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    My horse breaks left in the arena – always!

    By RAY ARISS - Horsetrader columnist - February 16th, 2012 - Q&A Hey Ray!

    HEY RAY: My 9-year-old mare has an arena problem. She is outstanding and fairly “bullet proof” on the trail, but when I lope her in the arena in right-hand turns, she does well for a while and then suddenly ducks to the left – then goes for the fence. I think she gets bored.
    Tom Wilson, Norco

    HEY TOM: On the surface, this seems like a simple question to answer. Just fight the turn with the right rein and a left spur, then hold the horse between your legs and reins and drive her forward, right? I’m not trying to be funny — I am assuming that you have tried this, and many other things, too. By the way, doing what I just suggested as an obvious answer may work, or it could create a mess if the horse was aggressive or calculating. As you may have possibly experienced already, your mare could very easily rear, leap forward or flip over if you were to get in the way of that tidal wave of energy that she may be throwing your way.

    The answer does not need to be complicated. Actually, it is exactly the opposite. Before I share with you what your plan B will be, I want to make sure you have a couple aids at your disposal that should help your horse produce the right answer when challenged. This exercise will focus on exactly what your horse is asking for: freedom to choose. First, (1) Your horse should be able to stand without moving on a loose rein while you sit on her back; (2) Your horse should be able to flex her nose to your toes and give to the rein without moving her feet; (3) You should be able to turn your horse on the forehand with ease.

    Now, this is what I propose you do: Ask your horse to walk in the direction you are having problems (to the right) while on the rail. Wherever you are on the rail, we will call Point A, and every corner that you come to will be Point B. The object of this exercise is to give your horse a routine that will be in his mind when on the rail in the arena. As of right now, the only thing your horse is thinking about is waiting for that moment to duck and turn to the left. We will put something in his mind to compete with that thought/behavior we are trying to change.

    Initially, we will simply ask the horse to walk on a loose rein on the rail to Point B, which is the next corner in front of him. Allow the fence, not the rein, to be the barrier that stops your horse. Allow your horse to stand and rest with his nose in the corner and count to 10 before proceeding to the next corner. If at any moment the horse breaks out of the walk into any gait, turn him left into the fence and expect him to walk. If he does anything other than a walk, reverse him into the fence again until he walks on a loose rein.

    Remember to reverse in the direction you are working on. Once you are able to consistently walk on a loose rein from Point A to Point B, you can progress to the trot using the same rules. As you may have noticed by now that the horse knows he will be going to the corner and stopping to rest.

    Chances are, your mare probably won’t duck left until we get into the canter. You will progress your horse into the canter by going up through the gaits. If your horse anticipates going into the next gait before you ask, simply reverse or rollback into the fence to a walk and start all over again.

    You can see how your horse will now have many things to think about, including how she feels about turning left into the fence. If your horse is cantering and stopping at Point B without speeding up, allow her to continue to the next corner and then the next until you find a good opportunity to take a break.

    We’re hoping that this solves the problem. But really, she needs to recognize that if she decides to duck and turn into the fence, we will actually welcome it because she will have a new exercise waiting for her that we will reward her for. As you might have guessed, it is the turn on the forehand to the left. Every time your mare chooses to duck and turn, just know that THIS is her cute little way of asking you to reward her for a turn on the forehand to the left.

    The first part of this exercise is great to teach “chargey” horses to learn to rate themselves, and the last part of the exercise teaches dishonest horses that “duck and turn” in the arena or on the trail to be true blue.

    Tom, you should have fun with this exercise all the way through. Just remember that whatever you do, trust your instincts and think safe and everything else will work out.


    Ray

    Horsetrader columnist Ray Ariss, husband to Pippa Ariss and father of six, shares his insight into the relationship of horse-and-human twice each month, in print and on www.horsetrader.com. He lives and trains in “Horsetown USA”, Norco CA, at his bustling StarBrite Riding Academy. Does your “horse-human” relationship leave you with a question for Ray? Just go to www.horsetrader.com and click on the “Hey Ray!” section, then submit it!

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