By Sue Smith with Laura Lambert
Question: I have a 5-year-old gelding who is a free runner. He is fast loping the pattern, and I feel like he is ready to go on, but if I let him go, he is hard to handle and just gets faster and faster. I know I’m in his face too much, but it is hard to keep him slow. He just wants to run, no matter what we do. I have only run him a few times. —Deborah MacLeod, of Perrin, Texas
These horses are kind of hard, because there can be a variety of reasons why a horse will want to be too aggressive. Sometimes, when a horse is not really ready to go that fast, the horse will get ahead of himself. Many horses just take a lot more slow work than you would expect. If your horse is not breaking at the poll and doesn’t understand how to come back to your hand and relax, it will cause him to be a little too tight, and then he will get stiff.
With horses that get too aggressive, I work hard to take that out of them. I do it both on and off the pattern. I think it would help you to slow back down again and really feel your horse, and whenever you feel like he is getting ahead of himself or you, work on getting everything under control.
When doing dry work off the pattern, you need to do a lot of stops and backing up. I would also encourage you to do reverse arcs to ensure that your horse is using his hind end and keeping himself collected. Keeping your horse rolling over his hocks will encourage him to stay collected and balanced throughout his body.
When you are just riding around, stop your horse, drop the reins, and then make him stand there until all four feet are just still. This doesn’t have to be a long time, but make sure that he doesn’t go forward until it is your choice. Then, when you want to move again, do it in another direction. For instance, trot around, stop, wait until your horse is relaxed and completely still, reverse arc, and go the other way repeating the drill.
When working your horse on the pattern, I do something I call separating the pattern. I go to the first barrel to the rate point and then stop my horse. I wait until he will stand there on a loose rein. If the horse moves out of the rate point and the position, I will put him back in the spot and then wait for him to be still and relax, and then go around the barrel. If a horse is rushing around the barrel, I will stop him leaving the barrel and do the same thing. I separate each part of the pattern and emphasize to the horse the importance of maintaining patience through each portion.
Another thing I do is trot up to the barrel, stop at the rate point and then reverse arc and go back to the starting line. I do this until I can feel the horse really rating on his own and using all four feet. I don’t want a horse bouncing on his front end. I want him to really rate on his hindquarters, and you can feel them get lower to the ground when they are really doing it right. This will, again, encourage less aggressive behavior and more of a tendency for the horse to listen to you.
Everything you do on your horse, do it slow and don’t move on to the next step until you can feel that the aggression is gone. My training philosophy is that there are no quick fixes. When problems arise, I go back to the basics and do it slow.
I would also encourage you to make sure your horse is supple. When I first get on a horse, I make sure they are supple in both directions, breaking at the poll and really listening to me. This will help you get your horse to wait for your cues.
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