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Dear Dana: What do I do, now that I’ve taken him as far as I can?

By DANA HOKANA / Horsetrader columnist - May 5th, 2010 - Q&A Dear Dana

DEAR DANA: I have a 7-year-old foundation-bred Quarter Horse. When I got him eight months ago, he had never been “broken,” for lack of a better word. He and I have come along greatly, but now he’s at a point where my skills are limited in taking him further. I bought him as a barrel prospect, but he has a serious case of lazy. I cannot afford a trainer now (I am a poor ranch hand!), but would love to move him into something fun –- reining (which is his bloodline) or ranch sorting. He rollbacks, moves off the leg, disengages, trail rides like a fool, but I am afraid he’s getting bored. What would you do in my position?
–Stephanie Moore, Potrero, Calif.

DEAR STEPHANIE: I think it’s awesome how far you have taken an older, “unbroken” horse in such a short time! If you are unable to put your horse with a trainer right now, then your next best choice to give him a “job” would be to refine and improve upon the areas that you have already taught him. You have said that he is lazy, so I am curious if he is slow to respond in any way.

Lazy horses are often dull and slow to respond. You may be able to work on sharpening his responsiveness. One way that I improve my horses’ responsiveness to my cues is to give the cue to my horse, then pay close attention to his response. When you try this exercise, clearly focus. Is he resistant? Does he show you negative body language signs like tail-wringing, ear-pinning, or overreacting? If so, repeat the cue until he feels accepting and responsive. Horses learn by the reward or the release of the cue, so make sure that you give or release when you feel that your horse is trying to give.

For example, if you want to improve your horse’s responsiveness and acceptance to moving over off of your leg cue, you will ask him with your leg to move over while carefully evaluating his response. Is he rushy? Does he show a lack of acceptance by trying to get away quickly from the cue? Is he dull and sticky, showing that he doesn’t take your cue seriously? Or does he pin his ears and use his tail excessively, showing anger, fear, or resistance? His response will tell you a lot about where you are at.

Most likely, he will give you something to work on. What I do is ask again and release when I feel him give. Then ask again and release again. Your timing in your release will determine and define for him when he has completed the maneuver to your satisfaction. Your release shows your satisfaction, so repeat the maneuver until you have his obedience and his willingness.

This will take him to a whole new level. I expect a lot more from my finished horses than I do my green horses. This is one of the ways that I get my horses finished, or broke.

The other suggestion that I have is for you to do a lot of suppling exercises and a lot of bending of the head and neck. Teach your horse to give laterally in his head and neck, and to follow his nose. These skills are important, especially if you want to teach him the barrels. If you want to teach him to be a reiner, then teach him to give in his face and have a headset. Becoming light in the face and being able to set his head when you ask for it will be important if you want him to be a good reiner.

The other tip I can give you is to pay attention to where his body weight is while you are riding him. Correctly balancing his body weight is very important for any event, especially reining. If he feels heavy in your hands or heavy on his front end, he is probably traveling with his weight on his front end. To correct this, do a lot of stop, back and turn on the haunches. Also, remember the principal that when you reward, or give, you are showing that you are satisfied. So ride mindful of his response and strive for excellence. Good luck, Stephanie! I hope that helps.


P.S. – My Headset Series training DVDs would really help you with these maneuvers, as well as the Take Control Series.

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One comment has been made on “Dear Dana: What do I do, now that I’ve taken him as far as I can?”


    Dear dana:

    Thank you so much for your reply.

    This horse moves off my leg quickly and without reins, so that isn’t really my problem.

    He is a trail-ringing fool – point and he goes straight up, anywhere you want, and loves it.

    I guess what I’d like is to at least be able to gymkhana him locally, but he’s pushing through his shoulder in the arema towards the gate – no matter what i do, he changes leads in mid-air, and riuns to the gate. I have let him change, but then lope him soaking wet.

    He’s had more than a few wet blanket workouts!

    I don’t ride him through the gate, but being an old show person, I trained him to open and close the gate under saddle.
    Yesterday, he was such a jerk on the trail, I turned him around and went back to the arena – I got a couple of good circles, but felt him pause a bit at the gate – which earned him a swat.

    I cannot afford a trainer, and have never had the need for one – I’ve been training my own horses (very successfully)since I was 7, but I would like to move him into something for fun. He’s comes from an exceptionally well-bred reining line, but I have no experience with that – he does roll back, spin, but I won’t take him into a slide.

    Plus, our “arena” is half the size of a regular one, and sloped – which sure doen’t make working him any easier.

    I thank you so much for your help – and have been a HUGE fan of your forever!!

    Thanks so much,

    PS – I really admire your free help that you offer people – especially the in-depth help!

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