ornery and strong willed

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ornery and strong willed

Post by Admin on Fri Feb 19, 2010 9:34 am

I currently own a 14 year old Spotted Saddle Horse. I have a problem with his behavior in groups and on the way home. When we ride with other horses he seems to get agitated and starts to jig around. He dances sideways, will try to circle, he may balk... all sorts of things. He is very strong willed and tests me often.. He very friendly on the ground but pushy, which I understand is a lack of discipline. This is my sisters horse and she is a beginner so I'm worried about the outcome. She is not afraid of the horse and has tried every sort of counter behavior we have heard of - circles, backing, heading back the way we came...

He behaves the same with any saddle we try, so I don't think it's a saddle fit issue, and as far as his feed goes, he gets a scoop of grain as well as alfalfa. Do you have any other suggestions?

Thank you,


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Re: ornery and strong willed

Post by Ed Dabney on Fri Feb 19, 2010 10:26 am

Hi Kenny,

First I would adjust his diet by totally eliminating the alfalfa immediately and greatly reducing the grain. Feed a top quality grass hay such as Timothy or Orchard grass giving him as much as he will clean up. You didn't mention his turn-out time but allowing him to be out in a pasture with other horses 24/7 would be ideal to help him work off the extra energy and socialize.

Next I would establish a relationship of leadership on the ground. You mentioned that he is pushy on the ground. You don't have to use any violence to discipline him for this. You just need to teach him that you have a personal space that must be respected at all times. If the horse doesn't respect you on the ground, he won't respect you in the saddle. I establish leadership and teach respect for space and ground manners through the application of our six essential exercises known as the Six Keys to Harmony. Number one is to teach him to back up on the lead rope so you can always move him out of your space. Just by asking him to move his feet backward you are establishing your leadership that will carry over to the riding. Once he is at peace under your leadership and respects you, he won't feel the need to "test you" as often.

The rider should always make all the decisions about two things - speed and direction. You want to be sure you have taught and practiced with him some very good basic control cues especially one rein lateral flexion and disengaging the hindquarter so that when he "gets agitated" you can regain control quickly. When he becomes hard to handle you want to be able to direct that energy into constructive exercises that you and he know well and have practiced in calm training sessions. You should know how to ask him and he should know how to perform lots of different movements such as:

-flex the neck laterally left and right

-move the hindquarter left and right

-move the shoulder left and right

-back up


All these movements should be taught on the ground first then practiced in the saddle so when he becomes distracted or jigs you can refocus his attention on you by giving him lots of little jobs to do, moving different parts of his body in different directions. Change the jobs quickly to keep him really busy thinking about the job at hand and paying attention to your next request. You can't make him slow down or be calm but you can give him something to do with his energy. He will be able to release his nervous energy by moving his feet but in a constructive way that you are directing. For a full description of these essential exercises performed on the ground and mounted please see our instructional DVD, "Six Keys to Harmony" on our web site at http://www.eddabney.com/video.htm

When working with a high energy horse on the trail I also use dressage movements to control speed but frequently offer the horse the opportunity to simply walk along calmly. If the horse takes my offer and decides to walk nicely then we do, but if he speeds up again we go right back to practicing our dressage. This way we never have to fight, I just direct the energy into the feet through the positioning of the horse’s body.

If you are riding a horse that has more forward energy than you want, you may attempt to control the energy by fighting with the horse to try to hold him back but this accomplishes nothing more than making you frustrated and making the horse angry. Instead of fighting with the energy, direct it into something constructive by positioning the horse into a dressage movement like shoulder-in for example. In essence you’ll be telling your horse, “Thank you for all that extra energy, now use it to do a nice shoulder-in going down the trail.” Or “If you want to catch up with those horses in front of you so badly, you’ll have to catch up while doing half-pass!”

Don't fight with the energy, direct it. Give him a job to do.

Enjoy the journey,

Ed Dabney
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Re: ornery and strong willed

Post by Jeff Sanders on Fri Feb 19, 2010 10:43 am

Hey Kenny,

Lets look at the topic of feed first. A lot of folks don’t realize the effect that feed can have on a horse’s behavior.

First is the amount. A horse needs approx 2% of its total body weight in roughage. That can be any of the common varieties of hay or pasture grasses. While alfalfa does provide this roughage much of the alfalfa commonly sold is higher in protein and calcium than what is needed or even what is healthy for most horses. The protein may cause a horse to be “hotter” than they otherwise would be. The excessive calcium will leech potassium and magnesium out of the horses system and cause an imbalance. Unfortunately, the only way to know if your feed is optimum is to have it lab tested. This is why many people feed a combination of alfalfa/grass, straight grass, or grain hay such as oat or wheat. The main reason we have all become accustomed to feeding alfalfa is that it is the easiest to produce, providing the highest yield per acre for the farmers.

If the nutritional content of the hay is balanced then horses don’t really need grain. Grain is a VERY high starch feed that provides quick energy but very few horses need that kind of high starch feed in their diet. Some horse need supplementation but it is generally horses that are old, pregnant, lactating, have some inability to properly digest their feed or are getting worked hard. If a horse does need supplementation there are a lot of different feeds available that do not make a horse hot though. We use Cool Stance for the horses that do need that little extra.

There are only three reasons I know of that a horse would need an increase in protein those would be pregnancy, strenuous daily work and extreme cold weather.

Now to the behavior issue. It sounds like you have tried some strategies already and it also sounds like you have a good handle on it being a discipline issue. The tricky part about discipline issues is that discipline as it relates to horses is all about timing and intensity. Too much at the wrong time can cause big problems but too little too late can cause problems just as big. From what you posted I would have to say that it is time to get professional help. I would suggest that you find a good trainer in your area to work with. The “do it your self” approach is great but with horses sometimes you need to get help if you want to stay safe. From what you have described, it is a very short distance from what the horse is doing now to progressing into behaviors that will get you or your sister hurt. I know this might not be what folks want to hear but the truth is that we all get in over our heads sometimes and when we do it is time to call in a pro.

Hope this helps some,

Jeff Sanders
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Re: ornery and strong willed

Post by Paul Williamson on Sat Feb 20, 2010 2:42 pm

Sounds like you need to take back control while riding. Do you have en enclosed area where you could practice for a while? Teach him to stop, stand still, and slow down on voice commands, practise riding in a straight line, and install a fool proof one-rein-stop for the "hot" situations. Once you have taught him a good one-rein-stop, you should be able to slow him down nicely by just turning his head slightly to the side. Don't do a full circle, that will just stress him out even more.

And if you need to in the beginning, don't be afraid to keep his head tucked in by your feet until he's completely relaxed and lets go of the rein to chew nicely. Don't attempt to ride in a group or on the trail again until you can control him perfectly using your new voice commands and your one-rein-stop. But once you've got it, you should be good to go. If he gets himself all worked up, keep him busy and listening to you by using the cues you taught him in the enclosed area. Horses like to have success so don't forget to reward him for being a good boy.

Your sister might benefit from taking riding lessons to give her some tools to take control of this horse. Once he has learned a few exercises she should be able to use the same cues to control him but she will still need confidence to convince him that she's in charge.

Good luck!

Paul Williamson
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