Question: Hi there. I’ve been around horses all my life but to be honest, I’ve never actually trained one. I’ve only ridden and taken care of them.
I adopted a Paint Cross colt a Month ago who’s now 7 Months old. He lives out with my 4 other horses who are all way taller than him.
He’s a sweet little guy who loves attention but he has no emotion. He’s so calm and cool and thinks he is stronger than anyone. He walks into me, through me, nibbles me, pushes me with his head and all the rest. Doesn’t know his space and does everything a colt can at that age.
I know it’s normal so I’ve decided to tackle his problems NOW instead of later on when he will be stronger.
I read you’re not supposed to be violent with them when they are so young but he’s emotionless. He only responds when I smack him.
Do you think you could give me some basic tips on how to earn his respect? Am I right using physical force on him when he misbehaves?
I have no intention of training him under saddle alone but I want to at least get his ground manners in check. Thank you, Laura
Answer from April Reeves: Hi Laura. I first want to speak to your comment “I’ve never actually trained one.” I have this theory/understanding that anyone who has been in the presence of a horse has had influence on the ‘training’ of that horse (what he knows of humans). This is because horses ‘soak’ everything a human does. All your movements, signals, voice and body language ‘speak’ to a horse. That non-verbal language translates into what the horse will become. So while you may think you have never trained a horse in all your life, you have actually spent years training horses. Humans believe that training is simply a matter of learning techniques. While this is true to a point (and it’s best to learn good techniques that produce happy results) humans need to understand the horse at a much different level first before entering into a relationship of any kind. Humans must learn to speak their language first.
This is where we will start.
Posted in Equine Behavior & Problems, General riding answers, Natural Horsemanship
Tagged April Reeves, colt starting, Equine Behavior & Problems, foals, Groundwork, horse training, Natural Horsemanship, rope halter, young horse
One of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “Can you help me sit the trot better?”
So here are some quick tips to help you with this all too common challenge.
1. First and foremost, your horse needs to be on the bit. If his back is hollow, stiff, or tight, you’ll find it impossible to sit comfortably. (And, in turn, you’ll make your horse uncomfortable too!)
To put him on the bit, review the “connecting half halt”. If you missed it, there’s an article on it in the August archives of my blog at wordpress.
2. Slow the trot down. Ride “sub-power” and when you can sit easily, increase the impulsion for just a few strides at a time. Then slow down again.
How do I Get My Horse To Pick Up the Correct Canter Lead Every Time?
Jane Savoie and 'Moshi'
Do you struggle getting your horse to pick up one of his canter leads? If so, here are some tips and exercises to help you with this all too common problem.
The first exercise is done completely in the walk. It’s great rider coordination exercise. You’ll practice positioning your horse alternately for the left lead and then switch to the right lead after
a few strides.
Let’s say you decided to pick up left lead:
Question: Can you give me an outline of one of your typical rides? I just want some kind of idea of what you do with the horse, what you try to do yourself, and how long you took. Oh, also what you were trying to achieve. Thanks, Mandy.
Answer from April Reeves: I will give you a day in the life of a somewhat green Andalusian that is going very nicely (Mya) and has no real issues. She already has 100 days on her. She is not being worked for anything in particular, just as a pleasure and trail horse. This is just Grade 2 foundation work. I will put links in to find the exercises in case you are not familiar with them. The writing is short, more of a guideline.
– Follow, stop, back, trot off, stop, back, turn sharp, back… Does the horse respond quickly? Obedient? Politely? Groundwork link
– Sending exercise to test if horse is fresh or ready. I will ride right away if the horse feels right. No spooking, must have both eyes on me. I don’t mind the horse having energy. I do mind if the horse is not ‘with me’. 5 minutes or more.
Posted in English Riding answers, General riding answers, Natural Horsemanship, Western training answers
Tagged colt starting, foundation training, gait, Groundwork, horse forward, horse training, Natural Horsemanship, western training
Always teach your horse to move forward obediently
Question: My mare whom I’ve had about 3 yrs, she is 8, was abused, was flipped over because of being backed up aggressively by some asshole trainer, among other things, well when I try to take her down the road, she stops and refuses to go forward when she gets around the corner. I thought it was because she didn’t want to leave my gelding. So we took them both and she still kept stopping. But we did get to the end of the road. So if I take her by herself, she refuses to go forward, she will back up even into shrubs and trees. What should I do?
Answer from April Reeves: I worked on a mare that did exactly the same thing. I’ll explain how I worked with her.
It’s About Moving Forward
First, we addressed the backing up. After taking this mare out for the first time and almost landing in the ditch, we went back home to the outdoor ring and had a lesson on how to move forward the instant I asked. Doing more backing is not the cure for this style of behavior.
Posted in English Riding answers, Equine Behavior & Problems, General riding answers, Natural Horsemanship, Western training answers
Tagged behavior, Equine Behavior & Problems, foundation training, herd bound, horse forward, horse training, problem horse, trail riding
This bit, in the wrong hands, is abuse
Question: Hello I have an 8 yr. old reg. quarter horse and he is the most wonderful, trustworthy horse ever!. But the problem is throughout training him (since he was 2) I have had problems with his listening to a bit or hackamore. I have everything from a snaffle to a severe curve bit. Same for the hack – I have a hack that has a metal band and a snaffle bit on it and he does listen but I hate it! I feel like it is abuse :(. Im at my wits-end its to the point that I don’t want to ride him sometimes and will pick one of our other horses. I need some new advice if you could help me I would love it. Thank-you
Answer from April Reeves, Horseman’s U.com: You have good gut instincts, as the harder the bit, the tougher the horse is going to be, and some of the equipment you have is abusive, even in light hands. There are very few harsher bits that have any purpose being near a horse, and they must have some result that is acquired without heavy handling.
Horses that do not respond to tougher bits and equipment are not bad or insensitive. They are a result of improper training.
Problem is, humans resort to harder bits because they don’t want to take the time to train the horse properly. The horse just gets use to the pain and pressure, which causes the bit to stop working, so the human seeks a harder bit, and so the evil process proliferates. Some humans don’t care about the horse’s well being either. This is life.
Whenever you get a tough mouthed horse, lower the harshness on the bit – find the softest one on the market and use it. Why? Horses will fight pain. They will become resistant and irritated, and that always plays out in “bad” behavior (human’s interpretation). The behavior is not bad to the horse: he’s just trying to protect himself. When you take the pain away, you give the horse a chance to work for you. A happy horse free of pain is a horse that will work harder, learn faster and bond with you better.
Good straight legs
Question: I have a 4-year-old, 17HH Dutch Warmblood mare that’s got an odd angle to her back legs. When she stands, there is a straight line from hip to hock, but then it dives in. I want to use her for jumping, but something tells me (gut instinct) that those back legs may not take the work involved. Everyone at the barn tells me that her legs are big so there is no problem, and that I should be riding her by now. What do you think? Can I breed her?
Also, what exercises can I do to strengthen them without having to go over fences?
Answer from April Reeves: Good instincts. This appearance of a sharp angled hock is called ‘camped out’ or ‘sickle hocked’. If you were to stand the mare so that her back legs had a vertical line from top of hock to bottom of pastern, you would find that line would be pushed out behind the point of the hip. Some sickle hocked horses just stand with their back legs up and under, and some (camped out) stand with their back legs out. Sickle hocked horses tend to have too much angle to their hock joints, while ‘camped out’ back legs sit back from the hip line, with the angle more pronounced through the gaskin.
Question: I had a question about building stalls, I don’t have a huge barn but its a pretty good size so I wanted to know what would be the smallest but safest size stall to build. I have four horses and we just moved and this barn doesn’t have them already built so we were going to but I just don’t want to make them too small. They would only be stalled at night and turned out in the day.
Also I have a four-year-old gelding who has never really been ridden but we’ve had him since he was born and is just as gentle and respectful as he can be. When we get on him he just stands still. I know he just doesn’t know what ‘giddy up’ means yet but how do I teach him that? What about lunging him – how do I get him to go in a circle and not backwards? Thanks
Answer from April Reeves, Horseman’s U.com: In regards to the stalls, the smallest I would put a horse in (under 16 hands high) would be 10 by 10 feet. At 16 hands, 11 by 11 or 12 by 12 (best). A horse must be able to move around in a circle, and when a stall is too small, the horse ends up rotating on his hindquarters. Any repetitive movement to the joints and skeleton will eventually end up in pain and discomfort, leading to an unrideable horse. The horse also is not a cave dweller, so the larger the stall, the better mind you will have on your horse. I’m not an advocate of the tie stall – I think they are cruel. Horses should be able to lie down where they choose and move around.
Question: I have a problem when I tack up my horse, Thea. Bridling she is fine, placing the saddle on her is fine, but doing up the girth is not. She turns around to bite you so I have to either have someone holding her or I have a long rein one side that I can pull on. After the girth is done up she pulls back and does a mini jump in the air. She doesn’t have a sore back and I’m sure her saddle is ok [vet confirmed], I think its just behavior. How can I resolve it?
Answer: Answer from April Reeves, Horseman’s U.com: Good for you Mel – you’ve diagnosed the problem correctly. Most people never get there. Just so you know – the solution is easy.
I have rehabbed hundreds of horses with this problem, and I will tell you that the horse never gets to the place where he’s happy to be cinched up. What we are going to do is to alleviate the discomfort for the horse, get the horse to accept the process with obedience, and learn something new about training horses.
Question: I bought a 4yr old tbx gelding 3 months ago and am concerned by his behavior. He was initially very stubborn to lunge (he would rear and refuse to go out on a circle) but I managed to get him going well within a week or two. He was very friendly and easy to handle on the ground. Then I began to ride him (he was only backed at this point). He has been riding really well and learning quickly. I’ve been careful to praise him a lot and have not had much need to scold him. Then suddenly he changed. I rode him and he refused to go forwards, instead cowkicking and bucking whenever I put my leg on. He’s also started to kick out violently when asked to move over in his stable! Out of the stable, he will move over fine! The only changes I have made are bringing him in overnight and feeding him! please help! Im scared of my 17hh youngster!
Answer from April Reeves, Horseman’s U.com: I’ll be honest: this is a problem for a professional that is not scared. From here, it will take a very firm hand, and a very brave heart.
Posted in Breeds, English Riding answers, Equine Behavior & Problems, General riding answers, Natural Horsemanship, Western training answers
Tagged behavior, foundation training, Groundwork, horse feed, horse forward, problem horse, thoroughbred
Question: 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?
Posted in Breeds, English Riding answers, Equine Behavior & Problems, General riding answers, Natural Horsemanship, Western training answers
Tagged behavior, foundation training, horse training, problem horse, rearing, thoroughbred
Question: 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”.
Question: I’m a little confused about the timing for changing bits. I have been using an O ring snaffle for almost 2 years. My gelding is 5. He knows basic stuff – stop, forward, turns and I can ride him on the road and trails. I may want to show him some day and I know I can’t ride him in a snaffle for western. How do I transition into a harder bit? When do I do that?
Answer from April Reeves: Thanks for the good question. I suspect lots of riders are at this crossroad.
If you never plan to show your horse, I see no real reason to move into any bit with shanks.
Question: 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.
Western draped rein
Question: What are the differences between rein aids in Western and English? I have a western horse that I want to teach English. Will he get confused with the two different styles?
Answer from April Reeves: In my world, there are no differences in the basic rein aids. The only difference is the amount of contact you have, as you move up into higher level disciplines. In the dressage and hunter/jumper world, you have connection (contact, on the bit) with a straight line from bit to elbow, and from ½ to 2 pounds of weight in each hand. As you move into collection, the aids may be the same, but the feel changes.
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.
Posted in English Riding answers, Equine Behavior & Problems, General riding answers, Natural Horsemanship
Tagged behavior, english riding, foundation training, gait, Groundwork, hunter, jumping, Natural Horsemanship, spooky horse
Question: 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:
Question: What’s the difference between Hunter Under Saddle class and a Hunter Pleasure class? I have a nice half thoroughbred that I want to show in hunter flat classes but I’m not sure which she may be best suited for.
Answer from April Reeves: Let’s start with Hunter-Under-Saddle (HUS). This class is judged primarily on the horse’s way of going (movement), type or conformation, and last their manners.
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.
Posted in English Riding answers, Equine Behavior & Problems, General riding answers, Natural Horsemanship, Western training answers
Tagged behavior, foundation training, Groundwork, horse forward, horse training, problem horse, resistance
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.
Question: 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.
Question: 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.
Question: We have a 4-year-old Andalusian cross filly who trips a lot when being ridden. The other day she went right down on her head. What can we do to prevent this? We are taking her away to be evaluated.
Answer from April Reeves: This question was from my area so I went to watch the filly.
Question: I’m interested in beginning to do some lower level dressage with my mare. I know there are terms like extended trot, but what are some other major terms that I would need to know? What types of movements would my mare need to be able to do in order to go through lower level and the more advanced levels? I also have a newborn foal who I think would do well at dressage but I’m not sure. How can I tell whether or not the foal will excel at dressage just by watching him play and run in the pasture with his dam?
Answer from April Reeves, Horseman’s U.com: Lower level dressage is called the ‘Training Levels’, and is judged on the basic foundation a horse is trained to. Those basics include:
Question: 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.
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.
Question: 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.
Question: I have a filly named Kahlua and I need to be her trainer but I don’t know what to do with her. What can I do with my 1 year old horse?
Answer from April Reeves: A green horse and a green rider is not a good combination, so I will give you some suggestions on how to go about learning how to work with a young horse. It will take you time and dedication, but without it, any words I write here will not help you much. You need to see and feel it for yourself.
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.
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!