WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #109
HORSE GOES SOUTH?
Practice sessions not going well? Don't lose your cool. Try one
of these nine great tips, instead.
By JENNIFER FORSBERG METER
Like most amateur riders, you don't have endless time to spend
with your horse. So when you're in the arena, trying to get
something accomplished, you want ... well, to get something
Maybe it's teaching your horse the beginning of a new maneuver or
finetuning something you've already been working on together.
What you crave is progress of some kind-or, at a minimum, an
When that's not what you're getting ... when your horse is
resistant and difficult and just doesn't seem to want to work, it
can be supremely frustrating.
But trying to force compliance is never a smart move, often
resulting in more harm than good. So what should you do?
Take a page from one of our experts. The next time you find
yourself having a bad-ride day, try one or more of their
practical tips. Get creative, and you might even turn a mediocre
practice session into one that moves you toward your goals.
Here, then, are the strategies to consider.
1 CHECK PHYSICAL CAUSES
When my horse is inexplicably resistant in a riding session, I
always rule out a physical reason for it first. I typically get
off and put my mare on a longe line for a few moments to make
sure there's not an undetected lameness that might be causing
troubles. A smallish longe circle on solid ground can often turn
up even subtle issues. Shoulder pain, stifle pain, foot pain-any
of these can make a horse reluctant to work and resistant to
bending, especially. If you suspect a physical problem, check in
with your vet before resuming work. If it's not a physical cause,
remember that horses sometimes just have bad days, too.
...BARB CRABBE, DVM, equine vet, dressage rider Pacific Crest
Sporthorse, Oregon City, Oregon
2 LOOK INWARD
When your ride isn't going well, check in with yourself before
blaming your equine partner. Is your mental energy focused calmly
on your horse and your horsemanship, or are personal issues
distracting you? Are you being too abrupt and overbearing, or not
directive and effective enough for things to be clear for your
horse? A good horseman is able to adjust his or her approach
according to what the horse needs in any given moment. Being
distracted or emotional will make it difficult for you to tune in
to what our horse needs. Clear your own mind, then resume
influencing your horse's.
...RAY BERTA, trainer, clinician Ray Berta Horses, Carmel Valley,
3 LOOSEN HIS JAW
Often it helps to loosen your horse's jaw to relax him. To do
this, slide your hand down one rein (supporting lightly with the
other rein), then lift straight up gently, toward your horse's
ear, so that the snaffle bit is in contact with only the corner
of his mouth, and there's no compression on his tongue. This
encourages him to mobilize his tongue (he swallows and the tongue
goes up and down), which relaxes his jaw. Ideally, your horse
will stretch his head slightly down and out; you don't want him
to tuck his nose in or bend at the base of his neck. When a horse
turns loose in his jaw this way, he also turns loose in his back,
and in the process becomes softer and more responsive overall.
Trainer specializing in difficult horses, Williston, Florid
4 TIME TO THINK
I find the roughest patches tend to come on a Monday, and after
my horses have had time off. If a horse is feeling overly fresh
(which makes him unprepared to accept training), then longeing,
turnout, or time on the hotwalker is a big help. But if that's
not the problem and the horse is still resistant, I might just
step off, tie him up, and let him stand and think about it while
I go work another horse. Oftentimes, he'll have a better attitude
when I return to work him later.
...TODD CRAWFORD, reining/cow horse trainer Crawford Performance
Horses, Blanchard, Oklahoma
5 FALL BACK
I like to go back to the last thing the horse did really well,
rather than fight over what he's resisting. For example, let's
say your horse was walking great circles for you yesterday,
bending nicely nose to tail and staying in a steady rhythm.
Today, however, he's really resisting keeping his lope circles
round. Go back to those nice walk circles for a bit, so you can
tell him what a champ he is. Then try it at a trot, and continue
moving forward incrementally, eventually trying the lope circles
again later, when he's in a "yes, I can do this!" frame of mind.
This keeps his attitude positive and more willing over the long
...SANDY COLLIER, reining/cow horse trainer Sandy Collier
Training & Clinics, Buellton, California
6 CHECK YOUR RELEASE
Remember that a horse learns from the release of pressure, not
the application of it. So if your cueing is inconsistent (such
that you're asking him a different way each time) or your timing
is off (so that you don't provide the release the instant he
complies), then your horse will get confused and frustrated.
This, in turn, can lead to resistance-he either gives up or
fights back. The solution is to review how you're asking for a
movement or maneuver, plus how you're rewarding (releasing
pressure) for the proper response. Make sure you're being clear
and consistent, which will help your horse to get it-and comply.
Most horses are constantly seeking the release; you just have to
be sure you're always helping them find it.
...CAROL DAL PORTO, performance horse trainer Dal Porto Ranch,
7 TRY AGAIN TOMORROW
The key thing, when a ride isn't going well, is to avoid
fighting. If the horse is full of himself, try turning him out or
longeing him to let him blow off steam. You want him to fight
against himself, not against you. If there's something in the
environment that's bugging him, try giving him additional time to
adjust. For example, a client's otherwise good horse was just not
himself in the practice arena on our first day at a show grounds,
before the show had begun. I told the client to put him away
rather than let it turn into a problem. The next day, after the
horse had settled in, he was the same great horse he'd always
...JASON MARTIN, Quarter Horse trainer Highpoint Performance
Horses, Pilot Point, Texas
8 OPT FOR MAINTENANCE
A good way to think of horse training is that in any given week,
you're going to have about three "maintenance days,"
when you just polish what your horse has already learned, and two
"improvement days," when you make a little progress toward
something new. That's what you can hope for in a best-case
scenario, because training takes time for the horse to understand
and process. So on any given day, if things aren't going as well
as you'd like, just consider that session to be a maintenance day
and work on getting your horse more consistent, rather than
trying to introduce something new. That way, you don't wind up
inadvertently teaching him something you don't want to him to
know, such as a new form of resistance.
...JOHN LYONS, clinician, trainer John Lyons Symposiums, Inc.,
9 PINPOINT THE PROBLEM
The best trainers I ever worked for were good at diagnosing
exactly where a horse's problem was coming from. Often a
resistance in the horse's body will be expressed in his face -
that is, if he's heavy in the bridle, it might be because he's
braced somewhere in his body. On the other hand, the source of
his resistance might be mental if he's feeling too much pressure
and needs you to back off and give him more time to understand.
Figure out where the resistance is coming from, and you'll have a
much better shot at working through it.
...GORDON POTTS, Arabian trainer The Brass Ring, Inc., Burleson,
HORSE AND RIDER - DECEMBER 2010
To be continued from time to time