Horses can do many things that are annoying, frustrating, or downright dangerous. Take Finn, the young horse who likes to nip and bite when he gets bored, or Winter, the pony who would rather buck than trot with a rider. What about Sydney, the Thoroughbred gelding who slams on the brakes at every other jump, or Nell, the grey mare who fidgets and paws in the crossties?
How can we teach these horses to do the “right” thing? Why do they do this bad stuff anyway? Are they being spiteful… stubborn?
In this article, we’re going to take a close look at bad behaviors – what causes them, why they continue, and how we can teach our horses something different.
What is a “bad behavior”?
This may seem like a silly question, but most of the behaviors we call bad are really just out of context.
For example, pawing is fine if Nell is turned out in a snowy field and needs to move the snow so he can find a few blades of grass.
Bucking is perfectly ok if Winter the pony is racing across his pasture on a cool morning jumping and twisting with exuberance.
Even biting isn’t a problem when young Finn is out with his horse friends playing and “horsing around”.
And we want Sydney to stop at our 4’ fence when he trots up to the gate at feeding time, but later, we want him to sail right over that big wall in the middle of the arena when we’re on his back.
So it’s not that most bad behaviors are inherently “bad”, but instead the horse needs to learn when things like bucking, biting, or pawing are inappropriate. We need to teach the horse what to do in the different situations that we put them in.
Good training is all about effective communication. How can we show the horse what we want, for example, waiting patiently for a treat instead of grabbing at our pockets, going over the jump not around it, and stepping forward happily when we say “trot” instead of pinning their ears and letting both hind feet fly?
On a simple level, we just need to figure out how to show the horse what we want him to do, tell him he’s good and reward him when he does the right thing, and do our best to ignore all the bad stuff until it goes away.
But sometimes it’s not this simple. Behavior change can be easy or it can be quite hard. When we take a closer look, there can be a slew of factors that keep a bad behavior happening over and over. Since training is first about communication, let’s begin by considering how we communicate with our horses.
How We Communicate with Horses
There are many forms of communication that happen both consciously and unconsciously.
In classical conditioning, the horse becomes sensitized to people or things that cause him fear or pain. Naturally, he will try to avoid these things in the future.
On the other hand, horses desensitize to things that that do them no harm. Horses learn to connect sounds, sights, and smells with danger, rest, or food and will act accordingly. That’s why when the feed room door opens, the whole barn starts whinnying and moving around their stalls, anticipating a coming meal.
In operant conditioning, the horse learns that his actions can bring different, but predictable results. This is also one of the main frameworks of communication that we use with our horses, and our kids… and our coworkers…
In the context of working with a horse, operant conditioning is basically how we react to what the horse does. Our reactions will determine, in part, whether the horse continues a behavior or tries something else.
Since it is our main mode of communication, let’s go into more detail on how operant conditioning works. There are four main quadrants, positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative punishment. Positive and negative are used here in a mathematical sense, not to indicate “good” or “bad”.
Reinforcements are how we react to behaviors from the horse that we like and that we want the horse to do again. We can “reinforce” a behavior by giving a reward, like praise, scratching, or a treat. We also reinforce a behavior when we remove any pressure we were using. Pressure can be the physical pull of a rope or rein, or the tapping of a whip. It can also be a stern look or a confrontational body posture.
Punishments are how we react to bad behaviors; a punishment will make the horse less likely to repeat a behavior. Punishment occurs when something bad happens to the horse, such as getting shocked after touching an electric fence, or receiving a sharp pull from a lead shank after trying to rush forward while being led. Punishment can also happen through good things going away after a bad behavior, like a treat being whisked away when the horse tries to grab it too aggressively.
Communication is only effective if the other party understands what is being communicated.
Try speaking to someone who doesn’t know your language. It’s difficult, but in time you can develop a sort of non-verbal communication as that other individual watches your body movements and gestures and perhaps finds a way to give meaning to a few specific words. This is not unlike what happens with our horses. Perhaps we are at an even lower starting point for communication with a horse as horses are not going to be able to read universal human body language (eye movements, facial tension, and hand gestures) as intuitively as another human.
Now that we understand basic communication, this brings us back to our discussion of bad behaviors. We’re going to examine what I believe are the three main causes of bad behavior.
The 3 Big Causes of Bad Behavior
In my experience as a trainer, this is number one. Horses get along with humans naturally, somehow they instinctively seem to want to please us. Domestication never could have happened if we weren’t compatible species.
Horse’s relationship to us is as a working and performance animal. We ask a lot of them physically, strapping on saddles or harnesses, putting bits in their mouths, and asking them to carry us around, to jump obstacles, and to contort their bodies into positions that require a high degree of strength and flexibility.
Horses can’t tell us when something hurts, they can only act on the discomfort. They may drop their back, shake their head, kick out, pin their ears, the list goes on…
Physical discomfort doesn’t just mean a medical problem either. Imagine you were trying to do the splits and could only get about half way there. There is nothing wrong with you, you’re just not flexible enough right now to do a full split. If someone were to come along and start forcing you into the position it would be painful and you’d put up quite a fight, maybe punching, kicking, anything to get them to stop causing that pain.
Almost any bad behavior can have a physical cause so it is often the best first place to begin searching for a solution.
The second source of bad behaviors is emotional distress. Emotion plays a huge roll in both behavior and learning. For any situation, the horse can respond in different ways depending on his emotional state. For example, consider the simple request of asking a horse to walk forward. A sleepy horse may not move at all, a calm attentive horse may step ahead easily, but a tense, nervous horse may leap forward from your slightest move.
It’s also not just the horse’s emotional state that matters. As a prey species, horses have adapted to read signs of tension and stress that may signal danger. They can pick up these signs not only from other horses, but also from us.
If we come to ride or interact with a horse feeling frustrated, angry, or scared, the horse will react differently than if we can remain calm and focused.
We can’t control a horse’s emotions, but we can work at controlling our own.
We can be more aware of when and how we ask for things so as not to over pressure a horse who is already feeling anxious. This means that a horse like Nell, our crosstie fidgeter, may be able to learn to stand quietly in her home barn with her friend in the stall next to her, but will have a much harder time standing by the trailer at a busy horse show.
Since good communication is so important in our relationship with our horses, what happens when that communication is not so clear? What about when we aren’t consistent in our release of pressure or we give rewards randomly, not paying attention to the behavior that precedes the reward?
If we aren’t aware of how learning happens or if we make no effort to be consistent, miscommunication can quickly cause behavior problems. Let’s look at the example of Sydney – the gelding who refuses most jumps he is pointed at. If Sydney’s rider carries a crop and gives him a good smack after each refusal, he should know that he is being punished for not jumping and will jump better in the future, right? Not necessarily.
After a refusal, it takes Sydney’s rider a few moments to regain their balance, sit up, and then smack him. Instead of connecting the punishment with refusing the jump, Sydney connects it to the space in front of the jump and next time will not only stop but will also quickly dart to the side to avoid that dangerous place where punishment occurs.
Miscommunication could also happen with Finn, the nippy youngster. Nipping and biting are natural investigative and play initiation behaviors for young horses. If Finn’s biting is met with a half-hearted slap on the neck he will likely never understand that his biting behavior is not appreciated, but instead may think that he was successful in initiating the attention and play of his human companion.
Often these three causes, physical problems, emotional distress, and miscommunication, can occur together, all playing a role in causing and continuing the unwanted behavior.
Take the example of Winter the bucking pony. His kicking and bucking response was very strong the instant he was touched with a whip. At some point in his life he had likely been in a situation where he was under emotional stress, scared and not wanting to go forward. His handler at the time used a whip to coerce him into moving, smacking him hard. The pain from the smack along with his already heightened emotional state triggered an instinctual fight behavior of kicking out. For a moment, it stopped the whip and through the principle of negative reinforcement Winter learned in that moment that kicking out is effective in stopping a whip.
Now to understand how this becomes habit, let’s look at a few more principles of learning.
How does learning happen?
On the surface, learning happens as a result of the basic communication frameworks we discussed earlier – especially through reinforcements and punishments.
The brain is of course what controls our learning, so let’s consider what happens in the brain.
When a horse does something new, neurons in the brain fire and a neural pathway is created. The more the horse continues to repeat that same behavior the stronger that neural pathway will become. When in a new situation, the horse will first try responses or behaviors that worked in the past and have had the most repetition, because those behaviors have the strongest neural pathways.
Also, behaviors that have a strong emotional connection, especially those connected to fear, will require fewer repetitions to create strong neural pathways.
This is why we need to be so careful not to push a horse to the point where they feel no other option but to offer a fight or flight behavior. Once they try it and it works, they are much more likely to use it again.
We need to create options for good behavior and then allow repetition for these behaviors so the horse can develop the good neural pathways.
How do we change behavior?
The most desirable way to change a bad behavior is to simply ignore the bad stuff, wait for a glimmer of the right behavior and then make sure any pressure is released, and reward and praise that right behavior.
A simple concept, but one that takes discipline to implement, as our tendency is often to focus on what is going wrong instead of keeping our mental picture on the right choice.
As bad or unwanted behavior is no longer reinforced, and a new brain pathway is created for the right behavior, the old behavior eventually just goes away.
But here are a few cases where this plan doesn’t go as smoothly as it sounds.
- If the old behavior is still reinforcing in some way. If a horse is pulling for grass and always manages to grab a mouthful before we’re able to get his head back up, then even though the pressure to bring his head back up is acting as a punishment, the reward of that mouthful of sweet grass is probably enough for the horse to continue pulling.
Some behaviors are self-reinforcing as they help the horse release stress. Pawing is thought to be one of these self-reinforcing behaviors. To better understand this concept, think nail biting in humans. People who chew their nails feel better as it reduces their stress, and they don’t need an external reward to continue.
- If the horse is in a situation where he is not able to find other options for how to behave in that situation, he will likely continue or increase the bad behavior. For example, if a horse is in a state of emotional stress with someone trying to load him on a trailer he probably will not suddenly drop his head and walk on quietly.
We need to help the horse by making the right choice easier to find, through changing our approach and trying something different ourselves.
One of the worst methods we can use is to constantly punish any behavior that is offered as that leaves no room for a “correct choice”. If the option isn’t there, we need to give them the option.
- If we don’t know what we want. Sometimes we get so focused on just stopping the unwanted behavior that we give no attention to what we actually want the horse to do. The key to behavior change is to stay focused on the desired outcome, and look for any steps towards that outcome, rewarding them appropriately.
How do we know what to do when?
What is the best way to change behavior? To teach something new?
I don’t believe there is one right answer that will fit this question. However, if we remember to stay focused on what we want, to reward even the slightest moves in that direction, and to consider the situation while remaining emotionally neutral ourselves we can be successful.
Changing behavior is not about using only one method, such as only positive reinforcement or only a rigid set of exercises, it is about observing the horse, considering the situation, and ultimately experimenting.
We need to expand our knowledge of learning and communication, plus build a toolbox of techniques, but we also have the responsibility to seek to understand our unique situation and relationship with our horse.
With this approach, we can change our horse’s behavior and do it in a way that feels good for both of us.
Now I'd love to hear from you! What is one behavior your horse does that you'd like to change and what do you want your horse to do instead?
See you in the comments,
Excellent as usual!
My horse paws when she is tied to cross tie and I groom her. However she does not do this right away. She does it if another horse is coming our way or if grooming is taking longer than her patience allows. I have been doing clicker training and she lifts her feet immedately now lets me spray her etc… I don’t know what to do about pawing. I reward her when she is still but that does not mean don’t paw. Any suggestions?
Hi Sonia, here is a video that may help you with the pawing… https://crktrainingblog.com/groundwork-handling/why-do-horses-paw/
You could try interrupting the pawing by asking for stand as soon as he starts
can you help,my mare is very girthy..gets herself so stressed out..ears back bits her door,door frame, but once the girth is fastened,she is ok..even when i go to tighten it once on her she doesn’t bat an eyelid…she also hates being touched around the chest area and under belly…we though it might be a acid,ulsa related ,so she is now on ulsakind from top-spec brand,to which her whole diet consists of..have started dividing her meals to smaller amounts,as is what we would do when suffering from acid digestion..to see if that helps.. can you help in any way..to stop this behavior… she also paws when wanting things..ie dinner ,going out..when i arrive at the yard ,she starts for my attention… she is a very demanding mare… best regards sue roberts
Hi Sue, It’s tough to give specific suggestions without knowing your horse, but I would probably look at her management program as a whole. You are definitely on a good track with the ulcer treatment because it does sound as if that could be likely, but I’m wondering if there is more… from your comments I got the impression she is a pretty high anxiety horse? How much turnout does she get, does she eat a lot of hay… once you’ve addressed those basics the best you can then I would start looking more at training… teaching her that being patient is how to get what she wants
I’m working on catching with my horse. She recently became pastured and so she doesn’t need to come in for food. She takes off with her buddies rather than sticking around to get haltered. I am using clicker to try to work through this right now after a few weeks of trying approach and retreat in a 5 acre field. (I did lose some weight as a result!) I’m hoping positive reinforcement will work better and I suspect my timing is better with clicking, than it was with releasing from a distance. 🙂
My horse hesitates to go into a canter with me. Sometimes he will act like he is saying mom are you sure about this. I feel i hesitate when asking as I had bad accident & got bucked off with a previous horse n Injured badly. My present horse will occasionally throw a buck now& then and those fears come back. I guess I need to learn How to stop or ride out that buck to gain confidence. I know I can ride the canter and he has a nice one. Help…
I watched a video on YouTube the other day that might help you, the channel is called “Your riding success” and the video is “Improving Trot-Canter Transitions Using Mindset – Dressage Mastery TV Ep 130”.
Hi Pattie, check out http://www.calmconfident.com, there are some videos and resources here that may be helpful for you!
My horse trys to bite me if I enter his stall with tack. Tieing him in the aisle fixes this but Id love to get to the point where I can enter hsi space woth anything and he is content.
I just (5 weeks ago) started taking groundwork lessons with an 8-year old TB at a rescue farm. He’s a horse with a lot of affection – and the attention span of a Golden Retriever puppy. Last time I worked with him, he started longing around me, walking on a slack lead line, yielding his hindquarters very easily. When I tried to have him go in half-circles, changing directions smoothly, he got bored with the exercise, started bucking and kicking and got out of Dodge. Then he walked right up to me with that puppy look, “Well, how do you like THIS game instead?” I was mostly good at anticipating when he was about to blow, but he eventually got me in the thigh with his left hind foot. Just a little love tap, mind you…after two days on Vicodin I could almost climb stairs again… After switching to a longer rope and giving him some more energetic feedback on his behavior, he gave me two more smooth, calm rounds in each direction, at which point I gave him a hug and called it a day.
The lesson I learned was that I need to arrange it so that it is *I* who gives him release, rather than having the choice between a hoof in the face, rope burn, or letting go. So next time, every time he behaves calmly through an exercise, I’ll actually unclip the longe line and set him free for a few minutes. He likes to hang out with me, so re-catching will not be an issue. I’m hoping this “approach-and-retreat” will make him more patient with his groundwork exercises.
Remember with the lovey horse, you still have to give him permission to enter your personal “hula-hoop” of space. There should be no question in his mind that you have to allow him to put his body that close to you. Hopefully that will keep those “playful” kicks outside your personal space.
Thank you for sharing this story Matthias!
Thankyou Callie, your last two posts have been exactly on the money for my horse and I. I have only had my gelding 3 months and his bad behaviour (kicking out while being led through a section of bog), started 4 weeks ago after he was bitten by a wasp there. Now it seems more about avoiding going to the arena and as a way to try to control me, as it does make me nervous. I am getting some help but and am really hoping it hasn’t become so entrenched that we battle to correct it. It also means I am now avoiding riding him for fear he may display some of this attitude then. A friend pointed out the more subtle ways he is trying to exert dominance over me so from here I plan to be assertive, watch for the subtle signs, be consistent and not unconsciously reward bad behaviour.
My 4 year old gelding is claustrophobic … loading is a nightmare, cross ties are impossible, wash racks are handled by holding his lead and the hose and allowing him to circle when it gets to be too much. I now groom him outdoors, holding his lead; then lunge him and tack him up in the round pen. We ride in a large arena, strip him down outdoors, carefully deal with the wash rack every day. I’m letting the whole trailer situation go right now, choosing to concentrate on daily issues. He’s always been nervous and slightly claustrophobic, but I was sick for 7 weeks this summer and came back to this disaster. We have changed barns and I have adopted the above coping mechanisms to try to work through this whole issue.
I volunteer at a therapy stable and when I am leading one of our youngest horses during a lesson (He was only assimilated into lessons in late spring as he was a rescue Nakota horse) he likes to grab the lead rope and mouth it. He is sort of a playful fellow anyway, only about 2 years old, and not mean spirited in any way. I have pulled down hard on the rope and said No firmly then pushed his face away. As he starts walking nicely again I have praised him and patted his neck. I have a feeling I am doing this in the wrong “timing”. I would welcome any other suggestions!!! Thanks so much Callie
Hi Patty, thanks for your email, your young horses behavior is certainly not unusual!
I will usually do something very similiar to what you did, I just rope out of their mouth and continue without making too big of a fuss over it.
I’ve experienced issues with horses that rush as I lead them back to the barn after lessons. It happened 2x with 2 different horses. I tried to give a “sharp pull from a lead shank” to slow and also attempt to halt which worked (slightly) but not to the extent I desired. Because I had no one else around me to help and didn’t want to escalate the situation (and show the horse how much stronger he was than me)…I continued to walk with the horse, talking calmly and softly, asking for slow…which helped me (maybe) more than him..but we walked at a faster pace than I wanted. Is there anything else that can be done in that situation? Also, when leading with the reins from the bridle, is the “sharp pull” less sharp than when leading with a halter because the bit is in the mouth? No one has ever explained this to me and I want to make sure I’m not hurting the horse.
Hi Marie, yes, we do have to be careful about any pulling with a bit whether on the ground or under saddle. With a horse that rushes I have them stop and back each time they get quick, and then I walk forward with the lead or reins loose. As soon as they begin to rush I stop them again. Turning towards them and switching your hand can also be a helpful strategy so that you can use the positioning of your body to help make the pressure stronger instead of needing to use as much pulling or tugging with the lead, this is especially helpful when you have reins.
Nipping! or ‘lipping’ When I’m leading her- especially if there’s a child on her back, It happens quickly, so swinging a rope at her is a bit of a slow response and I try to remember to take a crop which I hold towards her nose in my rope hand, that seems to deter her. She also nips (love nips?) at the rump of a horse alongside when hacking out. In the long run I hope she grows out of it and/ or the neural pathway diminishes!
Thanks for the article, Very helpful recap of the stuff I’ve previously read and watched.
My challenge is leading a 6 month old. When he leads toward horses he goes but away plants feet even when walking with mothe
This is a big topic and you’ve done an excellent job of addressing causes and solutions of bad behaviours. But, I don’t think I have learned how to deal with my gelding’s behaviour problems – he (same breed as my two mares) seems to have an attitude problem – he complies when asked to do ground work, but his ears are usually pinned back and he gives me his stink eye. He tolerates the saddle and weight on it, but he tries to bite me upon mounting and bucks and will not go forward – his ears are pinned and his stink eye. We have ruled out back pain and the saddle does fit him. He is being trained using identical techniques as the two mares (absolute sweethearts) but he had a much different past. He’s a rescue, his mother died when he was young and he had only cows as friends so he is socially awkward and other horses don’t like him. He had developed a bad biting habit which is all gone except when he is stressed. He is very clever, but I’m beginning to wonder if perhaps he will never improve his attitude and may never be ridable or even trainable. I do not want to get injured. What do you think? Are there some horses that have been so damaged that they are beyond redemption? This gelding has unusual whorls on his forehead and neck. Should I make anything of this?
Hi Denise, this is a tough question… it brings to mind two horses that I have currently. One of them ended up having ulcers, she is being treated now and already improving. The longer I do this and the more horses I train, the more important I feel it is to really rule out physical issues, and also to observe his behavior outside of work. For the horse that ended up having ulcers I did an 8 hour video of her in the stall and then consulted with a behaviorist to essentially decode the video. That’s when we with further diagnostics and found the ulcers. For my other horse I am doing a lot of positive reinforcement, careful to only reinforce for a “happy face” and having success with her through this.
Thank you for your reply Callie! I have not given up yet on Diego and find the challenge of working with him is forcing me to understand far more about horses than I possibly could have anticipated. So at least that is my silver lining. I will investigate your suggestion of ulcers. I have just started reading Linda Wellington-Jones’ book Getting in Touch, Understand and Influence Your Horse’s Personality and especially like the huge section on How to Evaluate Character. Perhaps the last chapter titled Bring Out the Best in Your Horse will provide real solutions to improve my relationship with him. Thanks again for your weekly horse tips – they are truly appreciated!
awesome update Callie, so timely!!
Had just attended a clinic, and had nipping hassles, going backwards, going forwards etc… at the mounting block. Managed to get her a bit steamed up, as it escalated to a bit of a rodeo routine (first time ever). Realise I needed to have a clearer neutral focus, so will practice more at home, and hope we don’t go ‘there” again!!
thanks again for sharing such great information.
Hi Callie! This is a great article! I”m working with my young 5 year old Tennessee Walker trying to get him to make a smooth transition from one direction to another when lunging him but on the side he’s weaker on, he almost runs me over and nudges me with his head instead of going the other direction. I have to stop him and cross under his head to get him to go that other direction. I know that’s not safe, but that’s the only way I can get him to move out in the desired direction. How can I stop him from doing this? I’ve tried several things but nothing seems to be working.
Maybe any, some, or all of these: A longer longe line to accommodate the clumsier turn, put pressure on his drive line after the turn but before he gets too close, keep your hand up at his eye level to exert pressure by moving your hand, and let him bump (uncomfortably) into your hand rather than your body, re-do some of your “personal space” exercises.
Hi Amanda, I would actually go back to a smaller circle on this side working on correcting his stiffness. When a horse has just one difficult side like this I usually suspect that they are just having more trouble physically with that direction. On a small circle you will be more walking with him in an “in-hand” position than in a lungeing position.
Great article Callie!
Great article Callie. You really enhance a better and better relationship between the rider and his horse.
Thank you so much for this blog post. I have tried so many different approaches to improve the relationship with my horse over the past two years and even though I love him more than words can express, I feel like I’ve made so many mistakes. I have recently decided to stop trying to “punish” unwanted behavior and go with a positive reinforcement approach instead. I have done clicker training with my horse before and my horse is extremely motivated by food rewards. I know so many people who advise against rewarding with food and look down on someone who is “stuffing their horse with treats”. I give my horse small pieces of carrots, apples, food pellets and a few horse treats and I work in short increments. I am lucky to be living right next to the stable so I am actually able to do a few short sessions a day rather than one long one. I have owned him for two years and he was still biting or nipping at me while being led, he would regularly throw tantrums when being led to the mounting block and run right off or buck when I got in the saddle. After working consistently with positive reinforcement for only about a week, he now walks calmly right next to me without nipping at me, he lines up next to the mounting block without biting at me and he stands still when I get on him. I still reinforce quite a lot and will have to work out how to reduce the frequency, but I am absolutely convinced that this is the right kind of training for my boy. He used to be a school horse and was punished quite a lot for “wrong” behavior and he still associated being ridden with aversion, even though I tried hard to make him feel good but I’d still work with punishment or would get mad occasionally when I didn’t get the response I wanted . I now get a trot or canter departure with just the lightest touch of my leg and I am so so proud of him and I am so sorry that I did not manage to give him the positive reinforcement that he needed so badly. But horses are so forgiving and they can learn so fast and I am convinced that we are on the right track now. I am now working on myself and on being a better rider/trainer/partner/ motivator rather than work “on my horse”. Your videos have helped me a lot recently as have Shawna Karrsch’s and Wendy Murdoch’s. I am so excited about where our journey will take us now!
Thank you Claudia! I appreciate your sharing your story!
Hi Callie, I have a 13 year old that was brought up on a farm by kids. Just kick and go. When I ride him , in the arena, we have not gone outside together yet, he likes to just stop and not move forward. I try little pressure with my calf and move up gradually to spur and crop. Nothing seems to work until he decides he wants to move. What to do with a guy like this? I love this article as I sure can relate to it.
I am just a trail rider and from what people have told me is he likes the trails. I am 65 and got back into riding 5 years ago. Hope you can help! Thanks, Nancy
Hi Nancy, check out this video, I think it may be helpful for you!
Please post or email the video link, as this is the issue I’m managing as well. Thank you!
Great article, Callie! I have a horse who tries to buck off the rider almost as soon as they get on. I got him from an auction lot two years ago and was told he had been on trails and was used occasionally to “chase after cows” by his first owner. The second owner, who had dropped him off at the auction, claimed he never bucked but said you have to “ride out the kinks”. Joey clearly was abused and very head-shy when he came to us. After he got healthier and his weight back, we thought we would try to ride him and found out that he definitely does not want to be ridden. Sometimes he panics right away and refuses to move forward, then bucks. Other times he walks a few steps and then bucks. So far, five people have been on him and only one, a rodeo cowboy, managed to connect with him and was able to ride him forward at a walk, not using any leg pressure whatsoever. Evidently the leg pressure is part of the problem. I have had a chiropractor out who didn’t find any problems. I have tried to find a trainer to help me evaluate what the problem is, whether physical, emotional, or both, but haven’t had any luck. No one wants to get on him and risk getting tossed off. I was told that some horses can’t be rehabilitated, and I should call the rodeo association. Well I’m not about to do that, but I have no idea where to go from here. I am thinking that every time Joey succeeds in bucking off a rider, his behavior gets reinforced. Without knowing what happened to him and why he is doing it, how would I approach working with him? I’ve thought of strapping on a dummy, then seeing what the response is on the lunge since I don’t have a round pen. And make him go forward as long as he bucks, then take off the pressure once he stops bucking. I am so stressed over this as I needed a family-safe horse, and I don’t feel experienced enough to retrain him myself. Joey panics easily, although he is not necessarily a spooky horse. He is great about most anything and very responsive in ground work, just doesn’t want a rider on him. It is so sad as I can tell he wants to be with people and wants a job. What do you think?
Hi Katrin, Joey may be able to be retrained but I would never trust him as your family safe horse. I have worked with horses like this but I typically go into it expecting it to be a several year process. There are almost always many, many issues that can be sorted out on the ground so I start their for several months. I am also reminded again and again of the importance of ruling out physical issues. I’ve had horses that several vets examined and couldn’t find an issue but they still had one from stomach ulcers to kidney stones. So I would say don’t give up on Joeys ability to be ridden some day, but I wouldn’t count on him as your family safe horse, not now that he unfortunately has this much history.
Thanks Callie, you are pretty much confirming what I’ve been thinking. I am convinced that Joey has not only had physical issues, but that his mind has been deeply affected to where, as you say, having “this much history” would be hard to counter-act even with consistent training, especially since he is in the 15-17 age range now. If I could figure out some kind of “job” for him besides being a pasture pal, I would be happy with that at this point.
I don’t think any horse is beyond redemption, but it is a question of resource allocation whether you will be successful. “My” horse (see my entry above) was dumped at the rescue farm because he wouldn’t even hand-walk, not even for a little while. Last weekend, when I saw him last, we spent an hour on miscellaneous light groundwork without any dangerous incident. If I had your horse, I would forget about riding and start his training assuming he’d just been rounded up in the wild by the BLM. That way, you don’t need to investigate all his prior issues, and you make one problem at a time go away. Could I actually pull this off knowing what *I* know now? No way, but I would study up on how to start a *green* horse, and work with him 10-20 mins a day, every day, without expectations. I agree 100% with Callie’s “There are almost always many, many issues that can be sorted out on the ground”, but without know-how and time to invest, that remains academic.
Thanks for your response and sharing about your horse, Matthias. I like your suggestion and agree that starting from the very beginning is what is needed. Problem is, I lack the time and resources to be able to properly and consistently retrain Joey. I barely have time to ride my mare, and living in WA without a covered riding arena makes horse training a real challenge for about 6 months out of the year. I think I need to resign myself to Joey being a pasture pal.
Try not to beat yourself up Katrin. Your horse problem sounds a lot like mine (he was a rescue) and I live in Ontario Canada which shares a similar climate. To better understand your boy, I recommend you read Linda Wellington-Jones’ book Getting in Touch, Understand and Influence Your Horse’s Personality. I especially like the huge section on How to Evaluate Character. I am realizing how uniquely different and individual horses are (even within same breed) and that there are horses that are naturally complex, resistant and slow learners.
my mare , to my knowledge , has never been in an arena. the first time I took her in she was fine until she was stung on her belly. she is out with 2 geldings and has appeared to come into her own as lead mare. she bonded immediately upon arrival with one of the geldings . recently , with winter coming I wanted to be able to ride in the arena and she refused to go in,. so started right from the beginning stopping about 4 ft away from the door. when she stopped trying to pull etc. and just stood she was rewarded. this continued , moving closer every other day for about 1 month. she did finally go in, we hand walked the perimeter inside for next 3 days until yesterday . when we went in I tried to free lunge her which she is very good at. well, the gelding started calling and she responded getting more and more worked up, until she was frantically racing from the closed door to the side . I couldn’t get near her to try and calm her and quite frankly, didn’t try. instead I walked out. stayed out for about 5 minutes and as she had calmed down, went back in. she was standing quite calm at the door so walked her again and then took her out. by this time she was just soaked, so more walking, outside. of course the gelding was waiting for her. his calling sounded panicky as did hers. I have ridden her away from the paddock andshe was just fine. did I push her too fast ? or, should I just forget riding in the arena. I didn’t put her back in the paddock , and instead walked again outside with her going away from the paddock and out of sight of the gelding.she was just fine and as she did well, rewarded her with a treat prior to going back in the paddock, which she wanted all along. she is well behaved when riding outside away from the paddock. i feel i need to go back and hand walk her in the arena again , this time extending the time we are in it. your reply and further suggestions would be appreciated. if it turns out i cant ride in the arena it wont be the end of the world , i will just ride her outside, again going further away from the other gelding
Can she do groundwork on a line like a 22′-30′ rope? I find when a horse is anxious they really need us to hold their hand so to speak by being connected with a rope, rather than free lunging right away.
Just my opinion, but If I had a horse with this issue I would first make sure she could yield to steady and rhythmic pressure doing hindquarter yields, forehand yields, backing up, going sideways and then circling walk/trot/canter with transitions and direction changes along with anything else you would like to do on the ground in an area she is comfortable (outside wherever you usually work with her) and as soon as she can do that (or if she can already) then slowly start doing these same things, just one or two exercises at a time, in the indoor ring. Going out when she makes an attempt to be calm inside for a few minutes is a good reward and then come back in and do that repeatedly for a couple weeks.
When you let her know you guys are going in but she doesn’t have to stay very long and then you go back out again, walk around or let her graze, before going back in, it’s like a version of approach and retreat. When she can do all the groundwork on a line indoor as well as she does outdoors, then you could try free lunging if you want or just go to riding. I think you did a fantastic job starting this process, building up slowly to her getting closer and closer to the ring and then hand walking her in there for a few days, but I think you may have been missing the approach and retreat part as far as going in only for a short time, then out, then back in again, repeatedly during each session and then the free lunging sounds like it was just a little too big of a jump from the hand walking if that makes sense and it was more than she was ready for.
Overall I think you have a very good plan and adding these things in I mentioned above may help you continue on with the good stuff you have already started and build up to riding in there. If she has a horse friend she likes, maybe you could also get the owner to come in with that horse and hang out while you work her close to that horse for a few sessions so she isn’t in there by herself right away, although if that isn’t possible this method should work just fine without that. Best of luck!
I am currently working with a 9 yo Clydesdale X who is quite a character. He has only been under training for about a year after spending many out at pasture with human contact but minimal formal riding (hacking etc). Considering all, he is doing quite well and is a fast learner BUT I am having a huge problem with him tossing his head constantly. He does have some bad behaviours in terms of respecting personal space and using his size to intimidate however these issues are quickly resolving with good ground work and positive reinforcement as well as handling by experienced barn staff. He does toss his head occasionally at rest or in cross ties but not as much as when he is under tack. We have tried changing tack; bridles, saddles, pretty much every point of contact. He has been assessed for fit and even by a Chiro. There seems to be no physical reason for his behaviour. It is becoming increasingly difficult to focus on learning new ground work and work under saddle, I think based on my frustration as well. I have tried ignoring the behaviour and moving him into a familiar situation, done many hours of ground work with him and I am at a loss as to what to do or how to treat this. He is being ridden by 2 separate riders as he is leased although both have similar body types and styles of riding, one is more experienced than the other. He reacts similarly with both and is ridden regularly although we are careful not to override him. He has rest days and his training is not repetitious so I don’t think it’s boredom or frustration. (He is being trained as a first level eventer). He does come into contact nicely at times and has beautiful form but it is inevitably interrupted with a toss. This obviously causes huge issues with balance (his and mine) in his gaits (largely at the canter). I am careful to not encourage the behaviour as best I can and ensure I “reset” myself physically and emotionally as this happens to ensure I am not causing the behaviour by not releasing pressure or emparting my frustration to him. I am at a loss as to where to go next with this issue. Any help would be appreciated.
Hi Steph, have you looked at the possibility of light sensitivity?
There is a condition called head shaking syndrome, from what I understand it is a nerve condition and can be difficult to diagnose. I have worked with several horses that had this and some were helped with actupuncture, others were helped by simply wearing a nylon that hung over their nose, essentially preventing the light from stimulating the nerve.
Just one opinion: She shouldn’t be entitled to tune you out just because her pal is calling her, so at that point I probably would have made her twice as busy with the lesson (move her feet WHILE MAKING HER THINK, rather than just racing her blindly, of course). While you are with her, or on her, you should be her biggest concern.
My main concern is that you released (by interrupting the lesson) when she freaked out… It’s like stopping to wiggle the scary plastic bag while she’s still dancing around to evade it, rather than keeping on the pressure until she relaxes.
I have watched a few of your videos now and have learned a lot from them, thank you for taking the time to do these! My problem with my mare is she, over just the last few months, decides that if she doesn’t want to do something, she just flat out refused, pins her ears flat against her neck and just stands there. She is 18 years old and I have had her all her life. She is a very brave, level headed mare and I have done just about everything with her, from showing her as a young horse, to trail riding, fun shows (speed and fun classes), cowboy mounted shooting, and most recently in the past 18 months, we have been competing at Obstacle shows. This is where the problem started… at first, she did great, didn’t refuse anything really, just put her head down and plowed right thru. Just recently, at our National show, she decided she wasn’t going to do any of the obstacles, even the most simplest of ones. It is extremely frustrating, seeing as she somehow ‘knows’ that I can’t get after her like I could if we were at home in the practice arena. At home, I would use the pressure and release method and it works, but it’s not feasible to stop and do that during a competition, at each obstacle.. Thank you in advance…
Being that you have had this horse for awhile and the problem seemed to come on suddenly, I would look at physical problems first. Recently I have become pretty sold on the value of observational videos to help spot problems and allow for more specific diagnostics. Where are you located, I may be able to refer a veterinary behaviorist to help you. Email me as I only check comments here on the blog periodically. [email protected]
Thank you for this arrival, very helpful. I have a 5yr old gelding that was born on my property. He was such a cute silly colt. But soon became harder and harder to handle. His mother could not even handle him, as he was relentless in pestering her, I had to separate them early. I put him with an older mare and that was ok for awhile until he got bigger. Than he would pester her to much trying to play. He actually damaged her leg one time when he body slammed her and than I had to separate them. By this time, he was almost a year old. He started nipping at me, rearing up and crowding me. He became to much for me so I searched for help, after 3 different trainers I finally have him with a trainer that is helping. It was going so well until he bucked me off 6 months ago during a lesson and I got a concussion and could not ride for 2 months. I started riding again 4 months ago, my trainers horse, not mine, I am working with my gelding in hand 4 days a week to reestablish our relationship but now we are back to him nipping me, rearing on occasion and just not focused on me. I have had him all checked out physically and he is fine. I am wondering if he and I just have to much negative history and if we would both be better off if I sold him. It breaks my heart tho to think of doing that. Do you have any thoughts for me?
It’s almost impossible to truly give good recommendations without knowing you and your horse, but my gut feeling is that this horse is probably best suited for a professional.
Thanks. Yes my trainer is able to handle him much better that I can. Thanks so much for your input.
Amazing that really helps.
I went up to a horse to pet her and she lifted her head and bit me. I didn’t know any better at the time but I walked away and left her alone and now she thinks she can bite me for no reason. What should I have done? Smacked her? Shooed her away?
Great information. I do notice when disciplining my horse for something he did (nipping) he thinks I’m playing. I do it quickly but not enough to make him uncomfortable. I need different method. Other than nipping he will stop walking on leadline n I have to coax him to walk forward at times. I should not have to coax he should be willing, when that happens should I make him back up quickly? Works when I’m in saddle. Love your articles!
Hi Pattie, I would carry a dressage whip and start tapping when he stops release when he begins to walk forward again
HI Callie! I am new to your blog and website, and I just love your style ! Watch your videos and love your articles!
I have a 14 yo 17H Warmblood mare that I bought last summer to start dressage on – She was used to train beginning jumping students at an Equestrian School here in MT. She is very people friendly, super easy catch.. VERY Food driven. I am just getting back into horse ownership/riding – was very into it in my younger years.
She has the tendency to crow hop, slightly rear up ( while grunting ) and buck a little when I first start to ride her,
this happened yesterday, I lunged her, got on her with the sole intent to merely walk around our arena.
We live in MT and we had a harsh, long winter, so everyone is just getting started riding around here. I have been lunging her for the last few weeks..
I immediately got off her, lunged her again, for much longer, and let her really get it out of her system..( she galloped and bucked once she was really sweaty, and very responsive to commands, we stopped ) then I got back on, walked her half way up the arena, turned her left, right then right, then walked her back and dismounted.
I wanted to end on a good note.
I am concerned about this behavior. When I bought her, I had her vet checked and she checked sound.. Still worried about a physical issue.. she does seem weak to me and my instructor in the stifles right now..
Obviously I am a novice at “training” but would appreciate your thoughts on how to approach this behavior and correct it..
Hi Caroline, welcome to the blog!
My thoughts would be how often does this happen, and on better days does she quickly loosen up or does she remain kind of tense or anxious? Also how is she for tacking up any girthiness? Is she generally a sensitive hot kind of horse or just gets this way when riding is involved?
I’ve had several horses with back pain and it can be a tough thing to figure out exactly where it is and what’s causing it. But it definitely causes this type of behavior.
Some other things to notice and try… do you notice any difference in her movement lunging with nothing as opposed to lunging with tack? Has anything changed with her tack? New saddle etc?
I am struggling with being able to ride on trail with other horses. My 14 .2 hand horse wants to be in front of the line. Because of his shorter strides it is difficult for the larger horses behind him. He is always the smallest horse so I end up in back. When I try to keep him at the end of the line he hollows his back, head comes up and runs up on the last horse. If I try to slow him with half halts or increasing rein pressure he bucks, sidesteps off the trail or throws his head up further. I know all of these behaviors makes me tense and I tend to get out of position. It also makes my riding companions and their mounts upset which makes me tenser! He does not behave this way in a riding ring,allowing other horses to pass or following respectfully behind. He responds well to just my seat when I ask for halt in the arena. We have no issues on trail riding alone. Am I doomed to be a solitary trail rider?
Here is kind of a fun game that I’ve found helps sometimes with these cases (I call it the “beep, beep, beep” game like the sound that a truck or piece of equipment makes when backing up lol!)- if you can find riding partners willing to do it!
On a regular basis (maybe every few minutes or so at least for the first part of the ride), everyone gets a verbal heads up and then stops and backs their horses, but the rider in front of each horse has a long enough riding stick that they can put a little rhythmic pressure behind them in front of the nose of the horse behind them to encourage the horse behind them to back up and not get too close to their space.
Basically you are letting the rider in front of you defend their own horse’s space and be the “bad guy” so to speak, while you just ride with a light contact to keep your horse straight and seem like the “good guy” saying to your horse through your reins “hey those ppl in front of us are acting kind of crazy we better back up and stay out of their way!” which your horse should agree with.
Of course you need to first make sure everyone’s horses can tolerate the sticks used in this way and won’t get worried or upset about it, but it can be a really fun way of solving this problem without having to hold your horse back and have your horse then feel annoyed with you.
Another thing is maybe see if you can take turns with what position you are in on a trail ride. Even if your guy is slower, that just means the other riders get to practice keeping their horses at a slower walk or maybe you could be in the lead when trotting or cantering if that’s easier. That way your horse get’s to experience all positions.
Will be interested to see any other ideas from Callie or other riders, I think this is a very common problem to have as I’ve seen it with a variety of people on many different group trail rides!
I have a 17yr old Belgian mare that I recently got. She is a bit pushy and when I ask her to back away from me she plays her feet, my question is how do I reverse this behavior. I also recently got a 22 yr old Belgian mare who is easily spooked because she is constantly looking for the boogy man. I would like to get her so she is more attentive to me.
I have a 13 year old Pinto Gelding that has gate issues. We were at a show about 30 meters away and he freeked when he saw the gate. I am not sure what to do about this. H e walks in and out of the pasture and walks smothly out of the arena. I have owned him since he was 5 this issue arose about two years ago. Also he has some seperation issues. He will often attempt to either slow down so any paint can catch up of speed up to catch up himself. He is the olny Pinto/Paint at our barn. I have no clue where this came from I have been able to keep him under control untill just recently he began bucking when I slowed him down. Everything has escalated recantly.
Hi Callie, my 14 year old gelding is so buddy sour my friend can not take her mare away without mine blowing up. He runs the pasture til he is dripping in sweat plowing down fences. How do you reprimand that? Make him run more?
He also will be walking on lead nicely and then decides to yank on you and take off running (cause his mare his out of site or gets a whim for fun i think). It’s frustrating and also dangerous. I just can not hold him and he kicked out n actually kicked me before when I did try to hold him back. Help!!
This is not going to be an easy fix, but first I would encourage you to think of this as extreme separation anxiety – reprimanding will make it worse. This doesn’t mean you can’t protect yourself to keep him away when he loses his cool.
I would recommend going back to basic leading responses in a quiet environment – make sure he can walk, stop, back softly. Then spend time gradually separating the gelding and mare, working where he is away from her a short distance, just where he is concerned but not extremely anxious where he is bolting off. Increase the distance gradually, over multiple sessions. Here is another resource that may be helpful: https://crktrainingblog.com/horse-training/working-with-barn-and-buddy-sour-horses/
Thanks Callie for great advice and an informative blog. I recently acquired two very nice black and white Paint Horses. One is 10 and the other is 17. They were brood mares and now retired. They have very little training but handle nicely on the ground in the round pen, on a lunge line and walking on a lead rope. The 10 year old fights with my existing 21 year old paint mare, and the 17 year old pulls on the lead rope when tied and ripped her nylon halter at one of the seems. I’m more concerned about the 17 year old who pulls on the lead rope when tied. Anyone’s feedback is appreciated.
Dan, tying in a nylon halter is something you definitely want to be careful about because a horse can seriously injury themselves! I would start by teaching her how to react when there is pressure on the halter – to move towards it is release it instead of flying backwards!
-Julia Burdy, CRK Training Office Manager
I took your advice on tying the 17 y/o paint mare who is now 20. She now kicks the corral panel during feeding and bucks when attempting to ride her (new behaviors) I had to bute her for ten days due to an inflamed rear hawk from kicking the corral panel. She bucked me off in the round pen a week ago. I suffered a fractured wrist and bruising. Eight weeks ago I took her to my posse training and rode her in a big arena without too many issues, but she bolted out of the trailer and hit her head on the trailer roof during unloading at home. Naturally she is now trailer shy. Suggestions from you or Callie are appreciated. Dan
I’ve had my 9-year-old gelding for four months. Three weeks ago I took him on a grand opening trail ride to celebrate a new connector trail; 16 other horses were on this ride. I know I was asking too much from my boy to go with that many horses. When the group rode out it was like the start of an endurance race for some; he became overwrought by being last but I couldn’t catch up safely–he was rearing and spinning to be free of my control–and I didn’t want him crashing into other horses and someone getting hurt. I turned him in circles, disengaging his hindquarters, over and over but the group got farther ahead, then out of sight. Unable to gain control, I dismounted and planned on going back to the trailers, but one rider came back (the only horse he knew) and enabled me to continue going forward, eventually catching up to the last four riders, then the rest of the group. When we returned to the trailers, we were able to leave with the group, near the end but WITH the other horses. He made no emotional misbehavior. My bad for taking him on this ride as a first time out and he earned no punishment for his behavior; on a scale from 1-10 I gave him a 7. The following weekend I rode with only 3 other horses and he was perfect; didn’t even spook when two horses in front of him did. My question is, what if anything, could I have done differently on that 17-horse trail ride?
Trish, I think you handled the situation pretty well actually! It sounds like it was a lot for him to handle, perhaps work up to going out with that many horses or perhaps try to be closer to the group so that he doesn’t get worked up being far from the other horses!
-Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager
Wow! Lots of comments! My horse has the habit of diving to graze. I’m still working out how to handle it, as he is so big. When I remove him from his paddock, he’s allowed to graze for 5 minutes before we go to the barn to do whatever it is we need to do. On the way out to the paddock he is not allowed to graze. I think this helps him to be less anxious about the opportunity to graze when he knows there are specific times to do it. I also bring along a crop when I have to take him to the wash stand as I want to get there before next year and the crop is just to give him a tap to say “no nonsense!”. After a wash I do allow him to graze for a while before heading back to the barn. Another trick I have used is to reinforce him with treats when I need to get from point A to B going through grass.
Hi Callie, My 5 year old gelding(who I have had for a year now)seems to be testing me, according to my instructor. When I ask him to cantor (while riding) he wants to lower his head and then throw it around. The head throwing has been happening more often. This of course unnerves me and I stop him. I have restarted the cantor, he does it again and bucked with it. This has happened about 3 times lately with actual decent time of cantoring on alternating riding nights. Fortunately I rode it out. I took him in the round pen just recently and when I asked him to cantor he bucked out several times and ran top speed around the pen. I don’t believe he was cantoring as I think about it. Seemed like forever till he stopped and I felt like he had no clue I was there but he finally stopped and faced me. I put him back to walk and trot, tried to get him to cantor but I was lucky if I got 5 to 10 feet of cantoring a couple of times. So I quit as I was worn out. I am hoping to get a handle on this behavior. I am having trouble figuring out what is the cause. I am inclined to think it is communication as I consider myself a novice when it comes to horse training. My plan at this point is to talk to my instructor and get 1 on 1 time with her in order to make sure I am handing things properly. I have a lot to learn but I want to be safe! Lisa
apologize about my spelling of canter!!! it has been one of those days!
Lisa, have you had the fit of your saddle evaluated? Does his back seem sore? If physically he seems okay I would start by lunging him and getting a really clear cue for the canter, then as you work in the saddle work on getting faster trot and working within the trot – slow trot then fast trot. But I truly believe that you will want start by looking at physical problems, then teaching the cue and balance for the canter on the ground.
-Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager
I appreciate your informative presentation. I think that it is more important to train ourselves than our horses. If we can maintain composure and evaluate any misbehavior analytically, and control our responses, then a reasonable outcome should be anticipated.
Sometimes, though, horses can develop erratic habits that are difficult to extinquish. I have a 13 year old gelding who I have been riding 2 to 3 times a week for a couple of years. In addition, I usually go out to the barn an additional time or a two each week for grooming, bonding, etc. Most of the time, my guy is easy going and compliant. Rarely, however, for no apparent reason, he will give me a quick nip (he is extremely quick with this). These nips are relatively harmless, producing small hickies, but they are annoying. Though he may engage in this activity when he is a bit uneasy, he can also do so when he is completely calm and relaxed. Though I would classify him as mouthy, as I mentioned, most of the time I have no problems with him engaging in this activity. What would you recommend as the best way to eliminate this perturbing behavior? Any thoughts would be appreciated.
Glenn, do you notice that the nipping behavior has any type of pattern? For example when you brush a specific area on him? Do his ears go back and get tight? Does he get ‘muggy’ with food around?
-Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager
We have had our 7 yo gelding for a year now. Until then he did not have any established training program. He has been in training and is showing amazing talent for the jumper ring. Our problem is that often when asked to trot or canter during flat work, he will throw his head and buck out flat back. It is getting better and for shorter periods of time but he just seems determined to argue. He does not move forward. We have had him checked by the vet and chiropractor and there is nothing physically wrong. His last owner was nervous and let him get away with this behavior. Currently we are carrying a dressage whip and connecting with it for each balk. The reaction varies from moving on to kicking out for each connecting of the whip. As I said, it is definitely getting better but it. Has been a year of this. He definitely prefers jumping to flat work and can be absolutely perfect some days. He is also a bit chewer at all times during the ride. He has a super gentl mouth and he goes on a very loose rein. We have him currently in a Nathe bit but he is still chewing. We are considering a bit less bridle. Any thoughts on how to get him past this issue. He is perfect at horse shows and never acts up. It seems he is so bored at home with flat work…
Linda, how are you asking for the canter? Perhaps that is causing the response? You could try working it on the lunge line that he canters from a voice cue! Does it seem like he is doing it perhaps out of exuberance? I know you had the vet check him but how does the saddle fit? Does it happen every time you ride at home? It sounds like you are using the whip how we would recommend to work through the behavior.
-Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager
I have an interesting one for you. I have an OTT THB who bucks when he gets emotional or cannot cope with something new. He often warns that he is going to buck by grunting. Strangely. he also grunts when he goes into the dam, rolls in the water and is obviously finding it pleasurable. I have recently attended a horsemanship clinic where the trainer was able to show me how to bring his emotional level down by the use of a flag and with me being centered and a place for him to feel safe. This worked well. However, when he was asked to work on a line he went up to the sky from a standing start. Pressure used was minimal.
I had a similar experience first lesson back after the clinic. After walking on the line ask him to trot but went into buck. I did not take the pressure off on this occasion, just sent him forward. I do not want to let him practice bucking. He has had body work, chiro and vet check and I cannot find that he is sore at this point. He will buck with or without different saddles so have ruled that one out. I have also trained him with the patterns that Patrick King has demonstrated that did help him to stay calm after truck traveling. When I took him on he was food aggressive but I have worked on this and feed him separately to protect my other horses. He is now a nice horse people orientated horse but is definitely boss of the herd, although the youngest, doesn’t kick and is fairly easy to work with on the ground. He has had four races but retired because he would not go I was told. I found someone has put a very good stop on him. Lives out 24/7 on grass and fed high fibre feeds with vit/minerals. He has been ridden but I do not feel I can trust him even though we have a connection so we are going onto in hand and long lining tomorrow. Not sure where else to go. What would you do?
Jacquie, I would still consider that this might be something physical that is bothering him. Does he seem to have any back pain? Perhaps girthy?
– Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager
No back pain and not girthy. Smart horse. Learns quick. But seems he sometimes cannot cope with new things. He has trucked three times with no probs. But got away from me last time and now jacking up. After three failures I am workimg on trying to help him be more confident in the space before trying again. And clicker training.
I have been riding Rubin for lessons at a local stable for 3 months and together with pawing while tacking him up, he nips either me or himself when girthing. I have learnt to take my time, girthing gradually, gentle touching and voice when he responds well but the last few holes on the girth still has him whipping his head round. The stable assures me he’s not in pain and he does ride very well in classes. Am I being over-ambitious by trying to help him out of this bad habit when other riders may not take the same approach as me? It’s obvious no one is helping him out of the bad habits (other than shouting or a slap which I totally disagree with). I see Rubin every week/10 days. Many thanks. Jennifer
Hi Jennifer, you can definitely make a difference for him! My only concern is that the girthiness is caused from something like ulcers, because even with training to stop the behavior there is still discomfort there!
-Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager
Hi Julia. I’ve been assured Rubin’s health is good & strong. These are the Light Cavalry horses used for royal and ceremonial occasions here in London based at Flemish Farm in Windsor Great Park. Can I help Rubin out of this bad habit? He aims to please in the arena and does enjoy the occasional hug!
Hi Jennifer, using some positive reinforcement with some treats for when he isn’t pawing can be a great way to work through that behavior!
-Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager
Hi I’d like my horse to stand still while tied up and not to keep trying to move me also not to get bored and insist on being untied
Vicky, we actually have a great video in our Training Journals program on teaching a horse how to tie!
-Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager
I am leasing a horse and normally when I groom him he pins his ears and may try to bite me. I usually ignore it because he never actually tries to do anything more extreme. But last time I wanted to ride I tried grooming him and it got to the point where he was trying to kick me and wouldn’t even let me come near him. I don’t know what to do to tell him that it is bad or how to fix it. He only does that during grooming and is perfectly fine during riding and tacking up.
Yikes Alana, that is a little scary! Has his owner noticed that he does that as well? It could be that he is uncomfortable with grooming and it might be worth having a vet take a look!
-Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager
I have a 6 year old Cleveland Bay/TB cross. I have had him for 4 months. He is a big pushy boy at times, which creates a whole other set of problems, but my biggest issue is that when he comes in from the field to be tacked up, if there is a horse in the barn, and that horse leaves, he gets so upset he rears in the cross ties and kicks and I am unable to tack him up. At 16.3 he can be dangerous so I usually end up just lunging him in his halter as I can’t even get the bridle on him. He is usually ok if there is no horse in the barn or if the horse stays with him.
His previous owner had a similar issue, though no rearing/kicking. I understand this is separation anxiety. Can it be fixed?
btw he has made his way to the top of the herd so wants to be dominant.
Is it possible to change his turnout situation Linda?
-Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager
Actually, we have just moved him to private turnout as he was causing a dangerous situation at the gate. He is quite relaxed and happy in his own paddock. I have been riding him when there are no other horses around and he is better.
I have a 4 yo OTTB gelding that I’ve had just over a year now. He has been going pretty well, walk-trot but sometimes as we are trotting he will just stop and plant his feet. Doesn’t want to go forward and if I tap with the dressage whip he will strike out his hind leg(s). I have tried turning him in a couple small circles immediately and then ask him to walk forward and then trot always praising for going forward. Sometimes successfully and sometimes it takes several tries. Is there a better way to stop this behavior?
Carol, when did this behavior start? Has he always done this? Have you evaluated him for any physical discomfort? Does your saddle fit well?
-Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager
My Arabian gelding drops his head, shakes it back and forth and begins crow hopping. I want his head to drop and raise his back. Just let it drop and pull one rein to redirect the back end?
Hi Michele, it is really hard to comment on how to handle the situation without a video but could it be that he is uncomfortable in his back? Does your saddle fit okay?
-Julia, CRK Training Community Manager
Hello, I have a pony mare who is 16. I have owned her for 2 years. She is usually very well behaved. Every once in awhile she is just crazy. I know to lunge her and she is obstinate and bucks and canter when I ask her to trot. After 15 minutes of stopping her by pulling her to stop and start again finally she calms down. She will stop and stand when I ask her to trot, so I immediately mover her forward. It is a terrible attitude that comes out of her every once in awhile and it is not fun. I have done ground work with her and she is usually good. Just every so often she turns into a horrid pony. After lunging for 25 minutes I can get on her and she is fine but, her attitude is not nice and she tries to stop and squishes her tail. She is perfectly fine body wise. It is just a bad attitude about working sometimes.
Hi Brenda, do you find anything in common with the days when she exhibits that behavior? For example, the weather or missing her friends? Changes in her management?
-Julia, CRK Training Community Manager
My mare keep trying to move off as I try to mount her. She has become better in that she doesn’t try to walk off , she just steps forward a purple of paces. More annoying is that once on she just wants to walk off. I bring her around in circles to get her to stand, but I spend about 5-10 mins getting this edgy behaviour out of her, so that she stands for a few minutes before we begin to walk. I can tell that I am now a little nervous as I get on, because I anticipate this behaviour.
Hi Christine, are you using a saddle she has always used? Has it been evaluated for saddle fit? Often times we like to try to rule out any physical discomfort first 🙂
-Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager
I have a 2 year old new forest mare. I’ve had her almost 3 weeks. When entering her field she generally ignores me. If I approach and scratch her she’s OK but can pin her ears. If I go with a headcollar she will pin her ears sway her head, swings her rear end to me, and then if I continue to approach she will walk at me with pinned ears and swing her rear at me. She has not attempted to kick out.
An apple core was enough interest for her yesterday to accept the headcollar,she only had the apple one she had accepted to put her nose down into the headcollar- this was after about ten minutes of threats from flat ears and swinging her rear. She lives out with a Shetland for company and has quickly become the head honcho in the field, having been bottom of pecking order in her previous home.
I am older and not very tall, i cannot risk being seriously hurt.I don’t want to set up bad habits by using treats but am interested to have some advice. She is due a farrier trimwhivh I have delayed as I may not be able to catch her.
Hello! Thank you for this opportunity! I have a 25yo quarter pony mare that refuses to stand still in the trailer. She has always had this behavior since I’ve bought her. She used to load easily but then turn and rush out. Now she doesn’t want to load and will try to rush out right away, or paw the entire time she’s in the trailer before we leave. I have figured out a safe way to load her but there has to be some way to help her with this behavior. I know this is anxiety, but even having another horse in with her does not help her. TIA