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Dear Dana: Help! My horse changes from day to day under me

By DANA HOKANA - Horsetrader columnist - December 4th, 2014 - Q&A Dear Dana

DEAR DANA: Every day, when I ride my horse she is like a new horse. One day, she’s quiet. The next, she’s full of energy. One day the saddle is no big deal, the next day when I cinch her up, she grunts and moves around. One day the chairs by the arena are nothing, the next day she’s afraid of them. I really like this horse. She was a dream come true for me, but this one area is really disappointing. She is a 4-year-old Quarter Horse, bred for working cow and reining.
— Jean

DEAR JEAN: I know your frustration because I’ve had a few horses like yours — and I was able to help them become more level-headed! Often a horse like her will always be higher maintenance in these arenas, but with these tips you will make her a lot better than she is right now.

1. Your horse may have too much energy. She may be a mare that has a lot of energy, and here are factors that contribute to having too much energy.

a. Food – A high-protein, high-energy feed can make some horses respond like your mare. Sometimes, they just can’t contain their energy, and it comes out in the form of spooking or being difficult to handle. I have had some horses that I had to adjust their food until they became calm enough to train. One of my greatest horses needed to be off all alfalfa or she would act just like your mare.

b. Exercise – Horses need a lot of exercise! The larger the stall, the more they can move around. Our standard barns are 12×12 stalls. That is a small area for a horse. I am very mindful to turn out my horses about everyday in a turn out to move around and use some of their stored up energy. I will also lunge them if I can’t turn them out or ride them. Access her energy. She may just need to get out and play. The behavior that you described could be from her just feeling like she’s crawling out of her skin.

c. Bloodline – Some bloodlines just have more energy than others! Horses that are bred to race will definitely have more energy than one that is bred to be a draft horse. Understand your mares breeding and take into consideration that she is bred to be a working horse. She needs a bit of energy to complete her workday.

d. Consistency – I can’t stress enough the importance of a consistent work program. If she is worked once or twice a week she will probably be fresh and energetic each time you work her. If many of her workouts are ones fighting energy, she may not learn to be calm and relaxed. It is the good, quiet, positive workouts that build that behavior pattern of being an obedient, willing partner. Do your best to work her consistently until you develop a pattern, or a habit of being soft and obedient.

2. Learn to read your horse! I aspire everyday to be a better horsewoman. I study my horse’s behavior and strive to understand them. Our horses speak loudly through their body language. So often our horses issues are really our own lack of understanding them. Most people are either more visual and intuitive by nature or they are more analytical and verbal. It is believed that people will use more of their right-brain if they are more creative, visual and intuitive. They use more of their left-brain if they are analytical and verbal. I believe it will really help you to understand and deal with your horse if you can be in touch with and use your intuitive side of your nature to read and diagnose your horse’s mood for the day. Quiet the mental chatter and thoughts for a moment and attempt to sense or read her mood. When you practice quieting the reasoning thoughts, your concerns are for how your horse will act that day. You can then read or sense her mood, and your senses will become keener as to subtle body signals she may be sending.

You will be able to make wiser decisions as to how to handle her workout because your intuition has given you more information. You will develop an understanding of her that will help you to be a better coach. Instead of being mad or frustrated with her you can become her coach, her leader. Very likely, when she is feeling tense or fractious, she is waiting for the impending punishment and has given herself up for trouble. Get on her side and help her to handle her own self.

I have had such wonderful victories by applying this approach. I had a horse that was a lot like your mare, and I used these techniques to keep her energy level low enough for her to control herself. I took the time to get on her side, not be another “enemy.” If there were a “scary” side of the arena, I would stop and let her process it and decide it was OK. I carefully read her moods,and she became a champion.


P.S. I recommend my DVD, “The Secrets To A Truly Willing Horse,” also to check out my online videos on TeamHokana.com, where you will receive three all new training videos per month! You will find a lot of help there!

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