Question: My coach wants me to smack my horse when he misbehaves. He is starting to get bucky and wants to run now. She says I don’t smack him hard enough or at the right time. Yesterday when I used the crop, he shot a hind leg out and kicked the side of the arena, breaking the wall and hurting his leg. What is your opinion of this? It doesn’t feel right to me but I pay for these lessons and feel I should take the advice.
Answer from April Reeves: I need to know what you are hitting him for.
Question: Sorry, he drops his head down to the ground too far. Sometimes he gets resistant and won’t move forward very well. He trots slow and lifts himself to buck now. He also takes hold of the bit and I have no feeling of his mouth, so he goes where he wants.
Answer from April Reeves: I agree that you should listen to what your coach is saying, but on the other hand, if it’s not working you need to rethink the technique. Your coach is right; timing is everything, and I don’t like to nag a horse by giving him little swats here and there poorly timed. I want him to understand the smack once and then be done with it. Get the response and get on with it.
I also say this in quite a few posts here. I believe we micro-manage our horses too much, and don’t have the ability to discriminate between those habits that are dangerous and those habits that will eventually disappear without any aggressive behavior from us.
It’s one of the biggest problems I see with many riders. They run into some habit the horse does that they don’t want, so they get after the horse. In most cases, this is not necessary. Trying to stop a horse from doing something unwanted often leads to a battle, and with horses you must pick your battles carefully.
I choose to not battle with any horse. I use to. I use to try and use force to get the message across. Then in my early 20’s, I got hit across the head by an amazing coach, whose work influences what I do today.
I now replace the habits I don’t want with the habits I do want. I use a form of equine psychology where I don’t have to do anything other than show the horse a better, easier way. The horse does the learning all on his own without any influence from me.
For instance, take the foundation exercise I do to slow down the gaits of trot and canter. I allow the horse to trot off at his excessive pace until he begins to slow on his own. For the first few rides, once he is slow and puffing a bit, I will push him into going faster again. I keep it up until he decides it’s easier to go slow. I do this for a few days in a row, and eventually the horse takes responsibility for his own speed and chooses slow. Until then, when he goes faster than I want, I make it my idea, especially when the horse wants to change the plan and go slow. You can read more about this in the post: Foundation work for the herd bound horse.
What did I do? It’s more a case of what I didn’t do. I didn’t hang on his mouth. I didn’t see saw his face. I didn’t get emotional what so ever. I just sat and went for the ride, albeit a long one, but I can ride longer than they can trot.
What I’m trying to tell you is that your horse may be reacting (bucking, resistant) because instead of you showing him a better way, he is feeling abuse and pain without the understanding of ‘why’. Trying to contain a horse or stop him from doing some behavior he is bent on doing, and you move into battle. Pick your battles wisely.
Without seeing your horse, my first advice is to make sure he has no teeth issues, back problems or soreness anywhere.
With that in place, it’s a matter of taking your training back to simple steps and re-build his foundation. Resistance to moving forward, resisting the bit and dropping his head when he wants is all a sign that he is missing big parts of basic training. When you ask a horse to perform before he has the ability and background, they will react in ways you do not want. When your horse does this, don’t ask him what’s wrong. Ask yourself what you are doing wrong. Your horse is trying to tell you something.
I don’t see any purpose in smacking your horse for the reasons you have given. These are issues of training, not disobedience.
I have many good articles I would like you to look through on this blog. Try these pages first:
Basic groundwork and saddle work for the herd bound horse – a good post and a long read but will give you some insight as to what your horse is missing.
My horse refuses to move forward. What can I do? – more foundation work on basic, simple techniques and how and when to discipline the resistance.
You have a horse that could potentially get out of hand very quickly. I suggest you seek out another opinion, or have your current coach ride him. Please move on this as soon as possible before you are hurt.