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Discussion Starter #41
There is a discussion on another thread about a horse that is an explosive fear reactor like Amore was, that a trainer is working with. I wanted to save my comment here so I can remember it for the future, for working with other horses like this:

"It is a good concept. Warwick Schiller calls it "too many rabbits." I think whether you call it trigger stacking, a worry cup, or too many rabbits, it's important to understand. But I don't think the solution is desensitizing to rabbits or various triggers. As this article says, it's teaching the horse to calm down after one "rabbit," or one worry. To teach the horse that whatever scares him, whether it is rabbits, saddles, horse trailers, etc, he can calm himself quickly and not get to the point of exploding.
Along for the ride: How Much Worry Can Your Horse Handle? - Warwick Schiller

If this horse truly did not show any sign of worry until the explosion, then the trainer may not know she is thinking about rabbits. That is not common, but was the way my mare was. In that case, you can't even start with the rabbits, but you have to begin with finding calm after the big explosion faster, and work your way all the way back to the rabbits.
If the horse seems to be handling things fine, walking calmly, not snorting or tensing up, etc, then all you can do is assume there are no rabbits. But then boom, the explosion. So there were rabbits but the horse wasn't telling you about them.

Improvement is getting to the point where the horse spooks in a more reasonable fashion, and begins to tell you she is thinking about rabbits. Unfortunately, this means for some horses they have to show you this fear reaction a few times to learn not to do it, otherwise it will be always lurking there waiting to happen.

It's not always that horses are taught to be shut down and not show signs of fear. It seems to be a natural although more rare type of response that the freeze/flight or fight response begins with the horse having a sort of "freeze" response externally, not showing fear until they suddenly blow up. It would be beneficial in nature, if a horse was being stalked by an animal, to show no signs of fear at all until suddenly reacting violently."

In my opinion, it's actually quite a bit better to have a horse that actively shows signs of anxiety rather than hides it until reaching the explosion point. Better to have them kicking and biting with nerves than to appear calm and then suddenly blow up. That is how I feel after working with both kinds. Otherwise you simply cannot avoid the big explosion, but you have to go there in order to help the horse stop doing it.

My friend's horse Brave is a horse that shows no signs at all of fear until suddenly he reacts. He was considered difficult to train, but my friend worked with him very slowly and painstakingly over a long period of time, always ponying him with a very courageous horse and building him up little by little. Because of this she only had to deal with him having serious reactions several times, and by the time he had them they were toned down from what they would have been if he had been truly in a panic state.

I was there once when he flung her off, and he was just standing there and then turned into a whirling dervish and she simply and immediately flew out of his vortex. However, he was able to calm quickly and those responses have lessened even more over time. When I was first riding him it was to help with his initial rides outside of an arena. His first times trotting and cantering with a rider outside, etc. He spooked once or twice and I realized this was a scary horse, because there was no way to tell he felt any worry. Still, the way my friend worked him helped put miles on him without serious issues, and he gets more solid all the time.
 

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So there were rabbits but the horse wasn't telling you about them....Unfortunately, this means for some horses they have to show you this fear reaction a few times to learn not to do it...Otherwise you simply cannot avoid the big explosion, but you have to go there in order to help the horse stop doing it.
That describes Mia and Bandit both. Mia threw in an added wrinkle: Her "Surprise!" reaction was a 180-360 degree spin. Got her to where she would THEN listen to me, but never got her past that violent "What the heck?" reaction. The solution, as best I can see, was for her to live in a place where she could see for miles in all directions. and therefor just not be startled by something suddenly appearing:
I don't think ANYONE could get her to stroll through a neighborhood or anywhere with limited visibility. My frustration was (and with Bandit, still is) all the people who insist she just needed proper training in an arena. Holes in her training, you know. Needed to learn in a snaffle - as if she didn't have YEARS of riding in snaffles and even bitless. Or that I was at fault, and my nervousness made her tense.

And people KNEW this even though they had never met her, let alone tried to ride her!

Bandit has become quite good in places he knows. But if I took him into a strange section of desert, or if we move to a different place....we'll have some issues. And to many, that proves I'm a failure. After all, if I was just a "leader", or would take time to learn to control my horse's body. Then I could "insist" my horse stay still, facing any threat, and even move forward at The Great Leader's command!

I felt guilty for years. I eventually started to think, "How about YOU try tossing YOUR leg over her and see how it goes!" You cannot solve these sorts of issues in the arena. You have to ride to "Where There Be Dragons" - and survive, and eventually convince your horse you both will survive...until, at least, you find a NEW place with dragons! Then the training begins again.

PS: Agree on teaching a horse to lower their temperature faster. But that is like strength. It has genetic limits. I could live in a gym and never look like a bodybuilder. And some horses will never stop caring about what is around them, and some will always take longer to cool than others. You do the best you can in the time that you have in the place where you live. If you do that, you are not a "failure". Merely mortal. And Mia and Bandit had/have no problem with reminding me of my mortality.... ;>)
 

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There is a discussion on another thread about a horse that is an explosive fear reactor like Amore was, that a trainer is working with. I wanted to save my comment here so I can remember it for the future, for working with other horses like this:

"It is a good concept. Warwick Schiller calls it "too many rabbits." I think whether you call it trigger stacking, a worry cup, or too many rabbits, it's important to understand. But I don't think the solution is desensitizing to rabbits or various triggers. As this article says, it's teaching the horse to calm down after one "rabbit," or one worry. To teach the horse that whatever scares him, whether it is rabbits, saddles, horse trailers, etc, he can calm himself quickly and not get to the point of exploding.
Along for the ride: How Much Worry Can Your Horse Handle? - Warwick Schiller

If this horse truly did not show any sign of worry until the explosion, then the trainer may not know she is thinking about rabbits. That is not common, but was the way my mare was. In that case, you can't even start with the rabbits, but you have to begin with finding calm after the big explosion faster, and work your way all the way back to the rabbits.
If the horse seems to be handling things fine, walking calmly, not snorting or tensing up, etc, then all you can do is assume there are no rabbits. But then boom, the explosion. So there were rabbits but the horse wasn't telling you about them.

Improvement is getting to the point where the horse spooks in a more reasonable fashion, and begins to tell you she is thinking about rabbits. Unfortunately, this means for some horses they have to show you this fear reaction a few times to learn not to do it, otherwise it will be always lurking there waiting to happen.

It's not always that horses are taught to be shut down and not show signs of fear. It seems to be a natural although more rare type of response that the freeze/flight or fight response begins with the horse having a sort of "freeze" response externally, not showing fear until they suddenly blow up. It would be beneficial in nature, if a horse was being stalked by an animal, to show no signs of fear at all until suddenly reacting violently."

In my opinion, it's actually quite a bit better to have a horse that actively shows signs of anxiety rather than hides it until reaching the explosion point. Better to have them kicking and biting with nerves than to appear calm and then suddenly blow up. That is how I feel after working with both kinds. Otherwise you simply cannot avoid the big explosion, but you have to go there in order to help the horse stop doing it.

My friend's horse Brave is a horse that shows no signs at all of fear until suddenly he reacts. He was considered difficult to train, but my friend worked with him very slowly and painstakingly over a long period of time, always ponying him with a very courageous horse and building him up little by little. Because of this she only had to deal with him having serious reactions several times, and by the time he had them they were toned down from what they would have been if he had been truly in a panic state.

I was there once when he flung her off, and he was just standing there and then turned into a whirling dervish and she simply and immediately flew out of his vortex. However, he was able to calm quickly and those responses have lessened even more over time. When I was first riding him it was to help with his initial rides outside of an arena. His first times trotting and cantering with a rider outside, etc. He spooked once or twice and I realized this was a scary horse, because there was no way to tell he felt any worry. Still, the way my friend worked him helped put miles on him without serious issues, and he gets more solid all the time.
One of the horses I'm riding right now has a history of being an explosive spooker and a huge worrier. She gets herself worked up into a big panic over little things and then it's not a matter of if but when she will snap.

For her, and some other horses I've rode, it's a confidence thing. Whether it's that she doesn't have the confidence to go and be brave on her own or she doesn't have the confidence in me and what I'm asking, the solution was the same. If I rode her like I had full confidence in her, and nothing we were facing was anything to get worried about (they definitely know when you are waiting for them to spook at something), she learned to go through stuff confidently.

With her previous owner, she was scared of ropes to the point she had stopped trying to rope off of her, so I messed around with her for a few minutes and then confidently went ahead and roped calves with her because I knew she was capable as the guy who started her did some roping with her. And she was calm, steady and acted like a seasoned pro. Didn't do a single thing wrong.

I've approached a lot of other obstacles with her the same way, just consciously trying to not make a big deal out of things. It's like she thinks that if I'm not concerned or nervous about a thing, then she doesn't need to be either. I've rode her through forestry looking for yearling steers in the middle of hunting season (quads, people everywhere, hunting camps, shooting - I wore hi vis for sure!), and her only spook was at a fallen tree she stepped on under the snow and the branches jumped out of the snow 15 feet away. And even so she just jumped and planted her feet and blew at it.

The real trick is acting like everything is fine and it's nothing to worry about but still being ready for a spook lol!
 

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I've seen no correlation at all between my confidence and my horse's. It apparently works for some horses. But I've been on some massive spooks - and flat out bolts - that started with me feeling utterly confident.
I didn't explain very well. It's not the same confidence that you feel when riding a good horse that you trust. It's saying "I am confident that this is not going to be a problem for you" or "I am confident that you know how to handle this because we've done it before/I've prepared you"

The mare I was talking about knew that her previous owner didn't trust her one bit, and they couldn't manage to get along because of it. She just needed that little vote of confidence.

For some reason, my horses have always spooked at big rocks, and I've learned that if I'm riding by a big scary rock and don't even acknowledge it myself, sure my horse (especially a young one) is going to side step and wiggle around and blow at it, and it might do that 3 or 4 times that day or that week. But they seem to figure out that if you arent making a big production out of things like that, that it's nothing to worry about.

I think that sometimes we create more anxiety and worry by always making a big deal out of spooky things - making them take a step closer, reward, another step, reward, some bouncing around and another step or a sniff, reward, we've all done it. I think horses learn to anticipate and get anxious about the whole ordeal of us trying to convince them to get closer to the spooky thing rather than the spooky thing being spooky.
 

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I partially agree. We can reinforce their fears if we make a big deal out of something scary. If I am freaked out about something, I can transfer that. Sometimes.

But most of the spooking I've encountered has involved stuff that I had absolute confidence about because it never occurred to me a horse would object. Things like a Palo Verde tree that had just blossomed. A few weeks later, the same tree after the blossoms fell off. Bandit and garbage cans - he'd go past 20, 30, 50 in a row without objection. I'd feel like they were no matter - and then he'd SMELL something in one that looked identical to me to the previous 50 he passed calmly. So HE would freak when I was utterly confident we had no issue. A lady walking on the street - with a BACKPACK! OMG! Really?

The worst spook Bandit did was with a rider who was 6'2" tall, lifelong rider, young man who was certain there would be no problems. He was riding with the other 2 horses in a group. Bandit saw...what? None of the 3 riders knew. Was it a sight? A smell? No one knew, but Bandit bolted across three neighbors yards, ducking beneath trees and swerving around walls. Then acted like his rider should be grateful Bandit saved him.

I've also experienced the flip side. A swarm of migrating bees,, thousands of them, flying low enough that I ducked down on the saddle to avoid them. I was SCARED. Bandit lowered his head and kept walking steadily. "Nothing to look at, bees. Just a horse taking care of his rider!" Once in a while - rarer now - I'll have a Mia flashback and get very tense on Bandit. When that happens, Bandit...cocks an ear. Then he takes care of me.

I think some horses are just more independent minded. Bandit doesn't give a rat's rear if the other horses walked past X without concern. If HE doesn't trust it, then he figures the other two are just fools. Treats me the same way. Over years of time together, I can sometimes give him the confidence to press on. I think that is what you are referring to: The ability of a rider to read, understand, and then give confidence to a horse who is less than thrilled!

I think Bandit now understands I have excellent eyesight. If I see something, and tell him it is safe, he usually goes fine. Now. But the flip side is he understands his hearing and sense of smell are vastly superior to mine. So if it is a smell that bothers him, I cannot give him confidence. Because he knows I don't know. And how can you trust the guy on your back if he can't smell the scary thing? To include both javelina and rattlesnakes. So he has justification - real world experience - where I have blindly tried to get him to do something that truly was not safe!

I suspect a confident rider could ride Cowboy anywhere. Maybe Trooper. But not Bandit. And not Mia. And I honestly prefer Bandit and Mia to Trooper and Cowboy.
 

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How long have you had Bandit? How old is he?
There comes a point where explosive spooking and bolting is just plain unacceptable, even if it's something new or "justifiable", but that is just my opinion. Once a horse gets enough miles on them, like Penny who is 8 and has been lots of places and seen a lot of stuff, bolting and big spooks are just out of the question. She's old enough and broke enough now that she should be thinking before reacting. She can blow at stuff and side step and ask questions, but potentially dangerous spooks are a thing of the past.

Even if it's things that would justify a big spook, like chasing up a bear right in front of us or bulls fighting or being chased by a cow. She knows from her real life experience that she can keep herself safe without bolting or big reactions, even in seriously dangerous situations. I think that's what makes a horse into a reliable and enjoyable mount.

We had one cow that was so nasty, my SO had her roped and it was all he could do to just slow her down (he had the cow roped deep so didn't have a lot of control) a little while she chased my horse and I a quarter mile at a run all the way into the corral. I can assure you that Penny was way more okay with the situation than I was.
 

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How long have you had Bandit? How old is he?
Had him since 2015. Prior to that, he was frequently raced in relay races, running 10-15 mile legs on the Navajo Nation. He's 12-13 now.
There comes a point where explosive spooking and bolting is just plain unacceptable, even if it's something new or "justifiable", but that is just my opinion.
So...if a horse can be ridden in rural Oklahoma, the same horse ought to be able to face NYC without reacting? Because he's learned to trust his rider?

I have a fundamental disagreement with much of the horse world: I think some horses are independent thinkers and WILL evaluate things using their own criteria. Forever. I've never seen any sign Mia or Bandit would ever give all decision-making over to a human. On the flip side, I've met a number of horses who wanted the human to make all the decisions.

I think intelligence plays a factor. Bandit has learned he can detect threats I physically cannot. He's too smart to believe I know all and am able to protect him from all threats. Unlike Trooper, who has little imagination or thinking power. Trooper is happy having the rider decide everything. Bandit never will.

When racing, Bandit did learn he would be severely punished if he didn't go. And I was told, when I got him, "If you can ride out the bucks, you can make him go anywhere!" When he got here, he suppressed his fear until he couldn't. It took WORK to get him to express his fears and learn I would work with him to find a solution we BOTH found acceptable. It meant riding out spooks until he rarely spooks. But could I ride him tomorrow down the streets of Tucson? Not hardly!

Most of us ride in a particular environment. Mine is the Sonoran Desert. Tough teaching it to Bandit, but he's now OK with the Sonoran Desert. But if I rode him into a rodeo arena? I'd better be prepared for a rodeo.
 

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Had him since 2015. Prior to that, he was frequently raced in relay races, running 10-15 mile legs on the Navajo Nation. He's 12-13 now.

So...if a horse can be ridden in rural Oklahoma, the same horse ought to be able to face NYC without reacting? Because he's learned to trust his rider?
Within reason, yes. I can take Penny to a busy branding pen, out on her own be it in the hills here or flats to the east, I can pony colts off of her in any situation, I can take her to town along as a buddy for my barrel horse, and expect her to be solid and level headed in every situation that I'm likely to get her into.
 

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Discussion Starter #50
Yes, some horses are very in tune with their rider's confidence. Others are not. I rode one Arab gelding that I honestly felt like I could have taken him through anything in the world, dragging him behind my confidence. He didn't know me very well, but he definitely recognized that I was not afraid and it made him very bold too. You could feel it going all the way through to his hooves, the impact you had on him.

There are horses that have good experiences with riders and it builds them up more and more over time so they become extremely confident in any situation. Some of these believe so strongly that the world is a safe place based on their experience, that they can face anything without spooking.

I don't expect that this is achievable for every horse, because I've known a lot of horses. I completely understand how it can happen with the horse that didn't like roping. A person with fears can reinforce a horse's fears. It can be a very small fear at times. For example, my horse Amore would not jump sometimes if you had the tiniest feeling that you would rather not. If you were in it 100%, she would do it. Still, if the right thing scared her, there was absolutely nothing you could do to make her feel better about it.

A great forum member named Smilie used to post a lot about how a horse should never have an issue, once trained. I remember discussing with her that I thought every horse had a nemesis. My friends had an amazing horse named Beau. He was super calm and would spook at nothing. You could ride him in traffic, bareback and in a halter. There was only one thing in life that he feared, which they discovered one day, and that was umbrellas. Someone opened an umbrella, and he went out of his mind. No matter what, they could never get him over his fear of umbrellas. So I have a belief that every horse has an "umbrella," even if you haven't met it yet. Just like some of us have a phobia of spiders or bridges that we just can't get over.

I live off that confidence that horses need, and believe it has saved me quite a few times. Obviously I can feel fear or nerves if something really bad happens, but 99% of the time I don't, no matter what. I don't believe that confidence will cure every nervous horse, because I've also met spooky horses that just kept spooking with the most confident riders in the world. Even after all the experience I've had, my mare Amore remains the spookiest horse I've been on. She could spook multiple times on every ride.

The great thing is that over her lifetime, the spooks dwindled down to tiny startles most of the time, rather than explosive bucking or bolting. I was so used to this that I would simply laugh when she spooked. But no person could have possibly cured my mare of it. She spooked even when my great trainer friend rode her, who swears she never feels fear on a horse and I believe her. One of our members has a spooky horse named Phin, and I am certain his rider does not have confidence issues. She has ridden all kinds of horses in many situations, for thousands of miles.
 

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I don't know if Trooper is afraid of cattle or not. He was used on a sheep ranch with sheep because he preferred working sheep. The ranch has a couple hundred cattle but Trooper didn't work well with them. My friend loaned him to a ranch with the provision they would NOT use him with cattle. So he arrived at the ranch and...they tried to make him cut cattle. He was returned to my friend's ranch with bloody holes in his sides, which had started to scar over when this photo was taken:

He still has the scar tissue on both sides, although it is worse on one side than the other.

I suspect we all agree that trying to spur a horse into doing something he just cannot take is NOT the right way to get him to learn to do that job. But his riders at the Colorado ranch were obviously not afraid in any way. Trooper...afraid of cattle? I don't know. He grew up around them at times. He'll ride past them okay. But certainly a confident rider was not the answer to making him more forward. Not even supremely confident riders equipped with spurs. He was 7 at the time and had been ridden thousands of miles by that time. And he has the least imagination of any horse I've ever met.

Once we were riding in our little arena when the neighbor's kids started playing on a trampoline in their back yard - behind a fence. All Trooper could see was kids being tossed in the air. Screaming kids! Trooper froze. I couldn't get him to budge. Dismounted. Couldn't lead him a single step. He didn't move a single hoof a single inch for 20+ minutes. Then he sighed, looked at me....and I led him back to the corral, his head at my shoulder. He never blinked an eye at the kids playing there again. 99% of the time he's a point and go horse. But screaming, flying kids? That was his "umbrella" moment!

PS: Mia had an umbrella moment. Literally. A lady walking along the road with a pink parasol. Mia threw it into reverse and we went backwards at high speed until we had cactus on three sides. Then she stopped (thankfully). By that time we were working much better together. But she stood, shivering, panting, staring. As the lady got closer, she heard me screaming at her. She finally folded her parasol. Mia stared for 10 more seconds, then turned and stared at me as if to say, "Why in the HECK did she do that to me?" Then we walked past her, Mia shouting silent mental curses at the uncaring woman. I had complete confidence thru the entire episode. But MIA did not.

PSS: Bandit still has times where he'll turn and look at me as if to say, "I like you boy. But your fellow monkeys are first-class, undeniable JERKS!" I mean, who puts a 6 foot tall inflatable PENGUIN in their front yard in southern Arizona? Who can blame Bandit for thinking humans lay awake at night, trying to think of ways to torment innocent horses who just want to walk through the neighborhood....
 

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Discussion Starter #52
I was thinking about defensive riding. It made me realize that the degree of forward lean I have when riding a horse directly correlates to how much I trust them in that place and time.
I have come off a horse backward twice. It places you near the kicking end of the horse, rather than in a nice fetal-ish position near the side of the front legs, which is where you end up if you stayed ahead of the motion, even if you were ditched.

People will say to lean back, relax. It reminds me of the cartoon with advice for riding that says, "Relax! Your horse will sense if you are nervous. Never relax! Your horse can react suddenly at any time." It is very true. You have to relax and you can never be so relaxed that you're left behind.

I believe that if you are going to err, go on the side of leaning forward rather than too far back. If you're in a nice western saddle, most things the horse will do won't cause you to fall off. But I've seen people in western saddles on the beach when the horse bolted, and seen them trying to recover to a neutral position after having their weight swept back. Your lower back isn't super helpful for fighting yourself up against the force of a horse running forward. Better to be in a slight forward lean when something crazy happens, and then you'll at the worst end up at neutral or very slightly behind.

Of course you don't want your leg to slide back, if something happens. That is the trick, bending at the waist while keeping your leg forward if something bad happens. This will help you stay on during a rear, a buck, a bolt, etc. The first instinct if you go forward is to let your leg slide back, which will dump you onto the horse's neck.

It's not only english riders that use a forward defensive position when riding. If you look at a reiner in a moment in time, you might think they are behind the motion. They absolutely ride with a forward and defensive seat, with a torso angle that matches what the horse is doing in the moment.
 

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Discussion Starter #53
No ride today. It has been raining so much that I haven't been able to find a break long enough to get hay. Today there was finally going to be a break, so brought DH along to get some hay from the feed store. I was down to half a bale, so if the rain hadn't let up I would have had to use tarps to just keep the hay as dry as possible. We timed it perfectly. The guy at the feed store marveled, because it had not stopped raining all day until the moment we showed up.

Whenever we get hay, the horses in the nearby fields get excited. After DH cleans out the truck bed, he always brings a handful to throw over the fence to each of the horses nearby. Mocha follows him down the fenceline when he goes to fill our horses' water trough, because he also gives him a handful of grass now and then. It's pretty cute, he has a fan club.

Amore is like a bad roommate. She eats all the hay in her shelter, and poops all over in there. Hero is conscientious and poops outside, keeping his shelter clean. Once Amore's hay is gone, she comes into Hero's shed and eats hay in his clean shed. Then she starts the process of fouling his up. She's like the slob who gets their own apartment dirty and wipes out the fridge, so then they come over to dirty up your place and eat all your food.

DH wondered why Hero lets her in. I've watched the process. If there is food involved, she is so persistent there is no stopping her. I've seen horses drive her out over and over and over and over, but she keeps trying, ducking under a neck, squeezing through a tiny space, until finally they just give up and let her eat their food. Even if she grabs a bite every ten tries, she'll just keep coming.

Although it was getting dark, I conscripted DH into taking the horses for a challenging walk. We took them into the deep woods trail which Hero finds rather terrifying. I haven't made him try it on his own. It is fairly steep in some areas. He was mildly upset once we were about ten minutes along the trail, and stayed antsy until we came back to safe territory, but he calmed immediately once we exited the woods so that seemed good. We were laughing because Amore wasn't nervous, but I said she can't see or hear well enough to get scared most of the time anymore. She's a very old person with diminished senses, and her world getting smaller and smaller.

I love spending time with my old girl, especially knowing our time together is getting shorter. Another member was mentioning how she has her horses tolerate hugs because it makes her feel good, I think that is sweet. Amore, however, seems to be the rare horse that actually enjoys hugs. She will close her eyes and lean into it. It's quite adorable really. She also really likes head scratches. She rubs her head on things a lot, so having a person find the right spots is enjoyable.
 

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Discussion Starter #54
Mustangs...
Tonight I am thinking of how they have been romanticized and all the problems I've seen related to that.

I am all for someone like Knave getting mustangs, as many as she wants. I'm also for the several cases I've seen where trained mustangs (not just started, but trained) were placed with new horse owners.

But I think mustangs are the most common horse I've been asked to help people with.

The biggest problem I see is that people who are not even confident cantering on a well trained horse expect they will be able to ride a green horse.

In most cases I've seen, the most experience a mustang gets before going to a new horse owner is 30 days of starting. That means the horse is very green. But many try to start the horse themselves.

The early gentling and learning to be handled is the easy part. Where I see the most problems are with hoof care and riding.

I've had to help a lot of mustangs learn to have their hooves trimmed, because the owners were afraid of handling the hooves. A farrier is not going to come try to trim a mustang that doesn't know how to pick up his feet. The owners often try the rope trick to teach the horse to lift. But at some point you have to get in there and actually hold the hoof in person. That is where any bobble or mishap can scare the owner.

But riding is a big problem. Two mustang owners I know got their geldings after 30 days training. Both broke bones falling off, after spending months on groundwork before riding. In both cases, the horses had minor spooks riding out of the arena. Not bucking or bolting, just a quick dart away from something scary.

In both cases it was a big deal for the owners. One took over three years to do about thirty rides, only several of those outside the arena. All that time was before falling off.

The other one thought something was wrong with the horse, and I told him he simply did not know how to ride very well, which he took without offense.

These two had a good ending, because they went to a very good trainer and paid for many months of work to learn how to ride and handle their horses.

Recently I visited a barn and saw two sorry looking horses in stalls. The owners who did very little riding had bought them from a TIP trainer and hoped someday to be able to ride them, because they liked the idea of riding mustangs. However, they admitted they were afraid to handle them and perhaps they needed more help.

The only mustang I started for friends was called green when they sold her, but had over a year under saddle. She was quite unflappable, just was not super light yet but headed that way. She wasn't ready for a beginner owner yet.

Most of the mustangs I've ridden for their owners were doing great for green horses. They just needed someone to ride them for a while who wouldn't tip off if they made a sudden stop or cut a sharp corner. Every green horse will lurch into the canter at first, and struggle to find balance with a rider.

It's kind of sad so many are left without guidance when beginning under saddle. I suppose it is not just a mustang problem, but in my area it seems common that if a person wants a young horse, they'll get one with some good training. If they want a mustang, they'll get an untrained or very green horse. Or a foal even. Just because of the romance of getting a "wild" horse.

I hear people wanted wolves after game of thrones came out. I'm sure that has gone well too.
 

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Both broke bones falling off, after spending months on groundwork before riding. In both cases, the horses had minor spooks riding out of the arena. Not bucking or bolting, just a quick dart away from something scary....It's kind of sad so many are left without guidance when beginning under saddle.
The last part was written about the horses, but I guess I feel some for the riders. One of my pet peeves is that people can take lessons for years and then fall off a horse who squirts 20 feet sideways, or drops into an "Oh My Goodness!" Crouch. I think there is something seriously wrong with riding instructors who don't teach defensive riding.

Pure "Good Riding" is different. It's goal is to make things easier for all when performing on a well-trained, obedient horse. What works best for that isn't the same as what works best when a horse might spook or suddenly throw things into reverse. You wrote here about defensive riding:

I believe that if you are going to err, go on the side of leaning forward rather than too far back. If you're in a nice western saddle, most things the horse will do won't cause you to fall off. But I've seen people in western saddles on the beach when the horse bolted, and seen them trying to recover to a neutral position after having their weight swept back. Your lower back isn't super helpful for fighting yourself up against the force of a horse running forward. Better to be in a slight forward lean when something crazy happens, and then you'll at the worst end up at neutral or very slightly behind.
I disagree because I learned defensive riding on Mia on ATV trails. Her startle reaction was 180 degrees of spin. Sometimes 360, which puzzled her. Sometimes more than 360 degrees. But 95% of her spooks involved the OMG Crouch - a sudden stop, dropping her shoulders as she spread her front feet far apart, plus dropping her head down to her knees, OR a 180 degree spin followed by a bolt.

I think defensive riding depends on the horse. If a horse loves the OMG Crouch, being a little forward was....not helpful. If a horse likes to do a dropped shoulder spin, being forward can be a very bad thing. If the horse is likely to jump an invisible fence or explode into a forward bolt, then being forward helps a lot.

Bandit is most likely to squirt forward about 60 degrees off from the original direction of travel, or to simply slam on the brakes. Both of those are reasonable to ride out with nothing more than a deep leg - and maybe not that. Being "with the horse" is enough with Bandit. Being "behind the horse" could be a life-saver with Mia.

A western rider who falls behind the horse and then can't catch up needs to learn basic defensive riding, western style. "Put your free hand on the horn. PULL YOURSELF FORWARD. Now resume riding!" One hand on the horn in a violent spin helps a lot too: If you keep your shoulders above the horse's back, it is almost impossible to fall off. Horse suddenly drops to his knees? One hand on the horn prevents your shoulder from going forward. No amount of "core strength" can match a brace from the horn to the shoulders for stabilizing one's shoulders.

Doing that is frowned on by the western riding instructors I've met. My farrier was a bull rider in his youth. He says he puts one hand on the horn when things get dicey. He'd rather take a blow to his ego than a blow to his back - or head!

But....riding instruction. The lessons I took were variable in quality, but she did something I liked. She had all her new students canter on her best horse in a round pen, under her voice control - on their first lesson!. And she'd have the horse canter and stop. Or walk and then do a canter transition. Told the student to hang on if needed and just feel the movement. Her thought was that any horse can spook or bolt unexpectedly but a rider who knew the feel had a better chance of staying on.

Lessons ought to include riding over uneven ground. Practice zig-zagging. Walk to canter transitions ought to be a staple. I think riding two point while doing sharp turns and staying in two point at a canter ought to be taught - and taught early, not 3 years down the road! I think a pseudo-Aussie saddle is ideal for learning:

For Mia, that was an ideal defensive position: Slightly behind, one hand on the horn, heels down and weight in the slightly forward stirrups. It wouldn't be ideal for an explosion forward but that wasn't on the books that day. There was a huge moving van about 300 feet ahead of us and she was NOT going to run TOWARD it! The poleys probably saved my life more than once. Nothing wrong with cheating when it can save your life!

By rights, learning on Mia should have killed me. I still have flashbacks at times. Getting rare now after nearly 6 years with Bandit. But riding instruction ought to prepare you to stay on a horse who squirts sideways, or suddenly stops, or who does a dropped shoulder spin. If the movement is violent enough, then sure - there are just times one is screwed! But I've watched both of my daughters fall off a horse (Trooper) who was NOT doing anything very wrong. He moved a little bit, they got a bit off balance - and then gave up. My youngest, in particular, was already too good a rider to just slide off a horse who was merely a bit bouncy.

As for getting an unbroke mustang and starting from scratch for the romance of it....people have watched FAR too many Disney flicks!
 

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I can see where you are coming from when saying to lean forward to ride defensively, but there is a lot more to it.
When I suspect things are going to go sideways (figuratively or literally), I want to crunch my abs, tuck my pelvis forward and sit square and then go from there on how I'm going to stay in the middle. Oftentimes, it does mean bringing the shoulders forward if Im going to be grabbing my rope as an oh sheet handle.
But, if things are going to get wild, you have a better chance if you ride shoulders back. I've been sent out the front door enough times to learn that lesson.
Best visual I have is turning a barrel.
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Recently I lost the folks I took riding regularly, some due to covid, some children due to growing older and losing interest, one to getting married and moving away. So, I found some new riders, and both happen to be adult beginners. One of my new adult beginner riders thinks she will soon get a horse of her own because she likes it so much. Yesterday, she showed me a photo of a free quarter horse that she was considering acquiring. The horse was drop-dead gorgeous, seven years old, green broke and free. Biiiiigggg red flags to me. I warned her that getting a green broke horse when she has very little experience is probably not a wise thing to do. Also, the horse is free most likely for a reason, especially one advertised as free. I think that @gottatrot and I are offered free horses from time to time because people know we can manage their problems. But a free horse on Facebook? I don't think so.

This new rider thinks she knows how to train horses. She told me a few weeks back that she would train Isabeau for me. When you don't know very much, you don't know that you don't know very much. I felt like answering, "I'd like to see you try," but I didn't want to be rude because she is a nice person and I have enjoyed riding with her and getting to know her. I know with a year or two of rides with me, she will discover she doesn't know nearly as much as she thought she knew. Fortunately, she is getting riding lessons with @4horses as well as riding with me, so she is learning more and more every week.
 

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Discussion Starter #58
@knightrider, laughing so hard over the offer to train Isabeau! Lol!

Talking about defensive riding, I do not mean adopting a seriously forward lean. When I am not two pointing or riding a fast speed, I have been teased for focusing on my posture or holding myself upright. Although I just sit naturally.
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Versus a more defensive position.
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On Nala, a very good horse at sudden spins.
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The barrel racing photo illustrates a very good principle, which is that part of having a following seat is following with the hip angle and torso. If the horse drops down, ideally you drop while your upper body stays oriented with the sky and ground. The fetal position will not help, but staying upright will.

When jumping or on a rearing horse, you "close the angle" of your hips while your legs and seat ride the horse. It doesn't require a great deal of flexibility, because I am not a flexible person.

But following...for horses that drop and spin out, I don't think for me personally the key is having the torso leaned back, but my legs are always ready to push down into the stirrups and any time the horse drops away that is my reaction. It is the same for a bucking horse, when the head drops away.

In this pic I was caught cueing with my leg back when the head dropped down. My leg is on the way forward to at least the girth line and I may need to push down more and even stand a bit if this turns into the hind end kicking up behind me or a twist away. This is how far he's pulled me forward, but using my core I did not have to start with my torso behind vertical.
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Dropping down a steep hill or bank, if a horse bucks in that situation I may go behind vertical to be safe. That is not easy to ride.

But I do believe that erring on the side of staying in front of the hindquarters is safest. If you've seen what happens when people get really behind on a jump, that is far worse than diving over the shoulder.
My poor friend broke her back years ago. The horse jumped big and she got way behind. When he landed she was on the hindquarters and he threw a big buck, sending her sailing over his head and into her back.

I'm also a believer in using your hands as @bsms said. I don't have a horn but in loads of my videos a horse will spook and my camera takes a sudden shot of my hands that are on the horse's mane or pommel as I react.
 

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I don't think for me personally the key is having the torso leaned back
I think we agree. I don't LEAN back. Ever that I know of. The difference is primarily in my leg position. For a horse likely to drop a shoulder and spin, my feet come forward. I also slouch a little in my hips: my pelvis rotates slightly under and my shoulders go lower as I relax my back. And then, even if using two hands, I'll bring my hands closer together. Maybe let my thumbs touch so I can bounce them off my horse's neck if I don't have a horn or just don't think I need to be defensive enough to hold the horn.

Your picture of Nala is what I'd call a good defensive position - at least for a possible spin. Stirrups well forward of your waist, heels down, I'm guessing weight in the stirrups and thighs. Your center of gravity is over your heels. Weight in the stirrups creates muscle tension in the legs and you don't want floppy legs if a spin suddenly starts! The Cavalry manual used these draws at a halt but elements of my idea of a good, all-around seat are there:

"Rider's weight, due to body's forward inclination, is on the crotch, thighs and stirrups." As I get more defensive, though, my back would relax and my spine would move - while remaining vertical - back about an inch. His heels are under his belt buckle.

During the last year I've starting thinking that maybe it isn't so much about center of gravity over the base of support - which is what the cavalry taught - as it is about having weight in your stirrups and thighs, thighs down and not forward - down as in your picture of Nala not angled forward like in the cavalry drawing of the wrong seat - with...pre-tension? Not sure what word to use ...in the legs because they are already carrying much of the weight? And when my weight is in my thighs instead of my rump, my weight and balance are around the horse instead of on top of the horse? I don't want to grip with my knee as much as with my entire leg and I want my weight in my thighs and stirrups and not in my buttocks. I want the muscles in my leg already activated. Not "braced" but involved BEFORE any spin or swerve sideways. Firm but not hard or rigid.

And I think riding instructors owe it to their students to discuss HOW to deal with spins, swerves, sideways jumps and a sudden shift of gears and acceleration forward as part of the normal "seat". I'd really prefer to get rid of the word "seat" entirely although I don't know what to replace it with.

PS: The wrong seat of the cavalry drawing wouldn't be improved, IMHO, by bringing the heel back under the hip. The problem is in the thigh, not the lower leg. Folding the leg would put more emphasis on the knee not the lower leg.
 

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Discussion Starter #60
I think we agree. I don't LEAN back. Ever that I know of. The difference is primarily in my leg position. For a horse likely to drop a shoulder and spin, my feet come forward. I also slouch a little in my hips: my pelvis rotates slightly under and my shoulders go lower as I relax my back. And then, even if using two hands, I'll bring my hands closer together. Maybe let my thumbs touch so I can bounce them off my horse's neck if I don't have a horn or just don't think I need to be defensive enough to hold the horn.
Yes. People think the leg should not be forward or you will be in a "chair" seat. Your diagram is a good one. In either diagram the leg is at the girth. There is not much difference in that position. Yet in the first illustration, the rider is ready to fall off backwards if the horse takes off. In the second one, he will stay with the horse. That's why I disagree when people say you just need to stay relaxed.

My friend here is not riding in a "chair" seat. Her leg is forward, and that is appropriate for what is going on here. A forward leg does not mean you are behind the horse.


Here is how my hands changed on a video during a spook. We are cantering. Before:
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After: Holding on to neck and mane or a saddle horn is a good strategy.
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I like that word "pre-tension." There is muscle tension, but it's difficult to describe because you are relaxed, but there is a difference between a muscle that is floppy and one that is sort of loaded and ready if something unexpected were to happen. It's really hard to describe. When I'm walking down the road on a very spooky horse, I don't have my legs pushed down hard into the stirrups, but they are certainly not relaxed. They are in this state of just enough tension that creates a readiness so if the horse goes "blam!" my body will follow and not flop. Maybe I'd call it a "half" push into the stirrups.

When a horse does something unexpected, my feet press down and forward. My friend described it as "feet on the dashboard." I like that mental image. If the horse starts skidding like a car that has the brakes put on suddenly, you can think of it as putting your feet on the dashboard.

In the photo on Nala, it is hard to see but my heels are really low. That is not because I am pushing them down or lifting the toes, which I've heard people say to do. I don't think about my heels at all. When I was showing, I used to try to put my heels down and was discouraged because I didn't think I was that flexible. But my heels get very low at times when I have that correct muscle tension down through the thigh and into the stirrup. It is the thigh, but it feels like the lower leg because that is what connects your thigh to the stirrup. But applying the correct amount of pressure down through the quadriceps into the stirrup while keeping your lower leg against the horse to connect the balance.

Just like you said:
During the last year I've starting thinking that maybe it isn't so much about center of gravity over the base of support - which is what the cavalry taught - as it is about having weight in your stirrups and thighs, thighs down and not forward - down as in your picture of Nala not angled forward like in the cavalry drawing of the wrong seat - with...pre-tension? Not sure what word to use ...in the legs because they are already carrying much of the weight? And when my weight is in my thighs instead of my rump, my weight and balance are around the horse instead of on top of the horse? I don't want to grip with my knee as much as with my entire leg and I want my weight in my thighs and stirrups and not in my buttocks. I want the muscles in my leg already activated. Not "braced" but involved BEFORE any spin or swerve sideways. Firm but not hard or rigid.
I agree.
Your base of support is not your "seat." It goes around the horse. Down and around between your upper thigh and the stirrup. That doesn't mean you have to have short stirrups. Even bareback, I have that same weight down my leg.

Not to pick on DH here, but you can see a beginner rider posture versus a ready for anything posture. I have obviously just backed the horse into the right position for a photo. We are both relaxed. If the horses spun out to the right and flipped 180 degrees, one of us would be riding away. My stirrup is pushed forward, which is wrong and means I probably have it too far forward on my foot so it's not under a part I can put weight on. Most likely due to not feeling from the thick socks I was wearing in Iceland. If I attempt to two point I'll feel that it is unstable and wiggle my foot forward..


I do feel for beginner riders, and how difficult it is for them to learn how to be secure and ready for anything. There are things you just are not going to be able to ride. But people don't need to be breaking bones for silly things like a horse stopping suddenly. It's not a priority for DH to learn because he doesn't ride young horses or green mustangs, and that's not because he is at all nervous to ride. It just wouldn't be smart for someone who has not developed a good seat to ride horses like that. He has fallen off a horse once, because I thought Amore was calm enough for him in her older age. Which she was, but a deer ran out right in front of her nose and she spun a 180. He didn't get hurt. But on vacations he rides the horses that are beginner safe, and has no problems.
 
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