Category Archives: Natural Horsemanship

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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What training can we put on a young Andalusian that trips all the time?

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.
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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 yearling and I don’t know how to train her. What can I do with my yearling?

Yearlings need handling and work to become good riding horsesQuestion: 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.
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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 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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How do you determine the price of a horse?

What someone will pay is what a horse is worth

What someone will pay is what a horse is worth

Question: I am in love with this QH palomino mare, but she is unregistered with no ability to get papers. I would still purchase her, but her owner, who is a beginner rider, says she has pro training on her, and that she wants to get the money back from that. Her price is $2600. What determines the price of a horse? In this economy, I can find a registered horse for less than that, with similar training. The owner wants her costs back from the horse. Is this reasonable?

Answer from April Reeves: The price of a horse is whatever someone will pay. Nothing else comes into the equation. I have seen $120,000 horses sold for $5000 and less during hard times. In the past I watched certain Arabian breeders fall when no one bought into their expensive program anymore. If no one buys into your program, you don’t have one.

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Why does my horse have a slow jog but a fast canter? Any tips on how I can slow the canter down?

Horses need to learn balance and lateral flexion for slower gaits

Horses need to learn balance and lateral flexion for slower gaits

Question: I was wondering if you had any tips for me concerning my horse. I have a very typey and sensible 7 yr old QH mare. I would love to do lower level western pleasure with her! Her jog is amazing, she keeps her head perfect and has a very slow legged, reachy, consistant jog. Her lope is very different. She is very quick, but I can get about 4 slow loose reined strides, then she speeds back up and she’s flying. I believe this has to do with the girl that was riding her before I did. She wasn’t a very experienced or strong rider, and let her just do whatever. Any tips?

Answer from April Reeves: When horses speed up at the canter it’s usually a sign they are moving flat without enough spring and too heavy on the forehand. While you are enjoying a slow jog, it may be one of the causes of your problem as horses often lower their heads and move slowly without any form of collection, engagement or spring. While they are able to move slow at the jog, the canter propels them forward into a more suspended gait, and in order to sustain a canter they have to pick up speed.

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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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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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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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My horse always wants to be the leader. How can I stop her?

Herd bound or separation anxiety in the horse is tough to breakQuestion: I have a 14 yr old QH mare who when my daughter and I go on trail rides panics if she is not the lead horse. It is difficult because my daughter likes to ride ahead sometimes but my horse gets real speedy and bouncy trying to catch up with the other horse. If I hold her back it is difficult and i do alot of circles to get her to stay slow. I have also noticed that when we are in the show ring she tries to catch up with the horse in front of us and then when and if we pass she is fine. Is there any way to make her feel more comfortable without being in the lead? I do trail ride her alone a lot also and she is fine. Just when there is another horse in front of her.

Answer from April Reeves: You could work on this problem a number of ways. What I will try to do is set up a training method that you can accomplish.

This is a tough habit to break. Your mare is likely the dominant in this herd of 2 (herd of 4 when humans show up), so she will demand that her role be acknowledged on the trail or arena.

Or she may be suffering separation anxiety (herd bound). If this is the case, you may have a horse that you will never be able to break from this habit entirely. In all honesty, I have worked with these horses and although I can ride them safely, when they go back to the owners it starts up all over again.

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My TB mare won’t go over poles. Do you have any advice?

Rearing horse won't go over poles on a trail rideQuestion: Today I took my 4-year-old thoroughbred out on a hack with the girls down the yard, and we had to go over raised metal poles and she just wouldn’t go over them. She was a complete nightmare – we tried everything – she was having none of it! I’m wondering if you have any advice?

Answer from April Reeves: Your mare just hasn’t had enough work doing ‘other’ things. We tend to keep doing the same things over and over again, usually simple riding and arena work, and forget that we need to give our horses continual desensitizing.

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Help – my horse won’t trailer! How can I get him into our trailer?

Horse loading into angle haul trailerQuestion: We have been having some MAJOR PROBLEMS trailering my horse preacher. He is an x-racehorse and hates to load on a trailer. We’ve tried everything people told us to try. He got on there a couple of times but thats all. Tuesday my mom went over there and fed him in the trailer and when we got there a friend (Jason) went into the trailer nervous and scared. When he started to tie him up Preacher went BAZERK and Jason started to freak and get loud with him. I know you’re probably not supposed to get loud. So how can you get him from being non trailer shy and get that horse onto the trailer so I can go to my lessons and shows? He’s a real sweet boy.

Answer from April Reeves: Your problem is serious and difficult to fix unless you are skilled in groundwork. Your friend Jason did not help either. There is no excuse to raise your voice to a horse, and doing so just set you back. I’m always the type of person to tell it truthfully – loading a difficult horse is a dangerous thing to attempt without experience.

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Our mare is sensitive to the touch and grouchy. Is there hope for her? How can we fix this?

Question: We’ve had our 7 year old QH mare for 5 years. I love her, but she is stubborn, grouchy, and very over sensitive to touch. I have to use a soft rubber brush on her, and a brush with very soft bristles. She doesn’t like to be pet or even lightly rubbed for that matter anywhere on her body (though I have to admit, I do it anyways. My thought is if I don’t touch her, she will never get accustomed to it). She tends to threaten more than actually ever do anything about it. She will pretend to bite, or swoosh her head at you with ears flat on her head. When you tack her up, she is soooo grouchy (pretends to bite with ears back.) We’ve had her back checked by the vet, as well as an equine massage therapist. We’re told she is fine. Her tack fits well, but I’ve had that checked as well to see if I’m missing anything, but, nope, it’s fine. She’s very green, and we are not trainers ourselves, we’ve had a trainer come in to work with her, and, they GAVE UP!! She couldn’t get a response from her.

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How can I get my horse to collect?

Collection on the bitQuestion: I cannot get my 4-year old to collect. I bought her a year ago, and she had no idea how to give or collect. I have been working with her and she is getting better, but she just doesn’t round her back up. I have been trying to sell her for over 3 months. I have lately been “lunge-bitting” her (where I put her in a snaffle, and tie one rein tightly to her girth, just so her head must be bent, and lunge her) I was told it helps build up muscles and teaches her to soften, but do you have any other tips to teach her to collect. She also rides in a low-port curb, are there any excercies I could do with the curb for collection?

Answer from April Reeves: There are no quick ways to achieve collection. It is only achieved through time with proper suppling and muscle development, and cannot be achieved mechanically.

Think about the word ‘collect’. It means to gather. Think about this word when you begin to train for collection.

Let’s go through the pros and cons of the exercises you are doing now, and give you something to work on with her that will build her up gradually. Because of the state of the market for horses right now, you may have her for some time.

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I just inherited a horse with my new farm. I know nothing about horses. Can you help me build trust with him?

71031734Question: I have just purchased a small gentleman’s farm that came with a horse. He is a 12-year-old gelding who has never been trained. From what I know he has had a saddle on in the past, but never has taken riders. He is very friendly, but loves to do what he wants to do. If he does not want me in the pen he is very quick to turn around. Although he has never kicked at me (I move out quick) he seems like he would. I have never owned a horse, let alone trained one. I am not looking to train him on my own but for now I would like to learn how to at least build a trust between us, as-well as have him obey at least a little any help would be greatly appreciated.

Answer from April Reeves: I’m glad you have not been kicked yet, but it is a matter of time. Let me give you some insight into how horses think and behave.

Everything you do with a horse is training. You can train a horse to be good or really bad. Horses do not have a sense of reasoning like a human has, so the horse just goes along with what is in front of him or being offered. They do not know what is right or wrong; that is a human trait only (ego). Horses have distinct herd behaviors such as dominance, leader and follower. The majority of them are followers, and they prefer to be, as horses do not handle stress well and prefer to give it to someone else (horses, humans).

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My horse brings his head up when leading – and now riding.

High headed horseQuestion: My horse always has his head up in the air when I lead him. I try to bring it down by giving consistent tugs on the lead but it seems to just make it worse. This has happened within a short period of time, about a month or two, before that he was fine. I have also tried to shank him and put a chain on his nose, but this does not help either. Sometimes he really throws his head up especially now when I try to bridle him. How can I get his head down? It’s beginning to affect his riding also.

Answer from April Reeves: I use the expression all the time: “Everything you do teaches”. This is a perfect example of a horse that has unknowingly (by the owner) been taught to raise his head. The owner has not done it with purpose. Most owners don’t work at making their horses worse. But we fail to realize that every move we make, every thing we do is training.

The other thing that you will see here is that the horse has begun to bring his head up during riding. This is a powerful statement for groundwork. While you may not think that what you do on the ground has any relationship to what you do in the saddle, this is evidence that it does. Groundwork done properly provides leadership in every other thing you do with your horse, especially riding.

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My horse is stuck in her training schedule. What is wrong?

horseQuestion: My horse was doing really well with her training for the first 4 months, but seems to have lost it. We have come to a roadblock in our training and I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong. What should I be looking for? Is my horse maybe not able to learn any more?

Answer from April Reeves: Often when people are training their horses, there is a tendency to speed through the ‘boring’ stuff and get into the fun stuff. Unfortunately, it is the boring work that allows the horse to take in the fun stuff easily. Again, it’s about foundation work, and I harp on this subject a lot, but it’s important enough to keep repeating. I can guesstimate (from experience) that 90% of all horses are missing this (sure would like to know what other trainers think about this).

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My horse jigs on a trail ride coming home. How can I stop this?

Jigging HorseQuestion: 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).

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My horse bolts and runs. How can I stop him from doing this?

Bolting HorseQuestion: My horse often bolts in the arena for no reason. We will be working quietly for days and then one day he will just go and run. How can I stop him from doing this? He doesn’t do it on the trail. He doesn’t buck when he bolts, just runs. I use the pulley rein to get him to stop eventually. At first I was scared, but now it’s just annoying. I don’t want him to do this at shows next year.

Answer from April Reeves: Be thankful your horse is only bolting in an enclosed area right now, as it is just a matter of time that you experience this somewhere else. It’s also a matter of time when he adds bucking to the mix. I assume he does not have a favorite spot to start this, and will bolt anywhere in the arena.

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My horse tries to kick me when I longe him. Help!

Horse kicks on longe lineQuestion: My gelding tried to kick at me on the lunge line yesterday. He postured and turned his back end to me. He is always good. Would the wind have anything to do with it? I tried to hit him but he just got mad and tried it again, then moved in to me. I went after him with the dressage whip and he pulled and ran away. What could be causing this?

Answer from April Reeves:

The Change of Seasons
My first thought is that it’s fall, and horses often tend to do mysterious things like act up and get spooky or excited for no apparent reason. At least to a human there seems to be no reason. With horses, everything they do has reason because they live in the moment, not the future or the past like humans do. So their reaction is always about what is happing here and now. If your gelding has NEVER been aggressive to you in the past, this behavior is a bit odd. If he is boarded out and you are not the primary caregiver, then there may be history you are unaware of. If he was allowed to get aggressive with another handler, it may spill over to you.

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How can we get our new horse to trot and canter slower?

Girl and horseQuestion: My granddaughter shows in 4-h and she has a 6yr old mare we just bought her. Her trot is a little fast and so is her canter. How do we slow it down? The horse has never been to a show and I figure we have all winter to get her ready. Can you help slow her down?

Answer from April Reeves: Yes I can and it’s a fairly easy exercise. It’s also a part of foundation training and will set up your horse to do additional exercises.

First, this exercise will teach the mare to take responsibility for her gait. You should never have to constantly push a horse every few strides, nor should you have to try to correct a fast horse all the time. Horses should stay in the gait you ask until you ask otherwise, and this exercise will help. It’s also easy. You will do very little.

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My horse runs continuously when let out. Should I be concerned?

Girl and HorseQuestion: I have a 18 month old Percheron/Thoroughbred cross and she is in a paddock (rather large) most of the time. When I let her out she runs and runs and runs just appears to be playing and never trying to run over any humans. When she is done and I say “come” she will always walk to me. Should I be concerned of this behavior?

From April Reeves: Your filly sounds quite normal to me. All horses display exuberance and love to self-exercise especially when freed from confining pens and paddocks. If she does not get out every day, then running for quite a long time can be normal.

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