weight is new them so we need to give them time to adjust and learn to carry us.
Fourth- Keep sessions/lessons short and sweet. If they get something right move on or be done. Don't keep drilling the same exercise over and over as it can breed frustration in the young horse.
Fifth- Patience-Patience-Patience. Babies learn in their own time and in their own way.
If you continue to struggle I strongly recommend finding a local trainer that can help you move forward.
Best of Luck
Q. Dear Catskill Horse:
I wondered if you could help me. My horse is seven years old and I have owned him for a year now. I have a background in jumping and would like to try eventing. The jumps are no problem but when he is in a dressage arena he won't canter. He loves to go fast and will just canter around like a lunatic not listening to my aids. What is the best way to get him to settle down? I am blowing my scores before I even get on course. I have tried just cantering a few strides and coming back to the trot but he just trots really fast. He just won't listen. I have tried putting him on the longe and he canters fine then.
Melissa S. Hudson, NY."
There are a few things that stand out to me.
First, you say that he is fine for jumping, I will assume you are cantering fences with no issues. You also state that he canters fine on the longe line. So, while we can't completely rule out a physical issue, it does not sound physical issue in this case. It never hurts to make sure he's not sore in either his back or hocks.
Second, I'd recommend checking your saddle fit. If you are alternating saddles for the discipline you are working, he may be having issues with the fit of the dressage saddle thereby making him uncomfortable or unable to canter.
Third, you state your background is jumpers. How much dressage experience/training do you have?
My first thought when reading this was: rider error. Many times it's not the horse it's us. It's hard for the horse to be soft and supple if our legs and seat are tight. Switching back and forth from dressage and jumping can be tricky as they are two totally different styles. Hunters and jumpers tend to stay in light seat and rarely do full seat cantering, he may not have the muscling to carry you or be used to the feeling of you full seated. In addition, if you are trying to 'hold' your seat in the "correct" dressage position, it could be causing your seat to stiff and become a driving aid.
Several exercises you can try:
First, try riding him in your jumping saddle in the dressage arena, ride him as if you are about to jump a course.
If he's fine and canters ok, you'll know it's not anything special about the arena causing issues.
If he's still acting 'like a lunatic' it's possible that the relatively small size of the arena compared to the roomy size of a jump arena stresses him out in which case you'll need to condition him to be comfortable working in a smaller spaces.
This can be achieved by starting out in the jump arena and gradually decreasing it's size(with jumps and/or temporary fencing) until he's comfortably schooling in a smaller space.
Once he's comfortable in the jumping saddle in the dressage arena(and you've checked the fit of your dressage saddle) switch him to the dressage saddle. Then get up in your light seat for the canter. Once you've achieved a steady rhythm, slowly start to sit into the saddle, really working to keep your seat, thigh and ankles soft and moving with him.
If you are continuing to have problems, a good trainer or an extra set of eyes on the ground can be very helpful.
Catskill Horse Staff Writer
Q. Can you give me some advice. My horse won't stand for tacking up, mounting or for anything else. If I try to tie him on to the cross-ties he freaks out. I've owned him over a year and just started him working this Spring as he is an OTTB and had a leg injury that required time off. Every time the farrier comes to the barn I have to be there to hold him as he won't tie. When I tack him up he moves back and forth, barging me out the way with his shoulder. The barn manager won't help me because she says he is dangerous. I am about to give up. Please help." Judy A, Cortlandt, NY
You sound like you have your hands full but your problem is more common than you realize, so don't give up yet!
There are a couple of issues I will address but since I'm reading more than one problem, I would strongly recommend finding a professional, preferably someone with O.T.T.B, experience, to help give you a solid start with him. Even if it's only for a couple of training sessions, a professional can help address issues as they happen.
From what you described, the issues I see extend beyond him not standing. We need to address his lack of respect for your space, standing for tacking and mounting, as well as the cross tie issue.
First, you don't say if he's had turnout at all with his leg injury. Any horse on stall rest with no turnout is going to be a little wound up. It would definitely not help his mental state and would cause him to be pushy and reluctant to stand.
Second, you don't say if his barging into you is something he's always done or if it's new behavior. If it's new, it could simply be the result of the prolonged stall rest. If he's been this way since you got him, it's certainly possible he doesn't know any better. Either way he's too big to be running people over and he needs some lessons in manners.
Let's start with walking. While many don't need it, it is common practice for track horses to only be handled with a chain over their nose. Once they come off the track, they need to learn how to walk and be handled without one.
When you lead, your horses nose should be at or slightly behind your shoulder, never ahead of you as that makes him the boss. This should all be on your terms not his. When you walk, he walks. When you stop, he stops.
Whenever he gets pushy or surges ahead of you, simply turn and walk the other way. Repeat as needed. Sounds simple but it works, He's forced to slow down to turn and has to pay attention to you.
In conjunction with the first exercise, add in stopping. Walk and just stop short. If your horse stops with you be sure to praise him. It means he's paying attention to you.
If he continues past you, repeat the first exercise i.e. turn and walk away.
If he takes a step past you and stops, gently ask him to back until he's where he's supposed to be at your shoulder. If he resists then turn, walk away, and try again.
Remember to stay calm and don't get mad if he doesn't pick it up right away, just keep repeating until he 'gets it'.
Next is standing. This is an issue many people have, but the fact is, many OTTB's just don't know how to stand for mounting. Jockeys don't generally mount from the ground or a mounting block, they are given a leg up as the horse is walking.
First thing you need to do is teach him the 'stand' command. This is one of the first things I teach my babies and training horses. It is fairly easy to do but takes a little time, patience and a lot of repetition.
Simply stand with your horse and say 'Stand'. If he moves put him back in his original position and repeat the command. Praise him if he stays.
As with any conditioning exercise, start with small time limits, praising often and gradually increasing the time you want him standing.
This simple command will become the foundation for getting him to stand for mounting and standing on cross ties.
When you are ready to move on to mounting, you will repeat this process of using the 'stand' command and corrections at the mounting block.
Not all track horses know how to cross tie, many use a single tie in the stall, so it's entirely possible that he doesn't know what they are and will need to learn.
This is where your 'Stand' command becomes important. Give him the command, hook one side of the cross tie only. Stay close in case you need to unhook quickly. If he stands, praise him, stay that way for a minute or two and them unhook him making sure to give him lots of praise for the positive action.
Then you start again. Issue the 'Stand' command and hook the one crosstie. If he continues to stand quietly, move to the opposite side (so he's tied with the crosstie on one side and you have him with the lead rope on the other). If he continues to stand quietly move farther away. The lead rope will simulate the second cross tie. If he starts fighting or begins to fidget at all, go back to where he was comfortable and start again. Repeat until you can work your way up to hooking both cross ties. Reinforce the 'stand' often and praise when he's good.
Once you work him up to being comfortable standing on both ties, gradually increase the amount of time he stands there. I also advocate using safety quick release cross-ties just in case he panics.
Remember that this is a process that will take time: There is no magical formula for overnight success.
Catskill Horse Staff Writer
Q. "What can I do to get my horse to go out in company on the trails? He behaves really badly. Pulling and spinning and always has to be in front. He upsets other horses. I've tried taking him in front, behind, and side by side with one other very quiet horse. I've even tried taking him out between two horses but he hates that. He jogs all the time and is even worse on the way home. He is seven years old and is fine if he is alone. I want to take him out on trails with friends but no-one wants to ride with me anymore." ~ Lorraine M, Monticello, NY
This is actually a tough question to answer as I don't have quite enough information.
We first need to address why he's exhibiting this behavior.
If you were a client calling me about this issue, I would have several questions- How long have you owned him? What is his training? What breed is he? Is this a recent change? Is he turned out alone or in a group? What was your response the first time he behaved this way? How do you feel when you take him out in a group now?
Given that you said he behaves when he's alone, we will go on the assumption that he is healthy, not reacting out of pain and address this strictly as a behavioral issue.
If he is always turned out alone or say an OTTB (off track Thoroughbred), he simply may not know how to behave in a group situation. A horse that is always alone is more likely to get over-stimulated and rowdy in a group, than one that is part of an established herd. An OTTB can get that way if the only thing he knows is 'being ridden in a group' i.e. racing.
If his behavior scared you the first time he did it he may be continuing to react to your tension when you get into a group situations now.
While nothing can replace having a trainer right there with you to address issues as they arise, there are a couple of exercises to work on this from a training standpoint.
1. I would start by asking a friend with a really quiet horse to help you. This is going to be a process of reconditioning (or teaching) him how to behave. We are going to focus and reinforce the good behaviors not the bad.
Start by walking him around your arena or riding area with your friend and their horse standing where he can see them. When he's quiet and listening (be sure to praise the quiet behavior), ask your friend to start walking their horse around. They do not need to be right next to you or even going in the same direction, just in the area.
As long he is behaving, have your friend start walking in the same direction as you. Still lots of space between you. Give him lots of praise for any good i.e. quiet, behavior. Gradually have your helper move closer and closer until you are in a position you are comfortable with for example: side by side, leading, following.
If at any time he starts jigging or acting out, turn him away and have your helper move away, take a deep breath, relax, and start again.
When you get him to the point of consistently and comfortably walking around the arena with another horse next to him, It's time for you to work on leaving the arena. Remember this is going to take time and is not an overnight or one day fix.
Make sure you are as relaxed before attempting to leave the arena. Now walk out of the arena with the other horse. Praise him if he's quiet. As soon as you feel him tense up turn him and head back to the arena. Repeat this process until you can freely walk with the other horse without tension, gradually extending how far you go.
Once you can successfully take a trail ride with one horse, add another horse to the process.
This is not a one day process. Make sure you end on a good note each session. If you push him until he's worked up you'll just be reinforcing the unwanted behavior.
2. If you are going out with a group, try staying toward the back of the group. As soon as he begins to get tense, turn and walk away from the group. Try not to wait until he's already jigging and tight. When he settles, head back in the direction of the group. Repeat as needed.
If this technique doesn't work then start again with the first exercise.
If neither if these techniques help, please consider getting a trainer out there to help you.
Stay calm, breather and always reinforce good behavior.
Catskill Horse Staff Writer
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