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In this video, I answer a question from a viewer about her horse that has habits of head shaking and tends to go too forward, jumping into a canter when she asks for trot. We also discuss whether an older horse can still learn new behavior.

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28 Responses

  1. Hi, Callie;
    One of your followers had a question on helping her horse because he went into canter when she was asking for trot. I think she said the horse gets anxious and this is the result. If you are familiar with John Lyons, he teaches horses that he trains/rides a “calm down” cue. This is very simple to teach and it can be VERY effective. It’s just a matter of adding pressure to ONE rein and not releasing until the horse lowers its head (even if its just an inch). When you are on him, watch the tips of his ears and when you see the tip of the ear go down you reward/.RELEASE the rein. Then repeat until the horse will lower its head to about wither height (or a bit lower)…and with practice and repetitions this will begin to happen more quickly when the horse learn what you want. If you’ve taught your horse to lower his head from the ground first…and I teach this for ease of bridling…by holding your closed hand on the lead rope just below the snap and the weight of your arm is all the pressure you need to teach the horse to “put his head down” (do NOT try and physically pull down). If your timing is good, i.e. you release when he lowers it even a little, he will soon learn to lower his head and stay there until you ask him to lift his head back up with an upward lift on the lead rope. This ground work exercise will transfer to “under saddle” because it’s the RELEASE of pressure that teaches…NOT the PRESSURE itself. No horse is ever in an anxious or excited state of mind if his head is down!!!! Therefore if you teach a cue for lowering the head, you can cause calmness! I should mention that a horse whose head is being “forced” down with a tie down or martingale will not mentally or emotionally be calm…the horse needs to offer this lowering of his head by himself, and he offers it because he trusts his leader. AND horses don’t want to feel anxious or nervous any more than we do!…so you’re helping the horse find a way to be calm. Hope this helps.
    Judy Weinmann

    1. Hi Judy,
      Thanks for sharing, I think there is some benefit to lowering the horse’s head for calming and I teach every horse I ride and work with to lower their head on the ground and under saddle. However, I am a bit more specific about it under saddle. I don’t like to think of it as “head down” under saddle but rather teaching them to stretch their neck. What I have learned is that a horse can lower their head and suck their neck in at the same time. This movement of ducking the head and shortening the neck has no calming effect, but the stretch does seem to be calming. I would also have to say that I believe head down and stretching the neck are trained responses – which help facilitate communication and rapport when riding- but they are offered because they are trained not because the horse trusts the rider as a leader. I know this is in contrary to what many current trainers teach, but I do feel strongly that the idea of leadership with horses, in the wrong context, can get us in some trouble!

      1. Thanks, Callie for your view on lowering the head. I think it’s kind of like which came first, the chicken or the egg? …as to whether the horse releases tension by lowering his head… be it from training or trust or a bit of both. I agree that head down and stretching are trained and I also believe that the horse needs to “trust” the rider to OFFER this lengthening or lowering of his head and neck to cause “calmness”. If the rider jerks, fights, or pulls hard, etc. causing the horse to want to escape this…then yes, I think a person might get the response of head down (or lowered) but in a tense (sucked short) configuration which certainly cannot bring about calmness. You cannot ever FORCE or MAKE a horse oblige your wishes…he must offer it. And this is where I believe he offers it because he trusts that the handler/rider will not punish or be abusive toward him during the teaching stage…or ever for that matter! Personally, I have NEVER had a horse lower its head and neck and still have tension (or not become calm) if they “offer it” without the rider forcing it down. I’ve not experienced a horse who ducks and shortens his neck, if he’s been taught to willingly lower it and promptly given a release when he does what you are asking. Then this ducking or shortening of the neck shouldn’t even happen. I wouldn’t release when teaching this, if the horse is sucking back his neck. When I’m training a horse for this cue to lower his head and neck, I’m only releasing when he’s calm, not strained or tense! I don’t understand how a horse can physically lower his head to the ground or half way towards the ground without his neck (which is attached to his head) becoming longer but, as I said, if he does somehow shorten or suck back during the teaching phase, just do NOT release pressure until you get a lengthening and calm state. I know we both want the same thing but maybe differ a bit in how we get it. As long as we consider the horse and treat him with dignity then our training should not turn into a battle between man and horse. “Be as gentle as possible but as firm as necessary and reward the slightest try!” I think this is a common horseman’s creed. I’m not sure what you mean by “the idea of leadership with horses in the wrong context (could you explain what you mean by wrong context?) can get us into trouble.” There can never be a time (when you’re with a horse) that you are not taking the leadership role. Otherwise you would not be safe! If you are not the leader, then the horse is…and I, personally, do NOT want a 1000 pound leader pushing me when on the ground, or running off with me while I’m on or off him. At no time is it safe for a large animal such as the horse to be in charge over the human.

  2. Hey Callie,

    Thanks so much! This helped a lot and I will be doing this till she is gone. Sadly my partner and I feel she is to challenging for me to ride alone. We did get her to see where I was in riding and I was so hoping to keep her as we were starting to click and she was perfect for me to learn on (I was very upset when we decided what we were going to do). She is going to a nice and more experienced home who are hoping to get her competing very soon as she loves jumping. I will be riding her till then and hope to learn as much as I can off her for a horse called Whisky.
    I have taken all this in and hope that Whisky and I will get on well.

    Cheers again Callie, I love your videos and I appreciate all you have done to help everyone with them and there horses.

    1. I know this was probably a tough decision, but it sometimes best for both horse and rider. Best of luck with Whisky!

  3. Hi Callie~ my 9 year old daughter, Alaina & I love your weekly blog videos/teachings. It is fun to share them together. Alaina would like you to explain how to post the trot bareback. She has had several instructors give her advice on the topic but they somewhat contradict each other. I thought it was sweet when she asked me “I wonder how Callie would teach this?” as she was bouncing around the arena, with her mare’s ears pinned. Clearly not working for either of them. With the colder winter weather we tend to ride bareback to keep warm & I would love to see Alaina improve in this skill. We would love your thoughts and help 🙂 ~Blessings!

    1. Hi, Kristine and Alaina;
      I recently became aware of a technique to help sit the trot without bouncing. Maybe Alaina can add this along with Callie’s helpful suggestions! Ride your horse while someone longes it at a trot. The rider then extends their “inside” arm including hand, too (the right arm if longeing to the right/clockwise) straight out sideways and at shoulder height…like a wing on an airplane. Now, the rider’s job is to try and keep that arm from moving. When going left, extend the left (inside) arm. This really works every time I’ve had my students do this! The idea behind it is that by concentrating on keeping the arm still/steady, it takes the awareness away from the rider’s seat. Our brain cannot control both movements at once, so the rider’s seat becomes neutral…in essence, relaxed, while the rider is focused on the extended arm (looking at it with soft eyes). Try it and let me know if this little “trick” helps you. Once the rider gets the feel of their seat not bouncing out of the saddle, the arm trick can be eliminated. Hope this works for you, Alaina!

      1. Judy~ Alaina enjoyed your trick!! She has a pretty good seat for a 9yr old and really wanted help with posting bareback but I thought I would try your suggestion to see if I could notice a difference at the sitting trot. So interesting to me how our minds work. I could see her seat & lower back relax as she focused on her arm. I think this idea could be helpful in other areas too. Thank you for sharing!! ~Kristine

    2. Hi Alaina and Kristine,
      I would work on the sitting trot first, Joy shared an exercise below, and I often use a lot of transitions from walk to trot and back to walk in order to teach the sitting trot. Think about soft legs – pointing the toes down helps with this.
      To post the trot bareback the rider needs to allow their hips to come forward with the upward movement of the horse’s back. When bareback it is more of a little move forward then a move up. Posting bareback is often not very comfortable, especially on a horse with high withers. However, bareback does provide an excellent opportunity to practice the sitting trot!

      1. Thanks Callie. Thinking about pointing toes down really helped soften Alaina’s leg which gave her a much better ride. And allowing hips to move forward with the horse rather than up helped her think about what the horse was doing more than her posting. They both enjoyed the ride much more 🙂 Much Appreciated!!

  4. As always, very helpful. I have used the circles / figure eights to get my horse calmed down and thinking about something other than being a bit hot and it really does work!

  5. Thank you for your videos. I am a beginner, very senior rider. I have been taking lessons for four months and am anxious to get to my next class to practice what you have taught. I find my classes very short on theory and for me knowing why I do something is the biggest part of being able to remember to do it. I have been trying other on line teachers as well and find your presentation awesome, extremely well done and easy to follow. I look forward to many more,

    1. Hi, Joan;
      You have a good instructor in Callie and what she teaches. This should help you get off to a good start. I’d be glad to chat with you if you have any questions as to why your instructor wants you to do something specific…although you should not be afraid to ask, WHY?… if you don’t know why you are being asked to do something. You’re paying for the lessons and a reputable/knowledgeable instructor should be willing to explain the “Why” about anything you ask. Also, it’s always wise to read a variety of books on horsemanship, attend clinics if you can, or watch clinicians train,or instructors give lessons. The more information you have, the better you will be able to learn the necessary skills and help the horse/s you ride also become better. Learn what it takes to communicate effectively with horses. If you understand their “nature” …”what makes them tick”…you can become the leader that they are looking for. There is nothing more lovely to watch than a horse and rider or handler working together as partners. It’s as if they are one.
      Keep enjoying your riding…as Callie’s students/followers have shown us, you may still be enjoying horses in your 80’s and 90’s! You go girl!

  6. Can you recommend some books. I am trying to watch everything I can on the internet and picked up a book at the tack shop on the weekend. I would like to read a book that specifically describes the action one takes when asking a horse to do anything. By this I mean even the simplest of instruction about specifically what is done to go from a walk to a trot. I do it but it seems a bit by luck and I know I must be a night mare for the horse . I want a book that specifically gives me the instructions on how to ask a horse to back up. I was grateful to learn about correct posture. A couple of weeks ago I fell from a horse when it spooked however now feel better prepared to position myself in a way that I will be able to keep my balance. I love this journey because it is so challenging emotionally and physically and look forward to actually feeling like I know how to ride and to develop a relationship of trust with a horse will be more beautiful than I can imagine.Thanks for responding and some authors or book suggestions would be gratefully appreciated.

    1. Hi, Joan;
      In response you your question, I can recommend the following books that should be helpful…..Please don’t be offended by the title of this first one. I read it and can recommend it to others because it contains great information explained in an easy to understand way. Title: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Horseback Riding by Jessica Jahiel, Ph. D.; Another good book is: The Everything Horseback Riding Book (Step-by-Step instruction for riding like a pro) by Cheryl Kimball; and a third one that I like…but not as detailed is: 101 Arena Exercises: A ringside Guide for Horse & Rider by Cherry Hill (I love all her books!). I have a library of hundreds of books of which I’ve read almost all…from Veterinary books to “How to” books to Training and Understanding Horse books. These three are just a few of the ones I thought would be the most helpful for you. I currently am reading 3 new books and enjoying each of them immensely. Please let me know whether you ride English or Western, although most everything you do will require balance, feel and timing. Posture, cues and use of your aids are very similar, whether riding English or Western. The biggest difference, I think, is that English riders ride with “contact” and western riders ride primarily with loose reins.
      I think the biggest help when I teach riding is to make sure my students “ride the horse” and not just sit on the horse (like a passenger). The rider must be actively involved when asking a horse for “go” and “whoa”. You will either bring up the life in your body (seat) or slow your life down…and just “quit” the life in your body when you want the horse to quit his life, too. A you tube video I love to watch and share (and it’s demonstrating how a really well trained horse can be ridden without any tack whatsoever, is the video of Stacy Westfall winning a Quarter Horse Reining event riding her horse bridleless. It’s beautiful! This is a demonstration of a true partnership between horse and rider! Just search Stacy Westfall on you tube…I think it’s her ride in 2011, but not positive…you’ll probably want to watch all of them anyway.
      Hope this helps and let me know how you’re doing with your lessons!….Please, no more falling off!

  7. Hi, Joan;
    Just checking in with you on how things are going and to find out if you’ve checked into any of the 3 books I recommended. I hope you haven’t taken any more spills! I should have mentioned that doing some ground work first, before getting on ANY horse helps establish that you are in charge. All horses will figure out what you know and what you don’t know within the first few minutes of being with you, so I think it’s very beneficial to know how to confidently do a few ground work exercises to get this leadership role established. Anything you do on the ground will carry over into your riding so I strongly recommend that everyone who rides do some ground work (even if it’s only 1 or 2 minutes…or done as you make your way from where you catch your horse to where you tack him up.) If the horse knows that you know how to control him/her the horse will be less apt to try and take advantage of it’s rider.

  8. Hello, i watched this video and i learn quite abit but my horse, Magik, is not really old mabe 6 to 11 years old don’t know how old but when i get on him he some times likes to throw his head and rear at the same time and when i ask him to walk the is as stubborn as a mule but i dont know if it is the bit im useing or what but how can i prevent him from rearing that is the main problem when riding Thank you for the great video.

    1. it may also be the saddle is it possible to try bareback he is not trained very good but he knows what i ask for i have taught him to walk with me on the ground but still i need help

  9. Callie, A very good, instructive video. Thank you.
    It seems as though I have question after question, but this one is rather unusual perhaps. I have a little quarter horse and he does things which most of the riders I know would not tolerate, but I like my horse so much, particularly his cocky, fun temperament, that I don’t want to “spoil the party” when he does something unacceptable. One of the things he does (in the arena and on the trail) is to just stop in his tracks, say, when he’s tired of trotting, or even walking. I haven’t encountered it so much with a canter. He stops and if I use my aids, that just makes him want even less to go forward. If I insist, he backs up, and can back up 4 or 5 meters. Sooooo……I tried the technique you exposed in a recent video of what the French call “incomfort” and “comfort”, i.e., once I have tried tightening my legs, if he still won’t budge I try tapping with my crop very gently and then more and more insistently (but never very hard) and he finally moves forward, upon which I immediately stop tapping and contragulate him.
    For the time being this behavior just amuses me, and he probably senses that, but it would be nice to get to the point where we don’t go through this back-up, crop scenario, particularly on the trail where there is oftn a horse behind me.
    Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Margaret, it sounds as if you are already on the right track and doing what I would suggest, are you seeing improvement with the consistency in adding pressure during the stopping, backing up, etc., and releasing it for forward movement?

  10. I tried to just urge him to continue backing up (given that that’s what he was doing) to the point that he got tired of it, and then going forward. That did work and was working well, and then from one day to the next, he got much worse to the point where, when he was in the “manège” (the arena) he just wouldn’t go forward, and stomped his feet in protest. And kicked up his rump.
    I got some help from an instructor in the riding club where he is boarded, and she made me ride around in little circles, and then trying to get him going in a straight line. He ended up following a large hunter-size mare who was trotting around the arena and broke into a canter (her trot and his canter were about the same speed!) which I maintained for a number of times around the arena.
    Yesterday, he started misbehaving again. I began thinking that his back might be hurting. I also checked his saddle fit carefully (after seeing your video on saddle fitting) and his fits perfectly as far as I can see. The instructor told me that if his back hurt, he wouldn’t be backing up, because that would hurt his back. She said he just needed to be put back into place a little.
    This is my fault: I’m too indulgent with my horse because he’s so much fun, that I sort of let him do what he wants to do to an extent, and all of a sudden he became stubborn like this. Over night it became acutely worse.
    I’m going to try to ride him every day, and instead of going out on the trail, to work more in the arena with him with more structure, changing gaits and not letting him get away with anything. There are classes I can participate in also. I guess that’s they key I guess: consistency.
    Thank you for your help, Callie.

  11. head tossing: new to me horse does violent head tossing when running free in arena. Has been quiet, calm when riding out alone or w/one person (just ridden him once ea of those)- and riding in arena (lots). then on trail ride w/9 people, tried running up ea hill, huffed puffed & stomped when I tried just trotting up. Friend rode him next week for hr on trail w/one other, came back, said horse perfect. 20 min later I took him out w/2 people. He was perfect for 30 min but when we turned to go HOME he instantly became upset, started violently throwing head side/side, then up, then backing up all the while I was trying a loose rein and one rein tug. Head on ground while backing and then – you guessed it – straight up in a rear & lunged forward on back legs. I nearly came off but 1/2 off managed to get his head around before he took off. Righted myself & we walked (jigged) back to trailer, so 20 min away. I was 2 hrs from home, so drove him home later in day and have not been on him since. I am on older rider and worried for my safety. On ground he is the perfect specimen of gentleman, trying to learn and oh-so patient. (8 YO)

    1. Shelly, when behaviors suddenly start I always recommend having a veterinarian check for any physical problems especially with the death when it comes to head tossing. It is not unusual for even the most laid back, calm horses to get a bit excited on the trail when you turn around from home. Is there perhaps a place where you can ride that is not a loop where he can tell you are headed home? Also (this is a bit cowboy but I think there it merit to it) I’ve always liked taking a horse into the area for a bit when we arrive back at the barn that way they don’t think that racing back to the barn is going to end the ride for them. Another idea is that you can also try just leading him, if you feel more comfortable on the ground! Hope this helps 🙂

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

  12. How do I correct my horse from tossing his head while on cross ties? He is 18 & pretty laid back. It seems he is just impatient. Example is bathing him after a trail ride & he is constantly tossing his head & moving around.

    1. Brenda, just thinking from a physical discomfort stand point before looking at any training, is it cold water after the ride? Could it possibly be cold enough to tense the tired muscles after a long ride? Has he always had these behaviors?

      -Julia Burdy, CRK Training Community Manager

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