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Dear Dana: I’m between a new bad habit and being too tough!

By DANA HOKANA - Horsetrader columnist - April 4th, 2013 - Q&A Dear Dana

DEAR DANA: I have a 2-year-old reining-bred filly that I have started myself. I am an amateur, but I’ve ridden for all my life. This is only the second horse I have started myself. My problem is that every time I stop her, she roots her head and neck out of my hands. I don’t want to be too tough on her mouth by jerking her, but I feel that a bad habit is starting to develop.
Bonnie, Oakdale

DEAR BONNIE: I was just at the mid-winter Horse Fair in South Dakota, and a lady rode a 3-year-old filly in my clinic that had the same problem. The rider was a good rider, and she was trying to protect her young filly’s mouth. So, every time they would stop, the filly would jerk the reins out of her hands.

After a while, she also started shaking her head up and down. I explained to the lady that even though she was trying to be gentle on her horse, she was actually developing a bad habit with her filly. I helped her fix it in just a few hours.

This is what we did: The problem actually started in the stop. As she would bring the horse to the stop, we found that she would actually release her before all four feet were committed to the ground. The filly still was thinking forward and not fully taking the pressure of the cue to stop. I had the rider draw or pull to a stop and stay holding until she was settled completely into the stop, then she would release the cue. When the filly would try to pull the reins out of her hands I had her just hold until she quit pulling. She started to get nervous and walk forward, so I had the rider back her a few steps then release. If she moved around or wouldn’t be still, she held until all four feet were still.

Gradually, the filly relaxed and just stood patiently. The rider had been so frustrated that she either allowed her to pull the reins out of her hands or she bumped her back in a punishment – both of which didn’t work.

With this new way of riding, the horse started to relax and accept the pressure on her face. You see, in trying to be gentle, the lady had never really established details in the relationship between rider and young horse – which it is truly OK to pull on her mouth and the horse is to give willingly. It’s not a punishment; it is simply a cue.

As the rider, we need to be sure we are consistent and fair in our cues. We need to give a steady, smooth approach and then release when we have our desired result.

Our horses can learn to trust our hands and all of our cues that we give them! I teach my horses that I can move their bodies anywhere I want and that it’s all in their daily workout! It’s a change of mindset on the rider’s part. Good luck to you. Please keep me posted on your progress.


P.S. A DVD that would really help you is “Secrets To A Truly Willing Horse”

DEAR DANA: My 11 year old daughter and I went to a Thoroughbred racing farm and looked at horses for sale. Do you think a Thoroughbred would be fine with the right amount of training to be a barrel racer?
Wayne, Santa Clarita

DEAR WAYNE: I am assuming that since you mentioned your daughter that you are looking for a barrel horse for her. If that’s the case, I would highly recommend a finished, seasoned barrel horse. Even if she is an excellent rider, at her age she is much better off with a horse that is already trained. Another reason why I would steer away from a green, unfinished horse is that an untrained horse is a prospect, and as a trainer I know from experience that some prospects do not finish out as well as I had hoped. Some will never make it at all! You can put a lot of time and money into prospects and later realize you could have spent less and had a finished horse.

The other concern that I have is that at most racing farms, the horses that are already broke or started have no foundation except to run. I like to always put a good foundation on my horses and teach them to respond and give willingly. This makes for a better long-term horse! Also as a mother of young daughters who started riding at a young age, I recommend you build good, positive experiences by matching her on a horse well suited for her, that will build her confidence!


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