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How to Think Like A Horse: The Essential Handbook for Understanding Why Horses Do What They Do

Horse Stable and Riding Arena Design

Horse Owner's Veterinary Handbook (Howell Reference Books)

Horsekeeping on a Small Acreage: Designing and Managing Your Equine Facilities

- Training Tips Archive -
Equine Kingdom - Some horses buck when they're young and unbalanced, especially at a canter. They simply haven't learned to carry themselves, and  a rider at the same time. When you start jumping your horse, it gets even worse! Imagine running around a ring by yourself - you're fine, and it's easy to jump things too! But then try carrying a child piggyback around the ring doing the same things. It gets a lot harder, doesn't it? If your horse gets into the habit of bucking or kicking out while cantering or after he jumps, check several things. Make sure his teeth haven't grown too long, or that his back isn't sore. Check to be sure that you're not causing the horse pain or discomfort by pulling in his mouth or sitting too heavily on his back. If you've checked everything possible, and your horse is still having problems, consider another approach. again, many your horses are simply unbalanced. I have a mare, though, that it's merely an attitude problem! She learned that by bucking, she would get out of working at a canter (my own fault, I know). Once the horse has learned this, it's hard to work them out of it, but it IS possible. Your best choice is to put a western saddle on your horse, for your own balance and safety. When your horse bucks, or kicks out, push him through it HARD - get him over the idea that misbehaving gets him out of work. Every time he misbehaves, he has to work harder! This is the easiest and quickest way to train your horse out of a bucking problem.
If you jump your horse, focus on keeping your hands out of his mouth when he jumps. There's no quicker way to sour a horse to jumping than to catch him in the face every time he jumps. If you have a hard time NOT pulling back as your horse jumps, grab mane! There's nothing wrong with that! Even the best riders do it to keep their balance and keep themselves from jerking back in the horse's mouth. Not only does it hurt your horse, but it upsets his balance and momentum going over the jumps, and he'll quickly learn that jumping hurts, and he won't want to perform anymore. Be careful!

Equine Kingdom - Don't let your horse get bored. Too many horses get bored by repetitious work, lessons that are the same thing over and over again. It's important to vary your horse's routine on a regular basis - signs of boredom include the horse's ears being tipped out and back, or a tight mouth and pinned ears may indicate discomfort and irritation. The horse may weave his head, grunt or groan, stamp or kick out with his feet, become difficult to turn or get to start or stop. Some horses ignore signals from their riders, start cribbing or pacing, etc. There have been many cases of lesson horses going sour from being overworked with too little rest in-between lessons, not enough variation in the patterns and things done in the lessons. This is mainly pertaining to lesson horses, but the same could be applied to anyone and their horse.

Equine Kingdom - Sometimes, horses just don't seem to get that humans don't want to be pushed around! Crowding can stem from insecurity, pushiness, or just excessive sociability. This is a dangerous habit to let your horse get into - it can lead to pushing, shoving, and even trampling - and everyone knows that in a strength match between a human and a horse, the horse will win every time. You can use the butt end of a crop or dressage whip to tap your horse's shoulder, very deliberately (don't tap lightly - he'll ignore it) until he moves away a couple of steps, or tap him with your elbow - resist the impulse to lean into him, because he'll just lean right back into you. Use the end of the lead rope - twirl it towards his head so that if he comes over farther than he should, HE will run into the rope - in other words, he won't associate you hitting him with the end of the rope. From this point, you will be much more set up to teach your horse things where he needs to respect your space. He'll have to learn to respect people in any situation - no matter who's working with him.  There's no better time to start than now.

If you have a pushy, uncontrollable, dangerous horse, probably the first thing on your mind is staying safe, not getting bitten or run over. Those are good things to think about! But what I want you think about is your halter. If you're using a standard nylon halter, like these: (link here) then you're not helping yourself at all. Try using a rope halter. They are designed to put pressure on certain points of the horse's face if they resist the pull of the halter or lead rope. It's kind of like this: let's say your horse leans into you a lot and you can't get him to move away. You put your hand on him and push, or just try the exercise where you place your hand on and hold until he moves away from the pressure. That's not very uncomfortable for your horse, to be honest. But say you place just your finger or thumb on your horse and apply pressure. Suddenly there is incentive for that horse to move! Your thumb is a lot sharper than the palm of your hand - the horse will move. The same principle applies to the rope halter. Try it - I think you'll find a huge difference.

Go slow with a new horse. Take plenty of time to learn all about it - quirks, special characteristics, what makes that mare or gelding click. Find their special "itchy" spot, and love'em up. Help the horse learn to trust you. Work up to riding the horse - even if it's used to being ridden every day, that doesn't mean you should just get on and ride right off the bat. If it's a new horse to you, whether it's a lesson horse, a horse for you, a project horse, or a horse that someone else is letting you use, it's important to build the horse's trust in you. Keep in mind that to them, you're just another predator out to get them. Show the horse that you're trustworthy - no quick movements, no harsh words or punishment if the horse doesn't do something exactly the way you're used to. Give everything time. When you get up on the new horse for the first time, let him just stand there under you, get used to the new weight distribution in the saddle (after all, everyone sits a little bit differently). Quietly ask him to move out at a walk, do lots of bending exercises, obstacles, and such. Then move on to a trot, canter, and so on.

It's important to get your students to set goals ' it not only helps them learn faster, because they have something real to aim for, but it gains you an advantage as their instructor that you know what they want to learn, and how they need to go about learning it. After all, each person learns at their own pace and needs an individual lesson plan. You can set goals for a month in the future, six months, etc. Talk about them with your students ' during the breaks in the lessons, afterwards, before hand while tacking up the horse. Some people, as I mentioned before, only want to learn for fun, so they can trail ride, or just get the whole experience. Some people want to go for bigger, better dreams. It's up to you, as the riding instructor, to get an idea of what each student wants so you can tailor their lessons to fit their dreams.

Equine Kingdom - When a novice or inexperienced rider tries to stop a rearing horse, they can make some very critical mistakes. Once the horse's front hooves initially leave the ground, reactionary senses say that you should pull back on the reins, usually to try to "pull" yourself back into the saddle. However, this does no good whatsoever, and could in fact very easily pull your horse backwards off balance. Trust me, you don't want a 1000 pound animal landing on top of you! Another reaction is to tense up. A surprised rider can "curl up" in his saddle and grip the horse with his legs, tensing all the muscles in his body. This also usually throws the rider back in the saddle, further upsetting the horse's balance and increasing the chance of the horse falling over backwards for lack of stability.

If your horse rears, you must make it your reaction to lean forward. Putting your weight on the horse's neck helps your balance as well as the horses. Secondly, thrust your hands forward so there is no rein pressure on the horse's mouth at all. Don't drop your reins - you'll still need them when your horse goes back down, to regain and maintain control of the situation. If your horse still is not down, and is still rather out of control, you can also dismount. The Emergency Dismount has you kick your feet out of the stirrups, wrap your arms around their neck, and slide off. Make sure you step back so your horse doesn't step on your toes when he comes back down! Then you can calm your horse down from that point on and get everything back under your control.

You'll hear that one of the hardest thing you'll ever learn to do in horseback riding is ride in a circle. Sounds relatively simple, right? Well, factor in making sure the horse maintains a constant, correct bend throughout the circumference of the entire circle, making sure your horse doesn't pop his shoulder to the outside or bend at the poll to the inside, overstep with his back feet, or lean to strongly into the center of the circle. All these things are difficult to do all at the same time!

Using your legs is one of the most important things you can do when riding a circle. Your leg pressure will be used to correct your horse if he starts going in too far...squeeze on with your lower leg until he goes back out on the circle like you want him to, or if he pops his shoulder to the outside of the circle, move your foot forward, to the girth, and put on the pressure to move his shoulder back in like with his hips. Use your reins to maintain the bend in the neck and support your horse through the circle.

If you have a horse anything like Prissy, you have a problem getting your horse to slow down. It seems like all they want to do is go, go GO!! It can be frustrating trying to get your horse to slow down. However, I have good news for you - proven to work. It's really very simple...slow down what you're asking your horse to do. In other words, if you stop your horse really quickly, back him up as quickly as you can, and then stop fast, you can't expect him to take off really slowly forward for you. Obviously he's already going to be going fast, already going to have the "FAST" mindset; why would he all of a sudden slow down? He can't read your mind, only your actions. The quieter you ask, the quieter of a response you're going to get. If you ask loudly or obnoxiously, chances are much greater that your horse is going to give you a loud, obnoxious response, often in the form of ears pinned or an angry little buck or crowhop. If you ask quietly and still get a speedy response, quietly ask your horse to stop, wait a few seconds while he stands still, then softly ask for a few steps backwards. Start off forward again, and see what happens. Repeat as necessary; you should see some improvement within just a few attempts at this.

Become aware of how you're sitting in your saddle. It may be a little-known fact, or little-thought of, that where you put pressure on your seat greatly affects the movement of your horse. If your horse continually edges inside the track around the arena towards the middle, you may be putting too much weight on your inside leg, rather than dispersing your weight evenly on each of your seat bones. Your weight can be used to ask your horse for a softer turn, or a sharper one. Don't lean, but shift your weight slightly to the inside when you're on a circle, and keep your inside leg on the girth, outside leg slightly behind the girth. Shorten your inside rein a little so you can see the back of your horse's inside eye, and you'll have the beginnings of a beautiful turn.  Remember to sit down in your saddle (not back!) when you're asking for a downward transition, and keep your shoulders and hips square with your horse's shoulders.

Whenever you ride, do your best to remain calm at all times. If you're relaxed and open to any possibility, chances are far greater that your horse will more easily accept what you're asking him to do. If you are worried about what you're trying to do, unsure of yourself, or scared, your horse is going to pick up on those signals. Training will progress faster and be more pleasurable for both you and your horse if you approach it with an open mind, knowing that anything could happen. If you're asking your horse for something new, don't expect him to "get it" on the first try. Give him a chance to succeed. Set him up for success, but don't punish him if he doesn't do the right thing at first. Keep at it until you get the response you're looking for, then quit on a good note. Quit while your horse is still trying for you; he'll have something to think about before your next ride. Always stop on a good note!

Don't take on more than you can handle! Don't set aspirations for yourself that you can't reach, and thus end up disappointed and disillusioned and angry at yourself and your horse. Take everything in baby steps....don't expect too much right away. Let your horse figure things out and experience them for himself. If you try to force him to accept things that he's not ready for, he's going to balk or refuse, and then if you're anything like me, you'll get upset and quit. I have a short temper and I am not very patient....I want things right away. Horses have taught me so much in the area of patience, because you HAVE to be patient or they won't do whatever you're asking them to do. Just remember to take things slow and easy, and eventually the proverbial lightbulb will come on and your horse will be exactly as you want him to be.

Don't ask your horse something using an extravagant amount of "oomph", when all it may take is just a slight nudge. Most lessons horses it takes a whole lot of asking or telling to get the horse to do what you want it to do. Train your horse to move WITH you. Start by asking with a little, then if nothing happens ask a little more, etc, etc, until your horse does what you ask. Only use as much as you need. Then, next time you ask, ask a little less and see if your horse will respond. Basically, you want to be able to think "forward" and have your horse walk on. So you start by thinking, and mentally preparing yourself, then squeezing with your thighs, calves, heels, so on. Tap with a crop or spurs if necessary, but eliminate everything you possibly can. The end result will be a happy, healthy, highly- responsive horse that will be much more pleasurable to ride.

Equine Kingdom - Listen to your horse. If your horse is flinging his head up and down, ask yourself what he could be trying to say. Maybe the bit is hurting his mouth. Maybe he's got a sore in his mouth, or maybe his teeth have gotten too long and need to be floated. Maybe you're doing something wrong, believe it or not. If all physical causes can be rules out, check your riding habit or style. Are you pulling to hard on the reins, or in a way that bend his head in a direction it wasn't meant to bend? Are you asking him to do something unnatural to him? Are you asking him to do something for the first time, and he's just confused? All these sorts of things must be taken into consideration when your horse develops an undesirable habit. Take care to eliminate every possible thing that could be wrong, and figure out the problem by process of elimination. Then fix it.

Remember that when you're training/riding, that riding is merely interfering with the horse's movement in order to make the horse go the way you want it to go. Horses cannot reason...they move away from pressure; they react out of fright or trust. How you ride or treat your horse influences both of these things greatly. If you get frustrated with your horse and hit him instead of helping him overcome whatever it is he's not doing correctly, then he's going to trust you less and fear you more. Instead of deadening your horse's sides by beating on them with your legs, teach him to respond to pressure. As soon as he shifts his weight, let go. The release is crucial because if you keep pushing, he's going to think that because nothing happened when he moved, he doesn't need to keep moving. Around horses, you must always think before you act.

Don't keep your horse in his stall all the time! If the weather is nice, do your best to find a place to turn him out, preferably where he can eat grass and get some sunshine. If your horse is in his stall all day and only comes out usually once a day, to get ridden for an hour or so, he's going to get bored. And when horses get bored, they develop bad habits. They may learn how to open their doors, start kicking or biting, cribbing, wind sucking, etc. You get the picture. It's a bad idea to only bring your horse out a little bit every day...they are herd animals, and they weren't intended to be locked in a little box all day long! Give him at least a couple of hours of turnout a day, and if possible, keep him out 24/7 with other horses. Ride him often, and hand graze, groom, and just spend time with your horse. You'll have a happier horse for it, to be sure!

Make sure you look ahead, OVER the jump, when you're jumping your horse. If you look at the jump directly, chances are that your horse is going to knock the jump over. You don't want that...especially in a show!! Look ahead of it instead, towards the next jump. Remember that where your focus is, there will your horse's be also. :) They will jump higher and farther if you are focused on going PAST the jump, not right on it. Trust me, it works. :)

Never lead your horse without a lead rope. Someone I know just recently broke two of her fingers because she was leading a young horse with just her hand on his halter, holding the strap underneath. He reared, and her last two fingers got twisted in the metal ring on the underside of his halter, and twisted again when he came down. NOT fun. Make sure you carry a lead rope when you're getting a horse, and then make sure that the lead rope is not coiled so that if the horse pulls back the rope will wrap around your arm/hand/fingers and tighten. Always have an escape route in mind. Think ahead.

Be careful about where you're stepping around your horse. And I'm not referring to horse droppings, either! Rather, I'm talking about the fact that your horse can only see certain areas around his body. If you do something to your horse or around your horse and you're standing right in front of him, you could startle him and cause him to pull back and possibly hurt himself or you. Remember to always talk to your horse when you're approaching him, and to put your hand on him when you're going around the front or the back - kind of like a "heads up" for your horse. That way there is less chance of an accident or safety endangerment.

If your horse acts up a lot, it may be because you're not riding him enough. If a horse is cooped up in his stall all the time and hardly ever gets out, it's almost a given that you're going to have a feisty horse on your hands next time you ride. Make sure you ride your horse on a regular basis. If you can't get out to ride him, make sure he at least gets turned out regularly, or someone else can ride him. If you can only get to the barn one or two days a week and he doesn't get turned out, consider half-leasing your horse to someone you trust, or letting him be used for lessons. It's not fair to your horse to only ride once or twice a week, because you're the one ultimately responsible for his safety, welfare, and upkeep. Take care of him well, and he'll love you forever.

If it rains a lot where you board/own your horse, and you can never ride because of the sloppy ground and lack of an indoor arena (hmm, why does this sound so familiar?), be careful that you don't just let your horse go to pot in his stall. If there is any way you can take him out and walk him up and down the aisles of the barn, or around the barn just to give him a chance to stretch his legs, do so! Don't let him just stand in his stall all day....if you do, he's likely to have so much energy when he finally gets out that he'll be hard to handle, and possibly dangerous as well.

If your horse absolutely refuses to do something you want him to do (for instance, walking next to the fence rail), try doing the opposite of what you've been asking him to do. Keep in mind that horses move away from pressure...so if you're pulling your left rein trying to get him to go left, you're actually pulling his body AWAY from the fence by bending his neck towards it. If you instead pull his head to the inside, or the right, you'll encourage his body to go over to the fence. Try reverse psychology. If he still won't do it, try other methods - make him think that what you're asking him to do was his idea in the first place - things work a lot better that way.

Equine Kingdom - Never hit your horse, unless it's an emergency and your horse is attacking you. It is never a good idea because it teaches the horse to fear you, and that you are, indeed, the predator that you smell like to him. Whenever you ride or do anything with your horse, keep him safe. He is placing an enormous amount of faith in you, that you will keep him safe. If you violate that trust by asking him to do something and he ends up getting hurt, you're going to have a hard time earning that trust back. Assess all situations before you go into them...and remember, safety is ALWAYS first!! Always wear a helmet when you ride, make sure your horse is comfortable and not likely to buck you off, check to make sure the footing on the trail is safe to ride on, watch out for animals and other scary things.

Training your horse to back up without using the reins is an invaluable practice. One of the best ways to do this is to start out using your reins, but add both of your heels gently to the horse's sides. Merely hold the reins so that your horse cannot go forward, then press your heels into the horse's sides. Then if they try to go forward, they will run into the bit and realize that you are asking them to back up instead of go forward. Eventually they'll get the message and learn to go back when you put both of your heels into their sides.

Don't bore your horse. Give him/her something new to learn, and to do. Even if the horse is a lesson horse, vary his/her schedule or level of rider skill. Don't always put beginners on the horse and only go one way around the arena and walk the entire time. Make it interesting for both the horse and rider...make up patterns, give them exercises to do, do anything to break up the monotony of just traveling around the ring endlessly, never going anywhere or doing anything!!

When learning to ride a horse, you are not, under any circumstances, to become a puppet! Too many people, I dare say, end up becoming puppets that their instructors created by telling them what kind of posture they should assume, rather than finding it for themselves. When I teach my students, I show them how to find the correct position and how to maintain it...but I let them find the balance themselves and learn to feel the horse, rather then end up having them unbalanced and stiff, as so many people are when riding. If you'd like to find out more, feel free to send me an email or call for lessons!

If you have a horse that likes to run away with its rider, you need to break that habit right away!! A really good, effective way to do this is to teach the one-rein stop. Start out by having your horse flex his neck all the way around at a stand-still, with you on him. Do this on both sides until he will do it willingly and flex so his nose it touching your knee. Then try it at the walk. Start off straight, then ask him to bend his neck around to a stop. They will stop eventually, I guarantee it. Make sure you're not kicking his sides while you're bending him, or you'll be sending him mixed signals. Then try it at the trot, then the canter. Then take him outside the arena and work on it out there. Pretty soon your horse should realize that whenever he feels a pull on one rein, an indication of having his neck turned, he should slow down considerably.

Equine Kingdom - Teaching your horse to ground tie is one of the best things you can ever do for them. How would you like it if your horse stopped dead in its tracks whenever you dropped a rein or the lead rope, instead of taking off? Wouldn't it be great if you could drop the reins or lead line and walk off to get something you forgot, while your horse stood quietly? First, find a round pen. Drop the lead line and back up. If your horse follows, put him back where he was. Continue to do this until he understands to stay put. Then try walking around him. Continue the process until he'll stand still while you leave the round pen, flip stuff around him, tack him up, spray water on him, run around, go out of sight...you get the idea.

One of the major parts of keeping a horse is feeding it. If you have land, you can always put the horse out and let it graze, but the grass won't last forever (it can if there are enough acres per horse). This is the reason you need to have forage and grain on hand. One acre of grassland will be grazed down in six months by one horse, therefore leaving the horse nothing to eat (unless you have enough acres). Also, grain is used to give the horse energy and strength. There are all types of grain, from corn to rolled oats to bran and molasses. There are also many types of forage, such as timothy, alfalfa, grass, and hay. Hay, like exercise, is essential to a horse's well-being, and must not be neglected.

Before you buy a saddle, whether English or western, make sure you give it a trial period so that you can know that it fits your horse right, and is comfortable for both you and the horse. I know for me, when I buy something like a pair of sunglasses, it takes a while to get used to them, and they usually annoy me for a while before I get used to them, or they're just plain old uncomfortable. If the saddle you're getting is going to cause your horse back pain or you pain in your joints, consider getting another saddle. Many places that sell saddles will let you try the saddle out for a while before you buy them, a trial period of a week or so. Make sure you take advantage of that trial period!!

Let your horse stretch out before you work him really hard, Give him a good warm-up, consisting of stuff like walking a couple times around the arena, then slow trotting. Work in circles and serpentines, go over poles if you've got them, and so on. You wouldn't like working out with stiff muscles, would you? Neither do they!! So be kind to your horse and give him a good warm-up before you ride him out and jump him and work him really hard. He'll thank you for it, and you may save yourself undue trouble from a lame horse.

If you have a lot of trouble slowing your horse down, try doing rollbacks. This is when you are cantering (or trotting) down the side of the arena. Bring your horse to a halt, a complete halt. Back him up a few steps, then turn his nose towards the fence and turn around. Immediately canter or trot off. After  a couple of strides, stop and repeat the procedure, going in the other direction. Do this until your horse begins to slow down. This exercise also proves advantageous because it builds up your horse's hindquarters and enables him to carry himself better on his hind end, instead of being heavy on the forehand. If he still won't slow down, do a rollback ever stride your horse takes. As soon as he starts cantering or loping, stop and turn and start in the other direction. Don't back up at this point, just turn and go in the other direction. Stop, turn, stop, turn. Then once he starts out as slowly as you'd like, let him keep going until he starts speeding up again. At that point, do another rollback. Eventually he'll get the point and maintain a steady pace.

Just use your horse's bridle and bit to guide him...don't jerk him around like the bit is the only thing controlling him. You should use your legs and muscles to guide him around. Use your seat to slow down and speed up your horse instead of jerking back on the reins or kicking him to get him to go. Your horse could develop a "hard mouth" if you use the bit harshly on him, and then you'll have to retrain him to respond to your aids. So be careful about how you treat your horse, because the repercussions could be worse than you ever imagined. Just be careful about how you handle your horse.

If your horse bolts after landing from a jump, do your best to stop him immediately. By bolting, I mean consistently running when he lands, instead of just quietly cantering or trotting away. If stopping and turning around doesn't work, circle him/her in tight circles and repeatedly jump the jump until they stop rushing. My horse was the ultimate in stubborn when it came to this, but now she jumps beautifully without hesitation. I had to stop, turn, and start and jump so many times in the past...but it all paid off. It's not something you hear about very often, but trust me, it works!!

If you bathe your horse in the winter, make absolutely sure that he/she is covered after the bath!!! First of all, bathe your horse on a day that is at least warm, and preferably with the sun shining. That will help a lot in keeping the cold away. Make sure that you wash your horse with warm water, and don't leave them standing for too long. If you have an indoor wash stall, by all means, employ its use!! Don't wash for too long, because you don't want your horse to catch cold. After you're done, covered the horse with a sheet, then after ten minutes or so when they are mostly dry, put their blankets/hoods on so they don't get sick. You can rub the horse down as well to remove excess water.

Always groom your horse before you ride him. If you are feeling lazy and just want to skip grooming, your horse could end up with a saddle sore or gall from getting something stuck in-between his saddle and skin, causing you a lot of trouble in the long run. It's always worth running a brush over your horse at least, always. Grooming is a good time to spot if there are any abnormalities about your horse...and whether or not you need to call the vet. Grooming is a good time for bonding with your horse as well.

Equine Kingdom - When your horse suddenly lifts his head up, pricking his ears forward and looking interested, don't thrash him over the head for looking, Most likely he's concerned, or heard or saw something that alarmed him. His body automatically goes into defense mode and he tenses to flee, if the need arises. If he does this and stops, quietly reassure him after noting whatever it was that alarmed him. If it's something simple, like a plastic bag or a new jump, soothe him with your voice and hands and urge him forward again. Remember, when horses lift their heads up high to look at something, they are looking at something far in the distance. When they lower their heads, they are looking at something right in front of them.

Before riding and after riding or working your horse, always pick out his/her hooves. If a rock or something is caught in their hoof, it could make them lame to the point of significant damage. Picking out the hooves before and after working with your horse will prevent all sorts of possible hoof damage and time laid up in a stall because of lameness. So heed my warning....always pick out your horse's hooves! One time I turned Prissy out to pasture and when I brought her back in, she was walking funny....she had a HUGE rock stuck underneath the bars of her shoe, at the back of her hoof! It took me about ten minutes to get that sucker out. It was stuck, but GOOD. Even if it took a long time, though, I'm glad I went to the trouble, because that horse would have been in a lot of pain had I not bothered to check her hooves.

Don't, under any circumstances, demonstrate anger to your horse through your hands. Don't strike him if he's only misunderstood your commands. If he's being physically aggressive towards you and threatening you, then by all means defend yourself! But if you're schooling your horse and he does something wrong, don't start beating on him and sticking him really hard with your spurs merely because you're perturbed that he doesn't understand what you're asking him to do. I am guilty of this, having responded in this way in the past. However, I have to get over it really quickly because if I jab Priss with my spurs, she pins her ears, squeals, and kicks. This is an immediate wake-up call: I'm being far too harsh. Usually it's possible to just calm down and try again.

Don't ever let your horse get away with threatening you. Even if it's just pinned ears or a stomp of a hoof, don't let him/her get away with it! This is very important....if you let them get away with pushing you around one time, they're going to do it again and again...until it's an uncontrollable habit. Eventually your horse will realize that he can control you, and therefore lose all respect for you as his owner and handler. If your horse pins his ears at you, raise your hand quickly. This works for my horse quite well as a deterrent. She stops her behavior immediately. She knows she did wrong! And usually she won't do it again, at least for a couple of weeks or months, depending on what it was. The key is to stop the action before it starts. Nip it in the bud before it blossoms uncontrollably.

If you fall off your horse, get back on as soon as you can gather your senses, provided that neither you nor your horse are injured. If you don't get back on right away, you may build up a fear in your mind that prevents you from ever getting on your horse again. The horse will learn, too, that when he throws his rider, they won't get back on him again....they'll just put him away and he won't have to work anymore! So the best thing to do when you fall off your horse is to get right back on! Don't be scared!

When riding your horse, don't be too concerned with "pushing" him into the correct frame, the one deemed by the AQHA or APHA or whatever association you belong to, if any at all! If you're riding your horse correctly, he will naturally carry his head correctly. If he's collected nicely, his head will naturally be carried on level with his withers. Remember, horses cannot see straight in front of them or straight behind, so they have to sometimes lift their heads to see something. Don't punish your horse when he lifts his head up in order to see something better. He is more vulnerable when his head is down. It means he's completely placed his well-being in your hands; he trusts you totally.

If it's really windy outside, lunge your horse before riding, especially if your horse has been in his stall for several days. Let him run and kick for a little while, to get the kinks out. Ten minutes is usually long enough. Make sure you make him trot before he canters, or he could end up tying up. If you get up on him and he starts acting skittish, it'd probably be a good idea to get off and lunge him a bit more until he's worked the rest of his skitters out. Trust me, it'll make the rest of the workout that much more pleasurable for the both of you. Let him loosen up before you attempt to ride.

Don't just ride your horse....interact with it! Next time you go over to the barn, instead of riding, spend some leisure time grooming your horse. Brush with a couple of different brushes: hard, softer, softest. Brush the mane and tail out nicely and put some leave-in conditioner on them. Pick out the hooves and put on some polish or moisturizer. Then take your horse out and hand graze him/her. Go on a walk, providing the ground isn't icy. Walk in the woods, or just around the farm. Visit other horse friends. Teach your horse a trick or two! Turn him out in the pasture while you clean his stall and fluff up his hay. Remind him that he's not going to have to work EVERY time he sees you!!

The cold winter months are upon us...don't you just love January and February, slogging through the snow to the barn, slipping and sliding on the ice outside, and not being able to ride because of the cold and ice? However, despite the inconvenience the winter offers horse owners, there is still training we can do that will prepare our horses for better performance when the days warm up a bit more to our liking. You can train your horse to stand still, ground tie, teach him not to be afraid of clippers, blankets, strange noises, or anything else he may be afraid of. Valuable lessons can be taught to your horse just from time spent with him. Be patient, and remember that just like you, it takes him time to learn new things. Most likely he won't pick up what you're trying to teach him right away. The key is small increments, lots of times. And patience!

Make sure you are warming your horse up properly before riding. You can do that either by lunging him or doing groundwork, or by doing light riding until he's sufficiently warmed up. I usually warm Prissy up by hand-walking and trotting her around the outdoor arena. We'll go over jumps and over a wooden bridge and poles and stuff and work on stopping quickly and lateral work on the fence. If you warm your horse up correctly before working him, he'll be much better for riding, and his stride will flow that much more freely. Warm-up is a must, just like the stretching that we do before running or jogging or something like that.

Equine Kingdom - Some horses stop on a dime with a mere shifting of weight, some with a light touch of the reins. These horses are a break from reality for most of us. However, if you have a horse like Prissy, you're in for a heck of a time stopping them. My horse is every bit as willful as I am, and does not want to stop. Sometimes I can get her to stop really quickly, but that's usually with spurs. Otherwise I have to almost fight her to get her to slow down. It's not graceful of beautiful, not even in the least. When asking your horse to slow down to another gait or stop, sit deep in the saddle, sink your weight into your heels, and bring your hands back towards your hips. The horse should collect himself and slow down. If he is heavy on his forehand, he will have trouble stopping. Ultimately, you want him to use his hindquarters to stop.

Never yell at your horse. Never hit your horse in anger. End of story. If your strike your horse when it does something wrong, it doesn't learn not to do that thing. It just learns to fear you. Next time your horse makes you angry or frustrated when they won't do what you ask, take a moment to calm down. Loosen the reins and let your horse walk. Relax. Think about how you could maybe do something differently, then when you're thinking clearly again and are calmed down, chances are your horse is, too. Remember, we transmit our moods to our horses through our aids and movements. They know what you're thinking. If you're tense, they're going to be tense too. Learn to relax and think things through.

When riding a circle, make sure you're riding so that your horse actually bends his body to encompass the turn and does not go around with his body stiff like a board. He should be sort of banana-shaped; that way, the tighter the circle, the greater he has to bend his body. He must keep his balance and rhythm, as you must do also. You should make sure your hips and shoulders are square with his. Support with your inside leg on the girth as he turns and keep the horse from "falling out" by using your outside leg behind the girth.

If your horse does not respond to the initial aid of leg pressure to move up into another gait, apply the aid slightly more strongly. Don't take your legs off the sides of the horse to kick it. All this does is deaden the horse's sides, which basically makes him stop responding altogether.

When your horse starts doing things wrong, don't get mad at him. That's the worst thing you can do, because then it'll just be a battle of wills...who's more stubborn. Also, the horse is stronger than the human, so the horse will always win a battle of strength. Be sure to keep your calm when training your horse, on the ground and from his back. Horses can sense the sort of mood you're in, so be careful to stay calm and relaxed. Think about what you could be doing wrong and then take steps to fix the problem. If the horse still has problems, then ask for help.

If your horse constantly wants to put his/her head down to graze while you're leading them, and you don't want to have to yank that head up every time, try to think ahead of the horse. It's actually pretty easy to tell when they're thinking about going down to grab a bite, so all you need to do is give a little upward tug on the lead rope to remind them that they're supposed to be walking, not eating. Hopefully they'll get the message in due time. If not, keep it up until they do "get it"!

Considering your horse has been trained to carry his/her head very low, and it looks very unnatural, and you'd like to change it, you can do so this way: when using a western saddle, tie a piece of twine or something equally as strong to the saddle horn, then tie the other end to your horse's headstall. Take care not to make it too short, lest you encourage high head carriage, or too long, thus not fixing the problem at all.

Work with your horse in the round pen as often as possible, maybe even for a warmup to your ride. Time in the pen is invaluable, because you can teach your horse just about anything. The space is large enough to give both of you space, but not so big that the horse can get away from you. You can teach them tricks, how to stand or ground tie, be clipped, and so on in the round pen. For more info on some things you can teach your horse in the round pen, go to www.roundpenmagic.com

If your horse is having trouble turning, flexion exercises may help. After you mount your horse, make the horse stand still while you use the reins to pull his/her head around to your knee. If the horse begins moving, release pressure, make the horse stop, and try again until they learn to stand still. Make sure you slacken the rein opposite the side you're pulling so you're not sending mixed signals.

If your horse consistently begins running after jumping an obstacle and you have a hard time slowing him down, do one of two things: stop him immediately after he jumps, as soon as humanely possible. Two, as soon as he jumps, circle him back around and jump again several times. This should get him paying attention to you.

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