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Dear Dana: Refusal to reverse is NOT a pleasure!

By DANA HOKANA - Horsetrader columnist - October 4th, 2012 - Q&A Dear Dana

DEAR DANA: I am having trouble with my horse refusing to walk when I reverse in my Western Pleasure class. She is an older mare who has been shown a lot and wants to jiggy jog when we reverse.
Lee, Woodland

DEAR LEE:I have some suggestions that I know will help you with your horse.

First of all, your mare sounds like she is anticipating the gaits that are about to be called in the class. Pleasure classes are run so that the rider is to reverse their horse and then either jog or lope. She wants to hurry up and get the class over with! She needs to learn to relax, wait for your cue, and walk willingly. This is how we will retrain her. These techniques have worked many times for me, as this is a common problem. I have three tips to turn her around.

1. Work on the walk outside of the show arena.

If I know my horse doesn’t like to walk, I will do a lot of walking. Often, we are working on the jog and lope all of the time during training and spend very little time on the walk. When I work on the walk I will take hold of their face and rub my legs on my horses sides –not in an aggressive or angry manner, but rather just slide my calves back and forth until my horse relaxes and accepts the pressure. Often, part of the problem is your horse is anticipating the cue of your leg to move forward into the next gait. By desensitizing her to your legs, you will help her to relax. It also reframes in her mind that the walk is a gait that is done in collection and with pressure, just as the lope and jog.

At the walk, as I have hold of my horses face, I will often ask for her to slow the step down and speed it up, all while maintaining my collection. I will then walk my horse on a loose rein just like in the show arena. Then, I will pick her back up and rub my calves and often talk to her and say, “walk,” repeatedly. I want this time to be soothing, and for my voice to help her relax. I also can use my voice in the show pen after she associates it with this positive experience. Try not to bump or be heavy-handed. It is not meant as a punishment, just part of her work out. Then, I will practice reversing and walking while I pick her up and relax her.

2. Find some schooling shows or classes where you can walk without taking the desired gaits.

This is another way to reprogram her thoughts about the reverse and walk. Go to shows where it is allowable to school your mare in a class without distracting others, and — while you reverse — keep walking. Also, even in the classes when you are showing, try to wait a moment before you go. She has learned this from years of getting to go right off in the new gait. I try to always be very respectful of other exhibitors and the judges by not waiting too long to go forward. I will often just count one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three, and then make my departure.

3. Make sure your horse isn’t too fresh.

Most horses that are “jiggy joggy” are anticipating the lope off. But when a horse “jiggy jogs”, they are usually either fresh or nervous. So, during this period where you are trying to retrain her, make sure that she is a little more tired than usual so that you aren’t dealing with nervous energy on top of your other issues with her. It may be a good idea to longe your horse before you ride at home and at the horse shows as well.

Good luck to you and I hope this helps.


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