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Horse Training – 5 Reasons Your New Horse Is Behaving Badly and What You Can Do To Improve It Now
Q. I bought a 9-year-old mare about two weeks ago. She was fostered at age 4 and didn’t do much until recently when she was ridden bareback across the fields to help round up a herd of horses. When she first came to the farm, she was great. She seemed to be very confident and forward. She was only slightly startled when a car suddenly appeared from around the corner – but nothing bad. I ride her outside 1 or 2 times a week with another horse and then 1 or 2 days in the arena. But in the last two days she was not herself. She is in good health so I don’t think it is a physical problem. I could never get off the ground so need a leg up. But she just won’t stand still. She walks away and even swings her mouth away from me so I have a fight to try and get up. When I finally get up I can feel her on edge and ready to go. So I have to hold her back a little bit. She won’t stop when I ask her to either. If I pull lightly on the reins, she will get upset and walk backwards or in circles. I don’t know what happened. I would really appreciate any advice.
A. It is not uncommon for behavioral and training issues to arise shortly after purchasing a new horse and bringing her to a new home. Here are five tips to help you and your horse start building a positive relationship from the start.
1) Behavior is Communication – The only way your horse can communicate is through her behavior. If she exhibits behaviors you don’t like, don’t assume she’s just being “bad.” Pay attention to her behavior to understand how she feels. A horse that doesn’t want to be trapped in the paddock needs to develop more confidence before willingly coming to greet you at the gate. A horse that doesn’t want to stand to be ridden may be feeling pain from a misalignment or is uncomfortable with how she is being ridden. A horse that does not want to stand still is stressed and, like a flying animal, needs to move. Take the time to find out the reason (the cause) of your horse’s behavior rather than simply trying to “fix” the symptom. When you treat the cause, the symptom will disappear as a result.
2) Adjustment Time – Your new horse has been taken away from everything that was familiar to her and now has to adapt to a new environment, a new routine, a new herd and new people. Imagine how you would feel in a similar situation. It’s important to give her some time to settle in and get comfortable with all the changes in her life. You can only help her by spending time with her so that you can get to know each other as you begin to build a relationship and develop mutual trust. Get to know your new horse from the ground up by grooming her, walking her, grooming her and just hanging out with her for a few days.
3) Tack Check – Getting to know your horse from the ground up during the first few days is the perfect time to check that your tack fits and is in good condition. Saddles and bits are not “one size fits all”. Physical pain or discomfort from a misalignment, dental problems, muscle or joint pain, or a chiropractic issue causes behavioral and training problems. Some of these physical problems may not show up in a routine veterinary exam. An equine sports therapist, massage therapist or chiropractor can identify problem areas, if any. A professional saddler can give you an assessment of your saddle, make adjustments to your saddle, or help you find a saddle that fits. The cost of hiring any of these professionals (usually less than $100) is a small investment to make sure your horse is comfortable and won’t have behavioral problems due to pain down the road.
Make sure your bridle and bite also fit correctly. An eyebrow band that is too small will pinch and squeeze the sensitive area at the base of the ears. The piece needs to be the right width and shape so it doesn’t pinch the sides of her mouth or her tongue. If she shows signs of being uncomfortable with the bite or with contact (ie, she has a busy or “hard” mouth), have your vet give her a thorough dental exam to make sure her teeth are in good condition.
4) Training Review – A horse that has been ridden for years may still be “green” depending on the level of training she has received. If she hasn’t been given a good foundation, there will be gaps in her training that may not have been apparent when you took your test drive before buying her. If your horse has only ever been ridden by one or two people or only experienced riders, she may have difficulty understanding your signals and become confused. The more sensitive the horse is, the more she will be affected by even a small amount of tension, stiffness, imbalance or crookedness in the rider. Have your first rides in an arena or pen and ride slowly and calmly. Make sure she understands your cues and pay attention to any subtle signs that she’s feeling tense or uncomfortable. Only when you are sure that your communication is working – both ways – should you expand on what you are asking of her.
5) Professional Help – Even Olympic level riders get some training sometimes. Take lessons with an experienced trainer/coach as often as you can. If there are no trainers available in your area, check online for trainers who travel or offer video lessons; travel to a trainer who offers private training at his own facility; or, attend clinics that focus on riding skills or your specific discipline. Having “eyes on the ground” – even occasionally – gives you feedback on how you and your horse are progressing together. If you’re dealing with a training problem that you don’t know how to solve, get help from an experienced trainer who can help determine the root cause of your mare’s behavior and then work with both of you to resolve it and prevent it from getting worse. . It always takes longer to “unlearn” a behavior or habit than it does to teach a new behavior.
By taking as much time as necessary to develop mutual trust, respect and confidence with your new horse, and ensuring that she feels safe, secure and comfortable in all aspects of her new life, you will be rewarded with a ready, trusting and confident horse. partner
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