Question: My horse starts to jig (short trot strides) coming home on a trail ride. She gets excited about going home I guess, but it’s annoying as she is always out in front of the other horses. How can I get her to stop this? She’s not bad anywhere else. She doesn’t rear or buck or become worse; she just jigs. I’m tired of always pulling her back. She even jigs coming home by herself. I use a snaffle bit, should I change it? Help me please.
Answer from April Reeves: Jigging is an annoying habit and one that can lead to more dangerous behavior if not stopped as soon as possible. Many ex-track horses jig as it is an overlooked habit from their track days. They learn it while being ponied.
While you can use traditional methods such as constantly pulling them back or turning them, these methods often just make the horse more anxious and keep jigging. Pulling them back all the time just encourages the horse to become tougher in the face and resistant, and using a harder bit is only a temporary solution. Keep the snaffle – I’m glad you are using a mild bit (there is only one reason to move into a stronger bit: you have moved up to a higher level of training with your soft mouthed horse).
The best way that saves the horse and your frustrations is to head back along the trail and let the rest of your trail friends carry on home. This method goes by the simple principles of: 1. Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult, 2. Teach the horse to be responsible for her own actions.
There is only ONE reason to move into a stronger bit – you have moved up to a higher level of training with your soft mouthed horse.
What you will need to do with this exercise though is to set aside a large chunk of time, as this could be a long lesson. This lesson can also last for many days in a row, but it’s absolutely imperative that you commit to this in order to solve it. It’s this commitment that separates riders from trainers.
On your way home, the minute your mare begins to jig, turn her around and head back up the trail at a trot. Not a slow trot, but one that makes her work hard. Go for one minute, then walk for another minute and if she is walking quietly, turn around and start for home again. The minute you turn around, let the reins go slack and sit quietly, expecting her to walk. If you think she’ll jig again, it’s likely she will. You have to allow trust to build within you as well as the horse, as it comes from you first. Also, you have to set her up to fail. Why would I tell you to do this? Because it’s in the ‘testing’ (by setting her up to fail) that the horse learns the lesson. They catch the lesson while being taught, but they LEARN the lesson when they fail.
The second she begins to jig again, repeat the above. Trot briskly for a minute, walk for another minute, then turn to come home, and let the reins go slack.
Set your horse up to fail. Why? Because horses ‘catch’ the lesson while being taught, but it’s in the testing (where you set them up to fail) that they LEARN the lesson.
She may walk very fast. That’s great, she’s walking. Let it go. Humans have a tendency to micro-manage their horses; they want more than just a walk; they want a ‘specific’ walk. When it comes to training horses you have to get over this, especially at the beginning. Always remember the single lesson you are asking the horse to do: just walk. Say to yourself, “I don’t care how fast or slow it is, I just want the walk”. Then as your mare gets this walk down so that jigging is a part of her past neither of you remember very well, you can begin to refine that walk.
This habit can be difficult to break and many horses will need this exercise for many days at a time. The causes of jigging run deep, so commit to the training and stick with it.
There is nothing difficult about this exercise other than the time and patience it takes. Never lose your cool or temper with this or it will set you back behind where you started – ten steps forward and twenty back.