Category Archives: Equine Behavior & Problems

Am I on the right track training a dangerous, rearing horse?

Rearing horse won't go forwardQuestion: Hi there like you I have a reputation for riding and re-training horses that are deemed dangerous untrainable or non ridable however I have just bought a lovely ex-racehorse who is terrified of life. He has been completely checked over from head to toe and there is nothing physically wrong with him however he trembles if he sees his tack, rears when being bridled and has progressed to rearing and going over with his current rider. I am bringing him home tomorrow and plan on riding him as he was great when I tried him out. He did try to rear but got a good boot and a slap on the bum with my stick and sent fowards and then he went lovely.

I believe he just needs a firm hand but am concerned for his well-being mentally as his tack terrifies him and his rearing has already broken bones of his previous rider.

It would be great if you could give me your insight as to the possible cause of his fears and how you would rectify the situation.

He will not be sold on as I believe he has had a rough enough life, so I expect him to work, and after an initial tantrum was a well behaved, well balanced horse. Thanks for your time.

Answer from April Reeves, Horseman’s U.com: When you get a horse like this, unless you dig and ask questions you will never know the history that made the horse what he is today. On the other hand, does it matter?
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Why are horses aggressive at feeding and what can you do about it?

Hand feeding a horse hayQuestion: My horse is mean at feeding time. She pins her ears back and lunges at the hay in my hands. Yesterday she bit me. I can’t even put grain in her stall any more without her attacking me. Help.

Answer from April Reeves, Horseman’s U.com: First, let’s understand the psychology behind why a horse reacts this way.

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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 U.com: 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”.

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Should I use a chain to lead my horse?

Nose Chain on horse halterQuestion: Can I use a chain on my horse? When I lead him, he pulls his head down to eat anything on the ground. It’s killing my arms to try and pull him up all the time. He leads with his head on the ground sniffing for food.

Answer from April Reeves: In my world, a chain is a way of saying “I’m not willing to take the time and learn the proper way, so just give me a quick solution”. The other problem with them, is that once the chain comes off, the horse usually reverts back to old behavior. They know the difference. They’re not stupid.

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Using Natural Horsemanship in Hunter/Jumper training

Question: Can you integrate Natural Horsemanship into jumper training? I read your dressage article on blending them, but I have an 8 yr old hunter – Dutch Warmblood – thoroughbred cross mare who continues to spook at fences at shows. She’s not what you would call hot, but has lots of get-up-and-go. What Natural Horsemanship exercises or training can I start on to get my mare less spooky with more even tempo? I have tried all the traditional methods with little to no success. She also tends to walk over me too when I lead her. Thank you April.

Answer from April Reeves: Of course you can integrate NH into your program! In fact, hunter/jumper is one area of traditional training that really gets a boost and solid foundation from NH. All my H/J students go through this basic foundation before advancing into fence work. There is no technique or method in particular that works with hunter/jumpers better than dressage horses: the methods are universal to all disciplines.

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How can I keep my horse from breaking into the canter from the trot all the time?

Some questions need a Professional's helpQuestion: My horse breaks into the canter from the trot all the time. Why would she do this and how can I keep her in the trot? I ride hunt seat and flat – English. I have tried to bring her back to the trot but she just keeps breaking.

Answer from April Reeves: While you can simply continue to ask the horse to go back to the trot, this will not solve the problem, as you are only compensating for an underlying problem. It’s like taking drugs when your stomach hurts. Just find out what caused the painful stomach!

Several causes could be:

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How do you use a crop on a disobedient horse?

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.

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How much is too much in regards to horse training?

Cowboy and April - The first groundwork day.

Cowboy and April - The first groundwork day.

Question: How much is too much in regards to training? How often should you continue to ask a horse to do something before the horse gets fed up and quits or becomes anxious? We have a “trainer” (I say this lightly) at our barn who does the same maneuvers over and over again for up to half an hour or more. Her horses are nasty, edgy and nervous. I don’t claim to be any great horse trainer, but it makes sense to me that maybe those training methods are being overdone. What is your take on this sort of thing?

Answer from April Reeves: Hah, I get horses in who are edgy, nasty and nervous, and it’s my job to get them back to happy, useful and safe. It’s all in the eye of the trainer as to what is appropriate.

There is also common sense here, although common sense isn’t that common. In my world there is no need for repetition that is so drawn out it no longer gets the result you need (notice I didn’t say ‘want’). That simply borders on abuse, which turns the horse into nasty, edgy and nervous.

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The 3 Secrets To Horse Training

Cowboy starts training Oct 2009Question: I board my horse and I see her and ride one to three days a week. My horse was professionally trained when I got her 2 years ago, but I’m noticing she is forgetting everything.

I have tried various training methods but nothing is really working. I try something different each day, hoping that she will catch onto something. Is she just not that smart?

What can I do to bring her back? What are the secrets to keeping a horse remembering?

Answer from April Reeves: Ah yes, the magic ‘secrets’ that no one knows about. However, if you look deep within you will find that you already know those secrets.

There are 3 of them, and they are not very secret at all.

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How can I slow down the trot on my Arabian mare?

Slowing down a horse does not have to be a difficult processQuestion: I have an Arabian mare that will trot so fast! I tried your circling routine, but she is not getting it, although she did slow down to a fairly fast trot from a race trot, and she does go the same speed now without me nagging her. Is there anything else I can do, along with the circling, to help her understand I want her to go slower? I don’t want to use the reins. Thank you so much!

Answer from April Reeves: I do have another little exercise that you can use to get her slower. I do find the odd horse (and it’s usually an Arabian) that trots like their tail is on fire. This exercise is a big help.
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How can I get my Oldenburg to not over-jump everything?

Fabulous example of an Oldenburg StallionQuestion: My 6 year old Oldenburg over-jumps everything then lands in a big heap with a grunt. These are 18″ to 2′ jumps. On occasion when she jumps correctly she is lovely and talented, but has this over jumping quirk that manifests itself especially over a new fence. We have changed fences, flowers, coolers, etc without long term success. Help please!

Answer from April Reeves, Horseman’s U.com: Many horses jump too high when learning. There are many reasons for this:

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My Quarter horse mare needs better canter departs.

Max and me cantering free without restriction and in balance and rhythmQuestion: I have a Quarter Horse mare who is very calm tempered which I love. My problem is getting her into a canter. She is willing to walk, trot, but when I give her the cue to canter she resists and sometimes very strongly. My instructor says to use a lot of leg which I’m trying to do but she still tries to get out of it. I’m not pulling back when I ask her to go into it. If I use a crop she is better but still doesn’t like it. I can get her to do it but it’s always a struggle. Will it get better with more practice? I would love your thoughts/advice.

Answer from April Reeves: Using more leg is not the answer and this is why. Horses should be obedient from the very first signal (aid), and that signal should be a very light pressure in order to obtain what you want, at exactly when you want it. If you find that a horse does not respond the first time, nor the second time, and not any time after that, it’s likely (100%) that the horse will never respond to a soft aid, or any aid for that matter. The more you ask without response, the duller your horse will get, as you are effectively training the horse to be dull. We, as humans, usually think the horse is being bad, but we unconsciously train our horses to be dull and disobedient. Just as the horse will pick up a new request when the request is clear, they will also pick up dullness and lethargy with the same enthusiasm if you nag them.

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If we are predators, how can we ride horses?

Why do horses let us in their world so quickly?Question: If we are predators, how is it that we are able to connect and work with horses?

Answer from April Reeves: This is a very interesting question and deals with an understanding of psychology as opposed to training. Horses can accept humans into the herd; what they don’t accept or like, is a human with predatory behavior.

Moving around a horse cautiously or too slowly is predatory behavior. It can cause some very violent reactions in horses, and is the main cause of horses becoming aggressive towards humans. While we believe we are being careful, the horse believes you are lining him up for dinner.
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I am the new owner of a surly TB. How can I start him?

ThoroughbredQuestion: I have recently brought a new 5yr old thoroughbred called Roger. We brought him off a kind lady who said he was in extremely poor condition (very skinny) when she got him, so she was fattening him up. We are now feeding him specially and he’ll look beautiful soon but I want to retrain him natural horsemanship way. I’m 15 and have just been starting with the basics like good manners and a bit of bonding time with grooming. He’s good under saddle and stops dead but I want to go further. Being a racehorse he was surly mistreated as he’s flinchy when I touch him anywhere and this happens on and off. One day he’s fine and the next he doesn’t like me. He also has a catching problem and he’s clingy to my other two horses which is really annoying. I want to have a good bond so he can be happy with me and not be so anxious. I have read everything possible but not enough. Where can I start? Who can i get lessons from in Australia?

Answer from April Reeves: Since I do not live in Australia I am not connected with too many trainers there, but I have searched the web and found numerous Natural Horsemen who give clinics and I would suggest you audit one of their clinics first, and if you like them, take your horse in one later.
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I have a tough, nervous 2 year old to train. Can you help?

Young horses need confidence from their handlers Question: I’ve been hired to train 6 horses this lady “rescued”. There are 3 three year olds, 2 two year olds and one yearling. They’re all fillies. Two of them are full sisters (and their grandmother on both sides is the same horse) and both are extremely flighty, nervous and skittish. I’ve gotten the three year old fairly well calmed and workable, but the two year old is another story. I’ve separated her, put her in a stall with a run so she gets hand fed hay and grain daily. The first day I tried to lunge her in the round pen it took me two hours before she’d let me touch her – now it only takes me about 15 minutes – so we are making progress, but… If I go into the stall and pet her, she’s ok for a minute but then any little thing and she’ll freak out. I haven’t even begun to put a blanket on her, brush her or work with her feet. They had to sedate her both to trim her feet and vaccinate her. I know this is hereditary since her sister is the same way, only not quite to this extreme. My question is, will she settle down and become a decent horse after a while or will she always be this way? And any tips to help her settle would be appreciated.

Answer from April Reeves: All 6 horses have the opportunity to be not just good, steady mounts, but each in their right can find a job to do that they excel at – even the 2 year old.

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My horse chokes on his tongue when I take up contact. Is this possible?

Question: I have a gentle 16hh gelding who is lovely in all ways except when you are riding him and you take contact. The dentist has said there is nothing wrong in his mouth.  I think his tongue gets ‘bunched up’ behind the bit and then when you take the contact it ‘chokes’ him. Is this possible? Can you help?

Answer from April Reeves: I have run into this about 25 years ago and it was caused from the horse’s tongue backing up in his mouth. We could only figure it was a habit and not a medical issue. The owner tried everything in the softer bits but the owner would not try a high port bit. I have a high copper port with a roller, which she eventually broke down and tried and it worked!

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My horse suddenly refuses to turn left. Any ideas why?

Paint HorseQuestion: I have a blk/white paint/qrt horse. She is 4 yrs and I’ve had her 2 yrs. She’s a good horse but the last 2 weeks she wont turn her head left when on her back; she starts to rear up but on ground work she turns her head left. I don’t know what is going on but she started to do this 2 weeks ago.

Answer from April Reeves: It could be a number of things: tooth problem, training issue, back problem or lameness. Let’s try to diagnose each one and find the appropriate solution. It is a bit unusual for a horse to suddenly not want to turn when she has been good for you previously.

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My new horse is resistive and dangerous. I can’t find a solution and need help.

Rearing resistive horseQuestion: I finally was able to save enough money to buy my first horse, after 12 years of riding. Things went great – found the horse of my dreams , a 16.2 Westphalen tb cross – a cute mover and a great personality. I got him home and started riding him. He was lightly broke so I didnt push things. He was always resistant to the leg, and every now and then he would stop on me but then hesitantly move forward. This escalated into moving forward, slamming on the breaks and backing up…any and all refusal to get out of work. He reared once (I didnt come off). I got him checked for ulcers , lameless ex-rays chiropractor, massages, saddle fitting.. everything! You name it…. I’ve done it… so as I saw the problem getting bigger I went back to ground work, longing every day with side reins, working him evenly on both sides and going after his “go” button by his flank. My trainer and I decided that after great progress on the ground, I could get on him again… well today we walked three steps then the backing refusal to go and the defiance started… I am so lost ….any help or advice would be a great help!

Answer from April Reeves: Although I don’t know exactly what you are doing or not doing during his ‘episodes’, there were several huge clues as to this problem escalating into what you now have.

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When should I start my new foal?

Start your newborn foal earlyQuestion: I’m about to have my first foal (actually my mare is). Everyone has an opinion on when to start this colt. When do you think I should I start this foal?

Answer from April Reeves: My answer is the very first day of his/her life! Colt starting is not just about leaving the foal until it’s 2. If you want a really great horse to ride at the end of the day it all begins from the beginning! Why attempt training later in the horse’s life when you can do it when the horse is a baby? Why spend twice the time trying to fix problems later in life?

Colt starting is not just about riding, but getting your new foal use to you and all that a human offers. Brushing, hoof trimming and handling, leading, standing, tying, spook proofing, trailering – all these can be done the first year of the horse’s life. Don’t make riding your only goal.

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My pony has symptoms we cannot diagnose. Any ideas what he may be suffering from?

Horses and ponies today face new health issues not seen beforeQuestion: I have a 14 year-old 14-2hh dressage pony mainly tb. We have had him since last July. Around one month ago while my daughter was having a jumping lesson with him he started hyper-extending his left fore leg, only in the trot and perhaps only 3 times that day, as if he had some rubber from my arena stuck in his boot. That week my daughter rode him 4 times and he increasingly did this extending thing with the left leg and by the end of the week was doing it in walk and trot with both front legs. I called my physio who, although could find a few issues with soreness, nothing that would cause this strange behavior. I called a vet out, checked for lameness and he is sound!, Then we lunged him, with side reins and without, no hyper extension. As soon as I got on him he started doing this thing again both in walk and trot and on both reins and with both front legs. Our Vet put the pony on bute and suggested we keep working him. The next day worked him – he was much worse, tried him on just a headcollar and he still did it. I felt it was conditioned behavior as he only did it twice with the headcollar on. But when I was finished he was breathing really heavy, which was not like him, he is very fit worked by myself 4/5 times a week. I called the vet again and he told me to perhaps rest him. That night had to call vet out on emergency as horse not breathing properly. The vet diagnosed mild pneumonia. Put him on antibiotics for two weeks and Ventapulmin. He had a further week off. Vet checked him and declared him fit to start work. He came back into work yesterday and is still doing the hyper-extension thing, only with front left at the moment. I only rode him for around 10/15 min. Today he has been coughing, no mucous. I have no idea what it could be or where to go from here any suggestions would be welcome.

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How can I get my horse to walk straight?

Horses are not born to be straightQuestion: I love to take my 5 year old out on the trail, but what I’ve noticed is that she can’t walk a straight line. I’ve heard that straight lines are especially hard for young horses to do. She will turn her head and look around or get distracted by something. When she turns her head, she will start drifting that way. I want her to be able to look around, but I also want her to pay attention to where she is going.

Answer from April Reeves: Young horses and often horses with little formal training often wander about while being ridden. It’s the basic nature of any horse, to wander and explore their environment. Yes, straight lines are difficult for almost any horse to do, especially young ones.

Your 5 year old needs a bit more foundation work to her training. These are the things I would focus on:

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What do you think the most important training technique is?

Ashley and Viento from "Horse Training Chronicles"

Ashley and Viento from "Horse Training Chronicles"

Question: I know you talk a lot about different training techniques but my question to you is what YOU think the most important or valuable thing is or to know when training a horse?

Answer from April Reeves: I’m going to take your word “training” and expand on it first. Training is everything we do with a horse. Everything we do communicates something back to the horse, whether we’re leading them with a tight rope or just standing around in the middle of the ring talking to each other on our horses.

Everything you do is training.

The most important thing I believe, and what I also believe is missing from 90% of the horse owners?

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I want to get on my filly for the first time. What should I be aware of?

The first ride

The first ride

Question: I am going to get on my horse for the first time soon. She is 3 and I have been round penning her. She has had a snaffle on for the last 6 times and the saddle. She walks quietly and does not seem to be spooky. Should I get on in the round pen first and what other things should I be aware of?

Answer from April Reeves: You sound a bit hesitant to get on your filly. Here are a few things I would look for if someone asked me to get on a horse for the first time.

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My older Paso Fino gelding is losing weight trying to protect a mini mare.

Paso Fino horseQuestion: I have a 20-year old paso fino gelding who looked like a 3-year old, great muscle-tone, he had the perfect weight, et cetera. We also have a miniature mare who he despised until we brought home a paint draft gelding and a pony stallion. Now, Arthur (the paso fino) won’t leave the mini’s side and is stressing himself out over trying to take care of her and keep her from the stallion. He’s lost weight and the vet said to increase his weight to a bucket and a half (hand-held feeders) of grain plus a cup of oats per feeding twice a day. He’s still not gaining any weight, so we upped his weight to 2 buckets of grain and a cupful of oats. Tomorrow we’ll be getting sweet feed for him to see if it bulks up his diet, but his weight just isn’t improving. Are there any supplements you’d suggest?

Answer from April Reeves: Your gelding was the herd leader of his herd of 2 (he and the mini) but when you brought in two others, his natural instincts went from leader to protector. He’s just doing his job.

In this situation you will have to decide whether to fix the problem (separate Arthur and the mini) or change his diet.

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Is riding indoors or outdoors better for a horse?

Indoor Arena

Indoor Arena

Question: I keep reading everywhere that you should exercise your horse outdoors, but none of these sites tells me why this is better for it. May you please tell me why it is better for me to exercise a horse outdoors rather than indoors?

Answer from April Reeves: Thank you for this question; it is one of the best yet, and one that’s highly controversial.

Each breed and discipline has a different response to this question, but you need a variety of experience and length of experience with all breeds and disciplines to know how to answer it well.

I’m going to give you specific interpretations and let you decide the answers.

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Why does my weanling pin her ears back at me? How can I get her to stop?

Horses ask us to step up and lead the herdQuestion: I have a filly that is 9 months old. We got her in October of last year and have been working with her. But in the last few months every time we try to get close to her she has her ears pinned back. Its always at different times, it could be when we are feeding her, giving her a treat like apples or carrots, or just trying to brush her. She was fine at first now it seems everytime we are near her, her ears are pinned. Why is that and how can I get her not to pin her ears all the time? It makes me a little on guard, and I can’t really enjoy my time working with her. I have to mention that she is my first baby I’m trying to raise although I’ve grown up around horses, so I’m not totally unknowledgable about horses. I just want to make raising my foal an enjoyable experience even though it is hard work.

Answer from April Reeves: When a horse of any size or age lets you in to their space, you are now a herd member, not a human. It’s now your responsibility to take your place in the herd of 2 (you and your filly). As each human enters her world, she is also gaining herd members.

As with any herd, you will be positioned into the pecking order. This is what your young filly is trying to do with you.

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How can I get my Quarter Horse to walk forward after 3 1/2 years off?

Horses need time to remember the aids after time offQuestion: I have a 9 year old Quarter Horse who used to be a great trail horse and good around kids. We moved and had her boarded for about 4 years. We couldn’t go ride her because she was about 7 hours away. Now that we have her in the pasture the kids want to ride her. She hasn’t been ridden for about 3 1/2 years. She is not afraid of the saddle or anyone being on her but when you get on her, she won’t move one step unless someone is leading her. I really don’t want to sell her because the kids love her. What should I do?

Answer from April Reeves: You are merely steps away from having a really good horse again. When that amount of time is lost from riding a horse, they will forget the odd thing. If their training has been solid, they won’t come back with bad habits; just forgotten ones.

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Help! How can I get my fat Mini thinner?

Mini horse and mini donkey share space

Mini horse and mini donkey share space

Question: I have a miniature horse mare and I got her in 2006. She was nice and fit and now she is fat and overweight. She is not pregnant but has been fat for a while now. I am in junior high and I am stuck with school and homework, but I try to get out there and work with her whenever I can. I have cut off grain and made her hay only half a flake now. She seems to MAYBE be losing SOME weight but she is still fat. Is there a way I can get her to lose it? I am thinking of entering her in 4-H and I will be using her in parades and showing, but I need to get her slimmer….

Answer from April Reeves: Because Mini’s are small horses, they fall under the same guidelines for feeding and care that a horse does. They just eat smaller amounts and have less square footage to brush.

Unfortunately, they are not in need of less when it comes to exercise. Because they are small, humans think that Minis are capable of handling very little physical activity. The opposite is true.

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Our mare refuses to nurse her new foal. What can we do?

A happy foalQuestion: Mare had a colt 2 days ago and is sour toward her. With coaxing she has let her baby nurse a time or two, but will stop & get irritated. Colt won’t readily take a bottle so we keep trying to get the mare to tolerate her. She is not upset at anyone handling her & doesn’t care to even be with her. The colt gets upset and makes noises at the absence of her mom, but not the other way around. Any way to encourage mare to accept her &/OR good way to get colt to take a bottle? Any good milk substitute you recommend?

Answer from April Reeves: I have run into this problem on occasion. I have never had to separate a mare and foal because of it, nor added milk replacement. You do have a big job ahead of you though.

Some mares experience odd sensations when first letting a foal nurse. They may experience tickling, soreness and irritation. Like some people, some horses are over-sensitive or hypochondriacs. These mares need time to adjust to their new situation.

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Does sleep affect a horse’s behavior? Do they sleep standing up?

Horse sleeping soundlyQuestion: How is it that horses can stand up and sleep. We are having an argument at our barn. I think it’s an old wives tale, as my horse stands but never seems to fully sleep in this position. We are also arguing about the effects of a light on in the barn all the time. Please, I need your help on this one, as our whole barn is at odds right now! Does sleep affect behavior?

Answer from April Reeves: Horses indeed sleep standing up. They use what’s called “Equine Stay Apparatus”, a system of tendons, ligaments and muscles in the horse’s leg. The lower leg joints lock with assistance from the above and the suspensory apparatus.

These parts work together to keep the horse’s legs in a standing, locked position. While your horse may appear to be awake, he is likely asleep enough to kick out at you if you were to approach him unexpectedly.

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