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"It's the thought that counts!"
Samantha Harvey & Taylor to Perfect
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Ask the Trainer: Ex Harness Horse- Aggressive mare- on the ground & when ridden

Topic: OUT OF CONTROL MARE
Website GOGGLE SEARCH
Location: PA
Date: February 01, 2011
Question:
I HAVE A 6YO OFF-TRACK HARNESS STB RACER. SHE'S HAD 7 MO UNDER SADDLE TRAINING. SHE USUALLY FREE LUNGES WITH NO PROBLEM. LATELY SHE HAS BEEN COMING AFTER ME. SHE WON'T LISTEN WHEN I TELL HER TO GO OUT, SHE COMES AFTER ME TRYING TO KICK ME. AFTER ITS ALL OVER SHE IS THE MOST LOVING HORSE EVER. LATELY SHE'S ALSO BEEN COW-KICKING WHEN ASKED TO GO TO A TROT. HAD THE VET UP YESTERDAY AND EVERYTHING SEEMS FINE. I DON'T KNOW WHAT'S GOING ON AND I DON'T WANT TO GIVE UP ON HER BECAUSE OF THESE NEW ISSUES SHES HAVING.
Answer:

Thank you for writing and I am sorry to hear of your situation. First I am glad that you are searching for help. Second, there are so many variables that could affect what you are seeing/experiencing, what your horse is seeing/experiencing and what may actually be happening so my answers will be more to offer you ideas and perspective rather than a "fix it" solution.


First I'd like to address your initial statement of "free longing." For me, the round pen is a place where I'm looking for the mental availability of the horse, rather than accomplishing physical results. If the horse's mind is "open" to "hearing" what you are asking or suggesting, you then will see your horse physically perform as desired.


Instead, a more common train of thought when working with horses is to attempt physically control, direct or micromanage them, in order to get a change in their brain.

To put it into people terms, if you are physically resistant to doing a task because that task causes you emotional or mental stress, until you change how you FEEL about doing the task, you will never be able to accomplish to task to your full abilities. The same goes for horses.


The round is not a place to create dominance. In my mind, the round pen is a controlled and "safe" setting to work with your horse. You mentioned that when you ask your horse to move she charges, bucks and kicks. You need to first get her "thinking" forward, then her body will physically move forward, THEN you can become more specific as to where you would like her to move to. It would be the same as turning your steering wheel in a car as hard as you can, but if you don't have the car engine on and are not using gas, the wheel does you no good. Until she can be soft in how she thinks and moves forward, I would not worry as to which direction she may or may not be going.


As for your horse's actions of bucking, kicking or charging, she is trying her options. If she is resistant to go forward, most likely she is worried, insecure or fearful about what is being asked her. You may think "we've done this a hundred times before" but horses can be very good at either "stuffing their emotions"- not showing their real concern when bothered until one day "all of a sudden..." they offer some sort of dangerous or unwanted behavior. The other thing to keep in mind is your horse may have been "telling you" with small signs of resistance that she was starting to have a problem, worry, concern or fear- and you may have missed or ignored her mild pleas for help until her behavior become obvious enough to finally realize your horse was have a melt down. Her way of not "getting IT wrong" ("it" being whatever you are asking) is to not want to move.


But if you "force" her with enough pressure, her alternative is to eliminate what is causing the pressure and discomfort, in this case, you. So therefore she will charge you, if that gets you literally out of the pen, then the act of charging has accomplished eliminating a source of discomfort. The more that behavior works, the more she will resort to it.

Not knowing your horse's full history, she may really have either bad feelings associated with the round pen, or because of a lack of clarity from a person, find that the pen causes her stress. Typically, ex race horses of any discipline move out of fear and not "because they love to run." If you watch a horse in the wild, they only run when it's life and death. So, depending on how she was started under saddle after her racing career, she may have been taught to "keep it in" (not to move) when she had a problem. This may have made her seem physically compliable, but mentally and emotionally whatever was troubling her, was still troubling her even if she wasn't flamboyant in her movements.

Either way, her physical actions and resistance are a reflection of her mental and emotional status. You need to connect your ground work and your riding. Your ground work should be setting the tone for the upcoming ride. It is a safe "opportunity" for your horse to show you if she is having a problem, and for you to HELP her by addressing her problem, rather than forcing her to deal with it on her own. If you don't address the resistance, insecurity, etc. on the ground, you will then "feel" it when you're in the saddle.

As for the cow kicking at the trot and the "draggy" (backwards thinking or resistance to moving forward) attitude, these are the signs of the beginning stages of a troubled horse who does not feel that their rider is gong to help them feel better about life. Therefore, they'll need to "take care of themselves," thus the defensive behavior such as bucking, kicking out, etc. Horses do not "out of the blue" react drastically towards a person.


There needs to be a clarity of physical communication starting from the moment you catch your horse (because when leading her you are using a lead rope, so this a physical way of influencing her,) that when you do something with the rope, it needs to mean something to your horse. She should be able to think left, right, forward, backwards, sideways, etc. all by how you use your rope. She needs to understand your energy and literally match that, if you want to move out in a big walk, she needs to too, or if you would like to "creep" along, she needs to make that adjustment to remain "with you." When you stop she needs to respect your personal space and stop immediately, rather than to "fall" into a stop.

Your mare needs to understand when her different thoughts of work or if they do not. Most times when people catch a horse the horse goes "brainless" on the end of the lead and is literally drug around. They horse may be physically complying but is mentally resistant. The day will come that if there is enough stress presented, if the person working with the horse does not have enough "tools" in how they use their lead rope and clear communication in how they use their rope, the horse will get just as "big" on the rope as if they are loose.


You might be wondering how come she seems like a "loving" horse afterwards- well I'm sure there are times when your relationship with her does have quality, and so when she feels "warm and fuzzy" towards you on the inside, physically she can let down and appear relaxed on the outside. Your goal should be how find those moments no matter what you ask of your horse.


The more you are able to see and experience just how little of an action by you can create a positive change in how your horse trusts and respects you, will be the beginning of you working WITH your horse, rather than each of you tolerating one another. Timing, awareness, energy, sensitivity and clarity are all things you will need to establish in order to start seeing positive results with your mare.


So it sounds like you may need to seek the help of a trainer who can appreciate and respect working with the horse's brain in order to get a change in mental and emotionally availability. Remember, your safety is a number one priority, if you hear that little voice in the back of your head telling you not to do something, listen to it. Too many horse related accidents occur because people are "hopeful" that it will all work out.
Good Luck,
Sam

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