HEY RAY: I have a beautiful 20-year-old Lusitano stallion that has always done everything I’ve asked of him. Lately though, when I go to pick his feet he seems to be bothered when I reach for his feet. It almost seems like he doesn’t want me to touch them, especially the back ones. Initially, I thought he was being helpful because he would pick up his feet before I asked, but when I went to hold them he would move around or snatch his foot out of my hand. Now he has gotten so bad that I am afraid I might get kicked.
–Kristin Johnson, Corona
HEY RAY: Whenever my horse would get heavy in my hands, what worked well was backing him up until he was “light.” This would keep him in self carriage and off my hands when moving forward again. Lately though, not only is he heavy going forward, but when I attempt to back him up, he’s remains heavy. Now I’m stuck with a horse that doesn’t mind hanging all the time. Riding him has become no fun — just a real workout. Help!
– Patricia Wiggens, Las Vegas, Nev.
HEY RAY: I have a horse that is fairly responsive and soft to my hands until he gets distracted or scared, and then I have nothing but a hard-braced neck, head up, lousy brakes and poor steering. I practice suppling every time I ride but it doesn’t seem to help when he gets distracted. He also seems to look for things to spook at when we are at shows and stares at it as we go by. How can I keep him focused on our work in a snaffle when he feels like a ton of bricks in my hands?
HEY RAY: I have a lesson horse that is my best money-maker at the ranch because she is easy to ride and everyone’s first pick. I can always trust she will take care of the rider and show them a good time. Here’s the problem: When another horse gets near her, she expresses all the signs of aggression. That’s why we do the lessons away from horses. I’m afraid to start something I won’t be able to handle, causing the good side of my horse to change. Should I worry?
–Christina Walker, Pine Valley
HEY RAY: I found out that when you train really hard at home in preparation for your first horse show, and you load up your champion hopeful, on your way to the show, something magical happens. When you arrive and you unload your trailer, the horse that comes out isn’t yours. What is that all about? Everything we worked on, everything we achieved and everything I expected went out the window. What happened?
—Ann Hutchison, Norco
HEY ANN: The phenomenon you experienced is not exclusive to you and your horse. Actually, it is the norm for most horses going to a show for the first time. It’s amazing what stress, pressure and a new environment can do to the fragile mind of an inexperienced horse. The surprises you learn at your horse’s first show usually only happen once if you pay attention. It’s not so much what you did at the show that counts, it’s more about the preparation and all that you simulate about the show at home that really makes the difference.
HEY RAY: How do I keep a positive attitude in my horse while working on and teaching “collected gaits”?
–Thurston Francers, Encinitas
HEY THURSTON: Your question seems simple enough. My answer is another story.
More often than not, when people first start a young horse, everything seems to go nice and easy because we ask for the bare minimum and we are grateful when it happens. Our expectations are low because the chances of things going wrong are high. At this stage of the game, the probability of danger keeps us careful and appreciative for anything positive that comes our way.
HEY RAY: My recently purchased, beautiful, 7-year-old Palomino Fox Trotter brings a lot to the table — except for a few shortcomings. The biggest surprise was finding out that when I’m on the trail, he comes unglued when bicycles race past him, causing him to become explosive and unpredictable. If I can’t make this behavior go away, he may have to go away. What should I do?
–Jon Cannon, Orange Park Acres
HEY JON: There is no perfect horse, and it’s always going to be something! The question to ask here is. “Will I be safe with this horse while trying to figure out how to make it better?” If the answer is no, get professional help and have the horse evaluated. On the other hand, if safety is not an issue, I have an exercise that should help and be fun, too.
HEY RAY: Tucker is a 7-year-old Quarter Horse gelding. I’ve spent many years since childhood on the back of a horse, and I am still stumped on a barn-sour/herd-bound horse. I’ve worked through most of the issues on Tucker, but he’s gotten attached at the hip to his barnmate, Dono. Tucker goes from a quiet, sensible easy-goer into an 8-second rodeo bronco. I’m now in my mid-70′s and need this lousy behavior of his to disappear.
–Roger Sherman, Big Bear
HEY ROGER: Obviously Tucker must feel that Dono is a real special guy. I think the best way to approach this situation is to let your horse Tucker feel that his buddy is not all that and maybe not even worth all the trouble. This is what I propose:
HEY RAY: I have a half-Arabian, half-Andalusian named Taz. We are moving up in levels and need to change lead every three strides on the diagonal. However, when I ask her to change to the left lead, she tosses her head. She doesn’t do this when I ask for the flying change on a circle – just on the diagonal. And we are in a collected canter. What can I do? Show season is rapidly approaching!
- Samantha Jacobs, Norco
HEY SAMANTHA: It’s nice to hear that your mare can do the changes. I’m assuming they are mechanically correct and clean aside from the head toss. On another note, the last thing you want to do is put a time constraint on your training because of the show season. You have worked too long and too hard to get where you are. Unless you get lucky and everything goes your way, you will be setting yourself to fail, especially with flying changes. Consider taking all pressure off you and your horse while you try to figure out where the weak link lies in your changes. A good way to achieve this is to show one whole level below where you train.
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.