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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello everyone, it's me again!

Before I bring up my problem, I'd like to thank everyone for their responses on my last two threads. I've been feeling pretty hopeful about horses lately. Last time, I talked about being a scaredy-cat and my attempts at bonding with my cob mare, Budgie.

Good news, Ladybird (my heart horse) comes back from training this month, hopefully before my birthday! I had a very nervous ride when I visited her, but I can tell that she's impeccably trained -- I just need to improve my seat and be more confident in the saddle. I am having a round pen built, which I'm sure will give me a controlled place to work on my riding.

I also made good progress in bonding with Budgie. The more time I spend with her, the more I adore her. She has a lovely personality, she just hates work.

Which brings me to my issue. I know it's common for horses to hate work, but I also know that there are ways to make it tolerable (and even enjoyable) for the horse too. Budgie doesn't really buck or throw fits under saddle, but she does have this terrible habit...

Where I live, there's a lot of large bushes and eucalyptus, which means there's a lot of low-hanging, leafy branches. She LOVES to walk me into those and scrape me off the saddle. Usually I can just grab the branch and swing off, but I need to correct this problem before it stops being mischievous and starts being dangerous. (It might already be dangerous, but I can tell she hates walking into branches too. She just wants to get me off.)

I know she's doing it because she loathes being ridden. I've been trying to tack her slowly and give her praise, and after every ride I brush her down and we take a little walk together. We're not doing any long or intense riding. I'm just taking her for short walks around the property and working on stop/go/left/right/backwards. Painfully basic. When I first bought her, she had a balking problem, and now she's stubborn about stopping.

I'm sure I made mistakes that brought on some of these issues, but before I bought her, Budgie didn't get a lot of human contact outside of riding. She's around 6 years old now, and she's not really familiar with being petted, groomed, or loved on. She was probably just left in a pasture until it was time for work. She's also young, and young horses are always going to be a little more challenging.

But Budgie is a good gal, I know it! She had a brief issue with walking/trotting off during mounting, but I went through every step of the process and gently corrected her until she stood nice and still for me. She absorbs lessons quickly, as long as you're consistent.

I know part of the problem is that I'm a little unsteady in the saddle. She's a bouncy ride, and when I ask her for a trot, she knows there's a brief moment before I find my bearings where she can get away with bad behavior. She'll try to break into a canter, turn quickly to unbalance me, or head for a tree to scrape me off. This makes me anxious and nervous about trotting as a result, which only makes my riding worse.

As you can see, this isn't just a Budgie problem. It's a me problem too. While riding Ladybird, she gave me NO trouble or signs of misbehavior, but I still felt irrationally anxious that she was going to start cantering or walk me into a tree. It made me nervous, and my riding suffered as a result.

Any advice for this? Should I take a saw and cut off every low hanging branch in my pasture, thus removing the temptation? Should I wait to work on our trot/canter until I have a round pen? Is her behavior a respect issue? Are there any groundwork exercises that would help? How can I make Budgie hate riding less?

Thank you guys for all of your advice. I just want to make sure I'm training my mares effectively and not making things worse. I know my riding isn't the best, but I'm trying to be better.
 

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All the cuddling and loving on her in the world won't change this bad habit. if she has learned how to get you off with this behavior, she isn't going to think, "oh, this girl was nice to me this morning, I should not be so mean to her". Budgie doesn't want to be ridden, and has learned how to get out of it

She knows that you are more of a passenger (at this point in your riding level) than a pilot. Things go fine as long as what YOU want and what SHE wants are not too far apart from each other. It can seem that she is 'good' sometimes and 'bad' others. In reality, she just does basicallly what SHE wants, and that isnn't an issue until it's far from what YOU want.

As to the branch issue, if possible, if she goes toward a tree/branch , turn her head TOWARD the tree, not away from it. Make it so that she will run her own face into the branch or trunk before she is able to put your face into the tree. If she bumps her own face into the tree it will make her think twice about going there.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
All the cuddling and loving on her in the world won't change this bad habit. if she has learned how to get you off with this behavior, she isn't going to think, "oh, this girl was nice to me this morning, I should not be so mean to her". Budgie doesn't want to be ridden, and has learned how to get out of it

She knows that you are more of a passenger (at this point in your riding level) than a pilot. Things go fine as long as what YOU want and what SHE wants are not too far apart from each other. It can seem that she is 'good' sometimes and 'bad' others. In reality, she just does basicallly what SHE wants, and that isnn't an issue until it's far from what YOU want.

As to the branch issue, if possible, if she goes toward a tree/branch , turn her head TOWARD the tree, not away from it. Make it so that she will run her own face into the branch or trunk before she is able to put your face into the tree. If she bumps her own face into the tree it will make her think twice about going there.
My mother actually scolded me for this same problem once -- you're right, I am acting more as a passenger than a pilot. I've always been a bit too emotional and softhearted, and it's kept me from being as stern with my horses as I should be.

I've been keeping this stern-ness in mind around the property. They give me space and yield to commands like "back up" and "move away", and they don't nip or kick. But I haven't been strict enough while riding. They'll be nice on the ground because I've already established respect and boundaries, but I need to apply those same concepts under saddle.

I've been interacting with Budgie plenty lately, being nice to her and teaching her new tricks, but none of that is going to train her out of this problem while riding. Thank you so much tinyliny, your comment was the kick in the butt I needed to examine myself!!
 

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Don't be hard on yourself. And don't let correction after a misbehavior become your default action. It's much better to not react to a "misbehavior" but to be proactive in preventing undesired behavior before it occurs. At these slow, non-intense speeds and situations...look for the signals from the horse that the unwanted behavior is about to occur and act to divert it. Unless something very sudden occurs, like a spook, the horse is almost always going to express its intent to take over in its body language. You just have to be watching for it. If you can feel the horse's body about to turn into the trees, take action before it happens and move the horse in a different direction. Don't take time to think, "Should I?" just do it. She isn't doing this because she hates you or hates riding so much, she's trying to resolve a mental conflict in her horsey way. She doesn't know right from wrong, she just wants to seek relief from a situation she doesn't care to be in. You can teach her through improving her basic responses to your cues.

The main conflict could be that you don't have your go and whoa cues cemented into her brain circuitry, therefore she's doing the thinking. Get all your cues solid on the ground meaning that the horse will stop, go, back up, move the forehand, move the hindquarters, drop the head, at the lightest of cues, but in the beginning use cues strong enough to get the response, release immediately, and work toward ever softer cues.

The more you practice, the more the good habits will be permanently learned, and more likely to remain her default behavior. The opposite problem, evasion behaviors, such as walking under the trees, become permanent much more quickly when they are successful (i.e. swiping you off by walking under a tree). So the sooner you start improving her responses to your cues (and leaving outright punishment in the trash bin) the sooner your relationship will improve.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Don't be hard on yourself. And don't let correction after a misbehavior become your default action. It's much better to not react to a "misbehavior" but to be proactive in preventing undesired behavior before it occurs. At these slow, non-intense speeds and situations...look for the signals from the horse that the unwanted behavior is about to occur and act to divert it. Unless something very sudden occurs, like a spook, the horse is almost always going to express its intent to take over in its body language. You just have to be watching for it. If you can feel the horse's body about to turn into the trees, take action before it happens and move the horse in a different direction. Don't take time to think, "Should I?" just do it. She isn't doing this because she hates you or hates riding so much, she's trying to resolve a mental conflict in her horsey way. She doesn't know right from wrong, she just wants to seek relief from a situation she doesn't care to be in. You can teach her through improving her basic responses to your cues.

The main conflict could be that you don't have your go and whoa cues cemented into her brain circuitry, therefore she's doing the thinking. Get all your cues solid on the ground meaning that the horse will stop, go, back up, move the forehand, move the hindquarters, drop the head, at the lightest of cues, but in the beginning use cues strong enough to get the response, release immediately, and work toward ever softer cues.

The more you practice, the more the good habits will be permanently learned, and more likely to remain her default behavior. The opposite problem, evasion behaviors, such as walking under the trees, become permanent much more quickly when they are successful (i.e. swiping you off by walking under a tree). So the sooner you start improving her responses to your cues (and leaving outright punishment in the trash bin) the sooner your relationship will improve.
This is very good advice, thank you! I've heard people talk about being a proactive rider before, but you put it into words very nicely. Budgie has had this evasion problem since I started riding her; she'll try to turn back towards the gate to finish a ride early, and I have to keep her on track so she doesn't take me back towards the barn until I say so. I should keep an eye out for the moments when she's considering misbehaving, instead of waiting for her to misbehave. That will make our relationship much less combative! I recently taught her how to lunge with a long lead, so I'll keep reinforcing woah/go commands on the ground too.
 

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This is very good advice, thank you! I've heard people talk about being a proactive rider before, but you put it into words very nicely. Budgie has had this evasion problem since I started riding her; she'll try to turn back towards the gate to finish a ride early, and I have to keep her on track so she doesn't take me back towards the barn until I say so. I should keep an eye out for the moments when she's considering misbehaving, instead of waiting for her to misbehave. That will make our relationship much less combative! I recently taught her how to lunge with a long lead, so I'll keep reinforcing woah/go commands on the ground too.
Here's a story. I can't resist! LOL! About 7 years ago, I bought an ex Amish buggy horse that I had worshipped from afar for the previous 6 years. He was about 13 at the time, he is now 20. He came through a big auction in the midwest. I knew nothing about the horse, other than I would die unhappy if I didn't have him. Unfortunately, this horse has such profoundly ingrained conflict behaviors that I finally decided if I didn't want to spend the rest of my life trying to reclaim him, I had to retire him about five years in. I didn't understand much about the way horses learn at the time. But as a "for instance" about "using a strong enough cue to get a response", this horse would pull SO HARD against just a steady light contact on one side of hs mouth while standing still, that it took all my strength, with both hands on one rein, just to resist him. I had learned much earlier, to just hold the contact on one rein and wait until the horse would "give" in the direction of the contact. After months of failure to obtain a positive response from the horse, I HAD to find a bit that had enough "authority" to thwart his pulling away. It has a bar that acts on the side of the lower jaw and he INSTANTLY gave to that lateral pressure on his lower jaw. This didn't involve his mouth, or me pulling, just maintaining a steady contact that he could not oppose. Immediate release of pressure rewarded his "give". Just remember it is not the pressure (which is the motivator) that teaches, it is the RELEASE of pressure that teaches.

In another instance, when I THOUGHT my "training" had been thorough enough, I had put him to a sled and was driving him in the pasture. He was making me very nervous, but I persevered anyway (I should have still been training the go and whoa responses in the arena, from the ground!). At an opportune moment, he made a hard 90 degree turn for the barn and bolted, pitching me off the sled. It took both hands on one rein, and him dragging me along the ground by the mouth for about 20 feet to stop the bolt. That is another extreme example of "using enough pressure to get the response". The next step would have been to release the pressure and try to unhitch as though nothing had happened, head for the arena and go back to teaching the correct responses. Instead, I forced him into working a tight circle until I figured out I was going to get hit with the sled if I didn't desist. I did nothing but scare him further obviously. I never "punished" him again.

Over about five years of taking one step forward and two steps back, I finally called it quits in discouragement with this horse, though I did drive him quite a bit. But I was scared to death to ride him outside the arena.

Whether his successful evasion tactics with others may be so deeply ingrained that he really is irredeemable is open for debate. Had I understood just how much I pushed through basic retraining to get to the "good stuff", we'd have spent much more time cementing positive behaviors in him, that always predicted a safe outcome for him, so he never had to take action on his inner conflict to resolve them.

I may still some day. He is very sweet. He's still quite sound. But guaranteed, the first time I take him out of the barn to the arena, he will be a nervous wreck for a few minutes. Then he will offer all sorts of good behaviors that have been rewarded in the past. He'll jumble them up, offer them without a cue, get worried because he isn't being reinforced, lock up mentally, then I'll have to super concentrate on asking for little behaviors that he can be successful at. He's not stupid or mean. He's just, well, ruined.
 

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@dogpatch what bit was it that you used?

There's a reason that horse training is a 'professional' career. The really tough ones are not for amatuers. Still, it sounds like you learned enough to feel grateful. Good on you!

There is a difference between being 'stern' and being 'firm', though it's subtle. Being firm is like, " I know what I want, and what I need from you (horse), and I'm not going to be diverted from that. I'm going to stay here asking for it until you do as I asked". Firmness requires the 'pilot' to know what he/she wants and expects, and to not forget and get emotional. Stern is more about projecting an emotional fearlessness. It can end up being all about being, and acting, 'angry'. Both can help a person get more in charge of things, I guess, but the horse does better when the rider knows what they want, and expects it without getting emotional; period.
 

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Good news, Ladybird (my heart horse)
Hi, just before going on, I'd like to ask, I hear this term occasionally here, but what exactly does it mean? I'm guessing you love ladybird but don't like budgie much?
I am having a round pen built, which I'm sure will give me a controlled place to work on my riding.
Yeah, a contained, relatively safe, distraction free place to ride, esp when you're starting out, esp if nervous is a good move(& yes, I'd wait till you have that before trotting/cantering). But the American idea of a 'round pen' is of limited value & generally mostly for running horses in circles - what's come to be called 'round penning'. For riding(& virtually all ground work), a bigger 'pen' such as an arena or half size arena, with corners is much better IME. Round pens tend to be too small & round to do much above a trot(lots of turns/bending is hard on a horses joints, obviously can't practice going straight(far, at least) & corners are handy for many exercises. So if you're not too far along planning your 'pen', I'd reconsider the shape & size - & after all, you can always rope off corners & a smaller section of it, if you want a small area without corners at some point.
Which brings me to my issue. I know it's common for horses to hate work, but I also know that there are ways to make it tolerable (and even enjoyable)
Yeah, just like most animals, humans included, we don't enjoy unpleasant tasks. Horses, still being commonly trained predominantly or solely with negative reinforcement(pressure / release) & punishment, are prone to be trained to view everything humans want of them as 'Work'. So if that's the case already for your horse, if you want to change that, she will likely take a fair bit of patience from you & lots of lessons in 'baby steps' associating what you want with Good Stuff, rather than Bad.

Obviously if she's hurting somehow, that's going to affect her attitude towards 'work' too, so ensure saddle fit, etc, etc is all good.

Where I live, there's a lot of large bushes and eucalyptus, which means there's a lot of low-hanging, leafy branches. She LOVES to walk me into those and scrape me off the saddle.[/QUO]TE]

Haha! Smart horse. I used to have a donkey when I was a kid who did that - his favourite was a particular farm gate that had no middle to it - he was the perfect size to fit under it & leave the rider behind! I learned to ride him well & didn't let him, but he'd do it to any friends who weren't savvy!

Steering. Watch where you're going & don't let the horse head for the trees! I know this might be easier said than done, but if you don't have control of your horse, it IS dangerous, for the both of you & you'd best stick to 'controlled' environments until you learn to do that.

I know she's doing it because she loathes being ridden. I've been trying to tack her slowly and give her praise, and after every ride I brush her down
If you tack her slowly, but you still tack her & she hates it(or perhaps it hurts), you're still doing something she hates. Horses learn from instant associations of cause & effect. So if you just get on & ride her, esp when she's already unhappy about it, it's just further confirming it's Not Nice. And remembering instant associations, that grooming you give her after the ride, assuming she enjoys it is only going to be associated with what's happening at that time - IOW you are rewarding her for standing there to be groomed.

If you only give her 'praise' - as in, 'blah blah' in a nice tone, this isn't very rewarding - bit like you doing a week's work & on payday your boss says 'thanks for that, I appreciate it' rather than giving you a pay check! ... except that to the horse, your noises may also be meaningless, &/or associated with Bad Stuff even. So the rewards you offer must not only be instant, happen at the time of the behaviour you want to reinforce, but they need to be something the horse actually wants. Patting & praise can become 'secondary' rewards/reinforcers, through repeated association with actual rewards, but are generally weak/meaningless on their own.

When I first bought her, she had a balking problem, and now she's stubborn about stopping.
Horses tend to be afraid/reactive in unfamiliar environments - that is a likely reason for the balking initially, but now she's gained confidence on the property.

Horses learn to do what works for them & quit doing what doesn't work. So if she is 'stubborn'(as in, persistently resistant), that's because you or someone before you has inadvertently trained her to be! Remembering they learn from instant associations, if you ask for something she doesn't want to do, but you can't get her to do it, so you quit asking(or are made to quit by coming off), she has just been reinforced for 'ignoring' you! And the more this happens, the 'better' at it, the more confirmed in her training that this is the Right Answer, because that's what works.

So... you just have to ensure the behaviour you want is rewarded, and the behaviour you don't want NEVER works for her. And be patient, because she's learned to be 'stubborn' so will try harder before giving it up. Easy in theory, but I appreciate it's... not so easy in practice, esp if you're a novice at training, without facilities or hands-on instruction. So if that latter is you, I'd strongly consider hiring a trainer/instructor to help you learn how to control & 'retrain' her - assuming she's well trained otherwise, or else I'd consider getting someone to come work with her separately too.

she's not really familiar with being petted, groomed, or loved on. ... and young horses are always going to be a little more challenging.
I have a horse here that considers it a very unpleasant punishment to be 'petted' or 'loved on'. Have another who I don't think she sees grooming as a punishment, but just a 'bleh' to be endured - again, if you mean something to be a reward, ensure it's something the horse thinks is rewarding! You can gradually change bad associations with grooming, if she hates it, just like with riding, but not by 'just getting on with it'. You need to work up to that in 'baby steps' that aren't bad for her, & lots of rewards.

As you can see, this isn't just a Budgie problem. It's a me problem too.
I'm glad you can see that - it very often is a rider/handler prob when horses 'misbehave'. But congratulate yourself for realising this & not blaming her, don't knock yourself for it(sounds like she's been doing that quite enough anyway!). We all start somewhere & it takes experience & learning for us to get good. But again, good hands on help/instruction will really help accelerate your learning & help you set yourself & your horse up for success.

Is her behavior a respect issue?
Warning; mini rant... Of COURSE it's a 'respect issue'. But that's no more helpful or enlightening than saying 'it's an obedience issue'. Essentially just means the same thing to most people. 'Respect' to me however, takes trust & understanding first & foremost, between horse & human. It takes respect FOR the horse & consideration of her feelings, attitudes, etc. Then you can start to earn respect from the horse too.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Hi, just before going on, I'd like to ask, I hear this term occasionally here, but what exactly does it mean? I'm guessing you love ladybird but don't like budgie much?
Oh no, far from it! I'm really sorry if I gave that impression! I've heard the term used to refer to a horse that you're very, very close to. I've had Ladybird since she was a feral yearling, and I've sunk countless hours into gentling her, desensitizing her, and teaching her new things. I love Budgie plenty, she's just new to my life and I'm still getting to know her. I'm a firm believer in the idea that you can have more than one heart horse, and hopefully me and Budgie will only get closer from here.

Round pens tend to be too small & round to do much above a trot(lots of turns/bending is hard on a horses joints, obviously can't practice going straight(far, at least) & corners are handy for many exercises. So if you're not too far along planning your 'pen', I'd reconsider the shape & size - & after all, you can always rope off corners & a smaller section of it, if you want a small area without corners at some point.
Thank you for this! I only have so much space on the property, but I'll make sure to build something with plenty of room. I don't plan on doing all of my riding there, I just want a controlled place to improve my seat and build my confidence before I take my horses out to ride in the pasture or around my rural neighborhood.

So if that's the case already for your horse, if you want to change that, she will likely take a fair bit of patience from you & lots of lessons in 'baby steps' associating what you want with Good Stuff, rather than Bad. Obviously if she's hurting somehow, that's going to affect her attitude towards 'work' too, so ensure saddle fit, etc, etc is all good.
I'm definitely willing to be patient and thorough! I started riding relatively recently, but I have a few years of experience doing groundwork and whatnot. I didn't feel comfortable getting on a horse's back until I felt confident in my ability to train and understand them on the ground.

I'm still improving those training and riding skills, though -- I think they're things that should constantly be improved upon. It might take a while, but I hope I can make me and Budgie's working relationship a positive one.

As for saddle fit, I'm currently riding with a Barefoot Barrydale, which is a treeless endurance saddle. I don't know much about saddles, but I've been advised that this is a good one for my needs. Some people have mixed feelings about treeless saddles, but I only ride for short periods of time about 2-4 times a week and I like being able to feel the horse through the saddle.

I have a limited selection when it comes to tack, and I'm VERY unfamiliar with a lot of the gaucho saddlery common in my area. My saddle was actually gifted to me by my Swiss neighbor, who brought it with him when he moved here. I'll look into making sure it isn't causing pain, though. I'd hate for rides to be a painful experience for her.

Steering. Watch where you're going & don't let the horse head for the trees! I know this might be easier said than done, but if you don't have control of your horse, it IS dangerous, for the both of you & you'd best stick to 'controlled' environments until you learn to do that.
I've gotten pretty good at keeping an eye on her when we pass her favorite trees, but she did surprise me by turning quickly while we were going between two saplings 😑 I'll definitely have to work on anticipating her misbehaviors more!

Easy in theory, but I appreciate it's... not so easy in practice, esp if you're a novice at training, without facilities or hands-on instruction. So if that latter is you, I'd strongly consider hiring a trainer/instructor to help you learn how to control & 'retrain' her - assuming she's well trained otherwise, or else I'd consider getting someone to come work with her separately too.
She is a very well-trained and slowgoing mare, and I know she knows how to be good under saddle. She was trained by the same man I sent Ladybird to, and I've seen him in action on Budgie before. I just need to learn to control her better. My mother is my instructor, so I'll make sure to bring her out more often to watch me ride and help me work through some of my problems.

I have a horse here that considers it a very unpleasant punishment to be 'petted' or 'loved on'. Have another who I don't think she sees grooming as a punishment, but just a 'bleh' to be endured - again, if you mean something to be a reward, ensure it's something the horse thinks is rewarding!
You're right, I should definitely look into rewards that I know she likes. She's not a big fan of carrots, apples, or virtually anything besides her feed, but maybe I can make treats out of that. Otherwise, I'll be leaving a trail of loose grain everywhere I go 😂

I'm glad you can see that - it very often is a rider/handler prob when horses 'misbehave'. But congratulate yourself for realising this & not blaming her, don't knock yourself for it(sounds like she's been doing that quite enough anyway!).
Thank you for saying this. My mother always made a point to tell me that if a horse is giving you problems, examine yourself first. My first few rides on Budgie were fine (from my point of view), but I can tell that my inexperience has soured her training somewhat. So, I'm trying to work on my riding and work through the bad habits she's picked up.

I've gotten pretty good at getting the behavior I want on the ground, I just need to have more control and make sure that we're understanding each other during rides.

Thank you for such a thoughtful reply, loosie! Ladybird is very dear to me, but Budgie is the horse that is teaching me how to ride. She'll always be special because of that. She's also the fulfillment of a dream: I always wanted a dapple-grey cob, and I love her big head and fluffy feet! She's a great horse, and I'm hopeful that we'll sort through these issues and come out better as a result.
 

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^Well, by the sound of it, you may be a novice to riding, but you seem to 'have your head screwed on right' & have a good 'feel' for stuff, so I don't think it'll be long before you - and your horse are more confident partners!

Oh & I generally 'leave a trail of grain' :LOL: - well, I don't feed actual grain, but I mean I do use food treats in training & use a pelleted horse feed generally, in a bumbag. I dice carrots as an extra special treat every so often, but they go... fluffy & gooey if left in the bumbag! If you're using food treats, you only need to give a large pinch, or say a couple of small bits of carrot per 'reward', so one bumbag full of pellets tends to last a session(in early training they tend to get more rewards), or for my experienced horses who only get a food reward occasionally, or for extra good stuff, there's usually some left after a few hr ride with multiple horses.

From having young kids learning & me worried about ponies going awol(you don't really understand the concept of fear till you have kids...), I made a practice of teaching them to come when called when I'm riding, then these days, when my son & I are riding somewhere safe to do so, we often take a 'spare' to give them exercise & just let them loose - but of course, want them to come & be 'caught' when necessary, so I often reward the other horses from mine.
 
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