Thursday, August 25, 2011

What do I do with a horse who isn't good with children?

I am looking for some advice and was wondering if you would be so kind to help me. I have a 6 year old, skewbald mare who is so lovely, and the only problem I have is she's not so good on the ground with children that are below her eye level. She puts her ears back and threatens to bite and sometimes she slightly turns her back end as well. What would you suggest as my son absolutely loves her to bits and the riding side is going great but he would like to be able to groom her etc.

You've given me a tough question today! I would like for you to help your mare work through her problem, but at the same time I think keeping your son (and other children) safe is the most important thing.

There are some horses who really simply don't like children. In some cases, they've been teased or mishandled by children and never trust them again. Some horses don't like how loud young children can be and how fast and unpredictably they can move. So if you let your son around your mare, make sure he's quiet and moves slowly. Don't allow him to run around, yell, move jerkily, etc.

Normally when a horse doesn't like something, I work to desensitize them to the thing they don't like by exposing them to it and pairing it with something they do like (I may fly-spray a nervous horse and when she stands quietly I then give her a treat). However I think that kids' safety is very important. If your child is around your mare, I would have him wear a helmet and boots, even if he isn't riding. And I wouldn't leave them together unsupervised even for a few minutes.

Considering having your veterinarian check her vision. If she has limited vision, she may not be able to see your son and is startled when he suddenly pets her or talks to her. If poor vision is her trouble, you may be able to help improve her attitude by teaching her to lower her head where she can see your son approaching.

I hate to admit that there's a problem I'm not sure how to fix, but I'm not willing to put your son at risk of getting injured in an effort to desensitize your mare. It may be that you need to get your son a more child-friendly horse of his own.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Why is my horse changing leads at the canter?

I have a nine year old, Saddlebred, gelding that is very talented. I have had him for four years, but did not start riding him myself until the last six months as he was too much horse for me until now. He has lots of motion, a very "look at me" attitude, and never puts an ear back. My problem is two-fold. I have a trainer that tends to give up on horses quickly if he is unable to correct a problem. In fact, he is pressing me to sell him which I truly do not want to do because I love this horse. My horse's problem is that he changes leads several times each way in the canter at home. He has been evaluated by a chiropractor and nothing was found wrong: I was just sold some very expensive "herbs" to help his mind. When he is at a show he typically doesn't change leads in the canter. I am trying to find someone who can help this horse or recommend someone that may be able to help him. He is the most beautiful and sweet horse, and a ride on him will make you grin for days afterwards. I would greatly appreciate any advice or referrals from you if you know someone who may have experience in this area.

Your horse sounds like a lovely boy. I really love Saddlebreds, especially those with that showy attitude and a lot of action. I personally would move to another trainer if yours is impatient and unwilling to work to correct problems in a horse, especially a horse his client obviously loves. I don't have a lot of tolerance for trainers who aren't willing or able to fix problems.

I would also have an equine veterinarian examine your horse. Equine chiropractors can play an important role in treating horses, but not all equine chiropractics have the same education and training. Some are very good, but some aren't. I would want an equine veterinarian to do a lameness examine, examine the horse's back and look at his hoof care.

If the veterinarian doesn't find anything, then I would want a trainer to look at you and your riding. Some horses are very sensitive to their riders and subtle shifts in their rider's weight and/or position can cause them to change leads. I have a horse of mine that won't walk a straight line for a novice - he's so responsible to seat aids and leg aids that a novice rider who is insecure gives him so many conflicting cues that he zig-zags all over the place. Have the trainer check your seat and your legs as you ride. You may find you've been inadvertently telling your horse to swap leads. You also might have the trainer ride your horse to see if he swaps leads for the trainer, too.

If both your horse and your riding check out, then I would work on building up his strength. Horses normally swap leads because either they have a physical problem (most common cause), their riders are asking them to or because they're out of shape and unable to canter long periods. Start slowly with trot work and very brief canter sessions and build up the length of riding/training sessions over time.

Once he's in good shape, give him longer canter sessions. If he continues swapping leads, then treat him like a young horse who doesn't really know how to canter. Ask for very brief canter sessions, bringing him back to a walk or trot before he has a chance to swap leads. When you start getting quality short canters, gradually extend the length of time you ask him to canter. If he does swap leads, bring him back to a walk and ask him to pick up the correct lead again.

Good luck with your boy! I think you are fortunate to have such a lovely horse and hope you are able to continue working with him.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How do I cope with a horse who doesn't like riding with other horses?

I have an eighteen year old mare mare who has recently gone through ground manners training. She has learned how to give and such using a snaffle bit. She is calm when I take her on rides alone, but when other horses are with us she acts up by side-passing, throwing her head and not listening to me. She understands leg and rein cues. Any ideas?

You said the mare recently received ground training, but you didn't mention whether she was broke to ride or not before then so I'm going to have to guess a bit in order to answer your question.

Your mare may be acting up when ridden on the trail because of one of the following reasons:

  • She was recently broke to ride and has not been ridden around other horses.
  • She's a very timid mare and other horses make her nervous.
  • She's been kicked, injured or otherwise hurt by another horse and she's scared of having them close to her.
In any of these cases, the mare is nervous about other horses near her so she's acting out. You'll need to take a step back to fix this problem and take a little time, but the results will be worth it.

Go back to riding in an arena or small field. Pick a friend with a calm, quiet, and non-dominant horse to ride with you. Start off by having your horse stand in the center of the field or arena while your friend walks around the ring/field. Instruct your friend to give your mare plenty of space. If you your mare is nervous, dismount and stand next to her until she quiets and settles down. Pet her and reward her for quiet behavior and then mount up. Ask her to continue standing in the center of the ring for a minute or two. If she's quiet and calm, then go to the rail and ride with your friend on the opposite side of the arena. Over time, let your friend get closer to you. (Never allow your friend to get closer than a horse's length from your mare).

The first ride or two, keep your mare and your friend's horse at a walk. As long as your mare is quiet, reward her with petting. If she gets upset, ask your friend to stand still and put your mare to work trotting or cantering - ask her to leg yield, sidepass, circle, etc. until she's got her mind on you. When she does, let her go back to a walk. Make the right behavior (being quiet with another horse in the field/ring) easy by letting her walk. Make the wrong behavior (getting upset) harder by making her work harder when she's not listening.

If she handles the first ride at the walk well, then have her and the other horse take turns trotting on the second ride. Again, give her some space but let the other horse drift closer and closer to her. Over the next few rides, you can let her trot and canter more.

When she's doing well with one horse in the ring or field at a walk, trot and canter, add another horse and over time add several more horses. Once she's comfortable in the ring with several horses, you can venture back out on the trail.

When you start back to trail riding, go with just a couple of friends who have helped you out in the arena. Your first ride should be at a walk only, and your friends need to give your mare space so she won't feel crowded and get nervous. If your mare stops listening to you, do circles on the trail, leg yield back and forth or side-pass and make her work. When she's quiet, pet her and give her a loose and relaxed rein.

Over time, build back up to faster trail rides with more riders. Just remind riders to give your horse space to relax and make trail riding a good experience for her.

Good luck! Soon you should be enjoying trail rides - with a horse who enjoys them, too!