How can a green rider progress on a green horse with very little help?

Green horse, green riderQuestion: I have a Quarab mare and one main bad habit she has, is that she is herd bound. The people we got her from kept her out in the pasture with 6 other horses all the time and so now she doesn’t like it when I take my miniature horse away. She doesn’t usually care when I separate her from my miniature horse, but she cannot stand me taking my miniature horse away. I have been working with her on it, taking my mini horse away and walking her back and taking her farther and walking back, just so Twinkle (my horse) knows I will bring Sophie (mini horse) back.
We have a fence up and Twinkle is separated from Sophie but they can still talk and see each other. We had to recently put up a hot wire fence as well because Twinkle was leaning on the fence and trying to walk it, getting her legs stuck in the fence, which it is also good because she doesn’t freak out, she waits patiently for us to get her untied. I was wondering if there is any possible way I can get her to stop being herd bound? She is getting better but I still worry about the fence and her getting hurt.

I also have recently started riding her english. I want to be able to do cross-country and show jumping with her and if we work hard enough, possibly learn some dressage techniques. One bad thing, is that the previous owners galloped her a lot, so a lot of times she wants to run, run, run, or she doesn’t listen to my leg commands. If I ask her to trot, she will either burst into a gallop or trot for a second then go faster. I would like for her to be a better horse for English. She can be impatient and doesn’t listen well to “whoa” or only a “walk” or “trot” command. I will be getting a new English bit because the one I have for her does not work, she doesn’t respect it, but I would love for her to be a better well-behaved horse. I wasn’t sure if I could help get her to listen to my commands and whether or not I can train her to only trot when asked.

Is there a way I can train her myself, or is a professional trainer a better idea? We don’t have a lot of money for a professional trainer, but her and I having a great bond through english riding and my dream of jumping to happen.

Answer from April Reeves, Horseman’s I first want to address the fence issue. No fence should allow a horse to get tangled. Although your horse is quiet about it right now, it’s a matter of time when that changes, and you lose the horse from serious leg injuries. I have a saying, “that horse never died before”.

Herd bound issues can only be altered by two choices: 1. Take the horses completely away from each other, or 2. Go through an extensive program of groundwork so that the horse is of the understanding that when she is with you, she is to put her full concentration on you, not the other herd members. This is an issue of trust.

While jumping and cross-country is a great discipline to learn, it all stems from dressage. A horse must have skills under saddle before embarking over jumps as a career, so while you put dressage at the end, it really goes to the front. For instance, when approaching a fence, and the horse is not pacing itself to take that fence nicely, you have to be able to either move the horse out or set him back in order to change his striding for a smoother jump. Dressage training helps you deal with this and other challenges before you consider going over fences.

It sound like you are at the beginning with a horse that doesn’t have a basic foundation. Your job over the next year is to put that on her first before any jumping or dressage happens.

Horse training is like school. You start at home, learning from your Mom and Dad, then on to kindergarten, where you get to interact with other kids and play with new toys and gadgets. Then on to grade 1 and each year, you progress one more until grade 12. From grade 12 you decide what to do with your life now that you have a ‘basic’ education.

Horse training is the same. Your horse is barely in kindergarten right now. Once she has groundwork established, she will be in grade 2. Grade 3 is foundation work under saddle, where she will learn aids singularly, and her response times will improve, until grade 7. Then on to more intensive work, where the aids are now being asked in ‘groups’ and the horse is now showing some sign of what she can do. (We all have plans for our horse, and we ride them in the future, but we miss the point of what our horse wants to do or can do. Show jumping and cross-country is a sport for horses with heart and bone. In order to do it well, they are usually bred for it, if higher levels are your goal. You will be able to learn the process at a lower level with your mare to see if it is something that you will want to continue with. It takes intense work and training 7 days a week, and a dedication to the sport like no other.)

Once a horse is soft and supple, light to the aids and obedient, the horse is at grade 12 and ready to move into a discipline. Regardless of English or Western riding, all horses move through their training program this way. I use the ‘grade’ system as it gets the message across well, but you can call it levels or what ever. The point is, there is a process, and when you miss steps in the process, your horse has problems down the road, as she is not equipped to deal with those problems.

There are many good articles on my blog April Reeves Horse Training ( There are good video’s on groundwork with Jay O’Jay on Horseman’s U ( also. There you will get a good start on what and how of groundwork and foundation saddle work.

There are good exercises in my blog articles for your problems with her running off, and not listening to leg commands.

When a horse doesn’t listen, it is not the horse. It is the rider not having consistency with the way you ask. This is training you have to get, not the horse. Find a qualified coach in your area and even if you just get one lesson a month, tell the coach you want to be given enough work for that month until the next lesson. I set up lots of students with this method, as many of my students are a days drive away. A good coach can do this for you.

Also, changing bits is not a matter of the horse not respecting the bit. Again, it always comes down to the rider’s ability to send the correct message to the horse. A harder bit is not the answer, and will only serve to make the condition worse. When a horse has problems in a bit, I will move into the softest bit I can find, and work from there. There are many training techniques in foundation training that do not require any bit pressure at all, and they get the responses you need.

So for you, if you truly want to work with your horse, find a coach before you take your horse to a trainer. I believe that people should learn to work with their horses. If you have someone else train her, you will only be wasting money as you will revert back to old habits and lose the training you paid for. You need to learn to ride and use aids consistently, along with timing, plus groundwork for herd bound issues.

Try not to get into the trap of English versus Western when training. The horse does not know the difference (other than the feel of the saddle) and if you get stuck on being ‘English’, you will miss valuable information. Training is training, and if it has value and solves your problems, it does not matter what discipline it belongs to. Do not hesitate to watch top western professionals; there is much to be learned from them for the English rider.

Read and watch other professionals. The internet is full of fools, but if you search for skilled people by first typing their names, then add ‘horse’ to the end of it, and you don’t find their names on almost every entry on the first page of Google, they may not be the best ones to follow and learn from.

These are a few trainers I would suggest, and while some of them are western, the horse does not know the difference. It is the lesson that is important.

Clinton Anderson, Jay O’Jay, Ken McNabb, Raye Lochert (groundwork, western saddle work), Lynn Palm, Julie Goodnight, Jane Savoie (dressage). These people all have good video on YouTube to watch, especially Jane Savoie, who has generously added real value to her video with tips and techniques you usually have to pay for.

I hope you take the time to study and learn horsemanship. It sounds like you have a really nice mare waiting for you to have fun with. Mares are my favorite, as they turn into exceptional horses when you get a good one.

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