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Horse Training – 5 Reasons Your New Horse Is Behaving Badly and What You Can Do To Improve It Now
Q. I bought a 9 year old mare about two weeks ago. She was supported at age 4 and didn’t do much until recently, when she rode barefoot across the fields to help round up a herd of horses. When she first came to the farm, she was brilliant. She seemed to be very confident and moving forward. She was only slightly startled when a car suddenly appeared around the corner – but nothing too bad. I spend it 1 or 2 times a week with another horse and then 1 or 2 days in the arena. But in the last two days she has not been herself. She is in good health so I don’t think there is any physical problem. I’ve never been able to get off the ground so I need a leg up. But she just won’t stay still. She pulls away and even pushes her belly away from me so I have a struggle trying to get up. When I finally wake up, I can feel her on edge and ready to go. So I have to hold it back a bit. She won’t stop even when I ask her to. If you pull on the reins lightly, she will get upset and go backwards or in circles. I don’t know what happened. I would really appreciate any advice.
A. It is not unusual for behavior and training problems to appear soon after buying a new horse and bringing her to a new home. Here are five tips to help you and your horse start building a positive relationship from the start.
1) Behavior is communication – The only way your horse can communicate is through her behavior. If she’s demonstrating behavior you don’t like, don’t assume she’s just “bad.” Pay attention to her behavior to understand how she feels. A horse that doesn’t want to be held in the paddock needs to build up more confidence before willingly coming to greet you at the gate. A horse that does not want to stand up to be ridden may feel pain from the wrong tack or is uncomfortable with the way it is being ridden. A horse that doesn’t want to stay still is stressed and, like a flying animal, needs to move. Take the time to understand the reason (cause) for your horse’s behavior rather than simply trying to “fix” the symptoms. When you treat the cause, the symptom will go away as a result.
2) Adjustment time – Your new horse has been removed from everything that was familiar to him and must now adapt to a new environment, a new routine, a new herd and new people. Imagine how you would feel in a similar situation. It’s important to give her some time to settle in and get comfortable with all the changes in her life. You can help him by simply spending time with him to get to know each other as you begin to build a relationship and develop mutual trust. Get to know your new horse from the ground up by grooming him, hand-herding him, digging him and just hanging out with him for a few days.
3) Tack Check – Getting to know your horse from the ground up for the first few days is the perfect time to check that your stick fits properly and is in good condition. Saddles and bits are not “one size fits all”. Physical pain or discomfort from improper bracing, dental problems, muscle or joint pain, or a chiropractic issue cause behavioral and training problems. Some of these physical problems may not be apparent on a routine vet exam. An equine sports therapist, massage therapist or chiropractor can identify problem areas, if any. A professional saddle fitter can give you a saddle fit evaluation, make adjustments to your saddle, or help you find a saddle that fits just right. The cost of hiring one of these professionals (usually less than $100) is a small investment to ensure your horse is comfortable and won’t have behavioral problems due to pain down the road.
Make sure your bridle and bit also fit properly. An eyebrow band that is too small will tighten and put pressure on the sensitive area at the base of the ears. The finger should be the right width and shape so that it does not pinch the sides of her mouth or her tongue. If she shows signs of being uncomfortable with biting or contact (ie she has a busy or “stiff” mouth), have your vet give her a full dental exam to make sure her teeth are her are in good condition.
4) Review of training – A horse that has been ridden for years may still be “green” depending on the level of training it has received. If she hasn’t been given a good foundation, there will be gaps in her training that may not have been apparent when you took your test ride before you bought her. If your horse has only ever been ridden by one or two people or only experienced riders, she may have trouble understanding your cues and become confused. The more sensitive the horse, the more it will be affected by even the slightest amount of tension, stiffness, imbalance or distortion in the rider. Take your first trips to an arena or pen and go slow and steady. Make sure she picks up on your cues and pay attention to any subtle signs that she’s feeling stressed or uncomfortable. Only when you are sure that your communication is working – both ways – should you increase what you ask of her.
5) Professional help – Even Olympic level riders get some training from time to time. Take lessons with an experienced trainer/coach as often as you can. If there are no trainers available in your area, check online for trainers who travel or offer video lessons; travel to a trainer who offers private training at their facility; or, attend clinics that focus on riding skills or your specific discipline. Having “eyes on the ground” – even occasionally – gives you feedback on how you and your horse are progressing together. If you’re dealing with a training problem that you don’t know how to solve, get help from an experienced trainer who can help determine the root cause of your mare’s behavior and then work with both of you to resolve it and prevent it from getting worse. . It always takes longer to “outgrow” a behavior or habit than it does to learn a new behavior.
By taking as much time as necessary to develop mutual trust, respect and confidence with your new horse and ensuring that she feels safe, secure and comfortable in all aspects of her new life, you will be rewarded with a desire, faith and trust. partner.
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