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  • Writer's pictureKristie Cotton

Identify the behavior Training Part 1

I was asked to train a horse because of his head throwing problem. The horse was to be used as a trail horse but really had no knowledge of trails as he was used for speed events. I was to get him used to the mountain trails and fix the head tossing. He was only six years old which explains the lack of experience with anything at all. The owner insisted I ride with a tie down and also figure out why he bolts up mountains and then sidesteps down them. First thing, check teeth by a veterinarian to assure it wasn’t sharp edges on teeth hitting the bit. He was also on the thin side which can be from teeth, parasites, and lack of feed. If you want the horse to perform well for you and be at it’s best behavior, then you have to take care of it. Ignoring these duties in the care of the horse is poor management and will not ensure a strong relationship with your horse. Native Americans believed the relationship with their horses was a main priority in their training. They depended completely on the horses skills and partnership.

I do not use mechanical gadgets to train so once the teeth were addressed, it was time to help the horse accept the pressure of the bit. This work starts on the ground, then can be transferred under saddle. Once the horse associates anything with pain, you have to be patient and creative to gain their trust. The tie down would have been a way to mask the pain, creating suffering and resentment. Tie downs should not be a training tool to keep the horses head down. Poor fitting hackamores and bosals  can cause head tossing as well.  They can block nasal passages if set too low, the horse is attempting to say they can’t breathe when you pull on the reins. Dismissing your horses behavior as being rude or a jerk and using submissive training methods will never allow you the experience of learning the true character of your horse. Patience is a practice all horse owners should strive for. If your horse is showing signs of resentment like refusing to go forward, refusing to enter the arena, stop and think about what may be happening. Did you leave him sore last ride? Is he bored with circles? Does his saddle fit or is it pinching? Seek to identify the behavior before dismissing as ” My horse is lazy! ” Dangerous behavior should not be tolerated, but make sure your horse isn’t attempting to communicate the reason why.

This particular horse would bolt uphill for a few reasons:

  1. The tie down did not allow him use of head and neck for balance, blocking longitudinal flexion

  2. If horses are out of shape, rushing up hill is actually easier for them than walking

  3. Weak hind leg, stifle pain

The horse would trot sideways downhill for a few reasons:

  1. Lack of balance due to tie down

  2. The horse needs to have proper use of back muscles to balance himself and rider down hills. The tie down creates a stiffening of back muscles that need to be addressed

  3. The hind legs work as a braking and carrying, sore stifles can come from incorrect back muscles. The horse goes sideways to keep from overloading the hind legs, protecting stifle pain.

How to fix the situation

Re educate the incorrect muscle with schooling exercises along with negotiating smaller hills to gain trust and stamina. Longitudinal flexion is allowing the horse full use of moving head and neck forward and back.


Teaching them to yield to slight bit pressure, not brace against it.

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All bonds are built on trust, without it, you have nothing. – Unknown

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