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Dear Cherry,

I have an 8 year old mare standard bred. She is very nippy and can be aggressive. She bit my forehead a couple weeks ago. I had a bruise.
She spooks easily and I need help. She is western. The worst part is when I saddle her. She is sensitive and is cranky. Please help.

Thanks. Denver

Hi Denver,

It sounds like your mare needs to develop respect and confidence. Respect for you and confidence in herself and her surroundings. Biting and spooking are just symptoms of a horse with a lack of respect and confidence.

Have you visited my Horse Information Roundup? There you will find MANY articles related to your questions. Here are just a few

Biting and there are six more article related to Biting under Behavior

Spooking

Sacking Out

In addition, it sounds like you and your horse would benefit from you reading

What Every Horse Should Know.

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Cherry,

My question is about a riding-school horse: in the scenario below, what if anything should I have done differently?

At this school, students ride a different horse every time. Over weeks or months, a student might ride the same horse again. This was the first and only time so far I was assigned to this horse.

When I first entered her pipe-stall, she acted friendly and let me remove her blanket. But when I re-entered the stall with halter and lead rope, she nipped at the air in my direction. She did this every time I slowly moved the halter toward her nose and she became more aggressive.

My job was to catch her, lead her to cross-ties, and tack her up in time for a riding lesson 30 minutes later.

I reasoned that I should not reward her nipping by backing off or going away (to get help!). Instead I growled (yelling or shouting are expressly forbidden in this barn) and let her know she couldn’t get rid of me, by keeping my fingertips on her shoulder, at arm’s length, and following her as she rotated around her stall, away from me. After some 20 nips, she gave up and let me put the halter on her.  After that everything was fine.

What should I have done differently?  Caroline

Hi Caroline,

If the purpose of the lessons at this schools is to test a students ability to deal with various horses, then I would say in general, you did an acceptable job. But if testing was the aim, then you would have received an evaluation and critique from an instructor who was watching. It sounds as though you did not.

If the purpose of the school is to teach students how to interact with various types of horses, then I would say the school failed. With a horse like this, it should have taken one of the instructors just a few minutes to demonstrate the best way to approach, catch and halter this particular horse in her pipe stall. Then you could have done the same. An instructor would have been able to advise you whether the horse was playing a game with you or was truly aggressive, something I can not ascertain from an email.

I am positively impressed with your savvy to not reward her with backing off from her attempts at nipping.

What should you have done differently? Perhaps after catching the horse and haltering her, you could have turned her loose, left her pen and then asked an instructor to watch as you approached, caught and haltered the horse once again.

A lesson begins the moment you begin approaching a horse. A riding school should instruct from that point on, not just when you are in the saddle.

Thanks for the good question.

 

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Hi Cherry,

just wondered if you have any ideas how to stop out yearling miniature horse filly to stop bucking and kicking out at us. We own 6 other miniatures and have never had this problem . We have her for 6 months now, and still she does it. We cant stand behind her to brush her tail, nor adjust her rug leg straps etc. She is out on grass with the others and as soon as we go to bring her in, she spins and lashes out with her rear legs. She also hates to be tied and gets very thick and starts pawing the ground etc.
Sara

Hi Sara,

Young fillies of that age are beginning to experience their estrous cycle for the first time. Because of that, some are more explosive, irritable and protective, especially of their hindquarters and activities related to their rear end, such as you say brushing her tail and adjusting her leg straps.

There are many articles related to your questions on my Horse Information Roundup. I will mention a few, but you should go there and search your questions.

Reference article: How to Tell if a Mare is in Heat

A horse like that needs a super thorough handling and sacking out program to show her that touching and activities behind her are nothing to fear. This is a good time to nip this tendency in the bud – otherwise the horse could carry the bad habits for life.

Reference Articles:

Sacking Out

Teaching the Young Horse to Tie

Tying Problems

I recommend you read my latest book, What Every Horse Should Know:

Respect Patience Partnership

No Fear of People or Things

No Fear of Restriction or Restraint.

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Hi Mrs. Hill,
I have another problem. In October a crazy wind came and blew away all the leaves from the trees. The change in the way the forest looks freaked Dolly out, and she hasn’t been the same ever since. Just recently (like the beginning of this month) I’ll get to this place in the trail that is a telephone line right-of-way. It has two hills that are pretty steep and not the type you’d go cantering up and down. The second I come out of the forest trail and into this right-of-way, Dolly begins to try to gallop off with me. She’s become very agitated there. The first time I figured there was just a moose out there since I had seen three the night before.

But its continued until she actually started to rear and leap and crow hop on me. She’s never reared before and its gotten to the point where its scary. I love her and I’ve put so much work into her, but I can’t figure out a way to get her to stop, trust me, and relax. She’s sending me mixed signals. I’ll ask her to move forward and she’ll throw a tantrum and buck and spin and rear, then when I stop her all she wants to do is paw through the snow and eat. So I know somethings not out there. Do you have any suggestions? I would really appreciate it if you did. Thank you again!
Katie

Hi Katie,

You need to work on this at home first, then on the trail in “safe zones” and finally in those “hot spots”.

First you need to be very aware of your own body language when these things happen. Even if you are alarmed when your horse starts freaking, your body, your seat, legs, back and arms and hands, and most of all, your mind, must be calm, cool and collected.

Then you need to perfect a means of control and give the horse something else to do. You should learn how to do a one rein stop and then once your horse is stopped, ride her in a series of circles and half turns calmly and not in too-tight of a bend until her behavior de-escalates.

You’ve halted her freaking behavior and given her something else to do.

A one rein stop is different from a double which is kind of like a spin, what your horse does when she is frightened. In a double, the horse’s head and neck is turned rather sharply in one direction while his hindquarters are moving in the other direction. It is like a turn on the center.

A one rein stop is just the rein signal. You want the horse to stop, not keep moving.

A one rein stop is best done with a halter, bosal or snaffle bit as you will be using direct rein signals.

To initiate the head and neck bend, reach down the rein close to the horse’s head and take up the slack.

If your horse tends to spin to the right when she freaks, you want to work on this to the left. You’d grab the left rein and hold her into the turn until she stops moving her feet. Then yield – let go of the rein signal. Drive the horse forward with your legs and then do some gymnastics – circles, half turns, serpentines.

Once you’ve mastered the one rein stop at home, you should set your horse up at home to “freak” and have your aids ready. You might have someone carry a strange item toward you or try and ride her past some balloons or an opened umbrella or waving plastic sack.

Once you can control her no matter what happens at home, set up these same situations on a safe part of the trail.

Each time and in each place that you control her and give her something else to do, it will build her confidence and make it easier in the next situation.

Finally, ride to the trouble spot. It should be a piece of cake.

But take the time it takes to perfect it BEFORE you go back to your trouble spot.

Be safe and enjoy your horse.


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Hi Cherry,

I am soon to be 57 and started the horse thing 3 yrs ago due to I had lived in the city all my life.

I now live in the country with only 1 1/2 acer’s and 2 horse’s.  I work full time and I am a sissy with the extreme cold or heat.

I need incourgement with training.  Whats the least amount of time I need to spend with horse in order to get results and how many months should I look forward to the results. I am looking to get closer to the 2 I have and really get them to trust me so I will feel safer on them.  I have round bin now and am looking at some of the Perrelli DVD’s to learn.   I just got bucketed off my 10 yr old walker last wk on to my head and she has never done that or kicked at me. But we were near home and she heard the other marer and I think she just wanted to go back–I let her put her head down which I no better but just not enough experence.

What can you tell me that would help me.

Thanks, Trish

Hi Trish,

First of all, congratulations on your move to the country to make your dream come true of owning a horse !

As far as how much time? Even professional horse trainers will tell you that it takes a lot of time to get a horse to the point where the horse is confident and solid in his desirable responses.

In fact, a common answer to “How long will it take…..??” is often “Take the time it takes.” In other words, you have to measure your horse handling, training and riding by results rather than a clock or a calendar.

Your horse will tell you each day what you need to work on and when it is time to move on to something new. Start with something simple like catching and haltering. If that goes smoothly, then you can move on to some other ground work or tacking up and riding. But if the catching and haltering has some issues such as avoidance, high headedness, being distracted by other horses, invasion of your personal space or other such things, you need to iron those things out first before you move on.

Specifically in regards to your letter, the horse you were riding was exhibiting barn sour, herd bound, or buddy bound behavior. As you know from landing on your head, you need to work on that first and foremost. There are a number of articles on that topic on my Horse Information Roundup.

In addition, my latest book What Every Horse Should Know discusses the importance of developing Respect, Patience, and Partnership and NO FEAR of People, Things, Restriction or Restraint.

Best of luck,

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Dear Cherry,
We might be getting 2 more horses. They are sound and calm.  We already have two horses male and female they are mean to other horses. Should we put them in their stalls and leave them there for a few days with the new horses?
Emma

Hi Emma,

Not knowing your facilities options and how mean your current horses are, I’ll give you some general advice and ideas.

First of all, many horses appear mean when actually they are just establishing their pecking order – the social order in a herd – who is top horse and who is next and so on. But some horses ARE mean – they are grouchy and aggressive. I don’t know which yours are but will refer to them as the mean horses as you did.

When the new horses arrive, if they are used to living together, you can house them together, such as in a large covered pen while they get used to the sights and sounds of their new home.

Their pen should not have a common fence line or panel line or wall with your current “mean” horses. But they should all be able to see each other.

Let them live this way for as long as it takes for everyone to settle in.

Then depending on your facilities, you can either start housing the horses closer to each other or begin mixing them. I don’t know how safe your fencing is, but if it is tall, strong and safe, you could put the least mean of your horses in a pen next to the two new ones. As long as the new horses’ pen is large enough that they can avoid being next to the mean horse if they want, eventually the 3 horses will work out some sort of agreement. It might takes several days.

Then you could return the first mean horse to his regular pen and bring the other one over to live next to the two new ones.  Once all the horses have had a chance to get used to each other, you could consider adding one of the mean horses to the group of two new horses. Be sure the area you do this in is large enough so that all three horses have enough room so as not to get cornered.

The main thing is to take the time it takes to let the horses get used to each other.

You might find that one of the mean horses isn’t really mean and shows that he prefers to live calmly with the two new horses while the other mean horse truly is mean and needs to be housed alone.

Enjoy the opportunity to observe horse behavior and be safe !

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Teaching a Horse to “Spook in Place”

Hi Cherry,

First off, thank you so much for creating and maintaining such an extensive informative website. This is a tremendous and very precious resource for every rider and horse owner.

Like many of your other readers, I have a question regarding a spooky horse and after reading your related articles, I still feel I’d like to send you my specific issue hoping that perhaps you have another tip for me.

I have a 5-year-old fairly inexperienced filly who shies on the trail. Having known me since she was only a few hours old, she trusts me completely. I have done a lot of groundwork with her (including sacking out, just like you describe it in your article). At age 4, I asked the rancher to start riding her and to give me arena lessons to improve my own skills so I don’t make mistakes with such a young horse. I have been riding her for the last 2 years myself, always starting in the arena before we ride out on the trail. I try to have another rider on an older calm horse with me and when I’m alone, I ride one of my other horses and just lead her along so she can get used to the sights and sounds and wildlife. (Note: We’re in a remote area of British Columbia, Canada, none of my three horses has ever seen a stable, and both my mare and filly were born on the open range.)

She is calm and willing in the arena but very nervous in the forest. She shies away from tree trunks and large rocks, sometimes even the sudden appearance of her own shadow. Usually, I’m able to stay in the saddle and remain calm. It’s not too bad when she’s following another horse, but it’s terrible when I ride her in the lead. I have experienced spookiness with her mother, whom I purchased at a young age and she naturally settled down over time. However, this filly is much more athletic and extremely fast, and every once in a while she shies so hard that can’t stay in the saddle (and I’m not the only one). She sort of “sucks back”, spins, and takes off in the opposite direction within a split second. I have landed pretty hard several times and even torn an MCL once. I am not afraid of riding her but don’t want to get injured again either.

So, my question is, do you have any suggestions? Is there a way to teach her to “spook in place” rather than spin and run?

Thank you in advance for your time!

Warm regards,
Ulrike

©  2010 Cherry Hill   © Copyright Information

Hi Ulrike,

Always in the case of extreme spooking, be sure there is not a problem with your horse’s vision. If your horse spooks from one side and not the other, and especially if you see How to Think Like A Horse by Cherry Hillany unusual marks or cloudy areas in your horse’s eyes, you might want your veterinarian to take a look at her eyes for damage. Horses have blind spots and vision that is different than ours so be sure you understand how your horse sees – I discuss this in How to Think Like a Horse.The best way to prepare your horse and yourself for these unexpected sights on the trail is to set things up in your arena to simulate the bears she is imagining when she sees a tree stump.

Horses are such creatures of habit that if she is used to going along in your arena day after day with things virtually unchanged, if you add something new every day, you will build up her tolerance for these visual surprises. And it will give you a more controlled format to learn how to deal with her usual reaction.

Making Not Breaking by Cherry HillI like to start out by hanging a jacket or blanket on the rail, then add something on the ground like a bright white bucket “out of place”. You can get creative by devising things that you know YOUR horse might react to – perhaps tie a helium balloon on one of the rails, or teach her to approach a person that is opening and closing an umbrella. And of course, once a horse is used to a certain thing in a certain spot, all you have to do is move it to get their attention again.

While you are unlikely to encounter buckets and umbrellas in the forest, using them as props can help you learn to predict your horse and to develop desirable patterns in your horse and you.

Now, before you get started, here are a couple of reminders:
  • You never want to intentionally scare your horse.
  • You want your horse to be able to trust your judgment so never ask her to approach or walk over something dangerous.
  • Start small and gradually build your horse’s tolerance to odd things.
  • You might choose to lead her past these things in your arena before riding her past them. And like you do on the trail, it helps to have a calm, seasoned horse nearby as a role model.
  • Have a plan in mind for when she whirls – if she tends to usually go to the right, be ready for that with a solid seat slightly to the left and keep you legs long and heels deep. Also be ready with the opposing rein, especially if you use a snaffle – if the horse whirls to the right, have the left rein ready to hold her straight.

One other thing you should emphasize in your arena work – forward motion. Be sure you can send your horse forward to any gait and within any gait. In other words, be sure she positively knows to move forward from your seat and leg aids. Work to develop upward transitions with instant response from your horse:

  • halt to walk
  • walk to trot
  • trot to canter
Then, be sure you can extend the walk, extend the trot and extend the canter or lope. What does this have to do with spooking? Usually when horses spook, they do “suck back” like you say and try to retreat. This is a backward behavior. You want forward 101 Longeing and Long Lining Exeercises thinking behavior. You want absolute obedience to forward movement and the best way to instill this in your horse is by frequent repetition of forward moving exercises. Not the same one over and over but a variety of them in a variety of situations. To get some more ideas along this line, you can refer to 101 Arena Exercises.

I hope this helps and you have safe riding.
Please let me know how you make out.

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Dear Cherry,

What a wonderful web site and resource center. Your love for equine education is graciously depicted.

I guess I am seeking reassurance about departing my daughters current lesson barn. The program was based on natural horsemanship and the structure and knowledge base and of the owner instructor/ owner had always overridden any weaknesses in the past.

I am a mother of a 12 yr old. Her riding instructor (owner of the lesson horse) became extremely upset with me when I described erratic behavior in my daughter’s horse as “kicking at her.” The instructor/owner was not initially present to observe. The horse was tied at a rail for groom and tack. My daughter was on the right side of the horse. I looked up and saw horse’s head jerking back and forth and then back hooves off of the ground in my daughter’s direction. No one was hurt; but the horse’s behavior concerned me. My daughter described it as a buck. She has ridden for 2 1/2 years. My daughter also said she thought the stationary rope on the rail she was required to use was too short.

Would I have been making an statement as a novice that would have been that inflammatory to the instructor? She kind of went off on me and kept asking me over and over again if it was a kick. I felt I was being bullied into changing my answer, but I saw what I saw and I stuck to my description only to really irritate her. Is there really that much of a difference when a child’s safety is an issue?

Sincerely,

Brenda

Hi Brenda,

Today there are so many wonderful horsemen out there providing lessons that there is no sense feeling like once you have chosen one you are married or are a disciple or bound by any strings, business, legal, personal or otherwise. I used those words not because of anything in your letter but because I have observed these things with other people in their relationships with trainers. And I am hoping my answer will help those people as well as you.

I am so thrilled that there has been a surge of horse activities in many areas which makes the choice of instructors and trainers so much better for people wanting lessons or training. Of course with the surge came good trainers and not-so-good trainers, but generally the good trainers prevail. I hope it is that way in your area – that you have good choices – because once you feel the way your letter depicts, it sounds like a rift, a loss of respect and confidence and it could be time to say good bye and go shopping for a new lesson barn.

How to Think Like A Horse by Cherry HillNow specifically to your letter. YES ! A child’s safety is uppermost in any situation involving horses. Semantics of whether a horse is bucking, kicking, cow kicking or grouching in some other way is immaterial. The fact that hooves toward child is unsafe no matter what you call it. And you as guardian of your daughter have every right to bring the matter to the attention of the instructor/owner of the horse.

Horse people can get (unjustifiably) very defensive of their horses – we call this “barn blind” – “What? MY horse kicked? No way.” – That sort of thing. Perhaps that is what you experienced. Well, take comfort in that it is very common for people to think their horses, dogs, pets can do no wrong………but that doesn’t make their perception or reaction correct or right – and it would be especially ludicrous since the owner wasn’t present when the behavior occurred – that indeed is a blind sort of defensiveness.

Of course, the best thing would have been to have an experienced unbiased eye witness, but since that didn’t happen, it becomes one person’s opinion against another’s. And since you are the novice, it is not hard to see a bit of bullying to get you to change your testimony.

Horse Handling and Grooming by Cherry HillI can’t say what the horse was doing and why and if he was tied too short or any of that, but if you feel your child’s safety is at risk and you have lost faith in the owner or the establishment, then by all means, look for a new barn. But knowing what it is like to be a 12 year old girl who loves horses and has had several years of riding, I do hope you are able to find a new place soon !

Best of luck and thanks for your note.
I hope something I said has put your mind at ease.

Cherry Hill horse trainer and author of 30 books and DVDs

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I have a 4 year old mare that I’ve had for about a year since she was green broke.  When I first got her my trainer who does Parelli natural horsemanship, noticed that she was crabby and mean most of the time.  Over the next couple of months she got worse, bullying the kids and bullying the other horses.

I was ready to get rid of her but then I decided to just focus on her training for about a year and see if I could get her to improve.  She started doing much better within just a few weeks, and she is doing excellent under the saddle.  Last week we left for vacation for a week and my friend and her 9 year old daughter were taking care of the horses for me.  They are familiar with all of our horses and come and ride regularly.  My friend said that my mare was getting really mean, putting her ears back and actually bit her daughter one day.  I was not totally surprised, because she does get crabby when she is not handled regularly.  Since I’ve been back though she seems to be really bad.  Every time I approach her at liberty from the side or rear, she pins her ears back and clearly tries to get away from me.  If I approach her from in front, she is fine and puts her head down.  I’m always careful not to get kicked, but I’m not sure how to handle or correct this latest ear pinning thing.  In the past whenever she has presented her butt to me in a rude manner, I would smack it.  But now its not that she is presenting her butt, its more that she is trying to get away.  I don’t want to smack her butt because then she’ll get away and be rewarded, I’m afraid if I pet her when she is pinning her ears, then I’m telling her that its ok to pin her ears at me.  What do I do?

The first thing that came to mind as I read about your mare was PMS – Pouty Mare Syndrome – not an official phrase but one I use to describe certain mares that are extra grouchy.

I might be off base here but here’s how it sounds. When you first got the mare, about a year ago, it was summer time, she was green broke and grouchy  – it was a season when she was cycling, that is coming in and going out of heat and her training was not complete – she was still testing the limits of her behavior.

Then you had her a while, saw she was hard to deal with and trust, almost gave up on her, but then decided to focus on her training – and did that over the fall and winter…and she improved…a time when she would be in anestrus or not cycling. Mares in the winter are often like geldings.

Then at the early part of this breeding season, she was pretty good for you since you had established some rules, but when you were on vacation, it didn’t take long for her to slip back into her old bossy ways and now you feel you have to start from square one again.

Which is what you probably should do. First, I’d have your vet rule out a granulosa tumor which might cause her to be extra crabby. (See list of reference articles below).

When it comes time to work on altering her behavior and improving her manners, like all training, you need to be consistent, thorough, and always be training with this mare. I’d spend a lot of time desensitizing her to touch and approaching from the rear by making this her main lesson for a number of days. You can do it yourself with the mare on a long line or have an assistant hold her. You need to desensitize her hindquarters, her tail area, lift her tail, all those hot spots that mares have. Some mares just do not like being approached from the rear or being touched there ever, no matter if they are in heat or not. The more thorough you are with all of this, the safer she will be when she is at liberty in her pen and you go to catch her.

As far as smacking her on the butt if she is rude when you approach, if she is in a suitable pen to free longe her, well that might be the perfect thing to do and send her out and around and have her face you.

If she is not in a suitable training pen when she turns her butt to you and pins her ears, you will have to make it a point to take her to a pen so you can work on reviewing the “face me” lesson so you can safely approach her. This must be a formal lesson, it is one of the basics. Your trainer most likely taught the mare “face me” in a specific Parelli manner, so it would be best if you ask him what methods he used and recommends.

Here are a couple of related articles that you might find interesting and helpful.

How to Tell if Your Mare is In Heat

Grouchy Horse

Desensitization

What Spaying a Mare Involves and About Granulosa Tumors

How to Think Like a Horse by Cherry Hill

How to Think Like a Horse by Cherry Hill

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hi cherry,  my name is mayme.  i am 11 yrs old, i have been riding for 3 or 4 yrs. about 3 yrs ago i got a horse for christmas.  one day my sister and i were riding, i started to lope to my sister, but i lost control and fell off.   luckily we were just down the street  and my horse ran home. since then i will lope but im not very comfortable doing it. i’m scared i wont be able stay in control and or be able to stop. i will lope on my sister’s horse but i still dont really like it. it’s not that i dont like my horse it’s just that i dont really trust him. my horse is kind of old if that changes anything he is around 21 yrs old. i hope you can help.            thank you for your time and your suggestions.  have a good day and GOD BLESS!!

Hi Mayme,

This is a common problem but one that is easily overcome. The best solution is to get back on and do more loping ! I know that sounds oversimplified, but really that is the solution. Of course, it should be done in a controlled situation so you can get your rhythm and confidence back. Sometimes just taking a few lessons on a “school horse” will help you figure things out and relax.

But here are some specific tips.

Knowledge is power. So start by reading up on loping and confidence.

Here on this blog, there are two search boxes one just above the book How to Think Like a Horse and the other is in the right hand column about half way down. In either of those boxes, you can type key words to find articles related to your area of interest, such as “loping”.

That search turns up an article Overcoming the Fear of Loping. You can click on the title here and it will take you to that article.

Or you could search “confidence” and it will show you these articles:

Attitude and Confidence

and

Improving Attitude and Confidence

You can do the same sort of search on my website Horsekeeping where I have posted hundreds of articles.

By browsing through articles, you will gather ideas that will be suitable for YOU.

Then when you get back in the saddle, you will KNOW that loping is nothing to fear. All you will need to do is practice it until it becomes as natural as walking. As I mentioned earlier, it would be best if you took a few lessons from a qualified riding instructor to help you develop the skills necessary for loping.

And above all, don’t forget to breathe regularly when you are riding. If you hold your breath, it can make you stiff and pop you right out of the saddle. So breathe in and out……..ahhhhhhhhh…….and enjoy that wonderful lope !

Cherry Hill

 

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