Let us know if you have a horsemanship question for which you would like our opinion. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will post your Q & A on this page.
Q. I am riding a colt in just the halter in the round pen. When do I move to a bit or bosal?
A. As far as next steps with head gear, there are lots of different opinions on ways to do it. This is what has worked well for me: I usually ride them in the halter for 3 or 4 rides and get them flexing well (one rein stop that we talk about often in our clinics/workshops) and moving through all transitions (walk, trot, lope) and then introduce the snaffle to them. One thing to remember when moving them out and working on the transitions is that it helps to have someone ride with you in the pen and trot off before you ask them to trot. That way, your horse will just naturally want to go with the other horse and the transitions will be much easier for him. When it comes to introducing the snaffle to them, I was shown a very easy way to do it that has always worked well for me. I will first make sure and have been working with their mouth and simulating putting a bit in their mouth for the few weeks leading up to putting the snaffle bit in for the first time (making sure they lower their head when I put my hand on their poll, gently putting my thumb in the corner of their mouth until they work their mouth etc). If I have these things going well, then I figure they are ready for the bit. The first time I put the bit in their mouth, usually you can slip it on them without them even knowing and don't have to fight them at all, especially if you've done your homework. Once I have the bit in their mouth, I loosen the headstall enough so that they can almost spit the bit out, but not quite. They will really work their mouth and tongue and try to spit it out. If you have it adjusted right, it will reach pretty much to their front teeth but not come out. Next, I just stand by them and hang out for 5-10 minutes. What will happen is that they figure out that if they hold it up into position in their mouth where it should be, it is much more comfortable than if it hangs and they work their mouth. Once they get quiet and hold the bit where it belongs, go ahead and adjust the headstall like it should be and you're ready to go. I usually do this for the first 3-4 times I ride them in the snaffle and then you are set. It seems like it's easy to make this a real stress free way to introduce them.
Before you get on though, you want to make sure and get your one rein stop good with the reins and bit. The bit will feel different than the halter, so you want them to understand how to flex when you ask with the bit. Keep in mind that a young colt's mouth is very tender and soft and you want to keep it that way, so give your horse a lot of time when you ask for his head. Just put a little pressure on the rein and wait. Don't "pull" his face around.
Make sure and get the one rein stop going good as your "emergency break" before you get on. If you get them soft at the beginning and keep it, it will always be that way. Its seems like too many people get on them and start pulling on the bit and teaching them to brace against your hands instead of giving them time when they ask for their face so they learn to follow that feel.
As far as bosals, traditionally the colt is rode in the snaffle for the first year or so (depending on how they come along) and usually at the age of 3-4 the colts lose their baby teeth and cut new teeth. Hopefully by then they are ready for the bosal and rode in that for a few years. Then they are transitioned into the two rein which consists of a light bosal under a bridle and then finally they are considered a "finished" horse when they are "straight up" in the bridle meaning they are in just a spade bit.
That being said, I have heard of lots of guys who start their colts right in the bosal. So there is no "right" or "wrong" way to do it. The most important part is how you use whatever headgear you choose.
Good Luck! Tyler
Q. My horse raises his head and fights me when I try to bridle him. What can I do?
A. This is a common problem. Oftentimes, we actually teach our horse to bridle poorly by making the wrong way easy and they quickly learn to raise their head to avoid the bitting process. The first thing I would suggest is to make sure that you can get your horse to lower his head when you ask him. I do this simply by putting a little pressure on top of his poll starting with the palm of my hand just behind the ears. Put a little downward pressure on his head and wait. Don’t continue to put more on, just wait. It’s important to watch and feel closely for your horse to lower his head even the slightest bit or make any effort toward doing so. As soon as he does, release the pressure immediately. Practice this a few times every time you work with your horse and it will become automatic for him that when your hand is placed on his head, he lowers it to you. The next step is to fix the “fighting his head” when you go to bridle him. Depending on your horse, I may start without the bridle and see if I can pet his muzzle. If he allows me to, I stop and give him a second to think (don’t do too much here so that you over do it and cause this problem to become worse). If he doesn’t allow it and starts to raise his head, etc., I’ll just keep my hands on his muzzle and actually pet him just a little more briskly (more of a rub than a pet). Chances are, he’ll resist more at first and I will just continue to pet a little carelessly with one hand while the other asks him to lower his head as I taught him previously. AS SOON as he lowers his head and brings his head back down or makes any effort at all do to that STOP and pet him on the neck or shoulder. What you are teaching him is that when he puts his head in the right place to be bridled, you leave him alone. Pretty soon he will seek out that place instead of throwing his head to avoid the bit. Gradually try to get this better over time and be happy with little improvements. Don’t try to fix this in one day or even a week. Soon, however, he will seek that good spot and you’ll find that bridling will no longer be an issue. Good Luck! Tyler
Q. My filly leads wonderfully and backs easily, but when I start to slowly jog and apply a little pressure to her halter in order to get her to trot, she slows down or even stops instead. How do you teach a horse to step out and trot next to you?
A. This question about getting your filly to trot is a good one. Many people struggle with this. When teaching young horses to lead, before they understand what the pressure on the halter means, it's very common for them to slow down or even stop when pressure is applied. One thing to remember is that our body language can have a big influence on how they respond. When asking your filly to trot for example, it's important to keep your energy up and be walking out briskly before you as her to trot so she can see it coming. It's also very important to notice her walking faster and rewarding that before you get the trot. Before she can trot, she needs to increase her speed, this may mean a faster walk. If she walks faster, you need to reward that as one step towards getting her to trot. If you miss those little "tries" for speed increase she may begin to think increasing her speed is not what you want and try slowing down again.
Another thing you can do is to use your surroundings to your advantage for the first few trotting lessons. If she has pen-mates or if there is other horses at your place, lead her at a walk away from those horses maybe 100 or 200 feet and then turn her around and work on the trotting as you are heading back towards the other horses. This obviously is not something you need to make a habit, but just for the first few lessons as she learns to trot when you ask her, it may help so that soon she will trot anywhere and anytime you ask. As far as asking her to trot, here are a few things to try: As I mentioned before, think of this process as looking to get her to walk faster first. If are asking for a speed increase and notice one, even if if is not a trot and just a slightly faster walk, stop and pet her. Once she figures out that pressure on the halter means a speed increase, the trotting will come with no problem.
Once you have her pointed in a direction you think it may be easy for her to trot, make sure your energy is up and start trotting beside her slowly without pressure on the lead (eventually you'll want her to trot off when you do and without pressure on the lead, so you must always offer that every time). Then you increase your speed very slowly (maybe over 10 or 20 feet) until you are trotting fast enough to put pressure on the halter by slightly out running her. Trot just long enough to maintain a constant pressure on the halter for just a few seconds and look for a speed increase. If you see one, immediately slow to a walk or stop and pet her. If there is no speed increase, only keep constant pressure on the lead for a few feet. If she slows or stops, go back to her side while you are still trotting and repeat this little "out running" maneuver. Again, it's very important to see a slight speed increase and reward it. Keep repeating this until you see that speed increase. You may only see an increase in the walking speed at first. If you see that two or three times, give her a little break and do something else for a few minutes. If you don't see any speed increases each time you do it, do the same thing, but increase you speed just slightly faster so the slack comes out of the lead a little quicker and there's a little bump on the halter when you get to the end of it. Repeat this process a few times and watch for that speed increase and reward it.
If you've tried both of these and she is still stopping or slowing down, it may be handy to get a second person to help you. Make a "flag" for them to use. This can be as simple as a grocery sack tied onto a 6ft small stick. Repeat your same process gradually increasing your speed but after you have taken the slack out of the halter rope and maintained pressure on the lead for a second, have a second person in back encourage her from behind with the sack. This may be as simple as shaking it a little bit a ways behind her or if she is pretty quiet, it may mean tapping her on the hind end lightly with the end of the stick (make sure the person in the back maintains a safe distance to avoid getting kicked if she happens to get scared).
It won't be long and you'll have her trotting off when you trot with no pressure on the lead (always remember to offer that first every time!)
Let me know how this works. If you still have trouble, I have some other ideas we can try.
Q. I'm having trouble loading my horse. Do you have any suggestions?
A. The biggest thing with trailer loading, as with any challenge, is to make the trailer the comfortable place to be. Many times, people make the trailer an especially scary situation because any time the horse gets close to the trailer, they increase the pressure on the horse at the very wrong time and make it an unpleasant situation. Before you even attempt to trailer load, it's important to make sure your horse can lead by you and is controllable on the lead rope. Practice standing still and drive him pst you using the end of your lead rope if needed for motivation. Once you can lead your horse past you effortlessly and easily, lead him up to the trailer and stand at the back of the trailer. Begin to drive him past you towards the trailer like you practiced and ANY TIME he makes a move toward the trailer, stop and pet him. After a little pet, begin again. Before long, he'll put a front foot in. Stop again and pet him. Continue the procedure until he walks into the trailer. Once he gets in, go in with him and give him a good rub down to help reassure him that the inside of the trailer is a good place to be. Again, it's very important to make this a good experience for both you and your horse. The more time you can take to let this happen, the better. It may take a long time to get him loaded the first time, but effort spent will save you lots in the long run.
Good Luck! Tyler
Q . My horse won’t stand still when I get on. What can I do?
A. This can be a dangerous situation. One thing I like to do with every horse I get on, especially a smaller horse, is to make sure his feet are squared up and maybe even spread out a bit before I go to get on him. If his feet are firmly spread out under him, it decreases the chance that he'll have to take a step as I go to get on in order to re-balance himself to compensate for my weight, especially if I get on a little slowly or pull on the horn too much when I step up. You can accomplish this by gently rocking the saddle horn towards you and away from you until he falls off balance just enough to spread his front feet out and square them up. You want to do this gently. The idea is not to throw him off balance. If you rock the saddle horn too violently or get him to move his feet too quickly, he will brace himself and not spread his feet as well as if you would have done it gradually and gently. (maybe 4 or 5 "rocks" back and forth or until their feet spread out) If this horse is already in the habit of moving when you go to get on, you'll have to do some things to gradually fix that. What I would do every time I went to get on, is have my left rein short and my right rein long. I don't want my left rein so short it pulls the horse's head sideways, but I want the slack out of it with his head straight. After I squared up his feet, I would go to step on. If he goes to leave, I would lie my body across my saddle with my left foot still in the stirrup, trying to put as much weight on my stomach in my saddle as possible so I didn't have a lot of weight in my left stirrup which would pull my saddle off. At the same time I was lying across the saddle, I would pull my left rein short so that he could move, but only in a small tight circle, because his head would be bent to my left knee. When his feet came to a standstill, I would step OFF. This will show him that when his feet stop, he'll get relief by me stepping off of him. I would do this a few times (maybe 5 or so, and then if he didn't move too much the last time I went to lay over the saddle, I would just get on rather than off) Eventually you won't have to lay over your saddle every time, you will just step up into your stirrup and you will be able to tell if he'll stand for you. If he does, just go ahead on get on, because you can always bring his head around if he goes to leave. As with anything, don't work on this too long before you go on to something different. If you work on it for 5 or 10 minutes and make some progress, go ahead and get on and ride. Try it again the next time you ride. If you work on it for too long at a time, you will both get tired and you might loose the progress that you made earlier. Once you get on, it is important for him to wait until YOU are ready to leave before he walks off. (you want him to stand while you get your reins adjusted, get your right foot in the stirrup etc.) To help him with this, let him stand a split second after you get on then YOU ask him to leave before he decides too, that way it's your idea. If he goes to leave before you're ready, shorten your left rein and bring his head around to the left until his feet stop. Release his head and if he stands for a split second, YOU ask him to leave. Pretty soon, the time in which he stands before you ask him to leave gets longer and longer until he'll stand there all day until you're ready to leave.
Good Luck! Tyler
Q. Why do you use rope halters?
A. I exclusively use rope halters for many reasons. One of the main reasons I like them is because of the durability and
strength. On the halters I use, there is no hardware to break. When horses are tied, sometimes they may get scared and pull
back. A good rope halter won't break and will eliminate the chance of a bad habit (horse who learns to pull back and break
halters) getting started. I also like rope halters that have leads tied onto the halter (not heavy snaps) because I am always trying to get my horse as responsive and sensitive as possible, and therefore, the less weight he has to carry on the lead shank
the better. Finally, a good rope halter will fit a wide variety of horse sizes and fit well. When riding a variety of
horses, it's handy to be able to use the same halter for a number of different horses. These are a few of the reasons
I prefer to use rope halters.
Q. Can you tell me how you might go about teaching a young horse lead changes?
A. Thats a great question and a fun thing to work on. What I have found that works the best for me is to be able to control the hind quarters before I attempt to bring in lead changes. The hind quarters are where your changes will originate from. I would start by walking a circle and doing this excercise first, just to get you two to figure each other out: walk a few circles one direction, being conscious of making a nice clean, even circle (maybe 10-20 ft circles). After a couple rounds or whenever she feels like she is in a nice circle, loop out like a figure 8 to change directions. On the middle of the 8 when her body is straight and about to change directions (for an example, we'll say you just completed a few circles to the left and now your are switching over to the right) on the straight part of the "8" before she has changed directions. Collect her and push her hind quarters to your right ( she should "two track" or kind of side step as she moves foward) as soon as you feel that,
go ahead and let her go into her right circle. Make a few rounds to the right until she feels good in that circle, then straighten out of the circle and push her hind quarters to the left as she moves foward. When you feel her two track, let her go into her left circle.
If you achive this at a walk, then move to the trot and do the same thing. When it's smooth there, do it at the lope. The only difference at the lope would be to allow her to come down to a trot on your direction changes and when she is two tracking then bring her up to the lope again in the other lead. Eventually you'll need less trotting strides before she's ready to take the other lead. You'll work to get down to just one trot stride before switching, and then you'll be ready to take out the trotting
step all together and have a flying lead change.
You will need to figure your young horse out and work with her so that the biggest thing is make sure to read her and her
attitude. If you work on it for a few minutes and things are going well, give her a break and do something different before either of you gets frustrated. You can come back to it at a later time and it will just get better and better! Good Luck!
Q. I am new at all of this, but I want to start riding with more "leg cue". What can I do to get started correctly?
A. As far as leg cues go, I really like to use them and like I said in the video, ride with my body instead of just my hands. The biggest thing in the leg cues thing by far (as with anything training-wise) is consistency. If you cue your horse the same, every time you do a manuever, he will pick up on it really quickly. With the colts, I think it may even be easier than an older horse because they never knew any different, so if you're consistet from the start, they really come along quickly. How I would go about it with your horse is get in an arena or open place somewhere and make a turn. It's important to use a very little cue first (maybe your calf against him or even just turn your hips slightly in the saddle to face the direction you want to go). At first your horse will have no idea what you are doing and will probably ignore your small cue and just keep walking straight. From there I would maybe push a little harder with my leg and he will still probably still not know what you are doing. I then would use the reins and turn him all the while keeping your leg pressure on him. JUST AS SOON as he turns, release all the pressure (leg pressure and rein pressure) and let him walk out for a little bit..(maybe 20ft etc) Then start again, but use the same progression, the smallest amount of pressure first with your body( without the reins), then maybe more leg pressure (without the reins), and finally bring in the reins and turn him and relaease all the pressure immediately. It's pretty important not to use the reins right away, because eventually you want him to ride with only your legs so if you used the reins every time, he would never learn more subtle cues. Even though you know the first few times you'll need to work all the way through your progression of more pressure, you need to start from the smallest cue first, every time. If you stay consistent, it won't be long before he will begin to feel your body and get himself ready to turn before you have to bring in the reins and eventually you wont have to touch your reins. One thing you may have to do, ( I find I have to do it sometimes to remind myself) is maybe rest your rein hand with the reins in it on the saddle horn as you work up through your progression of the leg cues, until you need your reins. I've found for me anyway, it was so much a habit to use my reins right away, that unless I put my reins down on his neck or made sure to keep my reins still and loose, I would use them without thinking about it before I wanted to.
As far as specifically how to cue with your legs, there's an endless number of cues that you could use to teach a specific manuever, but for me with turning, here's maybe an imageI would compare it to: Think of sitting on your horse as if he were a stick horse that you were holding between your legs. If you wanted the stick horse to move his head to the left, you would twist your body to the left. What that would do if you were on a horse would be that it would move your right leg slightly ahead of neutral (maybe almost ahead of the front cinch) and contact his shoulder. It would also move your left leg slightly behind neutral (maybe back to about your rear cinch) and you would "twist" his body around your legs. Therefore you are controlling the front end by "pushing" it around with your legs on his shoulder and his hind end by "pushing" it around with your legs by the back cinch. For an even, perfect turn, his front end should be turning equally as much as his hind end, therefore, you would "twist" him around as I said before. It also helps too, to practice each end separately. For example, as you ride, you could pick up on only the left rein and push your leg on his belly just back by the rear cinch ( to cue for the hind end to go to the right) and keep his head turned to the left and your leg on him until you got his front end to come still and he will step only his hind end to the right away from your leg and then you would release all the pressure and let him walk out. A very important thing would be to watch your horse's attitude through all of the new things you are showing him. If you do things right, he should stay calm and relaxed the whole time. If he is getting nervous and hurrying, you are probably doing too much and need to back off a bit with the amount of pressure you apply, whatever that may be. Every time I ride a horse, I try to put him away with a more more calm attitude than when I got him out.
Like I said, just make sure to keep things calm and slow. All at a walk for awhile and then move up from there. As long as you are enjoying yourself, he probably is too. It will take some time so don't get frustrated, just work on in for a little while, then give him a break and go do something different and come back to in later. Let me know how this works, and be sure to let us know if you have any more questions. I really love trying to help. (you can check out the video on the colt start page where I address this very issue) Good Luck!
Q. Is it my young horse or is it me? When I want him to go I nudge, wait, nudge, wait, little harder nudge, wait, ok now kick. This happens more when another horse stops and I want him to keep going or riding up to the trailer to unsaddle. Will he eventually get to where I can canter him away from or ahead of other horses?
A. As far as him not wanting to go when the other horse stops, I think you're doing the right thing. It might just be that you need to do a little more. Just use your best judgement as far as being safe with him, but if it was me and I was kicking and he still wasn't going, I would get the tail of my mecate and do just what you did to start with (squeeze your legs, nudge him a little, kick him) then I would keep kicking and tap him on the butt with the rope. If you do it right, you should be able to use your rope tail once and then he will be better the next time, and maybe it will only require all the steps up to the kick, then next time it may only require all the steps up to the nudge, etc.... The key to getting it better though is to make sure to get quiet (stop kicking, tapping him with your rope etc) RIGHT AWAY when he decides to move...it may only be a step...but just build on that.
If you still have trouble with that, another thing you could do is to make being with the other horse not such a good place. Maybe trot some circles around the other horse, do some spins, hurry him backwards, move his back end over and make him hustle... But remember its not a punishment, you're just getting him better at those moves and at the same time leaving the decision up to him if he'd rather be by the horse or go the the trailer...and same thing as the other excercise AS SOON as he makes any kind of move towards the trailer or keeps going down the road or whatever the case may be....get real quiet and pet him...because that's what you wanted in the first place.
Q. We recently purchased a 6 year old horse that we are starting on barrels. He is gentle and wonderful to be around but if you happen to drop a pair of bell boots near him he becomes completely unglued. He will rear up and almost fall over if he is tied. This is out of character for this horse. What can we do?
A. It is hard to say exactly what I might suggest for your horse without seeing him, but I would guess that at sometime in his life, he had a pretty bad experience with something down around his feet or something that scared him real bad and put him in a bad situation. If this were my horse, I might start by getting him used to a flag (any piece of plastic like a Wal Mart bag on the end of a whip or sorting stick would work fine) and see how he does with that. I would start around his shoulders and back to get to where I could touch him and he was comfortable with everything. Then I might rub down his legs but do my best to rub part way down his legs and then get the flag away BEFORE he moved away. When I work with a flag on a horse, the idea is to do my best to keep them from getting scared of it. That doesn't mean that they won't get a little scared, but anytime I see them make an attempt to accept the flag, I take it away and pet them with my hand. After you have checked that out and get to where you can wave the flag and rub him all over with him being comfortable, I might then put it on the ground 5 feet in front of him and scoot it along the ground up to him and then rub him with it and see how he handles it. Just like before, the idea is to take the flag away BEFORE he moves and whenever he makes even an ATTEMPT to accept it. One thing to be very careful of is that if he gets real scared, he may try to strike at the flag, so be sure to be far enough away with your body so you don't get hurt. I would think that once you can get to where you can wave the flag around anywhere in front of him, that would help him alot. Good Luck.
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