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  • Writer's pictureKristie Cotton

Forced or willing ….Training behavior

This horse was an ex roping horse. He hadn’t been used in quite some time as he didn’t have an ounce of muscle anywhere. His owner had fell in love with him and insisted on buying him. He was a kind horse but would need some ” refining. ” He was going to be used as a trail horse. When I say ” trail ” I mean honest mountains, forests, and rivers! The first thing I do when I am asked to train a horse or fix a problem one, is evaluate their physique. This horse was a grade horse, but he looked like an appendix ( half Thoroughbred, half Quarter horse ) He had a very high wither and a weak, sunken back. When riding, he would hold his head so high that his neck was in your face. You could feel the ” go ” in him and he did not walk, he pranced, bouncing you like a pogo stick! When horses move like this, it makes it impossible to sense a comfortable harmony. You seem as a mere passenger with no control. If you have ridden a horse like this then you are familiar with their choppy trot, and a slow but almost leaping in place canter, and worst of all, cannot walk straight! Riding this horse down an open road was similar to what it might feel like to ride a drunk horse! So let’s get into learning why this horse is this way, as well as so many others out there!

The horses body moves with a longitudinal flexion. In a relaxed state, they keep their head and neck vertical, moving forward and back with each step.

The canter needs longitudinal flexion as well. To improve a canter, you must improve the walk, or vice versa. Whichever that particular horse responds to.  The trot is a gait on it’s own since it does not require longitudinal movement. When tie downs are used incorrectly to force the horse in a frame, the horse needs to come up with creative ideas on how to continue to please his rider. Since their head and neck are constrained, it causes the back muscles to consistently contract. They can’t use the correct neck muscles for balance, they can’t use the front legs to balance so they keep the back in an isometric hold. This causes improper back muscles. I am not a roper, I love watching any rider, if it seems the horse is enjoying their job. It is very easy to tell a happy horse from an uncomfortable horse. Tie downs are needed in some rodeo events to help the horse balance themselves in that quick stop, adjusted properly, they still allow freedom of head and neck.

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This horse needs to learn to yield to bit pressure, not brace against

Using a tie down to force the head down is counterproductive..we need to find out why the horse prefers to brace his back with nose in the air.


The vertebral column is the basis of all body movement. Riding certain movements are either therapeutic or damaging to the horse.

yuk tie down

” Relaxation ” is not a release in muscle use but an absence of unnecessary muscle contraction. This horse I was hired to train wanted to get home quick, I felt as though I was a mere passenger at the mercy of a 1200 pound animal. I used exercises like shoulder in down a dirt road to get him to focus on me and relax his mind. This released unnecessary tension in his back, and allowed the longitudinal movement I was looking for. Eventually, the horse will realize it is far more comfortable to carry their rider in a balanced manner. I see many strong, balanced riders sitting on a crooked, unbalanced, improperly coordinated horse. Once you have ridden a balanced, light horse, you are unable to just sit on any horse without desiring to ” fix ” and balance them.


I was fortunate to learn on balanced horses when I was young

When the muscular system has been allowed to become improper, the nervous system will be affected as well. This is what creates a muscle memory and can be difficult to correct. The horse may be so set on his protective muscling that he refuses to learn a new coordinated way. He will at first seem dissatisfied, resentful, etc. Conformation can also play a part in horses finding balance and lightness difficult.

My personal horse has a short back, therefore creating the proper lift of his back is difficult for him.

He also struggles with being heavy on the forehand and wanting to lean on the bit. There is no ” quick fix ” for him. It will take the time it takes to help him find suppleness, balance and lightness. This is slowly and carefully achieved with specific gymnastic exercises. These exercises keep him comfortable, correct and happy to be ridden. If he was allowed to travel in a dysfunctional way, pain, tension and resentment would take over. He is bold but not tolerant of certain situations.

The ex roping horse lived a long wonderful life as one of the safest, lightest, most comfortable horses I have had the joy of riding.

“Anything forced is not beautiful” Quote by― Xenophon, The Art of Horsemanship

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