This series is based on questions I get on either Instagram, other social media platforms, or in person. I will provide both the question for reference as well as a follow up answer. I want to keep these brief so that I can reference people to my answers without them having to surf through something that would otherwise be nearly the length of an encyclopedia. But I hope you find these interesting as I get some great questions!
Q: Hello! May I ask for your advice? The horse I'm working with right now used to be very stiff and cold mouthed, with lots of work she's beginning to become more supple and accepting of the contact. however I've hit a little roadblock! whenever I ask her to collect and frame up, she simply just tucks her head in and flexes at the poll! do you have any exercises i can do to help her to really round through the neck?
A: Hi there, it sounds like you might be in for some re-training. :) often the focus becomes the horse's mouth and whether or not the horse will bend from side to side or "give" to the bit, when the focus needs to be on the hind end movement, the back, and training the horse to seek the bit rather than avoid the bit. This is a very common mistake and people often misunderstand "collection" for nose tucking or neck rounding when really it has nothing to do with the nose or neck.
First, I recommend going through the photos on instagram under the hashtag #twebananahorses. Then I recommend watching these videos on youtube (click here). Then after that you can watch this video and blog article I made to show how I train long and low, which is the beginning to developing collection. In the video I talk about flexion and seeking the bit .
Follow Up Q: I've actually been working a lot on getting her to accept the bit, I can almost turn her head to my leg with almost no pressure on the bit! Thank you so much!! This is very helpful!!
A: You're welcome. But just to clarify .. That's not what I mean by accepting the bit. The horse should stretch its nose/neck out to the bit, applying a light weight pressure into the bit creating "contact" but still be movable. What you're referring to is "giving to the bit" which isn't bad in slight moderation but can easily turn into the problems you're having because it can turn into "bit evasion".
Follow up Q: When I'm walking on a loose rein she actually stretches to find the contact, is that what you mean?
A: Yes. That's what you want. The videos I linked you to will explain more too.
Q: And how do you discourage them from ignoring cues?
A: It's important to think of it in an opposite frame of mind. "How can I ENCOURAGE them to want to try." If a horse isn't responding to a cue it either doesn't understand the cue, is frustrated by the behavior, is physically struggling to perform the behavior, or doing something else offers a greater reward than performing the behavior. It's up to you to really listen and encourage your horse and make it worth its effort. Forcing it or being impatient will ruin it for the horse, making it no longer enjoyable for them. There are times when my horses tell me "no", and I have to very carefully assess why the horse is telling me no. It's up to me to decide whether it's something I can fix during that moment without ruining their drive and desire, or is it better to stop and come back to it later.
Q: Hope you had a great break! Just a quick question - what do you think are the most important lessons are for a suckling/weanling foal? (like a 4 mos old )
A: I did! Thank you -- Personally, I prioritize all safety behaviors first. Being able to be handled by a vet, given injections, oral medicine, having every part of their body handled, and also safe and calm trailer loading and travel. I teach these things first no matter the age of the horse. Often adult horses already know these behaviors but maybe not very well, and need to be retrained or have a refresher course. I've learned the hard way what happens when you wait too long to teach your horse how to trailer or be handled by a vet. And just to clarify ... I don't mean that they just "tolerate" being handled, I mean they can be wormed without being man-handled, take injections quietly, load into a trailer and unload extremely easy etc. When in an emergency situation everything needs to be easy.
Next is safe leading manners, and bullet proof safe tying. After that I think the priority is to start exposure training and desensitizing. I always recommend slow and patient exposure, but especially with a very young horse it needs to be fun and positive. Exploring new types of footing, new objects, materials, locations, you name it.
I hope this answers your question! This is basically the list I'm "checking off" with my filly River. It doesn't happen quite like a "list" as some things take time and gradually get better, like leading and tying, so we work on other things simultaneously too.
Q: My baby (horse) is 9 months too and we've put a saddle on him so he could get used to the weight. It was an English saddle so it wasn't heavy. We've blanketed him, put a big stuffed bear on him, he can lung, gone through water, can be in a chute and can load good, he will stand tied, be clipped, and bathed. Now I'm out of ideas of what to do with him. what do you think? Am I moving too fast?
A: An excellent question :) Personally I find it unnecessary to be moving quite so fast. You have to remember that a young horse is like a child and needs to also experience getting to be just that... a young horse. Mentally they are immature and still developing. They need a lot of slow, patient, gradual work, not a lot of intense work while still young. That goes for both physically and mentally. So it sounds like you might be rushing things a little, enjoy this time with your baby horse as it shouldn't be ridden for another two and a half years at the earliest, so there is no need for the horse to know how to lunge and carry a saddle just yet. Desensitizing to it is one thing, or teaching them the concept of walking circles around you is fine but they shouldn't be actively lunged so young or really saddled at all.
You can develop a good sound foundation without having to over do it. Maybe go exploring with your foal or go on walks. Even ponying on trail rides is fine, or teaching some tricks too, but beyond the basic handling and "emergency" behaviors (like knowing how to trailer or be given medicine etc) your foal should be allowed to enjoy its youth and given the time it needs to grow physically and mentally. Hope this answers your question!
Q: What're some good stretches [referring to "trick" stretches] that get them thinking? Just curious as I have been working with ____ at liberty and can get her to really drop down her front (she does it anyways 2 to 3 times a day on her own) but I don't know what else I can teach her.
A: I'm just starting the process of teaching stretches on cue to my horses so I have a limited database of suggestions for you, but any new behavior will trigger "thinking", especially in a state of free shaping (where no pressure and release is used, only a marker sound and positive reinforcement). I used to do stretches manually, and sometimes still do if needed, but believe it's far more beneficial to have them do it on their own. That way they can tell me their limits. My goals are to work on this [parking out] further than work on a shoulder stretch (a variation of a bow), and we currently do stepping up and then down off of high obstacles (like the tire you can see in previous posts) which also stretches and engages various sets of muscles.
Q: I totally agree with this post! You should definitely look deeper into your horse rather than just assuming they're "faking" it and then making it worse by forcing them to do something when there could actually be a problem. However, being a barrel racer I see a certain situation ALL the time, especially with experienced barrel horses and sometimes even my own horses. When it's their turn to race and they become all jittery and sometimes refuse to go into the arena. They'll either have to be led in by another rider/horse, be asked to back in, etc. Then once they finish racing they're walking out with bright eyes, low heads and they'll be licking their lips. In my opinion, if treated correctly horses love to barrel race as much as their humans lol. What do you think? Do you think the horses refuse to go in the gate because of the sudden adrenaline rush and their nervousness to run? Or are they refusing to go in because they associate the racing arena with pain and fear? I'm curious! This post definitely makes you think!
A: This is a very controversial subject but definitely a topic to be deeply considered! That's very interesting about the licking the lips because recent research is showing that lip licking could actually be a sign of a release of anxiety and stress. If that's accurate, combined with the jitters before hand and he refusal to enter the ring unassisted it might be safe to say the horses are experiencing a huge rush of stress and anxiety when entering the ring to barrel race. I'm not saying barrel racing is bad, but I've been spending quite a bit of time contemplating this very issue. Jumpers frequently also experience a huge rush of stress and anxiety as entering the arena, and from what we know about stress and how it affects the brain and the nervous system this could potentially be harmful.
My next thought is, if this is the case, is it possible to train/race/win barrel racing, jumping, turf/dirt racing, pole bending etc without the stress and anxiety that is all too commonly experienced by these horses? My initial thought would be that yes, it is possible, as I have seen very calm, and winning, jumpers and barrel racers before and after a "round". But I would need more time and experience in working with high performance horses to be able to give you a definite "yes, it's possible" answer. In the meantime, it's important to always keep our horses well being as priority over winning. If a horse is refusing to go into an arena it's likely experiencing a lot of stress inside that arena and all training/handling/health/tack needs to be evaluated before going further.
If you have any questions, email them or ask away on my instagram @thewillingequine , I try and answer all the questions I get and who knows, your question might get featured on the next Q&A!