How to improve your horse's behaviour

We are all interested in horse behaviour and understanding more about the reasons our horses respond in certain ways to training and being handled, especially where there are problems! In recent years, a diverse range of equine behaviourists has emerged, many achieving remarkable results with the most difficult of cases as well as starting youngsters using a very different approach. Tap into this world through the amazing collection of videos on Horse Hero, and pick up some great tips to try on your horse in hand or under saddle. This ground breaking area will improve your relationship with your horse, enhance your safety and aid your performance!

There are more videos on this subject in the Library. Alternatively, try a video search on the Home Page (or in the Video Library) if you are looking for something specific.

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Jason Webb backs the three year old Lucky: Part 1 Jason Webb backs the three year old Lucky: Part 1
Australian natural horseman Jason Webb uses astute observations of horse behaviour to back the three year old Lucky. Bred for eventing, "Lucky has something about him" says Jason, who prepares to ride him for the third time. In the safety of the round pen, Jason familiarises Lucky with the saddle cloth and uses ground work training techniques to ensure he can move Lucky around, and that he can stand still in an open space on a precise spot! Once the saddle is on and lightly girthed, Jason lets Lucky get used to the feeling which he does with an athletic display! In part two, Lucky is long-lined and Jason leads him off another pony before mounting up.

Jason Webb backs the three year old Lucky: Part 2 Jason Webb backs the three year old Lucky: Part 2
Having done ground work in the first video and saddled Lucky up, Jason now long reins in preparation for getting on. Aiming to make riding this sharp horse as safe as possible, Jason uses long reins to teach him basic steering and stopping with the bridle. He says, "if Lucky is nervous when ridden, I need to know he can be directed." The sequence of requests is also important, eg. voice then bit, and Lucky must go forwards into a stop as well as back up. Jason then rides another pony and leads Lucky to let him get used to seeing a person above his eye line, also to simulate riding by putting some weight in the saddle. Now Lucky is ready to ride!

Jason Webb backs the three year old Lucky: Part 3 Jason Webb backs the three year old Lucky: Part 3
Having saddled up in the pen, worked Lucky in hand, long-reined and led him from another pony, Jason is ready to mount up for the third time, with a view to taking Lucky into the open arena for the very first time. Jason mounts in stages from both sides, whilst the lead pony remains to give Lucky confidence. He says "I expect the best and prepare for the worst!" Once on board, Jason allows Lucky to travel freely (which includes a little bucking). He then checks he can turn both ways with just one rein, stop and apply some leg to send Lucky forwards. The lead pony departs and Jason prepares for the inevitable moment of truth!

Jason Webb bridles head-shy Bertie Jason Webb bridles head-shy Bertie

Australian natural horseman Jason Webb, is a specialist with problem horses. Bertie is a 10 year old Hackney driving horse with severe head-shy issues, and has not been bridled over his ears. Jason says, "there is no quick fix with head-shy problems, patience and timing is everything!" Getting control of the feet and neck bend are prerequisites before trying to bridle Bertie. Jason moves slowly and waits for Bertie to co-operate by lowering his head. Having got the bridle over one ear, Bertie must put the other ear in himself! Jason explains what to do if he resists and throws his head up. The next challenge is to take the bridle off quietly!


Teach your horse some tricks! Teach your horse some tricks!

Tricks trainer and performer Rosie Howard from Jive Pony teaches Aristo, a young unbroken stallion a few tricks. Aristo quickly learns to kiss, cross his legs and shake his head, on demand. Rosie says it's about using your imagination and that of your horse, creating a strong association between a cue and an action, then repetition, consistency, patience and reward! According to Rosie, "tricks are a great way to enjoy your horse and enhance your relationship with him; they are also a clever way to get focused quickly when you need to at a show!" Rosie demonstrates the fully trained tricks on her obliging youngster Caspar!


Richard Maxwell shows how to ride a spooky horse Richard Maxwell shows how to ride a spooky horse

This is another great insight into horse psychology from Richard Maxwell. It's amazing how some of the big issues have simple solutions! Fino is a 15 year old, so his spooky response to strange objects is well established. First Richard asks Becky to ride him past an obstacle in order to assess his sensitivity. Then Richard explains the 'three strikes and you're out' rule and points out where we usually go wrong. Nuisance behaviour can easily become dangerous at a competition, or at home. Richard uses 'kidology' to show Fino how to control his emotions better. Softness, praise and release is the key, which can be practised in the safely of your school.


Richard Maxwell loads the reluctant Eric Richard Maxwell loads the reluctant Eric

A difficult loader is one of the most traumatic and stressful experiences for horse and handler, and it's surprisingly common! Sarah demonstrates the problem with Eric, who has been difficult for years. Horse behaviourist, Richard Maxwell sets about understanding Eric's evasions and finding ways to counter them. "The horse's smartness is his ability to look stupid, so it's important we respect his intelligence. It's like playing chess", says Richard. Using a training halter, he starts a dialogue with Eric that involves being able to move his feet and increase the speed of his responses. Richard applies this, with dramatic results, to loading!


Richard Maxwell trains a horse that's lazy to lunge Richard Maxwell works a horse that's lazy to lunge
This 8 year old stallion has been with Shane less than a year. Shane says he is very difficult in the mouth and rides like a 6 year old. Nonetheless, he is talented and aimed at Grand Prix soon. Starting with poles, then a grid and moving to a course, Shane provides a fascinating insight into how to manage such an opinionated horse. The main problem is he locks his jaw and runs to the fence. Shane offers ideas to improve rideability with this common problem, including exercises and how to influence with his position. Without a gadget in sight, Shane finishes by working on related distances which highlight the problem and also show the improvement!,

Richard Maxwell teaches Ravi to lead obediently Richard Maxwell teaches Ravi to lead obediently
Ravi is tricky to lead. Richard's aim is to prevent a 'nuisance' behaviour from escalating into something more dangerous. By showing Ravi a gentle system of pressure and release and allowing him time to think about it, Richard teaches Ravi in a matter of minutes how to walk his own line. at the speed of the handler and do that tricky right turn! Richard says it's about getting the horse to accept, not just tolerate a consistent and intuitive system. Starting with obvious gestures, Richard progresses to suggestions in his body language to communicate with Ravi. This video is a revelation into horse behaviour!

Sarah Fisher re-trains Barney who is dangerous to ride Sarah Fisher re-trains Barney who is dangerous to ride
Barney has become too dangerous to ride, namely spooking, spinning and bolting. Behaviourist Sarah Fisher has taken him in a last ditch attempt to solve his problems. She identifies his 'cold patches' and explains how she is working with postural issues to help to restore his self confidence and self control. Using a variety of unusual equipment including body wraps and a 'wand', Sarah shows us a series of ground exercises that enable her to identify the smallest reactions thus avoiding panic situations! Sarah long reins Barney through an array of obstacles and he copes really well, in spite of the weather! An amazing video full of unique insights.

Barney revisited: an update with Sarah Fisher Barney revisited: an update with Sarah Fisher
Behaviourist Sarah Fisher updates us on Barney's progress. A month ago, Barney was dangerous and unrideble. In the second Horse Hero video about his rehabilitation, Sarah's unconventional methods have reformed him and made him noticeably happier. Sarah explains that the initial ground work has been repeated with tack on, is now being repeated with a rider and finally without the help of a handler. Barney copes with the labyrinth, scary plastic and the pole noodles! Sarah tells us why it's necessary to stop before and after each obstacle and how to pick up on all the clues which give us an indication as to how Barney is feeling.

Behaviourist Sarah Fisher works with Claude the Shire Behaviourist Sarah Fisher works with Claude the Shire
Claude is a 19 hand Shire who is a little stiff and needs some work to loosen him up before his next show! Behaviourist Sarah Fisher works with him on the ground doing some 'S-ing', and he improves noticeably. "It's easier to work a stiff horse on foot before he has the added impediment of a rider", Sarah says. She also uses touch to move Claude's body as he is walking, and the 'wand'. A forelock and tail exercise loosen Claude's back and help him adjust to his balance. Sarah says 'the walk is the mother of all gaits' and valuable insights can be gained through careful observation on the ground. Claude soldiers inspite of the rain!

Kelly Marks' training put to the test! Kelly Marks' training put to the test!
When we filmed the Kelly Marks training series, Kelly challenged us to try her methods out on our own horses. So we did and we found them to be very useful! Fiona Price's eventer, Norris, was the guinea pig and this video shows the results. You should watch Kelly Marks on 'obedience in hand', 'standing & waiting' and 'precision backing' (in the training category of the Library) before this one, ideally. What a sweety pie! (That's Norris we are talking about.)

Precision backing-up, with Kelly Marks Precision backing-up, with Kelly Marks
Horse behaviourist, Kelly Marks, demonstrates the art of backing-up a horse easily and safely. Using her own horse, Pie, she also shows an advanced backing-up exercise and explains that backing-up is an important step to being able to load a horse successfully into a horsebox or trailer. We'll have to wait to find out more about that in due course!

Obedience in-hand, with behaviourist Kelly Marks Obedience in-hand, with behaviourist Kelly Marks
Kelly Marks, horse behaviourist, demonstrates the basics of obedience, starting with the easy way to lead your horse. With a 'smiling rope' there'll be no more pulling and tugging your horse, or being carted off across the yard. Instead, you can have a beautifully behaved horse and the first building block under your belt towards achieving obedience in all things, including hassle-free loading!

Training your horse to lower its head, with Kelly Marks Training your horse to lower its head, with Kelly Marks
Horse behaviourist, Kelly Marks, shows us how to train a horse to lower its head - an invaluable trick which makes it easier to pull or plait a forelock, check eyes and ears, or simply put a bridle on. She also demonstrates a more natural method to reward your horse than a good old pat!

Teaching your horse to stand and wait, with Kelly Marks
Teaching your horse to stand and wait, with Kelly Marks
Kelly Marks is one of the pre-eminent horse behaviourists in the UK and works closely with Monty Roberts. In this simple exercise, she shows us how to teach your horse to stand still, a technique she calls 'ground tying' and very handy it is indeed! Her horse Pie (the star of her books) is the guinea pig in this video. In the end, repetition wins out over the tempting apple tree!

Jason Webb trains the spooky young mare Kitty Jason Webb trains the spooky young mare Kitty

Kitty is a spooky young mare that's newly backed. Australian natural horseman Jason Webb teaches her to go past a scary object by "facing up to her fears". Assessing her 'comfort line', Jason allows Kitty to run past the object in both directions to release her adrenalin, allowing her to stop and look if she wishes as she perceives the object differently with each eye. Jason says, "by letting her move, once she settles, she is more likely to proceed calmly at the next scary object if we were out hacking, rather than continuing to spook". Gradually Kitty's comfort line gets closer to the object and, in no time at all, she marches past it like a pro!


Show jumper Shane Breen trains an opinionated stallion Jason Webb re-trains Angelo who bolts
Australian natural horseman Jason Webb has worked with rescue horse Angelo for a week. On the second day he bolted and jumped out of the arena with Jason. "Angelo has a trust issue, which isn't surprising after the way he has been treated", says Jason. "He panics and runs in fear when he's worried." Jason begins by teaching Angelo to steer without the use of a bridle. He also shows him a 'safe place' to go when things go wrong. Jason explains what signs to look for if Angelo is thinking of 'leaving'. When he finally picks up the reins, he uses only one to steer. This is an amazing and alternative insight into dealing with a scared & dangerous horse!

Show jumper Shane Breen trains an opinionated stallion Jason Webb works on Dee Dee's rearing problem
Dee Dee rears when put under pressure. Australian natural horseman Jason Webb sets about simulating Dee Dee's pressure threshold to try to re-create the behaviour and teach him a way out. Jason says "rearing is a horse and rider relationship issue and usually comes from heavy hands, or nervousness. The horse then becomes disrespectful and takes over." When Dee Dee eventually reacts, Jason sends him forwards into a figure of eight. "Bend is vital for controlling the problem" says Jason, who also explains what to do when a horse gets into a state of 'shut-down'. Vital tips for a range of behavioural issues!

Show jumper Shane Breen trains an opinionated stallion Chancer experiences his first saddle, bridle and long lines
Equine behaviourist Laira Gold introduces Chancer to his first saddle, bridle and long lines using the principles of Monty Roberts' training. Chancer quickly learns that the 'sweet spot' is at the centre of the round pen. He also finds out what life is like on the perimeter, when Laira sends him off with body language that imitates a predator. After successfully 'joining up', Chancer is swiftly saddled, bridled and prepared for long-lining. Within minutes, he has learned to drive and turn on command and has given Laira the four key gestures she is looking for. This effective demonstration of natural horsemanship contains many useful ideas!

Show jumper Shane Breen trains an opinionated stallion Building Phoebe's trust and confidence in people
Four year old Phoebe hasn't had the best start in life and, as a result, she is nervy and also difficult to catch. Equine behaviourist Laira Gold develops Phoebe's confidence and trust in strange people and objects. Starting with an insightful display of 'join-up', Laira explains her and Phoebe's body language and the communication that is going on between them. She then begins a process of body de-sensitisation, initially touching Phoebe's vulnerable areas with her hand, picking her feet up and progressing to touching her with a stick and plastic bag. Phoebe offers clear feedback and tries very hard to remain calm when the pressure is on her!

Jason Webb teaches the nappy horse Angus to go forwards Jason Webb teaches the nappy horse Angus to go forwards
Angus is bargy young horse who has been used to doing his own thing and getting away with it. Australian horseman Jason Webb begins by dealing with Angus' behaviour on the ground. The key is to get his attention and then face Jason in the halt. Once on board, the focus is on going forwards and not confusing this by trying to steer, as well. Angus chooses the direction but soon learns that "the right things are easy and the wrong things are difficult". Jason says, "ask forwards, then tell if necessary, so in the end all you have to do is ask." Frequent rests in the centre of a circle allow Angus to absorb the learning and also reduce his napping.

Jason Webb works on Ruby's bucking problem: Part 1 Jason Webb works on Ruby's bucking problem: Part 1
4 year old Ruby has recently been started under saddle but has developed a bucking problem and been sent to Australian horseman Jason Webb. "Bucking is usually a result of attitude or tension" says Jason, so the first step is to de-sensitise Ruby. Using a 'woggle' Jason finds out about Ruby's reactions and re-assures her. Teaching her a lunging pattern, he pushes her boundaries so she understands that focusing on Jason is the way out of stressful situations. Long-reining ensures she can stop and turn. By going through a protocol on the ground, Jason gives Ruby a chance to work things out before he rides her (in Part 2).

Jason Webb works on Ruby's bucking problem: Part 2 Jason Webb works on Ruby's bucking problem: Part 2
After groundwork exercises in Part 1, it's time to get on! Australian horseman Jason Webb explains the process for mounting a horse that can buck, which includes moving Ruby off with his knee, whist half on. Once on board, Jason repeats the lunging and long-reining patterns to ensure Ruby can go forwards, turn and stop. By stepping up the pressure, Jason creates excitement which enables him to show Ruby how to get out of a potentially explosive situation. All goes well, so Jason takes Ruby out of the round-pen into the main arena. "Horses that buck like to go in straight lines, so the work is mostly about disengaging them," says Jason.

Jason Webb teaches dressage mare Whoopie to be less strong Jason Webb teaches dressage mare Whoopie to be less strong
12 year old dressage mare Whoopie gets strong when ridden. Australian horseman Jason Webb says that tension has created the habit. He demonstrates techniques to get the mare off the bridle so that she can progress in dressage. "Bending disengages power and relieves tension," says Jason who teaches Whoopie the one-rein stop, first of all. Next, he needs to have control of the hind end in the halt and move it away, both on a circle and a straight line. The same tools are applied to transitions and stepping back. "In time, the aids become more subtle" says Jason, "but if the mare gets strong again, it's important to go back and make things obvious."

Jason Webb teaches dangerous Angelo to have his hind legs handled Jason Webb teaches dangerous Angelo to have his hind legs handled
The 8 year old arab Angelo is dangerous to handle around his hind legs. Australian horseman Jason Webb works with Angelo for the second day, de-sensitising him with a soft 'woggle' down his neck, his torso and hind quarters. Jason then drops a looped rope around Angelo's quarters to the ground and asks him to step back into it. Using a long loop around his fetlock, Jason teaches Angelo it's safe to be held. He then asks Angelo to lift his leg and hold it off the floor. Angelo is unsure initially and moves around. Gradually, he is able to stand still. Jason explains this work would eventually lead to safely holding Angelo's leg himself.

Jason Webb starts the 3 year old dressage mare Fly: Part 1 Jason Webb starts the 3 year old dressage mare Fly: Part 1
Australian horseman Jason Webb prepares the 3 year old dressage mare Fly for her second ride. Jason takes us through the process Fly has been working on for a week. The first step is 'catching'. "This is where the horse comes to you" says Jason. "It's a way of getting the horse to focus on you and not run away, which is important when riding" he adds. The next step is desensitisng, in hand and when tied up, so the mare can tolerate frights and step forwards rather than running back. Jason also prepares Fly to see him from above her eyeline, as this will be new for her when he climbs on board. (Jason concludes the process in Part 2.)

Jason Webb starts the 3 year old dressage mare Fly: Part 2 Jason Webb starts the 3 year old dressage mare Fly: Part 2
Now that Fly is quiet and calm after ground work exercises (Part 1), Jason teaches her to steer, turn and stop using long-lines. When turning, Fly must step under with the hind end to create a fluid, soft movement. Jason ups the pressure to check he still has controls, before getting on. "Fly must learn I am the one who will help her out if things get scary" he says. Having put all the building blocks in place for a successful ride, Jason shows his mounting process which "is like landing a plane". With the help of someone on the ground for the controls, Jason repeats what Fly has learned on long lines. He says "I am a passenger for now".

The basics of clicker training with Amanda Martin The basics of clicker training with Amanda Martin
Clicker trainer Amanda Martin, uses 20 year old Aero to demonstrate three foundation lessons which are the basis of further training, both in-hand and under saddle. Amanda explains, "clicker training finds ways of saying 'yes' to the horse and shifts emotions so they 'stay' with us because they want to, not because they have to!" It also teaches the art of great timing. The first lesson is 'target training' where Aero makes an association between click and treat. The second lesson teaches him to move back out of Amanda's space and the third, 'grown-ups are talking', ensures the safe delivery of food. A fascinating training insight!

Amanda Martin makes worming easy with clicker training Amanda Martin makes worming easy with clicker training
Horses know that worming is going to be an unpleasant experience, as it tastes horrid! "So it can take longer to teach the horse to accept worming without fuss and without force" says clicker trainer Amanda Martin. Initially, Amanda clicks and treats the gelding every time he touches the tube with his nose (using a live wormer, so as not to kid him!). Gradually, however, he must do more to earn his rewards. The training progresses to touching the tube with his lips, teeth, tongue and eventually putting his mouth right over it and swallowing the paste. This is an excellent way to take the trauma out of worming for you and your horse!

Clicker trainer Amanda Martin teaches baby Remus to pick up his feet Clicker trainer Amanda Martin teaches baby Remus to pick up his feet
Amanda Martin teaches the yearling colt Remus to pick up his feet, using clicker training. Firstly, Remus is rewarded for shifting his weight in response to a touch on the shoulder. "A weight shift is tricky for youngsters because their balance constantly changes" says Amanda. "The aim is for Remus to offer his foot which is different to the normal approach of taking it," says continues. The click tells Remus his response is correct and earns him a treat. But gradually he must offer more behaviour until his foot comes off the ground, in order to earn the treat. This is not only preparation for feet picking and the farrier but can also be used in lateral work!

Teaching a horse to bridle himself using clicker training Teaching a horse to bridle himself using clicker training
Clicker trainer Amanda Martin teaches 20 year old Aero the first steps of putting his headcollar on, with a view to teaching him to bridle himself! Having shown basic clicker training in a previous video, Amanda explains the idea of 'behaviour loops' and how to clean them up to get the correct response. Aero is rewarded for touching the noseband and is then challenged for more of the behaviour Amanda wants, to earn his treat. Aero tests what's correct by throwing in some unwanted behaviours but as he's only rewarded for getting the right answer, he quickly learns what's required. A fully trained Magic shows the 'finished product'!

Marco learns to stand and wait, with clicker training Marco learns to stand and wait, with clicker training
"Learning to stand on a mat has lots of benefits" says clicker trainer Amanda Martin. "The horse learns foot and body awareness, how to judge distances, balance better and stand square." Amanda asks Tamsin to click and treat Marco for putting his front feet on the mat and also for backing off, as well as responding to her rope aids. Gradually, Marco has to work harder for his rewards and stand with his front feet square, then all four square. The pair progress to 'ground tying' where Marco is parked on the mat while Tamzin walks away. The aim is to build up the time and distance Tamsin is away from Marco, even leaving the school!

The mounting block lesson The mounting block lesson
Lining your horse up to the mounting block to get on can be a challenge. Clicker trainer Amanda Martin says "decide what you want and train for that instead". The aim of the session is for Tamsin to teach Marco to stand square to the block, whilst at liberty, and present the saddle to her to mount. By walking a circle to the block, Tamsin is able to click and treat Marco for stopping close by. Amanda explains how to prevent him from swinging his quarters out, which is especially useful when getting on out hacking with limited room. By fine tuning the timing of rewards, Marco works out exactly how to stand and remains still for Tamsin to mount. Mission complete!

Teaching lateral work through clicker training Teaching lateral work through clicker training
"Good balance is a pre-requisite for long term soundness," says clicker trainer Amanda Martin. "It's also the foundation for lateral work." But before teaching Marco to move sideways, student Tasmin must correct her own postural balance as the horse will mirror this. Amanda becomes a 'human horse' working with Tasmin on the ground, so Tasmin can experiment with body language. Transferring this to in-hand work with Marco, Tasmin clicks as he begins to engage the inside hind leg. "The horse must find and maintain his own balance rather than us micro-managing him, then it can be transferred to ridden work," says Amanda.

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