My horse bites!
Qu: I have a problem with my horse. He was very fond of my mare, she was the dominant one and would often demand to be groomed and scratched by my horse. He loves to groom and scratch other horses but sometimes he may nip and bite. Last year I had to have my mare put down and since then I have been looking for a suitable companion for him. I thought I had found it in a pony at the yard. I tested them together in several situations (in a large field, in a smaller one, leading both of them together, being fed together) and it everything seemed fine until today. They were out in their paddock when someone told me that they were fighting. When I arrived there my horse seemed calm as if nothing had happened, but the other one was circling around and snorting, very excited.
I found out that my horse had bitten the pony on the back, twice. One of the bites had taken some hair and flesh was exposed. The pony had kicked my horse but being smaller and not shod he did not hurt my horse.
I am new to this kind of horse behaviour. In the yard most horses have individual paddocks, those who are in pairs get along quite well. I would like very much to have both of them together, I was planning to buy the pony, in fact, but now I don't know whether this is part of their 'rank' establishment, or if it may happen more often. The wound on the pony is not serious but who can tell what could happen in the future?
Is there anything I can do to improve this situation? Or should I keep trying to find another companion?
HHG: You don’t say how long the two have been together. No matter how much you supervise them in different situations and locations, they have to actually sort out their own relationship and pecking order between themselves. If they have only been in a paddock together for a short time then that is probably what is happening.
I doubt that they were actually fighting, more having a short scrap – a couple of nips and kicks. If the fight had been serious there would have been a lot more than a bit of lost hair!
Horses are herd animals and should live together in groups but, like children (and adults), they will sometimes have arguments and, at times, boisterous play fights. If the aggressive behaviour continues over a period of time and they do not settle into a peaceful relationship then it may be that they actually do not get on and a different companion may be called for.
Personally, I would let them get on with it for a few more days and see how they settle things between them. Then, of course, you may get to the next problem of keeping two horses together – they become inseparable and when you remove one to ride, they both get upset so it is time to get a third companion!
Qu: I am shortly to be 70, have numerous broken bones, a 14.2hh cob who is very good but with whom I cannot bond. Despite being very tall, I wanted to end my riding days on a 13.2hh as I used to have one some years ago on which I had the greatest possible fun. My new pony, a 13.2hh New Forest, is very pretty, was very cheap, and had a "cheeky" reputation so you may well say I got what I paid for! Basically he bites, sometimes kicks and always bucks in canter. Due to his absence of wither and habit of putting his head clear to the ground while bucking, not falling off yet is a sheer miracle.
I wanted to send him back and his previous owner maintains a strong interest in him but says she can't take him back. I could put him in the local horse sale but wouldn't ever know where he went. I do like him despite his horrible habits and would like to persevere. I can cope with the biting (which I'm curing pretty much), keep out of the way of the kicks but the bucking has me beat. I am not at a strong rider these days and find it considerably easier to sit on our 17hh ex-racehorse when he occasional throws a wobbly than on the pony. I do so want to have a pony, though, my husband rides the horse. Any advice please? I was told to run a cord from the "d" rings to the bit, over the poll to the other bit rings and back to the "d", does this sound a good idea? I have had horses for 40 yrs, but you might not think it!
HHG: Easier than the 'knitting pattern' you have been given with bits of cord is to go and buy some daisy reins (not grass reins) which do the same as your cord contraption, although they are sold as a way of stopping a pony from eating grass and cost about £10.
The only problem that you may find is that whatever you attach to the saddle may result in the saddle being pulled forward, especially if your pony has no wither. You may then have to use a crupper to keep the saddle back.
Dealing with an ex-racehorse
Qu: Last year I bought a 14 year old Thoroughbred/PRE horse and she is amazing but she has had training in different areas, though primarily as a race horse. Besides that she has done Spanish dressage (western style), some classical dressage, reining and jumping. They told me I wouldn't be able to hack out alone as she panics because she associates it with being taken to a new home but I'm happy to say we have overcome that hurdle now with a lot of hard work. She used to get into a blind panic and start jumping around on the spot and even going backwards at fast trot almost canter speed. In those situations, I found the only option was get off and then get right back on again. It snaps her out of it whereas if I stay on, the panic gets worse.
The issue I have at the moment funnily enough is hacking out in a group, something she is used to and normally comfortable with. She doesn't like it if another horse goes faster (say we are in walk and another horse starts to trot) but when cantering in a group, she goes into racehorse mode and fights to get ahead, sometimes in a dangerous way and she does not listen. It doesn't always happen but I have noticed that when a particular horse joins us, she tends to fight me more to get ahead and she is always looking at what this horse is doing so if he gets a nose ahead of us, she will pull and start to jump around on the spot. She doesn't normally do this with other horses, even when I ride out with a friend and her stallion, we are able to canter/gallop side by side with only one incident where I temporarily lost control but regained it within a few strides.
When she bolts, pulling back on the reins is not an option at all as she puts her head up, goes against them and it drives her on even more. Many times it is not possible to get her to circle due to space or because of the speed for fear of her completely losing her balance and falling plus she is able to go at break neck speed with her head turned in. How would half-halts help me when preparing to canter? Is there a technique I can use to keep the situation under control before she bolts such as riding with more leg? Lately, I have been riding her out more alone and asking her to canter in short bursts then come back down with mixed success but showing improvement. I am now trying to be first in line when in a group so she isn't affected so much by other horses which worked the last time I rode out with the horse she has issues with but we did not canter, only trotted for a couple of kilometres. I also started to ride her for a few minutes in the school before going out but I have only been able to do that once as I have been ill since and have not ridden but I was hoping that would help calm her.
Does anyone have any advice that might help me out please? She is ridden in a double jointed bit and a bungee the same as the previous owner because she is more comfortable with the sensation of constant contact. I just want to go out and enjoy the hack without the worry of losing control and risking her, myself or others getting hurt. Her saddle fits and her teeth are checked regularly so they are not the issue (I fear it is me!). Thanks in advance!
HHG: It sounds as though you have gone a long way with your mare in just a year, working out solutions to the problems her past have given the pair of you. You should feel proud of how far you have come. The last problem of trying to keep her focused on you rather than on racing another horse is not going to be easy because you lose control and at high speed this can be scary and is unsafe.
The best advice I can offer is to watch Jason Webb’s video on Horse Hero http://www.horsehero.com/5201/63149/58051 . He provides practical solutions, which will help you gain control and solve your problem. The only thing I would add is that he is an expert horseman, so don’t feel as though you are a failure if you don’t achieve as rapid a change in your horse as he does.
Please watch the video a couple of times, try out his methods and then, if you have any more questions, write again. Good luck!
Qu: Hi Horse Hero, I have been teaching my mare Grand Prix level dressage, but I can not find a good teacher for the moment so I am learning by internet and DVD's. I am really pleased with the results but I am having problems with the piaffe. I sit up tall bring my legs back a little and take give on the reins. So my mare comes back beautifully and does a real piaffe for about 4 steps, then she slows down and I can't get her to speed up again without using my spurs which makes me move in saddle too much. If I use the stick she will speed up but then she stops completely if I stop using it ! I think there is something missing. Could you explain the technique for how I should get my mare to speed up in the piaffe?
HHG: First may I say that you are very brave to teach advanced work without an instructor – it is so hard to do without someone on the ground to watch and to provide that extra bit of input and help. You must be doing well to get just a few steps.
You don’t say how you are teaching your mare to piaffe, but I presume that you have done this by working her in a collected trot with plenty of impulsion, bringing her to a well engaged halt before moving back to collected trot. You repeat this moving between collected trot and halt, progressively reducing the number of steps between halts and shortening the trot strides whilst maintaining the impulsion. The impulsion is what helps you to get the shortened and higher steps of the piaffe. Don’t worry if there is some creeping forwards and only aim for two or three steps – it is the quality that counts, not the quantity.
As your mare develops strength and confidence in the movement you can work towards developing more steps, but initially, as you have found, you and she will find it very difficult to maintain the impulsion whilst trying to stay on the spot. So do two or three steps of piaffe, move back into the collected trot for a couple of steps and then repeat.
I hope this helps – just remember that you must maintain the impulsion at all times and that initially your mare will grind to a halt until she becomes more used to the new movement. There are many videos on Horse Hero which show professionals teaching piaffe – both in the dressage category and groundwork for horses category, in the Library under Training.