My mare, Bella, is 14 years old. You couldn't ask for a more bomb-proof trail horse, she's not afraid of anything and is willing to go anywhere I ask her to. She's also got a compass in her head and if we get lost, she'll take me straight home. She's the best trail companion you could ask for.
The issue is that our barn hosts several fun shows a year and I would dearly like to be able to participate in these, but Bella is not amenable to cooperating in the ring. She has wonderful respect for me and her ground manners are impeccable and she's just fabulous on the ground but as soon as we set foot in the arena she'll tense up and start jigging around rather than walking. She really cannot stay calm and it's almost all I can do to keep her at a walk in the arena. If I took her from there and put her on a trail, I could drop the reins and she would walk calmly, but in the arena it's just a battle to stay at a walk. I'd like to be able to compete in the trail class, because she'd be good at it, but she would rush through everything and mess up. I'd like to compete in walk-trot western pleasure as well, but she tenses up instead of relaxing. Circleing her, which my instructor reccomended when she gets excited, only seems to amp her up more and make her go faster. I've tried weaving patterns to make her focus on something, but she just won't settle. Where do I begin to help her understand that it's a good thing to relax in the arena?
Thanks in advance for your answers :)
Can you feed her in the arena and spend a lot of time there? Not just under saddle, but just walking around on the leadrope, enjoying time and sharing cookies? If she thinks of the arena as a place that gives her pleasure, perhaps she'll feel better about it.
Also, your attitude is important- when you enter that arena next time, you need to keep repeating in your head "My horse loves it here! She is going to be calm, happy and smooth in the arena. Its a safe and wonderful place to be!" Or something like that. I do believe that horses can pick up on your emotions, so if you are calm and happy, she will be too.
Good advice Draftrider and stuff that i've worked on. All summer last year when we'd get done with a trail ride, I'd take her out and lead her around the arena calmly and give her her grain bucket out there and a nice rub down. All summer long we worked on it, and on the ground she'll be calm, but the moment my butt hits the saddle in the arena, she's rarin to go racing. The calm-ness just doesn't carry over. I have no clue who trained her or how, nor do I know what she was used for. My best guess is that it was a speed event, either reining or barrels or something, because she just won't settle in the arena.. Was looking for something sort of out there that anyone has tried and had success with.
Is it a fearfulness that she has? Could she have been hurt in an arena?
Is there another person, maybe your trainer that could ride her when you aren't there watching to see if it is you, not her? If she acts the same for your trainer it is a behavioral issue... if she is good for trainer its something YOU need to work on within yourself.
If it was my horse, and I determined it was not me, but her- I would keep her moving and as soon as she relaxed, allow her to stop and stand still. If she kept jigging, keep riding until she relaxes again. Ride small circles, do figure 8's, whatever you need to do to keep her moving. Allow her to rest, but if she gets nervous its time to get busy again. The point with this is that she will eventually realize that being calm in the arena is rewarded with being allowed to stand still. The harder she jigs, the more you ride. Don't stop until she is walking slow and calm around the arena. It might take all day in the saddle, but if you give up it is rewarding her for being a brat.
Ok and this is going to sound silly but.. I raise Shetland sheep. During different times of the year, I need to move them to pastures, gather them for shearing, etc.
I have found over the years that if I allow the sheep to stand still when I am herding them into the barn or through a gate, that their brain takes over and they freak out or bolt. If their feet are moving, their brain is calm and they don't get a chance to think about it.
By controlling their feet, you control the mind. Now, I know that horses are infinetly more intelligent than sheep, but they are similar in that they are both herd animals, both grazers, and both are prey animals. I've started taking this approach to my animals when moving them about, and it works.
So this is why I suggested to keep your mare moving as long as she is jiggy- when she calms, allow her to stand. When she starts to get an idea in her head to get jiggy, then you take over and make her feet move.
I would also suggest that I have found that shows, hunterpaces, trail trials are all harder when they are at your home barn, at least with my guys. The "furniture" is moved, stuff is different, and who are all these guys and what are they doing at my house? I know you are having trouble even without this, and draftrider has made some really good suggestions. I would add-"rescue remedy" is great-herbal and takes the edge off of both of you. I have many times done "some for me, some for you" with my horses when I am nervous or he is. Seems to work, and might just get you through the tough parts. Good luck!
Adrenaline!!! Horses have an incredible system which can double their heartrate and blood flow using adrenaline. Thats how they feed all those muscles.
Lots of things cause the release of the adrenaline--the biggest one being fear.
The true test of sucessful training is that the horse remains calm and listens when their adrenaline is up. Unfortunately it also shows all the holes in the training as well.
Focus on training her when her adrenaline is up---hard work, lots of hard work. Lots of work at the canter--or lope, circles etc. That way she can get used to having her adrenaline up and still listen.
Thank you for putting your minds to work :) I definitely appreciate it.
Draftrider, I really wouldn't call it fearful. She doesn't pin her ears or get bug eyed, or anything like that. She doesn't bolt, and she'll turn wherever I tell her to, she just does it really really quickly, and I can't get her to maintain a calm speed. I know that the horse is supposed to maintain whatever gait you put them in, be it walk trot or canter until you ask for something else, but she doesn't. If I put her on a loose rein on the trail, she'd walk all day with just a lean here or there from me to tell her which trail to take, but if I let off contact with the reins in the arena, we'd be full out galloping on the rail in about 6 strides. I've tried that, to let her run until she's tired and then make her run some more so that the stopping is because I said so. It worked for about 10 minutes, until she got her breath back, and then she was ready to start all over and I honestly didn't have the energy to go through it again. Sometimes at the canter if I circle her, I'll get really nice collection and she'll slow back, but when she goes back to the rail she increases pace again.
And let me tell you, the time I tried to keep her running until it was my idea, her legs were shaking cause she was so tired, but as soon as she caught her breath she was ready to go all over again. My mom has ridden her and she acts the same way with her, as well as a couple of the other more experienced riders at the barn. She's not out of control, exactly, she's just quick. She does whoa when you ask for it, but she despises standing still. She'll paw at the ground and fidget after more than 3 seconds, but she'll stand still for hours while you're grooming her, but when you're in the saddle, she keeps her feet moving even when you want her to be still.
Like I said, she really doesn't act fearful. There's no shying, no eye-rolling, no bolting. She doesn't buck or rear ever, and her ears are almost always one forward, eager and the other tuned in to me. I've worked her for 5 hours at a time, trying to get her to relax and the real problem is she has more stamina than I do. I was plain exhausted and once more, as soon as she caught her breath back, which only takes a minute or two, she was ready to start all over.
I would only work her in the arena for a while. When she is antsy like you say then don't ask for a walk. Make trotting your idea. If she starts getting antsy first thing when you get on then just ask for the trot. Work on bending, circles, figure 8, surpentines, and transitions.
Work her at a trot and canter, transition to a walk then ask for the canter, then if you ask for a stop ask for a turn on the haunches, forehand, roll backs, leg yeilds. Anything to get her to think about how her body is moving. When she calms down ask her to walk on a loose rein for a couple of minutes then ask for some bending at the walk. Then ask for some more faster paces. End when you have gotten her to walk for a little bit. Then walk her out from the ground or take her out for a walk on a trail to cool out as a reward (but not everytime on the trail)
You will probably have to be really consistant to get her any better. Once she is consistantly starting out calm then you can through in some trail rides where you work her just as hard as you would in the arena.
Good luck with everything :)
Circling and serpentines generally cause an increase in speed with this mare. Figure eights as well. It's almost scary how fast she can move her feet in a circle lol. I know generally you change things up to make them take the time to think about where they're putting her feet but she just gets really excited when you ask for any kind of pattern. The trail riding, she always starts out calmly. It's the same saddle, same bridle and bit, same everything and I start out with an optimistic attitude every time. Went for a trail ride on her tonight and kept her on a loose rein the entire time. She was sweaty by the time we got back and I wanted to walk her out more, so I tried to go out to the big arena and she got so excited she was getting worse so I got off and hand walked her and she acted like she'd never been excited in the first place. Goofy mare.
Leg contact, in asking for lateral movements like leg yield, turn on the haunches etc, also seems to excite her because I don't think she was ever used to leg, and when I first got her I was afraid to put leg on her cause she goes really fast. I'm working on desensitizing her to it and she does move laterally, again, it just excites her. Again, thanks everyone for the advice. We'll try some of these techniques and see what happens.
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