I am a retired professional horse trainer, active Certified rider coach, I coach riders and their horses throughout Australia and New Zealand, I am the author of the book From Go To Whoa - Training Your Own Horse, I am also a Certified Nutritionist and a professional Keto Coach. I am a keen fisher woman and I love the gym where I weight train 4 days a week. I travel Australia full time now with my husband and our Jack Russell Doug, booking and holding clinics and lessons throughout the country for many remote horse riders as well as not so remote. I love coaching riders and their horses along with helping people with nutrition and the ketogenic diet.
How to quick-fix a horse’s bad habits in the show pen
I am always on about repetition when training your horses. This is the quickest way to instill into your horse something you want to teach them – repetition! Until repetition of a certain kind backfires on you.
Nothing worse is there, you’re in the class, the announcer calls for a jog, however, it’s out of sequence to what your horse is used to, he hears the mic “assumes” it’s time to lope, suddenly your whole world collapses at your feet, your pulling the reins, he’s lifting his head and trying to lope off, did the judge see it? Most likely, yes.
This is only one scenario that could lose you a place in the lineup.
Horses are incredibly smart animals. They learn to listen to the announcer for transitions instead of to their rider’s cues. They can become anxious and want to move up into what they think is coming next!
Last time, I spoke about the usefulness of draw reins and the problems that can occur when you overuse them. I love to use them, as I mentioned in my blog “Draw Reins part one” when I am going to train the lope transition.
Sometimes it’s approach is head on, sometimes it’s from the side – either way…
Teaching your horse (any age) obstacles for trail is best done by breaking it down into segments and practicing one obstacle at a time.
How to manoeuvre through the Rope Gate:
Walk up to the gate so you are parallel to it, passing the hinge side of the gate first.
Woah your horse’s shoulder by the latch side of the gate, with the hinge side by the horse’s tail.
Your lead should be coiled in your left hand when you set your horse’s shoulder at the latch of the gate, your right hand holding the lead nearer your horses head and unlatch the gate with the left hand as you turn your body to face your horse (your left hand is now closer to the gate). Transfer your coiled lead to your right hand, open the gate with your hand and begin to back your horse.
Don’t let go of the rope or the cows could get out!
Back up until you and your horse clears the latch gate or pole.
Make a tiny U-turn through the gate.
Woah when you are through the gate and parallel to it.
Back up several steps, until your horse’s shoulder is by the latch side of the gate.
Latch the gate with the hand closer to the gate.
Approach – If you were to approach the gate head on it’s a simple matter of just walking toward the center of the gate, turn a few strides off either to your left or right depending on what the judge has requested on the pattern and set your horse up for the opening of the gate.
Whoa – When you are there, stand quietly for a couple of minutes making sure you horse is relaxed and not fidgeting. If they are fidgety,
I think the worst thing you can do once you hunt down that curb/shank bit that your horse loves and works well in is to use it on him day in, day out. When you do find that “favourite” bit the best thing you can do is to keep it for those special occasions like showday.
Lot’s of riders’ do this and it is “common sense” to them to say “Beauty! My horse loves this new bit, I can relax now and stop worrying!” Down the track though, I get calls and questions all the time wondering why their favourite bit is not working anymore. You can liken it to using the same spurs day in day out, after a time the horse starts to become dull to the feel of the spurs you use every day.
What triggers a horse to flip his head uncontrollably, sometimes to the point of endangering him and his rider?
The amazing thing about horses is how such large, powerful animals can be so sensitive and aware of the slightest sensation, such as a fly on its back or face. Rippling of skin or an occasional head shake is a normal response to the tickling trigger of nerve endings. But, there are times when a horse can’t stop shaking or tossing its head to a seemingly in-apparent sensation; such incessant behaviour is known as head shaking.
The main reasons that I have found for a horse to lean or pull on the reins is:-
No release from your hold on the reins
Question: My horse has started leaning on the bit. She was fine before she had her accident and hurt her back leg, I gave her three months off and now she has started leaning on the bit. I don’t know what to do to fix this. What do I do?
Answer: This is a good question and thanks for asking. If you are 100% sure your horse has no teeth issues and is not suffering any pain, I would hazard to guess your horse is pulling the reins out of your hands because the is no release from your hold on the reins.
So, we are constantly told to be light on our horses mouth. This can be part of the problem sometimes (but not always). When a horse pulls on us, the tendency is to allow the reins to be pulled through our hands because you are striving to do the right thing and be “light” on your horses mouth.
I actually use a similar method when I am training the horse for Hunter Under Saddle, the only difference is, I am holding a firm grip to encourage the horse to “nose out” and get low… readmy book From Go To Whoa – Section on Teaching your Hunter Under Saddle Horse. You can also refer to the blog – 3 tips to help you win in Hunter Under Saddle. When a horse pulls on the reins, gets release and is not corrected, this actually teaches the horse that pulling is acceptable behaviour. Having been successful, the horse will do it again.
The most natural thing for a horse to do is to go forward. The most frustrating issue for many riders is having a horse who is not willing to go forward. So what prevents a horse from doing what comes so naturally to him? Some might blame it on a bad attitude, laziness or stubbornness. But, the most common reason is that something is getting in the horse’s way – something that makes him feel uncomfortable or disturbs his natural balance and rhythm.
On occasion a horse has some kind of physical problem that causes pain or discomfort when saddled and ridden. The horse may not be lame, per se: He may move out freely without a saddle or any weight on his back, yet be reluctant to move when someone is riding him. If the horse is balky and stubborn when first starting a ride and then seems to “warm out of it,” you should suspect a physical problem as the cause, such as a sore back or arthritic joints. It might pay to investigate this, contact your dentist, farrier, chiropractor or vet to discuss the possible causes of pain or discomfort.
When the horse refuses to move because he doesn’t want to do something—such as go through a gate—the easiest way to get him moving is to convince him that he’s not being made to do the thing he doesn’t want to do—in other words, change his focus.
For example, you can turn the horse in another direction and re-approach the gate, or back him up through it. This solves the immediate problem, and then you can work on the larger issue with progressive training to teach him to go through gates over many training sessions.
The horse that stops for no apparent reason (there isn’t an object or obstacle that seems to be the cause) and refuses to move in spite of coercion is harder to deal with. It’s often as if he suddenly decides he’s had enough (of whatever you’ve been asking him to do while being ridden) and his mind shuts down. Kicking him or using spurs or a whip is not the answer here as he will likely still refuse to budge. Punishment is usually counterproductive in this scenario and makes the horse’s mind shut down even more. The best way to get him to move is to make him take a step to the side by getting him a little off balance.
From the moment you enter the ring to the moment you leave, your performance must exude ease and confidence. Communication between you and your horse should be nearly invisible. Nothing should distract the judge’s attention from his class. In fact, the best riders seem to melt into the scenery—all you notice is the horse.
Have you ever been to a show, doesn’t matter what discipline you’re watching and you notice a particular horse moving really pretty, no matter where it is on the rail or whenever you happen to look back again at that same horse you think to yourself “that horse’s movement, stride and cadence hasn’t altered one bit”?
How do you produce a run like this?
By making a fantastic first impression and demonstrating beautiful, consistent rhythm from beginning to end as well as smooth transitions and balanced corners.
That’s what is called the Kodak moment. It’s a phrase used when taking a picture of someone or in this instance of a horse and rider on the rail at a particular moment that will never be forgotten, then take another picture in a different place and another in a new position and so on with each moment near on the same as the first. Kodak cameras used this expression (the Kodak moment) as part of their advertising many years ago.
To get the consistent “Kodak” moment around the arena comes down to correct training of the horse at home. It’s one thing to train your horse but it’s another to be able to ‘finish’ that horse for the show pen and to be able to show your horse to the judge on a draped rein with the horse showing balance while going around with a level topline, a smoothness in their gait and cadence. This takes consistency.
Be consistent in your training.
Over the days, weeks and months of training mostly through the coldest, wettest months of the year, I want to make certain that I am not going to be wasting my time and efforts, I want to be certain all my i’s are dotted and my T’s crossed. I am training the horse to achieve a consistent, rhythmic movement in the show pen, so to achieve this I myself have to be consistent in my training.
Here is where a lot of riders fail…
The horse does not respond exactly the way riders have it in their heads, which is usually ‘do it right away’, so riders alter their question. They change their hands, they start to kick and do whatever it takes to force that horse into performing at the speed and quality they demand.
Unfortunately, horses don’t think like this. We humans believe that horses should just read our thoughts. We jump from grade 1 to grade 12 in an attempt to ‘train’ but what we are really doing is setting up the future of our horse to become an anxious, dangerous individual. Horse’s need a quiet consistency when being asked to do something.
When teaching your horse you should never change the question, stay with it, wait for it, keep yourself consistent and thinking “here I am, figure it out.” Changing the question only confuses the situation.
We destroy horses when we demand that they instantly know what we want, when we want it and how perfect it should be. We are never satisfied with the smallest of tries, but we don’t realize that while it’s a tiny deal to us, a small try is a very very BIG deal to a horse. As long as you recognise the error they may be making and then being consistent in correcting it, not sometimes but every time then you will be setting your horse up for that Kodak moment.
No matter how old your horse is or how much training it has, the quiet way you ask is still the same. Once a young baby has had a chance to stand and soak what you are asking of it for about 30 seconds, I would go forward and do something else with them then I would go back and try it again. If it’s training the back up for example, You halt, settle, take up the reins just enough to say ‘don’t go forward’ and begin to pulse your legs again gently. Nine out of ten babies will go back sooner than the first time.
Nowhere in this exercise did I ever change my position or how strong I pulsed. The only thing I would have added is the rein pressure to say ‘don’t go forward’, but, if the horse wanted to go forward fairly aggressively, I would change the level of pressure from my legs first. You can do this by slowing the rhythm of your legs.
The point is, you set up your position, gently, and begin to ask. No matter what the horse does, you wait. And wait. Until you get the right answer and then you release. You never change what you are doing. You must be patient enough to wait for the answer you are looking for.
This is what consistency is all about.
To know what to do, how to ask for a specific movement and response.
To apply it until the horse responds, in a respectful manner and without undue pressure.
To have the patience to wait for the horse to answer you with the right response.
Patience and consistency
Horse training is not difficult, it just takes some thought. But what has to happen is that you must release preconceived notions on how you believe it should go. All horses are different, and you must take that into account when you train. You need to learn to be patient and consistent. Anger, impatience and ego have no role in horse training.
Horse Training Book
Remote Horse Rider Training - Train your own horse at home. Follow Pam Neal as she explains in easy to read and detailed how she trains her horses in preparation for all the major shows.
I don’t mean the kind that falls out of someone’s mouth lol,
I don’t know about you but if there was one thing that really stands out to me like a sore thumb in a class is when the judge asks for an upward gait, say from a walk to a jog for instance. Instead of the horse stepping into the jog when cued to do so, the horse builds up speed in the walk until it’s legs are going so fast that it has to start jogging! – dribbling into the jog!
If you are transitioning from a walk into say the jog for example, the horse should not change the speed of the walk when you depart into the jog, the walk should neither quicken nor slow down before taking off.
Hunter Under Saddle horses should move with long, low strides reaching forward with ease and smoothness, be able to lengthen stride and cover ground with relaxed, free-flowing movement, while exhibiting correct gaits that are of the proper cadence. The quality of the movement and the consistency of the gaits is a major consideration. The head position should be slightly in front of, or on the vertical.
Three tips you might use to help you win in hunter under saddle