Frequently Asked Horse Training Questions
If you have any horse training question for Bob; a question about his horse training methods, a question about something you saw in the video, or just a general question .... please submit it to us using the Contacting Us form. We will do our best to add your questions and Bob's answers to our FAQ list.
Q-1. You say that you don’t need a round pen but I thought most of the natural horsemanship work was done in a round pen?
….. Kelly W., Lockport, NY
A. Most people don’t have them (they’re fairly expensive). If the horse isn’t halter broke and you need an enclosure to work with him in, you can use his box stall for the early stages of training. Once he’s halter broken and he’s been taught basic leading skills (meaning giving to pressure) all of the teaching can be done with the horse on the end of a lead line (or a longe line as the training progresses). So the need for an enclosed area the size of a round pen is unnecessary. In fact, once you properly teach the horse to give to pressure, you don’t even need an enclosed area.
BACK TO TOP Q-2. I just got a horse that must have been abused at some time because he's an aggressive horse. He moves towards anyone coming into his stall and I'm afraid to go in there. How can I feel safe when I go into my horse's stall?
... Patty H., Farmington, NY
A. You're correct in that he's showing aggression because you're undoubtedly responding to his actions by moving out of his way when he comes towards you. You've got to turn his aggression into fear, meaning that we're going to get him to move away from us rather than us moving away from him. We do this by using a sight/sound stimuli to induce fear (caution: do not hit the horse, i.e., don't use the touch sense because if you do, he'll have a reason to hit back). A simple sight/sound stimuli to use is to bang a lead line or halter against the stall wall to encourage him to respond by moving away from you (and away from the sight/sound stimuli). When you do this, you'll also notice that your horse starts to listen to and watch you ... you're getting his attention. When the horse starts to respond to you (by moving away when you approach) then in small steps you gradually turn the fear around into trust.
This is demonstrated and explained very well in our first video "Establishing Control of Your Horse". Remember, our goal is to have a balance of respect and trust with our horse.
BACK TO TOP Q-3. My horse is head shy and throws his head up when I go to put the halter on him or brush his face. How can I get him to keep his head low and quiet?
…. Don, Victor, NY
A. It’s quite evident that your horse doesn’t trust you and this may have been caused by a bad experience around his head at some time in the past. To help overcome his fear we need to convince the horse that it’s going to be ok for your hands to be around his head.
It’s best to approach this in small steps such as touching his nose for a split second. The reason we start with the nose even though the problem may be the ears, is because when a horse is willing to offer his head to you, he will generally offer his nose to you first. And because you start by only touching his nose for a split second, the horse didn’t have any time to worry about it or react to it. If his head stayed quiet, keep touching his nose but make the touch last a little longer each time until you can keep your finger or hand on his nose without him showing any objection. Build on this by touching other parts of his head but remember that if he’s very sensitive, you don’t initially have to touch that part of his head but just bring your hand near his head and then take your hand away BEFORE the horse shows an objection. The whole idea is to only do what the horse is comfortable with at first and build to doing more.
You need to find the spot where the horse doesn’t react and find the spot where he first reacts to your hand approaching and then make as many steps in between as you can. This is the principle of breaking down what the horse accepts and doesn’t accept into small pieces. Always go slowly and in small steps. This is easier to explain by use of a specific example.
Say that you can’t touch your horse’s ears. You start by touching him on the head where he is comfortable being touched such as on his nose. From his nose, move up his face but touch him for only a split second in the new spot and then move back to the original spot where you know he is comfortable being touched. Then slowly increase the amount of “touch time” going back to the previous or original spot so that you don’t do “too much, too soon”. Make sure the horse is completely comfortable and trusting before going further. Eventually, he will trust you more and more.
Unfortunately, there is no one, simple answer for all horses, because they are all different. Some are more fearful and some are more trustful than others, so pay attention to your horse. He will tell you how quickly you can proceed by his reactions to your actions. With you becoming a better listener, you will soon see an improvement in your horse's trust.
BACK TO TOP Q-4. Can you tell me why my horse wants to roll after I saddle him? It happens every time the saddle is on. Thanks,
…. Tina, internet
A. It sounds like your horse either has an itchy spot where the saddle goes or else he's just trying to be lazy and lay down on the job.
In the case where he's just itchy, try brushing the saddle area vigorously with a stiff brush to see if you can satisfy his need to itch that spot by laying down and rolling. After all, that's why they roll, to get to those areas they can't reach with their mouth.
On the other side of the equation, if your horse appears to be lazy and is trying to get out of work by laying down, then here's how you want to deal with it. If you ask him to stop and he tries to lay down, immediately and assertively ask him to go forward again before he gets a chance to lay down. Then after he walks around a bit, offer to let him stop again. If he tries to lay down again, immediately repeat the same exercise of moving forward and don't let him lie down until you can stop him and he'll offer to stand. Keep repeating this exercise until you can stop him and he'll offer to stand for a longer time. You want to keep building on this until he stands longer and longer and is still willing to work for you.
An example similar to this is in Lesson One of our first video. I call it "let's make a deal". What you do is offer to make an exchange, or "deal", with your horse. When he's willing to give us something that we want, we give him what he wants. In this case we want him to stand and be willing to work.
In the video lesson, I wanted to catch the horse. So I observed him and when he would stand and look at me longer and longer, which indicated that he was willing to stay and let me catch him, I would give him what he wanted by offering to leave him and I would move away. I'd build on this so after awhile I could just walk up to him and catch him.
In this case with the saddling, we want to leave the saddle on longer and longer and if he offers to stay standing longer then we take the saddle off and reward him. In that way we're giving him what he wants because he gave us what we wanted.
You'll be surprised but horses really do learn this way. So give it a try.
BACK TO TOP Q-5. I ride western and have recently been confused by other riders as to what is the correct way to teach a horse to move away from pressure. I was always taught that if I wanted the horse to turn to the right, I should put pressure with my left leg so my horse would move away from my left side. My farrier just told me the complete opposite. I don't want to use any pressure now until I am sure. Which is correct?
…. Joie C. via e-mail
A. You've actually asked two questions here. One is how to teach your horse to give to pressure and the other is how to properly negotiate a turn or a circle. In this answer, I'll address turning on a circle.
Your farrier is on the right track. What you want to do is to make your turn by creating a bend in your horse. This way your horse will go "straight", meaning his hind feet will track in the same path as the front feet. In the case of riding the circle, the horse will be bent throughout his body (head to tail) which will result in "straightness".
How do you achieve this? You first need to create a bend by getting the horse to step slightly to the outside of the circle with his outside shoulder. Let's say in this example you are turning to the right. You first shift your weight to your left (outside) seatbone and leg, which will slightly unbalance the horse. Because of the increased weight on that side, this now gives the horse an incentive to bend by moving his shoulder in that direction in order to regain balance.
Here's an example to show you how this works. Picture yourself standing with your feet close together and now pick up a 5 gallon pail of water with your left hand. You'll find that you'll need to take a step sideways with your left foot to regain your balance.
In the case of your horse, you now add a bit of pressure with your right leg to ask him to step into his outside (left) shoulder which again will create the bend for the circle to the right. All that is left now is to soften the outside rein and take in slightly on the inside rein by twisting your upper body slightly to the right and you are now set up to do your right turn. Remember, not only do you need to learn this, but the horse has to learn this as well. In our first video, Lesson 3 shows how to teach this basic exercise to get the horse to respond from the ground. Once you can consistently get your horse to go through the motions of this lateral movement from the ground, you will find that it will be much easier to accomplish this from the saddle.
So, if you take the time to develop these basic building blocks, you will see a dramatic improvement in your horse.
BACK TO TOP Q-6. I have a 6 month old filly that needs to be weaned. I'm afraid that I will change her personality and trust in me if I stall bound her. What will happen if I let her wean herself?
…. Sally, internet
A. Hi Sally, this is Mary. Since you've asked about weaning a foal and I've dealt with eleven of my own, Bob asked me to answer this question. The only time I would let a foal wean herself is if I didn’t have any other horses and that was the only way I could do it. If you’re stuck in that situation, I’d suggest putting them in separate stalls when they aren’t turned-out, but to be safe, turn them out together.
If you have a friend with horses, another choice would be to send your mare to your friend's place and take one of her horses home to be a companion horse to your foal. This works well if the companion horse is an older horse or pony that isn't aggressive. If you are going to wean this way, always move the mare to a new place and leave the foal in familiar surroundings.
It's not a good idea to confine the foal to a stall and turn the mare out. What works best, if you can do it, is to turn out a companion horse (as described above) with the mare and foal for a few weeks before you plan to wean. But make sure that the mare accepts the companion horse and that the turn-out area is large enough for no one to get trapped and kicked.
If you can't turn them out together, but they share a fence line, the foal will get to know the companion horse, and it will help the weaning go more smoothly. Then the day you want to wean the foal, bring them in and put the mare and foal in separate stalls. It's preferable to put the foal in the stall she's used to as long as it's safe and she can't jump or climb out of it. Believe me, they do try! And if the foal can see the companion horse from the stall, that's even better. It's OK if she can also see the mare but it will probably make them call for each other. Keep an eye on the foal and if you feel safe going in the stall with her, you can comfort her by petting and/or brushing her.
The next time you turn-out, put the foal and companion horse together. Keep the mare in the stall or in a turn-out where she can't see the foal so no one gets frantic. It usually takes 2 or 3 days of separate stalls and separate turn-out for the mare and foal to stop screaming for one another. The foal will soon be independent and the mare will also settle down. And don't forget to cut the mare's grain ration to basically nothing (I feed lots of carrots and apples instead of grain) so that her milk dries up.
It's even better if you can wean by physically taking the mare to another horse farm and leaving the foal with the companion horse. I've been able to do that twice and it worked well. The added benefit is that you don't have to hear the mare and foal screaming for one another which always makes you feel so bad for them. I've found that I can turn the mare out with the foal and other horses in 1-2 months and they will all get along fine. So happy weaning!
BACK TO TOP Q-7. When I’m leading my horse she walks past me, so I turn her in an attempt to slow her down by circling but she doesn’t get the hint. Then I try to drill her by backing her up but she just looks at me like I’m crazy when I brush her lightly with my longe whip. She is 14 years old and a very well trained horse otherwise, so what do you suggest?
... Scott, via Internet
A. Scott, There are really several questions here so I’ll answer in the order in which you should deal with them. Here’s what you need to do first. The basis of your problem is that your horse is not truly FOCUSED ON YOU when she offers to overtake you. So right now, you need to work on the attention getting exercise (to turn and face you) rather than the respect exercise (backing her up).
And here’s an error I often see people make when first trying to get their horse's attention. What they do wrong is they step in front of the horse to get the horse to look at them, thinking that now they have the horse’s attention. But they don’t have the horse’s attention, because what they've done is to respond to the horse. In effect, the horse has gotten their attention.
What you need to do is get the horse to respond to you and you do this by starting to make a circle around the horse by approaching her rear end (clearly demonstrated in the “Establishing Control of Your Horse“ video). This will get the horse to turn both her head and body towards you, and when she does that turn on the fore-hand, you know that you have her attention.
After you have her complete attention (she’s standing still, looking straight at you) then she’s in her seat, in the classroom, and ready to learn. And remember, if at any time when you’re doing another exercise and she suddenly stops paying attention to you, immediately go back and repeat this attention getting exercise. Then you can go back to whatever it was you were doing.
Here's another thing I need to caution you about when you are trying to get her to back up. Make sure that you’ve ASKED her to back up, first by stepping slowing towards her, BEFORE you TELL her with the longe whip. In other words, don’t start with the TELL (using the whip as the touch sense), start with ASKING by stepping slowly towards her (the visual cue). Go back and review Lesson Two in the video and focus on my timing of the cues in comparison to the horse’s reactions.
I hope this answers your questions and helps you to correct the problems you're having with your horse.
BACK TO TOP Q-8. I have two 3 yr olds, a gelding and a mare. How do I get them to start longeing and how do I get the mare from being so pushy and bull-headed (she tries to lead me)? I'd just like some advice.
…. Karen, via internet
A. Hi Karen, You have two questions here and we need to address the second one first. Sounds like your mare doesn't respect you and lacks a good attitude towards learning. Before we can teach our horse to longe or learn anything for that matter, they first must be in a teachable frame of mind. This is accomplished by getting their attention, respect, and trust (ART work). You can see the finished product in the video clip on our web site. Our first video addresses this very well in Lessons One and Two. We have also given examples in EquiTale #1 in the first issue of the EquiHorse Newsletter. If you haven't signed up for the free Newsletter, please do.
If your mare is leading you, then you do not have control of your horse. Translate that to longeing, and you will be even less in control. Before we can even think about longeing the horse, the horse must be responding to us. In order to start longeing, the horse needs to be taught how to move laterally into the outside shoulder so as to create the bend needed to develop a longe circle. You are in luck as these basic bending exercises are covered in Lesson 3 of our first video "Establishing Control of Your Horse".
After learning these basic exercises you will have the tools needed to continue teaching your horse.
BACK TO TOP Q-9. What is the best way to work with a horse that is halter broke but not broke to ride? I'd like to get her to trust me but she just keeps running away from me in the round pen. I've tried the go-away approach and keep sending her out but she won't come back to me. Am I sending her the wrong message with my body language? She will stop and turn towards me but if I make any movement she will run away again. When I have her on a lead rope, she tends to walk all over me.
…. Brenda, via internet
A. Hi Brenda, it looks like you are missing the essential basics needed in order to teach your horse most anything. I know exactly where you're coming from for if you're not really careful you can easily confuse your horse even while working in a round pen. A lot of people get a misconception of how well their horse is trained because of the ability to move the horse around in the round pen. It sounds like you've taught your mare to run every time you move whether that was your intention or not. She might be running from fear or because she runs when you move and you aren't giving her the cue not to run when she slows down or stops. In our video, this is clearly explained in the first Lesson when the horse is running free and we are teaching him to stop, look at us, and let us approach him. It is a matter of giving the proper cues at the proper time and rewarding the horse for the correct behavior. The timing is extremely important.
With regard to the problem of your horse not respecting your space when you are leading her, this goes back to the very foundation training of getting control of your horse. When the horse is free in the round pen, meaning you're not attached to the horse, you have no way to teach her to give to pressure which you will definitely need if you want to keep her with you (not dragging you off or running all over you) if you take her out of the round pen.
We need to get consistent control of our horse by gaining her attention, respect, and trust (ART work). To help you to be able to achieve this, we feel that we have one of the finest, if not the best, teaching tool available in our first video "Establishing Control of Your Horse". Here you can learn through easy to follow, well-explained exercises, how to develop a willing and want-to attitude in your horse. When you get consistent success with all these exercises, you'll be able to confidently handle your horse in most any situation.
BACK TO TOP Q-10. About 2 months ago, I was given an 11 year old TB mare who never raced and has not been ridden for several years. This is the first time I’ve tried to train a horse. At first she was scared of everything especially when I led her outside. This was quite "dangerous" because she would run into me as if to get protection. I tried to get her to move away by waving the whip at her but she won’t move away. I think I have her ATTENTION and TRUST OK. She will stop and stand still for a minute and is slowly improving. The problem is that in the round pen I cannot send her away. She keeps following me but stays too close to me. She obviously does not fear me and has no respect. Please help me.
… Isabelle, via internet
A. It’s not totally clear whether you are working with your mare on a lead line or only working with her “free” in the round pen. Regardless, it definitely looks like the main ingredient that is missing from your recipe of communication is RESPECT.
You need to establish some element of RESPECT when you’re not attached to the horse before you can safely gain their RESPECT when you are attached to them. Since you have a round pen, start teaching your horse to move away from you using FEAR from a SIGHT-SOUND stimuli (for example, cracking a longe whip or shaking a plastic bag). Remember use the least amount of stimuli necessary to get a response so don’t start with the plastic bag.
You’re only trying to get the horse to move away (from you) in response to hearing and seeing something scary. You’re not going to be hitting the horse using the TOUCH sense. We address this in the first lesson of our video, “Establishing Control of Your Horse.”
Later, when it is safe to be attached to the horse, you work on getting the horse to move away from you by using controlled FEAR (which is RESPECT). You do this by using the SIGHT sense reinforced by the TOUCH sense. That is, you move the whip toward the horse and reinforce that sight cue with the touch sense by tapping the horse’s chest with the whip. Again this is clearly explained and shown in our video.
After many repetitions of these exercises, you will find that your horse will RESPECT you whether you’re working in the round pen or anywhere else.
BACK TO TOP Q-11. What can I do to make "worming" not a major ordeal? I have a 4 year old mare that fights me when I want to deworm her. I have tried just holding on to her lead rope and she holds her head up and walks back. And I have tried to tie her and she sets back and goes nuts. Do you have any suggestions?
… Larry via Internet
A. It looks like your horse doesn't totally trust you as well as consistently give to pressure. First off in this situation, your horse has to be taught to give to pressure. This is explained and demonstrated in our first video: "Establishing Control of Your Horse" in Lesson Two.
Once you have taught her to give to pressure in the absence of a distraction (such as the dewormer), you will have the tools needed to help you through this problem. Now you can take hold of the lead line (remember, don't tie her) and take the "wormer" (something she is afraid of) and show it to her. If she starts to back up, pulling against you, don't try to stop her by fighting but instead use a steady following pressure on the lead line until she figures out that this isn't working and stops backing up.
Once she gives to the pressure of the lead line, meaning she only has to lean forward or give a tiny step forward, take the "wormer" away. Doing this rewards her for the correct answer which was giving to the pressure.
Keep building on this exercise with small steps until you get to the point where you can actually touch her nose with the syringe. If you can't do that, you'll never be able to get it inside her mouth long enough to push the plunger. So when you get to this point, keep asking her to accept the syringe in her mouth without depressing the plunger. At first just keep it there for a second and build up to where she's comfortable having it in her mouth for longer time periods. Then you can actually depress the plunger and finish the job.
Remember, always offer your horse choices and recognize her willingness and reward her often for it. You might also want to read FAQ-3 as this is a problem with a very similar solution.
BACK TO TOP Q-12. I just purchased an 11yr Tenessee Walker mare. I tried her out several times before buying her and she was great. Now that she is at her new home she won't come to me (to be caught) and she threw me once. Just really want to correctly teach her to come to me. I know that the trust issue is part of it and when I finally get her she is very sweet. I have ridden her since she threw me and we haven’t had any more issues. Thanks.
… Cathy via Internet
A. Thanks for your question. You are correct in your assessment of the problem ... trust is definitely part of the issue. One of the main reasons for the lack of trust in your situation is because of your horse’s BIG MOVE. Your horse felt threatened because of the change of ownership as well as of her surroundings (new barn and/or new stablemates). This is why she didn’t want to be caught or ridden for she felt that she had to protect herself. This is normal behavior for many horses because they are herd animals and some are more self-confident than others.
But there is also the respect part that goes along with this. The exercises in our video "Establishing Control of Your Horse" address your problem very well.
Having control of your horse doesn't mean that the horse is restrained so he/she can't do anything unless you let them. The control we have over the horse is based on mutual trust and respect and our ability to get and keep the horse's attention. When you truly have your horse's respect, trust, and attention everything else you need to teach them comes easily.
Have you looked at the video clip on the website? This shows a horse the first time Bob worked with him. All the video was taken within an hour and a half and you can see how dramatically the horse's behavior changed. It will probably take more time than that for you to get the same results since you will be learning the process but you will still be able to get these results with your own horse.
When I started working with Bob, I wasn't very good at the exercises but I just kept working at it and watching what he did and now I'm pretty good at it. There are still a lot of subtleties I miss now and then but the more you do it, the more you understand and then it becomes second nature. I started my last 3 foals using the methods detailed in the video and it was very easy to go from the groundwork exercises to actually riding them.
It will be a little different working with an 11 yr old horse that already has some good and some bad habits. Nevertheless, it can still be done. Bob retrains older horses all the time. If your mare has thrown you and you are a bit nervous about riding her because of that, doing the groundwork exercises with her and establishing the mutual respect and trust, will increase your confidence.
As to your specific question of having problems getting your mare to come to you when you want to catch her to ride, this is not specifically addressed in the video but it is pointed out how easy it is to catch the horse after you've done the first lesson. In the first lesson, the horse is turned-out free and the end of the lesson you walk up and attach the lead rope. The by-product of getting the horse's attention, respect, and trust is that the horse is now very willing to be "caught" because they want to be with you.
I hope this helps you to understand how to solve the problem with your mare.
BACK TO TOP Q-13. My horse, is a 4.5 year old, 15.2hh friesian x dales gelding. He’s relatively quiet when he has hay to eat and has some stable manners but he has also kicked me, for no apparent reason. When I ride him he is very rebellious and sometimes tries to throw me off and kick. He also rears when I take him out and tries to run off. When there is grass he will be stubborn and rebel, nastily. I am only fifteen years old and quite small while he is still growing and will probably make 16hh. He was good when I tried him with his last owner, but with his inconsistent behavior, I don’t have the confidence to take him out anymore. Have you got any useful advice for me? Thanks
… Claire via Internet
A. It looks like you’re trying to do high school material (riding) without first passing the elementary grades (groundwork). It is so important to get a solid foundation by using consistent groundwork exercises. This way, if the horse does something that could be potentially dangerous, we will be in a better position to deal with it than if we were on his back. The basic ingredients that we must have in order to successfully train our horse are Attention, Respect, and Trust. We made this the subject of our first video “Establishing Control of Your Horse” because so few people spend enough time doing the basic groundwork exercises necessary to build this solid foundation.
In your specific case, you and your horse are both young, so you have plenty of time to spend doing the proper groundwork which will enhance everything else you do with your horse later on. From what you’ve said about your horse, he’s good when he’s doing what he wants (eating) and bad when you want him to do something else. He’s being rebellious because he’s been able to get away with it.
It is clear that your horse has no Respect for you because he kicks at you and throws tantrums when you want him to work (sort of like a spoiled child). But before you can teach him to respect you, you have to be able to get his attention. The order needed is Attention, Respect, and Trust which we refer to as the ART work. We show how to do the ART work exercises with your horse in our video “Establishing Control of Your Horse”.
If you feel unsafe with this horse, I’d advise that you get a professional horse person who trains using natural horsemanship methods to help you. I would also suggest that you ask the previous owner if he/she had problems like this and if so what they did about them.
BACK TO TOP Q-14. I have recently acquired an unbroken, 12 year old Morgan broodmare. I have been long-reining her and she really seems to be enjoying it. However, I have encountered problems when trying to get on her. I started by lying across her back and she bucks and squeals. I think it might have something to do with the last time she was bred 4 years ago. Apparently she had a bad experience, and had to be AI’ed. Since then, she has been in a field doing nothing. I have been working with her for about 5 weeks and we have really built up a good relationship. Can you offer me any advice? Thanks,
… Nikki via Internet
A. Sounds like your horse doesn’t totally trust you. Remember, your mare had a bad experience with the stallion that was above her back so she probably associates that bad experience with you being above her back. You didn’t mention this, but did you have the saddle on her? My guess is that you didn’t because if the problem is having something above her back, the saddle should be as much of a problem as you trying to lie across her back.
What we need to do here is to increase her tolerance to the sight, sound, and touch stimuli (senses). We can do this by exposing her to various items in small steps. You could start by holding the saddle pad above her back and then eventually build up to scarier items like a small plastic bag which works great for these tolerance building exercises.
Remember we need to fit the punishment to the crime. In other words, if the horse moves (undesired response) we need to keep the stimulus there until she shows less movement. This is using negative reinforcement, which means giving the horse something she doesn’t want, when she’s giving us what we don’t want. When she offers improvement (less movement or stops moving) then we need to remove the stimulus.
If we hold the saddle pad above her back and she stays still (the desired response), we need to immediately remove the stimulus. This is using positive reinforcement, which is showing the horse what we do want. The next step is to build on the amount of time she will stay still when we apply the stimulus. Try to increase the time in small amounts so that you remove the stimulus before the horse moves. You also should repeat this with scarier stimuli.
These are the basic principles of building more tolerance. And remember, timing is of the utmost importance. Most importantly, take your time, don't ask too much too soon, and be safe.
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