Question: I have a small Appaloosa that was trained as a hunter. She has done novice hunter pony/horse competitions in the past. She was sold to the lady whom I bought her from 4 years ago when she was 4. They didn’t ride her much except for light trail riding. They wanted a pony for her girls. They quickly lost interest in horses and she didn’t get ridden much at all for the last 2 years they owned her. Now I have her and she is 8. I’m in the process of training her to do more Western riding rather than English. My question to you is, she has so much energy! I longe her every time before I ride her, and I longe her a good amount of time till she looks like she’s getting tired and sweaty. But then 5 minutes later once she’s tacked up, all her energy is back and all she wants to do is walk or trot or canter as fast as she can, and never settle down. She’s in a stall all night, but out for a good 8-10 hours in the paddock everyday. All she has to eat is grass and hay, I don’t give her grain or oats, so I don’t think that is where she is getting all her energy from. What do you think? I have a few parades coming up and I’m hoping that she will calm down before then. I will probably have to drug her for them. But just riding in the arena she is like crazy! She has no mean bone in her body, she isn’t trying to throw me off or bucking or rearing or anything like that. She is just so excited when I ride her. Do you have any advice?
Answer from April Reeves: This is quite typical of the Appaloosa breed. They often have a wonderful sense of ‘exuberance’ which can often last longer than you need it to.
Longing a horse like this is not the answer, since all you will be doing is making her more fit and energetic. The other problem with longing is that it really has no deep training level to it. Most people use it to burn off steam with their horses.
Let’s rule out other possibilities to her behavior.
Your feeding sounds good, as I do not like to grain unless necessary either. One thing I have found over the years is that horses that are free fed (meaning they have access to hay 24/7) are calmer and healthier. Often horses are not so much full of energy as they are full of anxiety, and feeding a few flakes every 3-4 hours is sometimes manifested in over-activity. The feed in a horse’s stomach, once two-thirds full, empties in about 12 minutes, meaning your horse will be looking for food, and if none is available, many horses become anxious and nervous, not knowing when the next meal is. Humans completely underestimate the value of understanding how, what and when to feed, and it’s relation to a horse’s behavior. Sometimes a simple change in feeding can completely change a horse.
Another thing to look at is whether or not the horse is encountering any pain during riding. I have found that just changing the bit to a softer mouth, such as a snaffle or French link, will often ease the anxiety that comes with pain. Or saddles that don’t fit quite right – check your saddle for fit, and use a regular snaffle or French link snaffle.
So if we have ruled out all the above possibilities, then let’s get on with retraining her mind.
From what you have said, coming from a family who rode her in novice, the mare may simply have been taught to be speedy. She may be doing what she thinks she ought to do. This is likely the case.
No more longing for a while. Instead, you are going to tack up and head to the arena. I hope it has good footing, nothing deep or too hard a surface. First thing you will do is to teach her to halt and stand quietly until you ask her to move. Horses need to learn patience, and she needs to be re-programmed. This is how you will do this:
When you first get on, keep your reins slack, and if she moves off, take her nose to one side, fairly close to your leg, and let her circle until she stops. This may take some time, sometimes 5 to 10 minutes. Keep your legs off her, do not put pressure on the opposite rein, just keep her head in one spot, do not move your hand, and stay with it, no matter how long it takes. The minute she stops, drop the reins and stand there quietly and ask her to move off. It’s likely the second you let her go she will just walk off again anyway. When she does, take her head to the other side this time, do the same thing until she stops. The minute she stops, drop her again and see if she stands still. If she keeps moving off every time you let her go, keep doing this exercise. With a mare like this, you may be doing this for an hour, so give yourself lots of time. Make sure you switch sides every time you bring her nose in. Do NOT let her move your hand.
The purpose of this exercise is 1. She is to learn to do what YOU ask, not what she thinks, 2. You are setting up the learning process of ‘patience’ by asking her to be responsible for her actions. Remember, you have to teach this, 3. You are asking her to seek comfort by being quiet and standing still.
All horses seek comfort. It is intrinsic to all equine nature. It is also the core of their survival instinct. Humans often urge horses to go beyond this, which generates nervousness and misguided energy.
Keep this up until she stands quietly and waits for your cue. You should be able to pick up the reins without her walking off. She is to move when both legs make contact with her sides.
If this takes over an hour, but she finally begins to understand the concept, your ride for the day is done. It may not seem like much, but it is a very big deal to the horse. Quite often, the most valuable and influential training methods are in the small and simple techniques.
Do this again the next day, and if she gets this then move on to the next level (below). If she is still too quick, continue the lesson until you see a breakthrough. You are not to stop the horse with both reins; only a one rein stop for quite some time, until this mare is quiet and listening.
Once she stops quickly and stands quietly, now it’s on to the trot. This is exactly the same as the walk exercise, only performed at the trot. Keep your reins slack, no pressure, and ask her to trot. In this exercise, you must keep her at a trot, and let her pick the speed. If she wants to trot fast, let her; you are just a passenger. Your job is to keep her from walking or cantering. If she breaks into a canter, bring her nose close to your knee and circle her until she stops cantering, and release her instantly back into the trot. Change sides for bringing her nose in; left, then right, then left…
It is in the trot that the larger part of the lesson kicks in. It will also take you longer, as horses can trot forever. What you are looking for, is for her to slow down her gait, gain rhythm and cadence, and is willing to halt and walk when you ask.
As you trot around the arena, just let her move where ever she would like to, softly guiding her around the corners, but not pulling. If she wants to go across the arena, let her. Your only job is to keep her from cantering or walking. As long as you ask nothing more of her, and she has no pressure on her, she may come around quicker than you think.
The lesson in this exercise is that: 1. She is to keep the gait you ask for and maintain it without change in gait, unless you ask for it, 2. She will tire from having to move in small circles when she decides to make a change on her own, and will seek the comfort of being softer and slower, 3. Again, you are setting up the lesson of ‘patience’.
You will find that she becomes very tired and sweaty during this process. I do not like to wind a horse, and if you find her breathing becomes rapid, one-rein stop her and let her catch her breath. Let her stand for a minute, then ask her to walk and cool down. Once she is comfortable again and breathing normal, pick up the trot and continue. Never overdo any exercise with exertion or exhaustion. I have not yet found a horse that is willing to hurt itself in this exercise, but there is always a first, so keep her comfortable. If she experiences pain during this, she will lose the lesson.
If she moves quiet and soft, allowing you to walk her and stop her when you ask, you will have come a long way to asking her to gain patience. You have also done this without pulling, or taking expensive clinics. All you had to do was sit there and maintain gaits. That’s all. And show lots of patience. This can be a very time consuming exercise, but so worth it in the end.
The other day I had a 15 year old mare who liked to trot off immediately when first mounted. She had been like that her whole life, and her rider was beyond frustrated. The rider always pulled back, but that technique was not working. Using this technique, the mare took 15 minutes to realize that she didn’t have to do this. This exercise has helped the mare in every thing she now does. She jumps better, moves better and is very sweet to be around. The mare chose comfort over nerves.
You can also do this exercise at the canter, once she has the walk and trot quiet, but not until then, as you will just speed things up again.
Take the time necessary to complete this and you will find a quieter, happier horse. Let me know how it goes and contact me directly if you like: firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck Shelby!