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Hi, Cherry.

We bought an 8 yr old mare in June for our daughter to show in 4-H.  She is a beautiful animal, but has a very dangerous problem.  She shows well in showmanship and pleasure, but when trying to use her for patterned work (i.e. horsemanship or reining) she rears, and will even go over backwards, when asked to lope down the center of the arena.  We have taken her to a local trainer, and he said he can’t “fix” the problem.  She is fine along the rail, but she seems to rebel when it comes to working in the center at a lope.  Can you please advise me as to whether she is a “lost cause”, or is there something I can do to master this issue?
Thanks!     *****Char

Hi Char,

I wouldn’t say your rearing horse is a lost cause, but I would say that a rearing horse is a candidate for the most experienced of horse handlers. Just the phrase “will even go over backwards” strikes the fear in the heart of any instructor or parent. I’m just picturing it happening with your 4-H daughter astride. It simply isn’t worth the risk.

I’m hesitant to give you any advice to help you work on this because I don’t know the severity of the problem nor your abilities and it sounds like the trainer you have access to is at a loss for how to proceed.

What I would do if the horse were here would be to start with square one on ground training to identify the spot where the horse loses confidence and has a hole in her training. Then I would take the time it takes to work the horse through her issues, which would certainly take weeks and more likely months or even years to completely eliminate the horse’s tendency to rear as avoidance. Then once the horse was solidly over her rearing, your daughter would need supervised instruction on riding the horse so as not to undo what had been done.

Therefore, I must defer to the position that since your daughter’s safety is at stake, she should not ride the horse. Nor should you for that matter. For the horse’s sake, if you can find a competent trainer that is accustomed to working with horses with such problems and you are willing to spend the time and money it will take to have the horse rehabilitated, then that is route you should take.

If that is not an option, then retire the mare to pasture and find your daughter a more suitable mount.

You might also want to read Looking for the Root of the Rearing Problem and other articles on my website.

I’m sure that is not what you wanted to hear but all it takes is knowing one person who has been on the bottom of the pile when a horse has flipped over backwards for me to advise you to take extreme caution.

Best of luck and be safe,

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Help!  My nine year old paint mare Tardee has a very long stride especially at the trot, how do I slow her down and develop a jog?  She is very quiet and willing and I don’t want to stress her.  Thank you.  Deb

Hi Deb,

It is great that you have a quiet and willing horse and even better that you want to keep her that way. There is no reason why your mare won’t stay calm and sweet as you progressively shorter her stride and slow her down a bit. This is a very common goal and a question I’ve answered before on my website Horsekeeping, so I’m going to use those Q&As below here. Let me know if you have more specific questions.

Cherry

Slow Down

©  2010 Cherry Hill www.horsekeeping.com

Dear Cherry,

My horse is usually really good, but a few days ago he just started being really stubborn.  He’ll trot way too fast because I ask him for a jog for western pleasure.   And  his lope which I finally got down perfect 2 weeks ago has turned into a fast canter.   I don’t know what  it is from.  There has been a lot more flies etc. around that go on him and he hates bugs so do you think that maybe this  is causing it?  Do you think he might not be able to concentrate because he’s thinking about all the flies on him or something? I’m really confused and I have to go to a show this weekend and if he does this there we for sure won’t place!!! Please give me any suggestions that you have.

Mindy from Indiana



Dear Mindy,

I’m going to ask a lot of things quickly at first here so you can go through a list in your mind and so that other readers with the same problem (it is VERY common!) can try to find a reason for the quickness.

This first one won’t pertain to you because in your question, you say “he” so I am assuming your horse is a gelding.  However, for those of you riding mares, be aware that a sudden quickness or irritability during breeding season (April to October) could be caused by the mare coming into heat.  Heat periods usually last about 5 days.  If you have a fussy mare, try to work through it or give her a day or two off during her worst days.

Now for some questions that will pertain to any horse. Are you using fly spray?  Do you check your horse’s chest and the area of the belly just ahead of your horse’s sheath (geldings) or udder (mares) where the skin is very thin and a feast for flies?  Flies biting in these places can make a horse very tense while he is being ridden.

Could your horse’s back be sore?  A poor fitting saddle, dirty pad or cinch or a weak back can all contribute to a horse moving short and quick rather than long and flowing.

Are you tense?  If a rider is tense or nervous (in anticipation of a show, for example) the horse will pick this up right away and start moving quickly.  You need to take a deep breath, settle deep into the saddle and relax.

Here’s a technique tip.  When you want to slow down or “rate” your horse, that is shorten his stride or slow down his tempo, accomplish it with a series of half halts or “checks” applied at the moment of suspension.  During the canter or lope, suspension comes right after the leading foreleg lands and the hind legs are reaching forward under the horse’s belly.  At the trot or jog, suspension occurs twice during each stride as each diagonal pair lifts.  A half halt or check is a momentary “calling to attention” and just like the name implies, it is about half a halt!  You want to reorganize your horse by briefly applying your aids for a halt but releasing them before the horse actually halts.

When applying a series of half halts or checks to rate a horse, be sure you release after each successful reaction.  Do not be tempted to hold on to what you gain and think you can slow a horse down by constant pressure on the reins. What you eventually want to do is have your horse learn to hold a gait at a certain tempo “on the honor system” (dressage riders call this self-carriage) – that is, on his own without you holding his speed down via the reins.

Take care.         

Half Halt

©  2010 Cherry Hill www.horsekeeping.com

Ms. Hill,

Please help. I ride western. I am a professional Cowboy trying to become a horseman. I barrel race. I do not show. I purchased your 101 Arena Exercises to help me help my horses to relax, listen, loosen up, help them learn to use themselves and become more responsive I am not familiar with the term half halt and can’t seem to find a helpful definition in the book. My best guess was that it was a transition to a slower gait but in looking at the exercises this does not make sense to me. I know you are awfully busy but I’m feeling a bit desperate. For the sake of Reuben, Foxy, Sister, Miss Mess, and Hooch, Please help.

Respectfully,
Jodi Campbell

Hi Jodi,

It is great to hear from you and to hear of your goals. Have you read Exercise 14 “Half Halt or Check” in 101 Arena Exercises? It describes in detail what a Half Halt (or Check as it is called in Western riding) is and how to apply it. But it is such a good question and I’m sure there are some readers out there who don’t have 101 Arena Exercises, that I’m going to print an excerpt from that book below.

Before I get to the excerpt, though, here are some other ways to think of a Half Halt……a pause, a moment in suspended animation, a compacting of form, flexing in every joint. Although half halts are traditionally associated with dressage, they are used in all kinds of riding. Western riders “pick up” on the reins and “check” their horses to “rate” them or get them to slow down or get more rhythmic in their gaits. When a horse “falls on his forehand” he is traveling with bad balance and rhythm, so we try to energize him from the hindquarters forward and elevate his forehand somewhat so he can move in balance. When a horse is not in balance (heavy on the forehand) he first has to pick up his forehand and then turn.The more in balance a horse is, the quicker he can change directions (especially important for a barrel horse) and at a moment’s notice – he doesn’t need a lot of advance notice. Half Halts or checks help to balance and energize a horse.

The following is excerpted from 101 Arena Exercises:

A half halt is a preparatory set of aids that simultaneously drives and checks the horse. In essence you are “capturing” your horse momentarily between the aids. A calling to attention and organizer used before all transitions and during all movements as a means of momentarily re-balancing the horse, elevating the forehand, increasing hindquarter engagement, evening an erratic rhythm, slowing a pace, and reminding the horse not to lean on the bit or rush. A momentary holding (a non-allowing in contrast to a pulling or taking), immediately followed by a yielding (within one stride or a few seconds). This results in a moment of energized suspension with a listening and light horse. Once a horse has learned to respect half halts, they serve as a reminder that encourages self-carriage.

HOW TO APPLY A HALF HALT

The sequence, grossly oversimplified, goes something like this

1. Think

2. Seat, legs and hands

3. Yield

1. Mental message: “Hello, is anybody home?” OR “Attention!!” OR “Let’s get organized” OR “Let’s halt. No I changed my mind.”

2. An almost simultaneous application of the following aids with an emphasis on the seat and legs and a de-emphasis on the hands:

  • Upper body straight or slightly back with elevated sternum.
  • Deep, still contact of seat bones on saddle from flexed abdominals and a flattened lower back which brings seat bones forward.
  • Both lower legs on horse’s side at the girth or cinch. Light tap with the whip or spurs if necessary, depending on the horse’s level and response.
  • A non-allowing of appropriate intensity with both hands. The following is a list in increasing intensity of that non-allowing. Use only as much as necessary.
    • close fingers
    • squeeze reins
    • roll hands inward
    • move arm backward from shoulder
    • lean upper body back

3. Yield aids without throwing away what you have gained.

When do you apply the half halt? Long enough (a second or two) ahead of the transition or maneuver to allow the horse to respond but not prolonged (through several strides) or it will result in tension.

How strong a half halt should you use? Tinker Bell or Industrial Strength? Occasionally an industrial strength half halt is necessary to be sure it “goes through”. After using a major half-halt, confidently use light ones or half halts will begin to lose their effect for you.

THE ALL-IMPORTANT YIELD:

Often you should give more than you take. The timing of the yield is often more important than the driving and non-allowing.

Did you feel a positive response…even a hint of compliance? If you wait so long that you can feel the full effects of the half halt, it would be way past time to yield. The yield is what encourages self-carriage. No yield leads to stiffness and tension.

Should you use more than one half halt at a time? Sometimes it takes a series, one each stride, to accomplish the necessary re-balancing.

BENEFIT Balance, collection, essential pieces of the riding puzzle.Cherry Hill

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Cherry,
I am having a problem with my horse who has picked up this habit of bolting out of the horse trailer when we open the back. Its at the point where it takes 2 people to load her since she will bolt. I’m scared that one of my kids will get hurt since she comes out so forcefully once the butt-bar is taken down. Any help would be GREATLY appreciated. – Mitzi

Dear Mitzi,

To start fixing unloading problems you need to work on in-hand work and loading. You state in your question that it takes 2 people to load her which indicates that is where you need to start – with the loading. Start from square one reviewing all in hand work. Some of these things might be a quick review and others will show you where your horse’s “holes” are and where you need to work. Here’s a checklist to get you going:

  • Head Down
  • Whoa on a Long Line
  • Leading Next to You
  • Respecting Your Personal Space
  • Turn on the Forehand
  • Side Pass
  • Back
  • Backing Through obstacles such as rails, barrels
  • Turn on the Center in a Box
  • Crossing odd footing such as concrete, wooden bridge
  • Standing on elevated platform
  • Leading Under a safe low ceiling such as a tarp
  • Leading past the Traile
Trailering Your Horse by Cherry Hill

Trailering Your Horse by Cherry Hill

There are step-by-step photo instructions for some of these lessons on my website Horsekeeping and for all of these lessons and more in my book

Trailering Your Horse

Once you and your horse have mastered all of these things, sending her into the trailer will be a piece of cake, very anti-climactic. When you DO start loading here again in the trailer, just ask her to take ONE STEP AT A TIME. You might make her stand with just her front feet in and then back her out. This may take days or weeks but when you have finished, you will have a solid horse that will retain the good habits for life. Cherry Hill, award-winning author of books on horse training, riding, horse

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Dear Cherry,
I have a 10 year old quarter horse mare who has never been trained by an “excellent” trainer. She is a perfect horse on the ground and out on the trail. But I have noticed she doesn’t travel behind the vertical. She has her head pretty high up. I have no clue where or how to train her so that she is behind the vertical. I know this is causing her to have a very hollow back. It cant be very comfortable for her. I’m wondering if this is also causing some other problems with her, like bucking when I ask her to canter and rushing in the trot. Will a de gouge or Chambon help her? Please help me figure out how I can fix her. I love her so much and she is an amazing horse to ride. I just don’t want her to be uncomfortable. Taylor

Hi Taylor,

When a horse has a high head and a hollow back, that usually means that the horse’s hindquarters are not “engaged”. By that it is meant that there is not enough propulsion or energy coming from “behind” – the horse is trotting or loping out behind himself rather than up under himself with his hind legs, which causes him to be strung out and hollow backed and high headed.

When a horse is engaged and working energetically behind, he rounds his whole topline which raises his back ! Yeah !


So, you want to start working from the back to the front NOT from the front to the back. You want to work on developing more forward movement from the hindquarters.

You mention “she doesn’t travel behind the vertical” – well that is a good thing ! A horse in balance and working energetically forward will hold its head and neck in a nice balanced position with its nose approximately 10 to 15 degrees IN FRONT of the vertical – that’s a nice place for both you and the horse to have a back and forth communication.


So you want to work on forward, long and low exercises to strengthen her back and abdominal muscles and then slowly gather her up and start to collect her – but this will take months of training. Be patient and work for degrees of improvement. A good reference for you would be 101 Arena Exercises.

Look at the frame of the two horses on the cover of my book below – I looked through hundreds of photos to find these two which exemplify balanced working frames and as you can see, both of the horses carry their heads in front of the vertical.


I’m also going to provide you with some links to more articles on my website that talk about the phases of training and collection for your continued reading enjoyment and reference.

Best of luck,

Cherry Hill

The Phases of Training: by Cherry Hill

Your Horses’ Physical Development – The Early Stages: by Cherry Hill

What is Collection?: by Cherry Hill



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If you are going to use a bit when training your horse, the logical choice would be a snaffle bit. Alternatives to using a bit are bitless bridles, bosals, sidepulls, halters and tackless. These topics will be discussed in future posts.

A snaffle is a mechanically simple bit that allows you to communicate with your horse in simple terms.  A snaffle bit transmits pressure in a direct line from your hands on the reins to the rings and mouthpiece of the bit to the horse’s mouth.

©  2010 Cherry Hill © Copyright Information

On a snaffle, there are no shanks.  Shanks are the vertical sidepieces on a curb bit to which the reins attach.  Shanks create leverage action.  The snaffle bit operates via direct pressure only. The mouthpiece of a snaffle can be jointed or solid.  The misconception that any bit with a jointed (or “broken”) mouthpiece is a snaffle has given rise to the misnomers: “long-shanked snaffle”, “tom-thumb snaffle”, and “cowboy snaffle”.  All of these are really jointed (or broken mouth) curbs.

The most common snaffle, the jointed O-ring, has four parts: two rings and a mouthpiece comprised of two arms.

A snaffle is customarily used with a brow band headstall that has a throatlatch.  Often a noseband is used with a snaffle.

Snaffle Action The snaffle is useful for teaching a horse to bend his neck and throatlatch laterally so that he can be turned in both directions.  It is also useful for teaching a horse to flex vertically in the lower jaw, at the poll, and at the neck muscles just in front of the withers.  Vertical flexion is necessary for gait and speed control as well as for stopping.

The bars are the flesh-covered portions of the lower jawbone between the incisors and the molars.  This is where the bit lies.  It is the action of the snaffle bit on the bars of the horse’s mouth that produces vertical flexion.

With a regularly configured snaffle, when one rein is pulled out to the side, let’s say the right, the bit will slide slightly through the mouth to the right and the primary pressure will be exerted by the ring on the left side of the horse’s face.  This will cause him to bend laterally and turn right.

When the right line is pulled backward, pressure will be exerted on the right side of the horse’s tongue, the right lower lip, the right corner of the mouth, the right side of the bars and on the left side of the horse’s face.  This will tend to cause the horse to bend laterally and begin to flex vertically so he shifts his weight rearward as he turns right.

Making Not Breaking by Cherry Hill

Making Not Breaking by Cherry Hill

When you pull backward on both lines, pressure will be applied to both corners of the mouth and across the entire tongue and the bit may contact the bars and the lower lips.  This causes a horse to flex vertically, shift his weight rearward, slow down, or stop.

Your hands have the capacity to turn the mildest bit into an instrument of abuse or the most severe bit into a delicate tool of communication.  Above all, good horsemanship is the key to a horse’s acceptance of the bridle.

The introduction of the bit and bridle occur during ground training such as longeing and ground driving.

Longeing and Long Lining the English and Western Horse

Longeing and Long Lining the English and Western Horse

Cherry Hill

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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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Surcingles

©  2010 Cherry Hill   © Copyright Information

A surcingle is a necessary piece of equipment for ground driving and is ideal for teaching a young horse about girth pressure. A surcingle for ground driving should have appropriate rings for driving lines, must fit a reasonable range of heart girths, be sturdy, safe, and easy care.

101 Longeing and Long Lining ExeercisesLong-lining is an important part of a young horse’s training. (Long lining is also referred to as ground driving.) It teaches acceptance of girth restriction, accustoms a horse to the presence and actions of a bit, and introduces bending. Long-lining is also a valuable means for fine-tuning certain points with intermediate and older horses: bending and flexion, flying changes, and upper level dressage movements.

A surcingle encircles a horse’s heart girth, acting as a mini-saddle and girth. For ground driving, the trainer runs long lines through the surcingle’s side rings in a horse’s early training and then through the top terrets or rings as the horse advances. A horse can be driven in front of the trainer, beside the trainer as both walk along, around the trainer in a circle, or in patterns such as figure eights or serpentines in the arena at large.


Most surcingles are designed to be used directly on the horse’s back, with a surcingle pad, or with a regular saddle pad. Some can be used over the top of a saddle. This is convenient because if a horse needs to be long-lined prior to riding, you won’t have to return to the barn to change tack.

However, using a surcingle over a saddle can create problems. It can slip from side to side when turning (the smooth leather covering of the surcingle padding + the the smooth leather of the saddle seat = slip, no friction). This is especially likely if the horse made a sudden wrong move such as young horses do. Slippage can be avoided if the surcingle is fastened excessively tight but extreme tightness can cause even a seasoned horse to buck!

Longeing and Long Lining the Western HorseAlso you might find when using a surcingle over the top of a saddle that when you are asking the horse to perform serpentines and flying changes, the long line of the “old bend” can get caught on the cantle of the saddle after the horse changed to the “new bend”. To remedy this, you can either “pitch a wave” in the line (without bumping the horse’s mouth) hoping to get the new outside line over on top of the seat of the saddle again OR you must stop the horse, gather up the lines, walk to the horse, lift the line from behind the cantle and then resume. After several such instances occurring just after a spectacular flying change where we couldn’t reward the horse with forward movement (instead had to stop and regroup), you’ll likely abandon over-the-saddle driving and use the traditional surcingle position, that is directly on the horse or with the use of a normal saddle pad.

Generally surcingles are comprised of a top portion and a girth. The top portion is made up of the saddle and the side pieces. The saddle consists of a padded pommel that sits on or behind the withers. The padding varies from a flat profile (1/2″ or less) saddle consisting of a thin layer of padding in the wither area to a high profile (2″ or more) saddle made up of two triangular-shaped blocks of padding. The padding and its covering varies from very soft to hard.

The saddle and side pieces have attached to them various terrets, large D rings, and small D-rings. The standard configuration is 2 large rings (or terrets) on top, 2 large rings on the sides, and 3 pair of small rings in between. Terrets are rigid, fixed rings that are screwed into the top of the saddle at the approximate position a rider’s hands would be. Because terrets do not move during the driving process, they are very desirable. In lieu of terrets, most surcingles have large D rings sewn or sewn and riveted into the top of the saddle. Some Ds stand in a rigid position – others are floppy. Rigid top rings are desirable because the lines flow through them freely.

In addition to the top terrets or rings, there is usually a set of large D rings on the side pieces of the surcingle for using the long lines in lower positions. These D rings might be sewn or sewn and riveted in place and vary from almost rigid to floppy. Either seem to work OK in the side position though I prefer rings that stand out to the side so the long lines can run freely through them.

There are a varying number and size of smaller D rings (customarily 3 pair) on the top of the surcingle for attaching side reins and other training equipment.

Most surcingles have two standard billet straps on each side such as are found on English saddles. Some surcingles have a single wider billet on each side. Most girths are a separate piece. The girth of a surcingle will vary in length depending on the design of the top portion of the surcingle and the size of horse the surcingle is intended for. The girths can range from 16 to 30 inches in length. The standard girth has two buckles on each side to correspond to the 2 girth billets. Most girths have at least one D ring sewn on the bottom side for the attachment of training equipment between the horse’s front legs.

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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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Hi Cherry !

I have a 2 + year QH that I am having trouble getting him to use a bit.

As I try to put in his mouth he will back up and refuses for to put the bit in his mouth. What can I do to get him to let me put on a bit, or is it his age?

Ruben

Hi Ruben,

The best way to solve this problem is to forget about the bit and bridle for a few lessons.

First you need to teach your horse to allow you to handle his head, his ears, his lips, his mouth, examine his teeth and so on.

I use one of my old toothbrushes to get the horse used to having something in his mouth. This will also be safer for you than using your fingers if you aren’t really sure where the teeth are located (see drawing below). Hold the bristle end in your hand and rub the end of the smooth plastic handle along the horse’s lips. When your horse will allow you to do this without moving his head or backing away, then insert the smooth toothbrush handle into the interdental space – the area between the incisors and molars where the bit goes. If you don’t have a toothbrush handy, you can use an old, washed out dewormer tube for this lesson.

Next be sure your horse doesn’t have any fear of you opening his lips to look at his teeth. Your veterinarian needs to do this anyway, so take the time to make sure your horse is comfortable with you handling all parts of his mouth and head.

Then be sure you can handle and rub his ears and are able to bend his ears forward like you will need to do when you slip the crownpiece of the bridle over his ears.

When you feel your horse is comfortable with all of this, be sure you are bridling properly.

Horse Training - Proper Bridling Position

Horse Training - Proper Bridling Position

Refer to the photo above to show you how to put your right hand over your horse’s head and between his ears while you present the bit to the horse with your left hand. Be careful not to bump the horse’s front teeth with the bit. If he doesn’t readily open his mouth, you can insert the thumb of your left hand into the corner of his mouth – this usually gets the horse to open his mouth. See the illustration below to help you determine the safe zone for you to place your fingers – the interdental space which is the space where there are no teeth – between the canines and the wolf teeth.

Teeth of a Mature Horse Showing the Safe Finger Zone, the interdental space

Teeth of a Mature Horse Showing the Safe Finger Zone, the interdental space

After you have thoroughly prepared your horse for the sensations of bridling, he should accept the process willingly. Take your time because these habits last a lifetime, whether good or bad.

For more information, refer to

Making Not Breaking by Cherry HillHow to Think Like A Horse by Cherry HillMaking Not Breaking

How to Think Like a Horse

Best of luck, and let me know how you make out.

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I have a mare that just recently decided that she will eat grass and by golly she will eat! She’s my first horse and I’ve owned her for two years now and we just moved her to our own property about a month ago.
I’ve been training her, as she hadn’t been trained very well and I can’t figure out how to make her stop.  Every time I go out for a ride she throws her head down and eats.  No matter what I do I can’t bring her head up, and if she does, then it goes right back down again.  Riding her has become a fight that I can’t really win and she’s no longer a joy to get on.  I don’t want to be cruel and tug on her mouth and kick or use severe corrections, because I know those just put fear into the horse.
I would really appreciate it if you could give me a pointer or two if you have time.  Thanks for reading this!
Katie

Hi Katie,

You can approach this situation with ground work or when you are riding. In either situation, make sure the horse has just eaten her full feed of hay and any supplements or grain she gets. Or if she is a pastured horse, be sure she has had her usual time on pasture.

For example, our horses are turned out for 12 hours overnight to graze. When we lead them out to pasture in the evening, if I would stop on the way to the pasture in spot with lush grass, it wouldn’t surprise me if my horse would start salivating and looking at that grass with an intent to dive down and grab some. But in the morning, when I jingle the horses, the last thing on their minds is to eat grass on the way back to the barn. They’ve had their fill.

So as soon after your horse finishes eating, begin your training session. You will have better chance for success on a full stomach.

First a few pointers and tips.

If you don’t feel confident doing this yourself, ask for someone to help you. Sometimes just the confidence of having someone nearby will help things go better. And its a good safety precaution.

If you feel unable to perform these exercises in a grassy area, first practice them in the arena or a pen just to get your timing down.

I suggest you review all ground training exercises to see where your horse’s strengths and weaknesses are so you can build on her strong points and work on improving her weak areas. You can see an In-Hand Checklist here.

I’d start out with ground training. I’d outfit the horse in a rope halter and you could consider putting a grazing muzzle on the horse for the early lessons. A grazing muzzle will prevent your horse from eating even if she DOES get her head down. You see, each time your horse even snatches one blade of grass when she dives down, she has rewarded herself for her behavior. Each time she does this, it becomes a more deeply entrenched habit, one that will require more persistence on your part to change. So if you can first eliminate the reward, no grass, even if she does dive down, she won’t get the grass !

How to Think Like a Horse by Cherry Hill

How to Think Like a Horse by Cherry Hill

Now you have several choices as to how you want to approach this.

1. Establish rules as to when a horse can and can’t eat elsewhere and then here. Like you train dogs to wait until you give them a bowl of food, teach your horse to wait until you give him the signal to approach his grain. You’ll need to develop a clean distinction between when it is fine to eat and not eat. You should be able to dump grain in a dish on the ground and your horse should wait until you give her the signal it is OK to move forward to eat. You should also be able to back your horse away from that dish while she is eating.

2. When the horse is most likely to snatch grass, be ready to give the horse something else to do. When she starts to lower her head, make her move forward right away – if ground training, send the horse out on the longe line. If riding, use your method to get the horse to move forward – use as little as you need to get the job done but as much as it takes from leg pressure to clucking to kicking to a tap with a whip to spanking across the hindquarters with a rope. The object is to get the horse to move her feet forward and raise her head. As soon as she does, stop your cues.

3. Whether you are ground training or riding, when a horse starts to dive down, turn the horse rather than pull straight back on both reins. Pulling back or up doesn’t accomplish much more than isometric arm exercise for you and banging on the horse’s mouth ! Instead turn the horse one way or the other. When riding this is best done in a snaffle bit, a side pull or a bosal using a leading rein. Bend the horse and send him forward at the same time and once you gain control, “bait” him again by giving the horse a slack rein.

4. As with many training situations, when you are riding a grass snatcher, you must always be “on” – always ready to react.

101 Longeing and Long Lining Exercises by Cherry Hill

101 Longeing and Long Lining Exercises by Cherry Hill

Best of luck and let me know how your horse training program progresses.

Cherry Hill

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