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Wrangling on the Range #119

Antsy Horse - Choosing a Bit - Spooky Pony



Problem Solvers

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Antsy Barrel Horse; Choosing a Bit; Spooky Pony

Sue Bologna discusses helping the jittery barrel horse stand
still; make sense of bits with Benny Guitron; vintage tips from
Debbi Sereni to help a spooky pony.



My 8-year-old barrel horse won't ever stand still when I'm on
her, no matter how tired she happens to be. She dances left to
right and back and forth. She's happy and content if we just keep
moving. What can I do to make her just stand still and be


Before answering this question with a training solution, we must
first address three questions that could cause other problems
leading to your horse's antsy nature.

First, does your horse have any physical issues that could cause
nervousness? This could include ulcers, which are very common in
barrel-racing horses; joint problems; abscesses; etc. Addressing
these health issues could end your horse's jitters.

Second, does your horse stand patiently on the ground for
grooming, saddling, and mounting? If not, you need to spend more
time on groundwork. Without the proper foundation training, you
can't expect your horse to follow your lead horseback.

Finally, does your horse have a lot of excess energy in general?
Maybe you need to consider offering daily turnout (if you don't
do this already) in addition to regular riding.

Assuming that your horse doesn't have any of the above problems,
use the steps I'll outline below to teach her to stand quietly
when asked.

Begin by warming up your horse for your inside leg and rein
(those opposite the wall) to move her back square if she dances
to the side, and you can move her forward again if she backs up.
Once she stands (for a few seconds to begin with, longer once she
gets better at the exercise), release any pressure, praise her
with a pat, turn to walk down the next rail, and repeat the
exercise in the next corner. Then, after you've mastered work in
the corners, begin stopping in the middle of the arena, to work
on standing still without the barriers to the side and front. Go
back to the corners whenever necessary for tune-ups.
When you say "whoa," your horse needs to understand that means to
stop square, not to dance around or swing the inside hip or
shoulder. If she moves her shoulder, use steady rein pressure to
move her back square; if she swings her hip, use leg pressure to
move her hip. (In addition to using a "whoa" verbal cue to stop,
I also like to tell my horse to "stand," or something similar, to
reinforce my cues to her to stand still.)
Remember that release of pressure is the reward that leads to
desired behavior. As soon as your horse responds correctly - by
moving her hip and standing square, for example - remove the
pressure. Be consistent with the reward response. Soon, you
should have soft, quiet stops and standstills.

SUE BOLOGNA, Fombell, Pennsylvania. Sue is a professional barrel
racer, as well as a riding instructor, a trainer of barrel
horses, and a clinician. She's earned more than $500,000 on
legendary horse Joe e Jammin, and she's recently released a DVD
entitled "Top Ten Tips to Better Barrel Racing." Learn more about
Sue at


I've seen dozens of bits, Western and English, but how does one
decide which bit is best for a particular horse? I'm overwhelmed
by the choices, and no one I know can answer this question.



This is one of the most difficult questions to answer, but
bitting is a problem many riders face every day. There are so
many factors that influence which bit is the right fit for a
certain horse. Here, I'll discuss three main considerations and a
few other things to keep in mind.

The three main factors when choosing a bit are your chosen
discipline, your horse's training, and your horse's conformation.

First of all, the event you choose to focus on can really
influence your bit choice. Some bits aren't allowed in certain
types of events. If you're a trail rider, your options are wide
open. If you compete, you might be a little more limited.

Second, be sure that you have a good training foundation on your
horse - meaning your horse responds well to a snaffle or
hackamore and you have a good feel for his strengths and
weaknesses. Developing that foundation will teach you so much
about your horse, so you have a better idea of what he needs from
a bit. Is his mouth sensitive or dull? Is he heavy or light on
his forehand? The answers to these questions will influence your
bit choice.

Conformation-wise, does your horse have a long, swan-like neck or
a short, straight neck? A big cheek or a small cheek? Is he
thick-tongued? Shallowmouthed? Again, these are factors that will
affect which mouthpiece you choose.

The more time you spend working with your horse, the more
familiar you'll become with his way of going and his
conformation. Pair that knowledge with your chosen event, and
you'll be armed with as much information as possible about what
he needs, which will make bit selection easier, though still not
a simple task.

When you go to buy a bit, make an educated guess about what will
fit your horse's needs. Buy from a reputable source, who can
answer questions with some authority.
At home, give your horse some time to become accustomed to the
new mouthpiece. Allow time to see if it works for you and your
horse. It might take awhile for your horse to understand how the
bit works in his mouth - and for you to understand how to
properly handle the bit. If one bit doesn't work for you, don't
write it off as a complete loss. Instead, think of yourself as
building a collection of bits that might be useful later in your
horse's life or when working with a different horse. You're
building a useful arsenal of tools to best train your horse. No
bit will offer a magical solution for your problems, but the
right bit will work for you both.

Finally, seek help from a professional trainer. If you're unsure
of where to look for a trainer, check with breed associations;
many of them offer professionals' lists. There are many people
out there willing to help. It's up to you to use the resources
available to further your own knowledge.

BENNY GUITRON, Merced, California. Benny, a member of the
National Reined Cow Horse Association Hall of Fame, has won the
NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity and numerous other aged events, and is
the trainer of multiple American Quarter Horse Association world
champion working cow horses. Learn more about his signature bit
collection at

In the 1980s, "Sound Advice" addressed H&R reader questions,
ranging from health to training to shoeing. Just like today, the
magazine's editors submitted the questions to experts to provide
the best tips possible. Here's an example from the May 1989


I own a 7-year-old Welsh pony, and when I'm riding him down the
road or in our neighbors' fields, he's very good - until I come
to something like a bag or a piece of blue tarp. Even though he
sees these things all the time, they still scare him, and he
jumps or runs the other way. Could the reason be that he doesn't
recognize the items? Why would my pony act this way? Is there
anything I can do to prevent him from being scared by certain


Welsh ponies are very smart and they like to get their own way.
Make sure when you ride yours down the road that he knows you're
the boss and respects you as the "driver," and not just a
"passenger." It's important that you turn him right back and make
him face an obstacle when he jumps away from it. For example, if
he spooks at the blue tarp and jumps left, you should turn him
back to the right (the direction he came from). Do not let him
continually keep spooking away from it.
We show quite a few trail horses, and I keep a permanent course
of trail obstacles set up at home, year round. This idea might
also benefit you and your pony. Pick a flat area on which to
build the course, and start collecting obstacles. Maybe a tarp, a
few poles or logs, some brush, or anything safe that you might
want to work on.
It's natural for a horse or pony to try to go around things
instead of over them, so try not to get discouraged. It's best to
work the obstacles many times per week for a short period of
timedon't try to work him for two hours just once a week. Your
pony needs to develop the confidence that comes with practice.
After he works well at home, apply your same training methods on
your trail rides, and enjoy!

DEBBI SERENI lived in Northern California at the time this answer
was published. Today, Sereni trains young, beginning riders at
Fremont Hills Stables in California's Bay Area.


To be continued from time to time

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