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Thank you all for all the time you put into responding to my anxious post. I apologize for how strongly I came across - when I'm scared/anxious I do get kind of mouthy. It's something I need to work on.
Be mindful of this while you are working with your horse. When you have anxiety; she will have anxiety. When you are scared, she will be scared. In order for a horse to trust and respect you, they have to view you as the leader that will always be fair, will always look out for them, and will always be consistent.

Within 5 minutes of being in the round pen yesterday she was starting to yield her shoulders again, but she was already acting impatient as soon as we got out there, before I even did anything with her.
So, you need to have her attention BEFORE you get into the round pen. You don't need the round pen to work with her, but it is clear she views the round pen as a "bad place" and has extreme anxiety in there. It will be quite a challenge to turn it into a good place. Or.... it could be as simple as this. Work with her in front of the barn for 5-10 minutes. (and I don't mean work her into a lathering sweat - I mean work her MIND), then go let her loose in the round pen and walk away and leave her be for 20 minutes. You've now just made the round pen a release point for her. It was her reward for working for you in front of the barn. Then go get her and work her in front of the barn for 5-10 minutes again. Put her back in the roundpen (loose) and walk away. Again, let that be her reward.

Do that every day for a couple weeks. Let her be left alone when she is in the round pen. Pretty soon, she'll like going in there. Because you leave her alone.

Because of her past history of frequent extensive straight-up rearing, which hasn't happened in about 5 or 6 years, I know she has it in her to be dangerous when she decides she wants to resist me. This is why I've avoided working her at home. When she starts getting really anxious and high-headed and jiggy, I'm afraid she'll rear at any moment and we'll be back to the drawing board with that again.
If she is getting to the point where you are worried she is going to rear, you've gone waaaaaaaaay too far. If her mind is that frazzled that she feels her only escape is to go UP, you've got problems. Yes, it's quite obvious she has some explosive tendencies and quite a bit of baggage, but then it requires much more awareness on your horse. As in, recognizing when she raises her head, that's a sign she's uncomfortable. Or she flares her nostrils. Etc. It's those subtle signs that you watch for that occur well before she gets to the point where she is going to blow and go up.

And don't kid yourself that she couldn't be CONFUSED and FRUSTRATED. Obviously we are not there and we can't see it, but picture this.
You are on the ground, and you have moved toward her to ask her to move her shoulders away from you.
She responds by shifting her weight away from you (but doesn't actually take a step).
You didn't notice that, so you progressed to tapping her on the shoulder.
Well, now she is confused because she just started to move away from you (shifted her weight to do it) but you kept advancing and increasing the pressure, so that must have not been the right answer. So she tries going forward because maybe that's what she thinks you want.
Well no, it wasn't, you grab the lead, back her up to fix her to put her back where she was, well NOW she's thinking, oh, she wanted me to back up!! And then she backs up more. Which is not what you wanted. So now you are frustrated because you think your stupid horse isn't listening, and you go lead her over to the post and tie her up really short and walk away.
And you never got the response you wanted. And the horse never figured out what the correct response should have been.
THAT is how a horse gets confused and frustrated.
It's such minor, little things, but with a horse that sounds to be as sensitive and reactive and yours, those little things sure add up.

When she gets like that (which only happens at home and is most likely to happen in the round pen), I pull her head toward my knee. That's how I was taught to stop her from rearing and it has worked. That leads to her turning round and round in circles until she calms down and then I can give her head back. Unfortunately by the time she stops I'm so dizzy and anxious, and my heart is racing, and that's when I just have to get off.
And this is exactly why you continue to have problems. She doesn't understand why you are holding her head around and not letting her go, so she's shutting her mind down and going into flight response, trying to escape from it. She's literally panicking and fearing for her life. And that's probably another reason why she is so fearful of the round pen. Because things like this happen. So everytime she goes in there, she's wondering if today is the day she's going to have to try to escape.

I understand that you are doing what you think you need to do to stay safe. However, it's not working for your horse. Again, you've got to recognize what's going on BEFORE you get to the point where you have no other way to control her but to hold her head around while she goes berserk. None of us are there to see what that is so I can't really begin to guess.

What can I do to
B) get her to understand that misbehaving is not going to get her out of work? This is hard. I don't want to lunge her when she misbehaves.
Lunging (in the sense that most people view it) does not do a darned thing for the horse except get them more in shape. Chasing them around in endless circles, thinking you are punishing them, is only frazzling their mind more and stimulating the flight reflex. They cannot learn and they cannot be calm when their mind is in that state. Lunging, in my opinion, is absolutely useless.

You need, in some way, to gain control of her MIND. Not saying it will be easy. And certainly won't be quick. Could be 1,000 one-rein stops. Could be 500 yielding of the hindquarters. Seriously. Simple, basic requests that you can instantly reward by releasing your pressure, to get her thinking, and build confidence.

Rearing when I was leading her - local experienced horse people were afraid to get on her.
The Amish kept her 3 months and rode her many miles every day - to town and back, working cattle etc. They got her rideable but she was the only horse they could never train to a buggy - literally the only failure they ever had at that. She reared over backwards when they tried and absolutely would not have it.
Again, this just goes to show that she is the type of horse that has a hair-trigger REACTIVE side of her brain that you need to be very mindful of when working with her.

Maybe I should just be grateful that she's finally become such an excellent trail horse and accept that it's never going to be possible to work with her at home
No. Just no.

Because any progress you can make on gaining control of her MIND is also going to enhance and benefit your trail riding. They are tools you can use anywhere.

Super Moderator
15,918 Posts
I haven't read all of the replies but I'll say when I first started working draft horses I had no pen, much less a round pen. I had pastures and a dirt drive and road. I had to work out how to work in the pasture with the others present or work in the drive or road at times there was less likely to be traffic. You don't need a round pen, pen or even arena. Those just make it easier on us. Pick a spot you are both comfortable and plan on having a variety of "jobs". Those she likes combined with the new. Something you can relax together working on to set her up for being in the right frame to have her learn what you need to teach. While a fence makes it easier you don't need a fence to teach side pass. You though have to be good at keeping the horse straight whether on the ground or I the saddle. I teach it from the ground first. If you find you both need a visual a long rope stretched out on the ground works.

Premium Member
Horse loving mama in Texas
1,248 Posts
I think your mare feels like the round pen is a bad place since all you do is work her there and she is burn out on the round pen, take her in a different spot in your yard or pasture and do some drills there, this poor mare hates the round pen, I think you have over done her training there and she dont want any part of it.

51,299 Posts
I just wanted to say I appreciate the @newtrailriders greater explanation of the situation. The horse does sound like a real challenge, but also a very nice trail horse.

I would say that if I were going to free lunge her in the round pen, I would not care if she did buck wildly, or kick out at me. I'd keep her going and let her do all she wants to and can (keeping a good whip on hand and keeping my distance to disallow her to actually kick me). Let none of those actions work out for her, but don't up your pressure in response to them. Just ignore the tantrum. When it's over and she's going calmlly, QUIT!! Don't round pen her for a long time after that.

If you work on her moving one part of her body, like front or back, individually, stay in there until she moves it softly. SLOW down your asking. I think rushing from one point on her body to the other in the quest for her to move off the middle position cue is irritating. and pointless, IMO. Slow way down so that she is actually THINKING about moving her shoulders over before moving her feet that way. the best horseman I ever saw said that when you move the feet of the horse, separate from the mind ( and it's perfectly possibe to do that), the horse feels bad inside. That disunity is mentally unstabling.

Also, if a horse wants to rear up, I would think that having them doing all the 'tight' work ( disengagemments, one rein stops, side pass, back up, etc) that stops forward movement and wants to put them mentally into confinement would be the worst thing to do. Rather getting them to let loose and go forward , when you notice them starting to get mentally tight, would help them to throw off that tension before it needs to be 'reared off'.
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