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Unwanted Behavior: Horse Grazes Constantly while on Trail Ride

Topic_Info: Grass eating on trail
Website_Info: yahoo
Location: TN
Date: May 13, 2011
I have a 7 yr. old TWH, who is having only one problem. That is when we start out on trail, he ABRUBTLY, without prior notice, stops and starts eating grass. It's a fight to get his head back up, and when I finally do, he may take 10 or so steps, and again without notice, stops and eats. This is the only bad habit he has. He out in pasture from 4:00 pm until 6:30 am and then put in his stall.

He is not under-fed. Most times other riders are back at least a horses length from me, and his quick stopping usually ends up in a rear end collision.

Vet says I need to use spurs on him. Others say, carry a crop and smack him when he does this. I'm not into smacking him. What can I do?

Thank you for your time.


My philosophy is that a horse's actions are a direct reflection of his mental and emotional state. If he THINKS about something he can then physically commit to it. Right now your horse is displaying signs that his brain is "unavailable" and more committed to thinking about the grass on the trail, therefore his body tries to go after the grass. Keep in mind the trail grazing is a symptom, not the issue, which is lack of clear communication from you and therefore a lack of respect from your horse towards you. My guess is that this is not the "only" unwanted your horse offers, but rather, this is the only seemingly "unmanageable behavior." I'd say you might have assess the standards and quality of what you ask and what your horse really offers before ever thinking about the trail/grass symptom. Waiting for the moment your horse is offering you an unwanted behavior is too late, instead, you'll need an effective set of "tools" when you ride that offer clear communication so that as your horse starts to show signs of mentally checking out, you can influence his thoughts away from things such as grazing on the trail, rather than waiting until he is committed and then reprimanding him for it.

Your goal for when you ride is for your horse to offer "What would you like?", rather than displaying his current, "Why should I?" attitude. Physically trying to "force" a thousand pounds of horse forward and not to graze is not going to happen. Crops, spurs, etc. and other "training" devices may temporarily help, but your horse will eventually learn to "tune out" and resist those foreign aids too.

Horses are herd animals, so when they aren't getting "what they need" from people, their brain tunes them out. Too many times people get distracted by unwanted physical behavior (such as the grazing), rather than slowing down and assessing where the horse's brain is. If the horse understands, trusts and respects you, he'll mentally be "with you" and therefore physically participate in a "happy" manner.

The physical signs of resistance such as prioritizing eating versus paying attention to you are ways of your horse telling you he is having a problem. Typically horses show small signs of resistance before they reach a point of physically completely ignoring you, but if they have been ignored by a rider who "pushes" them on without recognizing the horse is asking for help, even if he isn't physically acting out - yet the horse soon learns to tune out the rider. The horse starts to learn that his pleas to be addressed and not just reprimanded will be ignored, so he mentally and then physically "shuts down" and becomes more resistant in listening to his rider's aids.

You'll need to step back and review the basics to find where the lack of clear communication between you and your horse starts. I would say as of the moment your horse is displaying symptoms that show that he is pretty convinced he can "tune you out" and continue with what he'd like to do. Keep in mind horses don't "just randomly" do things.

Finding a "safe" place such as a round pen and starting while working him from the ground you're going to need to re-establish clear communication using effective "tools" that you will eventually transfer over to using when you are riding. You may work at liberty (with your horse loose) and/or you may work with your horse on the lead rope (using the rope as if it were like a rein when you ride.) When you do something, it must MEAN something to your horse. If you are hopeful (meaning you ask something and then wait and see if your horse eventually addresses you after he has quietly tuned you out) when you communicate with him and allow for him to ignore or "take advantage" of you on the ground, the same behavior will continue in the saddle.

You'll need to be able to "break down" asking your horse to first look (literally) at different "things" without moving. This is asking for a mental commitment. He'll need to learn that ignoring or tuning you out when you're specific, doesn't work and that he must address you mentally. Then you'll need him to understand to "mimic" your energy so that as you increase or decrease your energy so should he. If he can first mentally address, and then physically "softly" move towards what you've presented, you're on the right track for creating a quality ride.

He'll need to understand to change his energy by either a physical aid (such as bumping the stirrup by his side) or a movement from you. Most people stand still or sit still in the saddle hoping the horse will figure out what speed they want. Instead, you must "take your horse for the ride" by offering what you want him to do. I tell people within each gait there should be ten different energy levels. This should first be established from you working your horse on the ground. If he's unclear with you on the ground, he will not just "figure it out" when you're in the saddle.

Too many people are unclear in what, where and how they communicate with their horse. They "challenge" the horse into guessing what they want; reprimanding the horse every time he can't figure it out. Or they present the same manner of communication repetitiously driving the horse bonkers until he accidentally figures out what the person is asking. The more the horse has to "guess" at what the person wants, the more they tune out the person's aids or communication.

The more specific YOU can mentally be in presenting literally one-step-at-a time scenarios, the more your horse can "get it right." The more he realizes he can be successful when addressing you, the more he'll want participate and offer you. One quality step will turn into three and then 10 and then eventually a whole circle and then the entire ride. But it takes clarity and awareness of riding every single step to "help" your horse find the right answer, rather than forcing him to guess. The more clear your communication is, the more your horse will respect your aids, the less effort it will take from you to get him to happily participate.

Good Luck,


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