Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: southern Arizona
Start from the beginning, and see if you have respect issues from general handling. How does she do being led, getting hooves cleaned, groomed, etc? Will she yield her shoulder and hip? If she is pushy at that level, then fix that level before moving higher.
Then try basic desensitization. Does she handle having a rope drug all over her body? Can you move a whip over her body? What about hula hoops? What about trash bags on a whip? Again, if she is calm with everything you can think of, then it isn't a fear issue. If not, work with her to get her used to the idea that she can trust you to do odd things without hurting her.
Round pen: Will she walk quietly? Will she change directions, outward or inward at your choice, and do so calmly? If she won't obey at a walk, then she won't obey/respect at higher speeds. Work her up a bit at a time. With my mare, at age 11, we had to work her up a little and then she would explode - racing around. But racing around meant she had to change directions at speed, and that was tiring, so...
We spent several weeks working with her to raise her emotional level, and then let her calm down. Graduation was when we could have her move up to a gallop, change directions, and then quickly slow her to a walk without trouble.
If the horse is dangerously aggressive in the round pen, I'd shoot the horse. I know some people are willing to risk their lives to work with a horse like that, but I won't & I won't ask anyone else to. I've heard stories of horses trying to kill a human, and I wouldn't take a chance on anything like that.
To me, a round pen or lunge line is to introduce a horse to new ideas, or to show it that if it obeys simple commands, it gets immediate release of pressure. Once they understand that, it is time to move off.
Next (and BTW, this progression is what we used on Mia, a mare who was sold to me as great for a beginner, and who I had ridden, as a beginner, in a sidepull halter for 3 years before I got tired of her occasional explosions/bolting), see if the horse understands things like tying up to a post, bit cues, leg cues - from the ground. From my very limited experience, it looks like a horse is about 1/2 as good when I'm on her back as when I'm on the ground, so I want the ground work to be very good and consistent before I try asking for it during a ride.
To me, if a horse 'needs to have the energy run out of him' before mounting, then it indicates a training issue that needs to be worked before mounting. That was how Cowboy was treated as a lesson horse - they would 'round pen the energy out of him' before letting the students ride him. I honestly believe that is counterproductive. Round pens and lunge lines are great training tools, but only when there is a training goal being worked on. But I also know some trainers with 100s of times my experience who disagree, so take it FWIW.
"People can teach us the rules, but only horses can teach us the art of riding."