Mare with backing issues
So my lovely horse, a 20 year old Arabian mare has been having some issues. I'm beginning to understand why her owner would only let her go to someone who really clicked with her...
She's always happy to see me and she's even trotted up to me on a couple occasions from halfway across her field, so I'm not thinking it's a bond issue.
The problem is that she's hyper and she won't stand still for mounting and she freaks out if she's asked to be more than half a football field away from her bonded friend. When she's calm, she's angelic and she'll do anything for me.
On Saturday I was finally able to go ride her after not riding all week (I'm taking drivers ed so that I can go ride her as much as she needs), I probably should have lunged her (sometimes she seems to get more excited from lunging) before I even started doing anything else but I didn't. She was fine, standing still for grooming and everything, until I unhooked her halter. I could tell she wasn't going to stay still while I got on (she's afraid of the mounting block so I get on from the ground) so I got my trainer to hold her. As soon as I put weight in the stirrup she reared out of my trainers grasp. I was able to grab mane and get on but from then on it was crazy. She was mini rearing and crowhopping until I finally got her to stand still, then I got her into the arena which is nearer to her friend and she started calming down. I kinda felt like I had given in a wee bit but I didn't want her to get me off and learn to do that when she doesn't want to work.
The thing that scares me the most is that when I'm on her I can't really make her do anything she's not willing to do. If I ask her to stop and she doesn't want to she'll start backing up. If she doesn't want to go forward she either backs up or stops dead. I'm an expierenced rider and I really like this horse, she's just too proficient at backing.
I don't think it's a pain issue since she hasn't ever been lame and she stands perfectly still if I get off and get back on halfway through a session. She also has a really sensitive mouth, in a snaffle right now, so she gets tense if I put on very much rein pressure.
Should I just figure on lunging her as a general rule? I'm taking her to college with me in a year so I really want to get some of these issues ironed out before that.
And seriously, she's 20!! Argh.
Wow, ok, lots of things going on here that I see. First, I would get a chiropractor out to see her as soon as possible. Maybe even have an equine massage therapist out.
So say the physical aspects check out. I will argue that her not standing still for mounting and being buddy sour and all that IS linked to a relationship issue. If she was completely trusting she wouldn't act that way. So, you need to figure out when she actually starts getting tense. Is it when you put the saddle on? Is it when you get a certain distance away from the herd? If she wants to get back to the herd she is telling you she doesn't feel safe with you....the herd represents safety to her. So now it's your job to prove to her that she can trust you and everything will be okay when she is with you.
Say she acts tense when you put the saddle on. Play approach and retreat with it....put it on, take it off, etc. until you see her relax. Do not have her tied for this, she needs to be able to sniff the saddle if she wants to.
Say she gets tense when you are leading her away from the other horses. Again, play approach and retreat. Go a short distance away then go back, go away then go back, etc. until she relaxes. Also make it a habit to take her out and let her graze. This will build rapport with her and she will have more confidence in you.
So say things are going well and you want to ride. If she is afraid of the mounting block start there. Again, play approach and retreat. Ask her to sniff it by sending her to it (not leading her up to it) and if she stops or hesitates (which is her telling you she has reached a threshold) allow her to assess the situation and then take her away from it. Send her back, take her away, send her back, take her away. When she finally sniffs it take her to go eat grass for a few minutes. Then go back and do it again. Be prepared for this to take time and be patient.
So now you have her confident in the mounting block. Now prepare her for you getting on. Slap your stirrup fender/leather against the saddle with rhythm to get her used to that commotion. If she wants to move let her. Go with her but have her head tipped slightly toward you so her hindquarters go away from you. Do NOT try to make her stand still. When she stands still AND relaxes stop and rub her. Give her plently of time to think about it and do this on both sides.
Now simulate your weight in the stirrups. Lean on the stirrup with your hand and if she moves, again try to stay with her. When she stops and relaxes release the pressure. Make sure she is completely confident with this.
When she is confident with that get the mounting block and step up. If you see her eyes get wide, her body tense up, her head go up, etc. step down then back up, down and up, down and up, until she doesn't care. All the while rub her. Do this on both sides. So now you have her confident so put your foot in the stirrup and take it out. Put it in, take it out, until she is relaxed. All the while rub her. Now put a little weight in the stirrup and take it away, etc. Work your way up in little increments until you can stand in the stirrup. Do not swing your leg over immediately, wait and rub her on the off side. Now you are asking permission to get on. If she is okay gently swing your leg over and rub her for awhile. Then get off. Maybe end the session right there. Don't rush this, take the time it takes.
Once you start riding do exercises to get her to relax. Ask for lateral flexion, circles, leg yields on the circle to release tension in her belly, etc.
One thing on lunging.....the fact that she seems to get more worked up when you do this is a big indicator she is not confident. I am a big promoter on working your horse on the ground before riding to see what kind of mood they are in so if you lunge her make it have a purpose. Don't just go in circles. Put out some poles, ask her to jump things, set up puzzles for her to figure out, make it interesting.
It would help getting her into a rhythm. Like you don't want to just go there once a week to ride her, and if you do I don't think lunging first will help. It would be good to do something with her everyday so she gets in a routine, and I know sometimes that really isn't all that possible sometimes.
Take her for walks maybe, just leading her but with a bridle on for more control, that way you are taking her away from her friend but you are less likely to be injured. Find somewhere out of sight of her paddock buddy and feed her there, so she knows that good things can happen while she is away.
The standing still while mounting is just the kind of thing that time will fix. If possible just get on and off her as many times as you can. Unsaddle and saddle her a few times, saddle her and just lead her for some grass.
When she is backing up don't kick her and don't pull on her mouth, either way it'll just make her do it more. If you can predict where she is going to do it get it somewhere where she will just back into a solid fence, but be prepared for her to jump forward when she touches it.
This woman I know owns an equestrian centre also starts young horses and helps fixa behavioural problems and one thing she swears by is the one rein stop. Its pretty simple and basically is just pulling them is a circle. She has this really spooky pony and so she just holds the rein maybe six inches or so from the bit and pulls his head right round before she gets on. If he tries to move he is just pulled in a very tight circle, and with his head on that angle he can't rear or anything. If he walks once she's on she just keeps him on that tight circle until he stops. Also when a horse bolts she uses that circle. She starts teaching them on the ground to stop when being turned like that and it works when on board. When going backwards you could use this technique and just pull her round.
It might be worth a try. I used to have a mare that would always back up and the trick was to out stubborn her, it may take a couple of hours but if the horse won't go forward you just wait for them to stop backing and ask them forward, or when they back, circle them till they stop then ask them to go forward, eventually they should give in.
Honestly though, if your horse is having rearing problems etc it may take a while to get her out of that and while some 20 year old horses have a good few years left in them it may not be worth you putting your time in that. Of course I don't know your situation but I would really think about putting your time into an elder horse.
Also, these ideas are of course for after you have ruled out physical reasons.
Good luck, Andi.
Are you sure about how much training this horse has actually had?
Was she a kids horse?
WSArabians- I'm truly not sure about how much training she's had. She was bred and raised by her previous owner and they really babied her, except for the boys who treated her pretty roughly. She would get scared of something and evidentally they would try to fight her out of her fear. I'm not sure how much they rode because I know she was really their mom's horse, but who knows how she rode... She seemed nice enough...
I will definetly see if I can have a chiropractor out.
Wow, that's great idea about feeding her good stuff away from her buddy, I can't believe I didn't think of that...Wow. Thanks. =D
Andi- That's a good point about her age. My trainer thinks she has 7 or 8 good years left and I'm willing to bet she does. I guess I'm kinda hoping that she'll settle since she doesn't full out rear and she's only actually done it on two occasions... I'll keep that in mind though.
Spirithorse- What do you mean about making a puzzle and having her work it out when I'm lungeing her? Kinda like Linda Tellington-Jones's groundwork??
Thanks for all those great ideas, I'll try them out.
By puzzles I mean things like backing over a pole, weaving in and out of cones, doing a figure-8 in between two cones, going over obstacles, etc. Things to get her using her brain. Lunging can be very boring and pointless to horses so it's our job to make it interesting and meaningful. Setting up these puzzles will also make her smarter and when she is using her brain she will be more in tune with you instead of running around.
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