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
Question: A lesson student did not pay for the last 3 lessons. I still have to pay for the instructors. How can I recoup the money? Should I send a legal letter or collection agency after her? Do you think I will benefit by going after her?
Answer from April Reeves: I have a policy and I don’t move from it. People pay me the day they take the lesson, or they prepay for lessons. There are no exceptions.
The problem in the horse industry is that most people are afraid to lose business. Freebies or unpaid services are always going to end up a loss. If you are truly a professional, you get paid for the services you offer, and that attitude transforms into loyal customers.
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.
Question: We have a colt pony that is approx. 18 months old. He ran the pasture with our 2 geldings and mare for the last 10 months. He is starting to act like a stud naturally. We plan on gelding him. But in the mean time how do we keep him from getting so hot headed around the mare. We have built a wood fenced area for him because when we pasture him separately he just walks through or jumps the fence to get to the mare.
We tried to pasture him with one of the other geldings and they just constantly bite and harass each other. (they also do this when they are all together) Is this just playing or him trying to be the boss because he is a colt? They remove chunks of hair and skin.
He is becoming hard to handle, throwing his head, pawing the ground and getting pushy.
I know it comes down to training, but I don’t want to do the wrong thing and make him worse. Any advice would be very helpful.
Answer from April Reeves, Horseman’s U.com: Your attempts to alter your colt’s behavior by changing his surroundings and pasture buddies will not work in any way, shape or form.
Colts (uncastrated males) have a deeper sense of ‘being’ in this world than a gelding does, simply because he has hormones that a gelding doesn’t. It’s that simple, yet we humans still try to ‘correct’ these bad and unwanted behaviors as if the horse was able to communicate like a human. They can’t.
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: 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: 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: 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: My 6 year old Oldenburg over-jumps everything then lands in a big heap with a grunt. These are 18″ to 2′ jumps. On occasion when she jumps correctly she is lovely and talented, but has this over jumping quirk that manifests itself especially over a new fence. We have changed fences, flowers, coolers, etc without long term success. Help please!
Answer from April Reeves, Horseman’s U.com: Many horses jump too high when learning. There are many reasons for this:
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’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 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.
Question: 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:
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?
Question: 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.
Question: I have a 2yo AQHA show prospect in training in the US (I’m in Canada), what should my expectations be for the first 90 days? She is a well handled, reasonable filly with great ground manners. She has been worked with, saddled previously and even done a little showing in LL (but still sound and sane) with no issues. Any advice?
Answer From April Reeves: Great question, as I have seen some pretty sad horses return from ‘training’. I had the privilege one day to ride an expensive reining colt, returning with 3 months of ‘pro’ work on it. I lost half of my face from this ride.
Good foundation work on a 2 year old should only consist of the following:
Question: 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.
Question: 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).
Question: 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).
Question: 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.
Question: 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.
Question: 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.
Question: 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.