Question: I am a 53-year-old woman. I’ve had a love of horses all my life. I had a horse for 5 months when I was 15 but that doesn’t mean I know what I’m doing, in fact just the opposite – I don’t. I recently found an abandoned year-old colt. Every day, twice a day, I go out to his very large pasture and call him by the name he’s used to. He usually always comes running to see me. I’ve only been doing this for 6 days now and I have to admit I’m nervous because he’s never been handled by anyone before and I’m new at all this and he’s new at all this too. I take out apples, carrots, bread and sugar cubes. He wants to eat and eat and I’m not sure but I think he just looks at me like the one that brings him good food but it’s working, I think. If I run along the fence he runs next to me, if I stop he stops, if I turn back he turns back with me. Once he ran ahead and couldn’t see me and came to find me. I’ve been getting into the pasture with him but again I’m really nervous but determined to make friends. He’s nervous too because he throws his head up a lot and makes this sound with his mouth like he’s tired. Today he paws the ground once and I got back in the pasture with him. He puts his ears back some times but then brings them forward too. Yesterday I was able to get a halter on him and I was so excited. It took three tries but I stood to his one side and I got it on. I went out and it’s still on. I don’t know what I’m doing to be honest but I’m hoping what I’m doing is the right things. I can’t walk through the pasture because I live in South Florida and we have a LOT of poisonous snakes and his pasture is really over grown with high grass and shrubs and it’s not safe for me to walk through that. I stand inside the gate how ever and in that very small space is where we have bonded or I hope we’ve bonded somewhat. I spend 2 hours talking to him and getting in and out of the pasture by climbing over the gate. It used to spook him but because I’m doing it so much he’s getting used to it. He’s trying to bully me for food though and maybe this is why I feel uneasy. He knows when I come I have food and he likes that. What can I do that can stop him from raising his head way over mine when I don’t give him the food and what does this mean when he’s doing this? He backs away from me too and I walk after him facing his face. If I turn around and walk away he’ll follow me though. I have gotten to pet him a lot and he almost fell asleep on me today scratching his ears. I don’t want to make mistakes that will get me kicked, or him not trusting me any more. Any suggestions would be appreciated. It has to be me doing some thing to make him raise his head way over mine and I’m short. If I bend down to pull grass, he’ll lower his head like he’s helping me. I don’t know if I’m reading this right either but he stretches out his neck as far as he can get it some times for food like he doesn’t want to come in close but I won’t give him a treat like that I make him come to me. He also wants to bite at my hand like he’s associating my hand for food. Am I making a mistake?
Answer from April Reeves: Rescuing a horse is never a mistake, but he is a colt, he is young and you are green. That is the only mistake. Unfortunately, it’s a big one, if you cannot find someone with really great credentials to help you. They need to be there physically to show you how to work with him. I can help from this end but this type of situation needs a hand that’s not afraid or lacking confidence.
Let’s go over some of the issues you have at the immediate moment.
Question: Hello, I have been training horses since I was 12. I’m no expert by any means and have lots to learn.
But as of right now I am currently working with a 3 year old quarter horse. She is the most nervous insecure horse I have ever worked with. Her previous owner told me they had started her under the saddle already and she had accepted it, which I found through further training was a lie. I have been constantly working with her since October and am hardly moving forward. I started right from scratch with basic halter training. Now, I have ridden her only because I was pushed into it by her owner. I stopped because I felt she was not ready, every time I sack her out its like its all new to her. I have used many objects such as a bag on a whip, a cowboy hat, a blanket, just a plain stick, and she still flips each time I bring out an object. Even if it was an object she has previously seen! She is having major difficulties with switching eye to eye. And frankly I am running out of ideas. I’m not sure if I should just move on and ride her in hopes I can work it out of her on her back.
Answer from April Reeves: I have run across a mare like this. You may have to back off from using objects to desensitize her as it makes them worse.
Where this problem originated was back in her history somewhere. Owners never tell you the whole story. It’s up to you to assume the worst and work from there. People can really ruin a young horse.
This mare will take a great deal of consistent gentle handling. Get rid of bags on the end of whips and other cool toys that work on other horses. With this mare, you will be doing basic work. But it’s not the work you are doing, it is HOW you will carry out this work.
Posted in English Riding answers, Equine Behavior & Problems, General riding answers, Natural Horsemanship, Western training answers
Tagged break horse, colt starting, Equine Behavior & Problems, foundation training, Groundwork, horse training, Natural Horsemanship, problem horse, spooky horse, western training, young horse
Question: I am looking at a 16.3 hand 2 yr old appendix quarter horse gelding. His owner is a college student and can’t afford him anymore so she is selling him for a reasonable price. When he was 1 a bone spur was found on his hock. His owner had him injected with hock injections and has kept up on proper shoeing and neither her nor the trainer have seen any signs of the problem since. He is now 2 and is broken. He has been shown (hunter under saddle, equitation, and showmanship) and has won a good bit of money, and is ridden/worked everyday and hasn’t been injected since. I’m wondering if he could’ve grown out of this or if it is going to give me any future problems, i already have a horse with a badly injured back so i don’t need another hurt horse. I plan to do hunter under saddle, equitation, showmanship, some western pleasure, and some light jumping (around age 5) he will be worked just about everyday and shown almost every weekend. PLEASE HELP!!!!!
Answer from April Reeves: Ouch, there are many things you have written that suggest to me to look somewhere else for a horse. I’m not a vet but after all these years there are certain training methods that show up in physical problems down the road, and riding before the age of 3 is the most prominent.
Regardless of the bone spur, anyone who has started a horse that young and works it every day is setting the horse up for back issues down the road. No, there is never a guarantee of this, but your odds right now of having a horse with back issues are 50% and in my books, that’s 50% too much.
WELCOME TO THE WORLD – a non-invasive and loving approach to imprinting
By Liz Mitten Ryan
De-sensitization and imprinting are found in every trainers tool box. Their importance to our efficient handling of horses is invaluable. From a human perspective our interaction with horses from handling to riding is safer and less stressful. Its value to a trusting partnership though is dependent on how sensitive and considerate we are to the horse. Is our horse enjoying the relationship more as a result or are they simply dead to the stimulus?
My journey with horses has been an adventure of discovery. I am always looking to refine and enhance the connection and communication, to dance with my horse to the rhythm of joy, love and perfect communion. I know that our journey as spiritual beings seeded in matter is universal. Each and every being is an equal and unique fruition of one consciousness in all life.
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
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
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’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’m about to have my first foal (actually my mare is). Everyone has an opinion on when to start this colt. When do you think I should I start this foal?
Answer from April Reeves: My answer is the very first day of his/her life! Colt starting is not just about leaving the foal until it’s 2. If you want a really great horse to ride at the end of the day it all begins from the beginning! Why attempt training later in the horse’s life when you can do it when the horse is a baby? Why spend twice the time trying to fix problems later in life?
Colt starting is not just about riding, but getting your new foal use to you and all that a human offers. Brushing, hoof trimming and handling, leading, standing, tying, spook proofing, trailering – all these can be done the first year of the horse’s life. Don’t make riding your only goal.
Question: 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.
Question: I recently purchased a 2 1/2 year old Haflinger which is broke to ride and pull a cart. A friend told me that he is too young to ride and that his knees are not through growing until 3. Should I wait before riding or pulling the cart?
Answer from April Reeves: Yes, your Haflinger is way too young to ride. Although the legs are a concern, horses grow from the ground up, and it is their spine and neck that finish last, and are the first to develop problems from early riding and use. Horses will continue bone growth up to the age of 7.