Posts Tagged ‘confidence’

Hi Cherry,

I rescued two horses- a large Fell pony and a mini. Both had been abused and were starving. I’ve got their weight up, their hooves cared for, shots, worming etc.
But it has been almost 3 months and they are still very hard to halter, to clean their feet ( both have thrush) and to separate them to work with them ( just the simplest ground work in a nearby round pen)! When I have someone else, we can work it out fairly well but usually I am alone. I have few expectations, maybe short rides or a little pulling a cart ( both had some draft experience) – I’m now 65, and even though i had been a horse professional teaching in riding stables, training and judging in dressage,  I’m having an awful time with them. I need encouragement to keep them. It has been very expensive and wonder if others have rescue horse experience. Eileen

HI Eileen,

Just in my email box this morning was an article from The Horse which states that

Each year there are about 100,000 unwanted horses in the United States, too many for the registered equine rescue and sanctuary groups to handle, according to a recent survey by experts at the University of California, Davis. They found that the 236 registered rescue and sanctuary organizations could only help about 13,400 horses a year.

I have no personal experience with rescue horses but wanted to post your note so that if others want to reply, they can do so here.

I do know that retraining any horse can seem like it takes twice as long as it does to train a horse from scratch. Some of my colleagues say ten times as long !

When I taught in college and university equine programs, one of the ways we would get horses for the training and riding classes was through donations. Well, we received some wonderful horses and also some with interesting previous experiences and challenging behaviors. Some took several semesters to sort out and even then, might not be trustworthy with novice riders.

I do encourage you and applaud you for your efforts. It will take time, repetition and very frequent regular handling to alter their suspicious behavior. But it can be done.

Please refer to the many useful articles here on this blog related to ground training, desensitization and more. Here are some examples:

Head Handling

Horse Training – Handling, Gentling, Desensitization, Sacking Out, Flooding

Horse Behavior – Licking and Chewing

Also visit my Horse Information Roundup where I have posted hundreds of free articles related to behavior and training.

Best of luck and let me know if you have specific questions.


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Dear Cherry,

I recently bought a horse that is petrified of puddles.How can I remedy his fears without making him more afraid? I want to trail ride him and we have to cross a lot of small streams. I don’t want to get out there and have a bad situation develop.

Shari from Connecticut

Hi Shari,

Luckily, this is one of those fears that can be overcome by using a progressive ground training and riding program.  Here’s what I do.

First, I make sure I can lead the horse over suspicious, but safe, obstacles on the ground such as a sturdy wooden bridge, a rubber mat placed in the middle of a grassy area, various sizes of plastic or canvas, even an old horse blanket or coat.  Be sure you are careful as to what you choose for your obstacles.  You want your horse to learn to trust your judgment so you don’t want to choose something that he would fall through or get his legs tangled up in.  You want the horse to approach the obstacle with his body straight, take a look at it as he approaches and then walk straight across it without veering his hind legs off to one side as he crosses.  The goal is to have all four feet on an obstacle at once with the horse walking calmly forward.

Horses CANNOT see things directly below their heads so as you approach an obstacle, let the horse start lowering his head (and remember this when you are riding) so he can get his eyes down to where they can do him some good.  Since the partnership with your horse should be based on mutual trust, you need to trust him by “giving him his head” somewhat and he needs to trust you that you will never ask him to do something dangerous.

Once you can negotiate obstacles in-hand, then begin riding the horse across these obstacles as part of his at-home training.  But don’t just work on obstacles over and over and over. Instead, ride a little, come to the obstacle and work it, then take a spin around the pasture or arena and come back later.  This will be more like trail conditions where you ride a while and then encounter a stream.

If you live in a place that has rain (lucky you!) then you will have puddles to practice in for the next stage.  I start with the largest puddle I can find – it is easier to get a horse to walk THROUGH a large puddle – when puddles are small, they want to step over or around them or HOP!  You will use the same technique as with the obstacles.  Start by leading the horse across puddles. Let him take his time to inspect – be sure to let him put his head down so he can look at the puddle.  Step into the puddle yourself to show him it is safe, then ask him to walk forward with you.  If he veers, balks or rushes, go back to one of the previous obstacles and work on one step at a time, proper position, moving forward at an even pace and calmness. The return to the puddles.  Like before, once you feel the horse is very calm about crossing puddles in-hand, then begin riding him over them.  If you use this type of progressive training to build your horse’s confidence in you and in unusual things, he will trust your judgment when you come to a new stream on the trail that needs crossing.

Cherry Hill


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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,

©  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?



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 friend with a 10 year old quarter horse mare who has been rearing a lot over the past few months, (she actually started around September last year) It has now gotten so bad that she cannot take her off of the farm. The horse rears when she is asked to move away from the others, or sometimes just as a way to get out of doing things she does not want to. I think that my friend perhaps was trying to go too fast too soon around barrels, and the other games before the fair last year, because I remember her telling me that she did it when she clucked to ask her to go forward, and she was going up right before the start flags. About 3 months ago Maddy started to take a few English lessons at a local riding farm, and said that The mare has been very bad for it ever since. she stopped going to the lessons, and said that Cassie is generally okay at home, but it is dangerous, and shes not sure what to do about it. Do you have any advice? Emily

Dear Emily,

How nice you are trying to help your friend with her horse. I want you to know right away that there are two habits that I think require the assistance of a qualified professional horse trainer – rearing and kicking.  Both of these habits are very dangerous. Your friend should be working with a qualified instructor who can help her diagnose her horse’s problem in person.

Rearing usually gets worse before it gets better.  The big risk, of course, is that when a horse rears, the rider can easily fall off, and often when a horse really gets into rearing, he can fall over backwards which can be deadly.

But let’s talk a little bit about what causes rearing and what you can SAFELY try to eliminate the bad habit.

Rearing is an “avoidance behavior” – the horse is trying to avoid going forward.  This usually occurs when a horse has not learned that when you say go forward, he must go forward, so he is confused and needs progressive training and/or a review of the basics. (See 101 Arena Exercises)

OR it could be a horse that is becoming herd bound or barn sour and does not want to leave a certain area where she can see the barn or her buddies.  The horse is saying “NO”.  This is more of a psychological problem.  The horse needs to develop security and confidence in the rider.

OR it could be a horse that has at one time or another has received a sharp jerk or rough handling when he DID go forward so now he is afraid of the consequences of going forward.  When a horse that tends to rear is switched from a curb bit to a snaffle and the rider is very good with her hands (following the horse’s movement), the horse tends to move OUT (forward) rather than UP (rearing).  It is important that when the leg cue is applied for the horse to go forward, the rider doesn’t also pull on the bit as that would be conflicting signals which would confuse the horse.

You can rule out physical causes by having a veterinarian check the horse’s mouth and back to be sure there are no dental or spinal problems.

You can also review “forward” lessons in in-hand work (walk out and trot out promptly when leading) and longeing, concentrating on the horse working in a long, low frame with lots of extended trot type work, rather than collected work.  Collecting a horse too soon or improperly can lead to rearing.

I invite you to visit my Horse Information Roundup where you will find related articles on herd bound, barn sour, forward movement, all aspects of ground training and riding and more.


Good Luck Cherry Hill

101 Arena Exercises by Cherry Hill

101 Arena Exercises by Cherry Hill

Cherry – I am not being facetious here – but when I was a child in “yesteryear” I was an avid fan of The Lone Ranger. His horse, “Silver”, reared when unmounted and also when mounted by The Lone Ranger during the program signoff finale. I wonder why this was allowed during each episode if rearing is a negative trait. Thank you. Barby

Hi Barby !

You ask an interesting and excellent question. I’m answering it as part of the actual post so that I can insert a photo.

Rearing, when taught as a specific exercise, trick, or movement shows high skill and balance on the part of the horse. Not every horse can rear and stand in balance as the Lone Ranger’s horse did. It is especially difficult when carrying the additional weight of that heavy silver saddle and a rider.

So as far as exhibition, it demonstrates that the horse rears on command, stands balanced on two legs instead of four, and returns to the ground in a controlled fashion.

Rearing in exhibition can also be seen in many circuses and is a part of high level dressage training and exhibition as demonstrated by the Lipizzaner horses, most notably those of Vienna.

The exercise whereby a horse stands on his hind legs is a Levade. It is part of classical dressage, specifically the Haute Ecole. The levade is a collected, controlled rear. The horse lifts both front legs from the ground and stands with the hind legs bent in the joints. This pose is held for several seconds.

Classical Dressage, the Levade, a controlled collected rear

Classical Dressage, the Levade, a controlled collected rear

So why is a rear so highly prized in some situations and discouraged in others? It is all about control and intent.

Think about a horse running. Playfully in a pasture with herdmates, it is a good thing. At a race track where speed is the goal, it is a good thing. But a horse running away (which we call bolting) uncontrollably with a frightened rider on board, that’s a bad situation.

Similarly with rearing. If it is a response that is not asked for and uncontrollable, it is a dangerous behavior.

Thanks for asking such an interesting question !


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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


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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Horse Training – Handling, Gentling, Desensitization, Sacking Out, Flooding

I’m asking this question for my two little PMU girls to get them started on the right tract. They are both 17 months now. They seem to learn quickly and I would prefer them to learn the correct way to behave and accept things being done to them. Thanking you in advance, Mary

Hi Mary,

How  to Think Like A Horse by Cherry HillHere is an excerpt from my book How to Think Like a Horse which should get you started.

©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

Habituation One of the very first training principles you use when you work with a horse is habituation. Related terms (listed in order from mild to extreme) are gentling, sacking out/ desensitization and flooding.

Flooding – an intense, overwhelming form of habituation

Habituation introduces a horse to a particular person, procedure or object in order to gain the horse’s acceptance without fear.

Gentling is touching a horse on every part of his body and getting him used to being groomed all over. Although a horse naturally loves to be rubbed on his forehead and neck, he must learn to accept and appreciate grooming elsewhere, especially in his ticklish and sensitive areas.

Sacking out a horse with blankets and slickers is a way of gradually decreasing his apprehensions concerning the sight or sound of an object or of the object touching him. By repeated careful exposure to a certain stimulus, a horse’s response can be diminished. Sacking out is a form systematic desensitization where a mild stimulus is introduced at a low level, rest periods are given, and the stimulus is gradually increased. With sacking out, if your end goal is to shake a noisy sheet of plastic over a horse’s back and hit him with it, you would start with rubbing him with a soft cotton blanket and gradually work up to the plastic over a period of days or weeks.

Flooding is exposure to full intensity stimulus while restraining the animal until the animal stops reacting. With the above example, you would fully restrain the horse and then come at him from all side with sheets of plastic, waving them wildly. Not only does this hold risk of injury to all parties but it is an inhumane and unnecessary means to an end.

I prefer my horses to be sacked out for safety but not totally desensitized, brain dead or robotic. When I am riding in the mountains, I want them to bring their instincts along. If I had removed all reflexes with aggressive flooding, it would be like riding a stuffed horse. I take care of my horses and when we are riding I expect my horses to take care of me, but it would be difficult for them to react to danger if they had been sacked to oblivion.

A beneficial use of desensitization (repeated stimulation to diminish the response) is evident when your veterinarian gives your horse an injection. Often the vet will tap the injection site a few times with the back of his hand to stimulate the initial nerve firing before he inserts the needle. Thus prepared, a horse often doesn’t react to the needle because his skin has been desensitized. A similar deadening occurs when you pick up a fold of skin and hold it for a few seconds before you insert a needle. The area around the site of injection has become dull to pain and the horse barely feels the needle go in.

Best of luck,

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