Category Archives: Western training answers

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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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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My Barrel horse won’t enter the arena quietly! Help!

barrel horseQuestion: Hi, I have this dun 11 year old quarter horse gelding who won’t enter an arena. My sister barrel races him, and when we try to get him in the arena for a run in a show, he will refuse to go in. But once he is in, he takes off running, so I don’t think he hates barrel racing. It is getting frustrating because it takes us about 10 minutes to get him in. Last time it took 6 people to push him in. Do you know why he is doing this? Dusty is ridden sometimes in trail riding, cattle herding, and he used to do a lot of riding around for fun. Mostly though he is now just used for barrel racing. He wears most of the time a hackamore.

Answer from April Reeves: Your problem with your gelding is quite typical and fairly easy to fix. Let’s take a look at what causes your horse’s arena fright.

Many non-pro horses used in games and especially barrels are trained to achieve this level of skill set by focusing on this alone. While many owners believe the only way to get a really great barrel horse is to do nothing but barrels, this is not necessary nor the case, and can actually lead to escalating control problems and a dangerous horse that will require a great deal of re-training. It sounds like your horse needs a break from the barrels.

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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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How do I determine what size of Western saddle to buy?


Reining Saddle

Question: How do you determine what size of Western saddle to get your horse?

Answer From April Reeves: I will give you enough information to be able to purchase a good saddle that not only fits the horse, but fits you as well.

One thing I like to stress, when looking for a saddle, the cheaper they are the worse they fit. Cheap saddles do not last due to the lack of quality in almost every area: leather, stitching, tree and fleece. They often use plastic (cheap) and staples. Quality saddles use nails and screws, rawhide, fiberglass and flex trees.

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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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What size of horse is best for my first horse?

sb10063272f-001Question: I convinced my parents to buy me a horse (yay!) and I want to know what height would be good for me. I am about 5 feet, and pretty skinny. I have been riding mostly large ponies. Is that a good height?? I have been looking at some horses and I found a cute one close by, but he’s 15.3hh, is that to big??

Answer from April Reeves: I’m not sure how old you are but 15.3 is only too tall if the horse is too much for you to handle. Many people ride exceptionally tall horses now days. At 5 feet tall, I’m not sure you should look at anything much taller than that as you may run into problems getting on when out on a trail ride. Otherwise, it’s a nice height to be able to do things with. Not too tall, not too short. And you may grow into him as you mature.

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How can I keep from messing up a newly trained horse?

Arabian FaceQuestion: My horse is coming home from being trained. I would like some tips or info from you about when he gets home. I do not want to mess up on anything. I do know how to ride a horse, & we have alot of dirt roads out here. I would like to know what I can do to bond with him with out spoiling him. He is a 6yr old gelding. Thanks for all & any info you might have for me.

Answer from April Reeves: How exciting for you! I’m glad to see someone sending their horse out for training. It’s much better for the horse and the rider!

What does concern me a bit is that you did not get instruction along with the horse as to how to carry on. All my horses in training come with rider instruction. I personally find it redundant to return a horse that the rider knows nothing about. I don’t want the horse back. I WANT the rider to enjoy the horse!

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My spooky horse won’t pay attention to me and freezes!

Adiva Murphy enjoying a ride on Morgan mare

Adiva Murphy enjoying a ride on Morgan mare

Question: I have a 6 year old Morgan gelding that I got last January. I ride him English and I jump him.
Ok, so here’s the problem. Every time I go out to ride him, he always has his ears and eyes on EVERYTHING around him. He rarely pays any attention to me. He practically jumps out of his skin if he sees a tree, a piece of trash, a leaf, or something that he didn’t see the day before. If I take him somewhere new, he gets soooo pushy and freezes up. I just don’t know what to do! I’ve tried taking him up to whatever it is that he seems to be afraid of. I’ve tried just riding on past it like it wasn’t there. I’ve tried turning him in tight circles, backing him, side passing, figure eights, etc to keep his mind on me instead of everything else. How do I make him relax? The only way I can get him to put his ears on me is by yanking on his mouth really hard. And then I end up losing me temper and smacking him. I feel soo bad. I feel like he doesn’t like me anymore. How can I earn his trust back? I know I’m not supposed to yank on his mouth but he makes me so mad sometimes I wanna cry!

Please help me.

Answer from April Reeves: Morgans are one of my favorite breeds, and the first one I ever owned when I was little. They can do everything. Even things you don’t want them to do. It looks as though this is where you are right now.

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What is Parelli and should I consider buying a Standardbred or Thoroughbred?

Pat and Linda Parelli - Love, Language and Leadership

Pat and Linda Parelli - Love, Language and Leadership

Question: Hi April: I have a couple of questions:

1) What is Parelli training?

2) Where can I read more about Parelli?

3) What are your thoughts on getting a horse from one of the accredited horse rescue facilities?

4) I am 5’4″ 170 lbs and am interested in getting a horse in a year or two. It has been recommended to me to get a thoroughbred 10-20 yo. How about a Standardbred? I am taking beginner lessons, I was an avid rider 40 years ago. I am 58 yo and on a weight loss program. My reward will be a horse after a couple years of lessons for pleasure riding and to maybe learn very, very novice dressage for my own pleasure and dropping 30 lbs. Your advice and comments are appreciated. Thank you.

Answer: First, I have to say good for you! Getting back on a horse is a big dream, and good for you to be brave enough to do it. Owning a horse will help in your other goals, especially for strength and mental happiness. Horses do so much for us.

Parelli Training
The system of Parelli training is to work with your horse on his level; meaning that you, the human, must learn his language and speak to him in his language. This includes body language, voice (lack of it), mannerisms, and ‘play’.

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What should I look for when buying a reining horse?

reininghorseQuestion: I have found a potential reining horse to buy she is pretty and sound but don’t know if she rides well enough. What are some of the things I should be looking for? I want to be able to do a few shows this year and be able to take clinics and lessons at a high enough level but not sure if she is exactly the horse for me. Am I shooting too high here?

Answer from April Reeves:
The first thing to look for when you first get on a reining horse is their ability to stay between the reins. This means that you are able to guide them anywhere you want to go without hesitation or bulging on their part. Guiding is what a reining horse is all about! Does she lean to one side or the other? Are body parts pushing in or out as you guide her?

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How can I start my young horse? What do I need to know?

Max chewing gateQuestion: On your site, the bigger one, (Horseman’s U) you talk about going slow when starting young horses. Can you give me a bit more information about what you mean by what you said, slower is faster. I am having problems with my yearling I started her this fall but she is not very smart. Could I be going too fast?

Answer from April Reeves: Please tell me you are not trying to ride a yearling! If so, get off and give her until the top of her third year to try again. Yes, you are going too fast – WAY too fast, too soon. Let your yearling hang out and eat grass, play with the others and grow strong bones first. It’s like you starting grade one at 6 months old, and packing a ten pound knapsack at the same time.

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My horse spooks. I speak nice, but it’s not working. What should I be doing?

Horses ask us to step up and lead with confidence

Horses ask us to step up and lead with confidence

Question: I have a mare she gets spooky when leading sometimes. My friend told me to speak softly and quietly and pat her when she is like this but she is just getting worse. Should I be nice to her, speak nice? It seems to make her worse. Why is this happening? Does she not like me anymore?

Answer from April Reeves: Here is a classic example of humans expecting the horse to react and think the way we do. Let’s break this scenario down into how each is thinking at the point where your mare spooks:

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I ride English. Do I need a rope halter? How do you tie it?


Rope Halter

Question: I ride English. I use nylon halters, but my horse does not respond as well as he should. He can take me half way down the road sometimes, especially when he wants to eat grass. Do you think I should be using a rope halter? What is the difference? How do you put one on the horse? How do you tie them?

Answer from April Reeves: Traditional halters have a nice elegant look to them and are easy to put on a horse. Unfortunately, some horses tend to pull against them and drag their handlers around, as the wide bands of leather (or nylon) are almost comfortable for a horse.

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Why do new riders pull their horse back to stop?

April Reeves

Clinician, Instructor, Trainer

Question: My new coach does not want me to pull straight back to stop. My old coach only used this method. I will learn both methods (as in one of your older posts you suggest we learn other ways of doing things and find the best one that works for us). My question to you is why do we do this? Why do we need to learn so many things when we start riding?

Answer from April Reeves: Great question! This deals with our attitudes and mindset as a HUMAN, and how we have to alter OUR behaviors to work with the horse.

Yes, work with your new coach and find new ways to do things. There are often many ways to train a horse, and not all horses respond to the same methods. I have 5 methods to teaching the flying change. One is better than all the others, but it depends on the horse I’m working with. Take in all that you can, try it, apply it, and if it works, keep it in the back of your mind. If you don’t see results after a length of time, the method may not be complete. I find many good trainers have difficulty explaining what they do, but are very effective doing it.

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My horse rears when I lead her? Why does she do this?

Horse rearingQuestion: I moved my two year old mare a month ago. She was really behaved for the first three weeks but now when I lead her she keeps rearing. Why would this be and would it help to use a pressure halter or would it make her worse?

Answer from April Reeves: By a pressure halter, are you referring to a rope halter? If so, I would strongly suggest it. If you are referring to nose chains or other methods, then I strongly argue against it.

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My horse won’t lift his back feet to clean. Help!

Horse cow-kicking

Get ready for a cow kick!

Question: I recently bought a 7 year old gelding home and the only problem I’m having is that he doesn’t want to pick up his back feet to be cleaned. He shifts his weight and when he finally lifts it he fires and cow kicks. Not sure how to break him of this or if I can. I’m guessing he’s been spoiled and has gotten away with it for a long time.

Answer from April Reeves: This question has a happy ending and easy answer.

I never fool around with a kicking horse, but you can get him to accept that he has to deal with having his feet worked on.

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I would like to know more about martingales, particularly the German Martingale.

German Martingale

German Martingale

Question: What is a German martingale and how does it work on a horse? My horse tosses her head all the time and my friend told me to use one. Are they expensive? How much will one cost? What are other types of martingales and how do they compare?

Answer from April Reeves: Wow, lots of questions here! The German martingale is a specialized piece of training equipment for experienced riders. It differs from other martingales as it allows lateral movement with little restriction. Unlike draw reins, which only allow longitudinal flexion and never really gives relief from pressure, German martingales will release the pressure on the bit. They also allow the rider to adjust the level of ‘confinement’ of the head and jaw. It is a multi-discipline tool, used in western and English training. (photo from Larry Trocha)

There is a really great video on what it looks like, how to fit it on a horse, and how to ride with it. Go to this page:
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My Appaloosa is too energetic! She trots and canters all the time!

Happy Appy

Energetic Appaloosa

Question: I have a small Appaloosa that was trained as a hunter. She has done novice hunter pony/horse competitions in the past. She was sold to the lady whom I bought her from 4 years ago when she was 4. They didn’t ride her much except for light trail riding. They wanted a pony for her girls. They quickly lost interest in horses and she didn’t get ridden much at all for the last 2 years they owned her. Now I have her and she is 8. I’m in the process of training her to do more Western riding rather than English. My question to you is, she has so much energy! I longe her every time before I ride her, and I longe her a good amount of time till she looks like she’s getting tired and sweaty. But then 5 minutes later once she’s tacked up, all her energy is back and all she wants to do is walk or trot or canter as fast as she can, and never settle down. She’s in a stall all night, but out for a good 8-10 hours in the paddock everyday. All she has to eat is grass and hay, I don’t give her grain or oats, so I don’t think that is where she is getting all her energy from. What do you think? I have a few parades coming up and I’m hoping that she will calm down before then. I will probably have to drug her for them. But just riding in the arena she is like crazy! She has no mean bone in her body, she isn’t trying to throw me off or bucking or rearing or anything like that. She is just so excited when I ride her. Do you have any advice?

Answer from April Reeves: This is quite typical of the Appaloosa breed. They often have a wonderful sense of ‘exuberance’ which can often last longer than you need it to.

Longing a horse like this is not the answer, since all you will be doing is making her more fit and energetic. The other problem with longing is that it really has no deep training level to it. Most people use it to burn off steam with their horses.

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Horse gets spooky during trail rides. How can I fix this?

Spooky Trail Horse

Spooky Trail Horse

Question: My 5yr old has a very bad problem with things jumping out at him. The only thing is there is nothing there. He thinks the trees are going to get him. He just started doing this, every time we go up the road, he keeps his attention on the trees or the ditches. Cars don’t bother him and deer don’t one bit. I don’t know what his problem is and would like to know how to fix it. I’ve had him since he was 3; he is an excellent horse, great with cattle, barrels and responds well to leg pressure and reins.

Answer from April Reeves: This is so typical of horses right when the leaves begin to fall off the trees. Although we can’t ‘see’ anything, there are changes in the way everything smells, especially to the horse. Since we keep our horses in an environment that’s fairly sterile, in the sense that the horse does not have the ability to learn about these situations for himself in the wild, he resorts to snorting, stopping and refusing to move quietly past these things.

So what can you do?

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A green rider wants to break a green horse.

Max's  First Ride

Max's First Ride

Question: I just bought a 4yr old quarter horse mare. She is so sweet she will follow you anywhere. She will let me sit on her but won’t move and I was told she never had a saddle or rider on her. How can I saddle break her and get her to start riding?

Answer from April Reeves: I don’t normally advise someone to break a horse that has no prior experience as it almost always ends up not in the horse’s best interest. Breaking and training is a long and somewhat dangerous procedure, and a green rider getting on and riding a green horse can get you both hurt very seriously.

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My horse will not accept living in a stall! Help!

Stalls - Cave or Comfort?

Stalls - Cave or Comfort?

Question: I have a new gelding, he’s 8, and he will not stay in a stall overnight. Why do horses do this? Don’t they feel comfortable in a stall? What is it in his behavior that causes him such anxiety? Could he get some vice from this?

Answer from April Reeves: I love this question, mainly because I have done years of testing and research on equine behavior and our intrusion into their lives. I wrote a comprehensive article on this which may help you to understand why horses behave the way they do. It will give you a better insight into the reasons for their actions and how they evolved.

Stalling horses will always be a necessity for many reasons, but to the horse, does this practice encourage comfort and safety, or anxiety and depression?

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