Each month, we feature a question from a student or web site visitor here.
Your questions are welcome, please don't hesitate to send ask us about anything you'd like to know
My name is Remy Morgan. I am currently a year 10 student at Kristin School (Auckland), completing an International Baccalaureate personal project on 'Some of the ways to retrain a misunderstood/problem horse. I am very passionate about horses and ride 5-6 times a week which is why I wanted to outgo a project to do with horses. I understand that this is an area of your expertise (after reading through your website and in particular the article on the horse 'Hannah') and would much appreciate it if you could spare some time to answer a few questions for my project.
In your opinion, what do you think causes the behaviour of a problem/misunderstood horse? Could you please explain the process you use to retain a problem/misunderstood horse. How does this method work and why do you do what you do?
What other methods/processes can be used? How important is groundwork when retraining a problem/misunderstood horse? Why is is important? What are some effective methods of praise and punishment?
Do you have any important tips to remember when retraining horses of this nature?
Thank-you very much for your time
Thank you for your enquiry.
Your questions are very comprehensive and the subject is highly complex. There are no set answers as all horses and their problems differ. Horses require to be trained and re-trained with techniques that revolve around principles and not rules. This means that the manner in which each horse is readjusted can be quite diverse and the development of the individual animal is what dictates the avenue of approach and not a pre-determined system, method or set pattern of techniques.
There are far too many confused and disturbed horses that are the result of well-meaning people 'dabbling' with ideas or applying techniques that they have only read about but have no idea how they fit into the bigger picture. It is because of this that our approach to educating people like yourself is to offer a tailored programme which must include all the practical applications appropriate for the horse. The Herdword programmes are extensive and time consuming but are designed to help to ensure that horses undergoing either training or readjustment do not suffer as a result of human intervention.
I trust this makes sense.
Very best wishes,
Hi there, I have a 6yo Half TB 1/4 Arab, Station-bred. He is a lovely wee horse that I competed as 4/5yo, great jumper but has a tendency to panic.
The causes are: Loud, moving things - E.g. vehicles, being tied to float. If he doesn't want to go on the float he is capable of rearing. He has bolted a couple of times (not when I’m on him) due to frights and now I am too scared to take him to a show due to being too nervous to tie him up to float etc.
Can you help at all??
Emily Pringle - New Zealand
Emily, thanks for your question. First of all you are not alone with respect to the issues you have with your horse. Many people have problems with their horses at shows and there are a number of reasons for this.
Horses are creatures with their minds specifically pre-programmed from the day they are born. Even when they are born into a domestic environment, their minds are programmed for a life in the wild.
The ‘flight’ characteristic of the horse is an instinctive one and therefore a totally natural reaction for the horse to anything at all that might ‘bother’ him. The things that ‘bother’ him might not make sense to us until we fully understand his psyche. The horse will panic if tied up or restrained when the flight instinct is triggered. When being taught to tie up, all horses need to be trained in a way that they consider the tie up as a security and not a restraint from flight. This is a skilful exercise that requires both time and understanding.
1. The horse requires a specific type of training that directly identifies with the way his mind is programmed.
2. In conjunction with this he requires leadership. When leadership is absent, he will adopt this role for himself and for what he believes is his self-preservation he will behave in a manner that he feels will keep him safe, but this usually involves actions and behaviours that are not acceptable for us as owners/riders.
3. The style of leadership that the horse requires cannot and must not involve force and can only be established by entering the door of his ‘wild’ mind and influencing that in a manner that causes him to trust us implicitly. As this is a lengthy and complex learning process, it is not possible to answer this further without actually working with both you and your horse and assisting both of you for a long – term solution.
4. Horses need to be systematically prepared for situations at shows.
I hope this gives you food for thought and encourages you to take the best course of action for your horse.
Thank you once again for your question,
Please would you give me some advice. From what I understand you do not recommend the use of the flash / grackle nosebands that prevent the horse from opening his mouth or playing with the bit. I have a horse young horse that fiddles with the bit, messes and chews with it continually and my instructor has said that I must use a noseband to correct this or the horse will have this habit for life.
From what I have been told, preventing problems seems to be a priority for you, so I hope you can tell me how can I deal with this?
Janis Holloway, Lancashire, U.K.
Thank you for your question which a very important one. You do not state what sort of bit you are using on your horse, but the only suitable bit to use on a young horse is a snaffle. The comments that follow are therefore with that in mind.
There are a number of aspects to be understood about the bitting of a young horse. First of all, as many classical riding masters will confirm, it is essential for the young horse to be able to play with the bit in his mouth in his early work. This playing, chewing and salivating, helps the young horse to soften to, accept and take the bit into the correct place in his mouth. The bit itself is rarely the reason for an ongoing problem of any opening of the mouth to avoid the bit, which is a different issue altogether.
In the early stages of teaching response to the bit, the horse has to learn to accept the bit. To make this easy for him it must be used in a manner that works purely on the sides of the mouth and not pull down and back on the tongue. To begin with all work with the bridle should take place on the ground. The horse should learn to respond to very light pressure on the bit during his softening to the bit lessons. These include upward and side to side pressures.
For the horse to be soft through his body he must be soft in his jaw. This is a scientific fact. The flash noseband restricts the muscle movement within the jaw area . For example : Open your mouth really wide and then close your jaw so that your top and bottom teeth touch. Hold that position and close your eyes to focus on what you feel. When your mouth is ‘set’ in that position you may feel a slight increase in tension in the front of your neck and even the front of your shoulder. Now let your bottom jaw relax. There should be a slight gap between your top and bottom teeth, but your relaxed lips should be just closed. Now turn your head from side to side and note how much freedom of movement you have. Now take the first fingers and thumbs of each hand. Put the two finger ends, end on together and the two thumb ends, end on together to make an oval type shape and place them this shape over your nose and below your chin with just enough tension to keep your jaw closed. What do you notice? Does your jaw feel relaxed? When you turn your head from side to side how much freedom of movement do you have? How do you feel about even that slight pressure on your nose? Do you feel inclined to move freely?
As riders, it is our job to help the horse through his understanding of all the equipment we use on him. The bit is one of the most misused and misunderstood pieces of apparatus that the horse is expected to work with. Worse than that though are the hands of the rider and how these work to use the bit as requests to the horse as well as in response to the horse’s actions.
The bit is a training and communication tool so now let us think about this. If the first time I called you on the phone I shouted at you, this would probably promote some anxiety about any future communications from me. Well it is the same with the bit and the horse. It is easy to create anxiety and tension. This tender and sensitive area of the horse requires careful handling and a soft and subtle approach. If the horse opens his mouth continually rather than playing with the bit, then our technique is not correct or the fitting of the bit is wrong. It is unjust to force his mouth shut when the horse is communicating his pain and discomfort. On the other hand, any playful fiddling of the bit that encourages salivation will disappear as the horse learns to take the bit himself and soften to it on each occasion.
1. Horses that have received inappropriate use of the bit can always be readjusted and retrained.
2. The only other reason for the horse avoiding the bit is when there are problems with the teeth.
I hope this helps you Janis. I will be visiting the U.K. in April / May this year  and may be able to fit in a programme for you on this subject if required.
Best wishes, Jane