Help--Horse obsessed with pasture mates/constant whinnying
I am taking dressage lessons weekly with my QH mare. It all goes well during my lessons, which usually happen at 11 am once a week and then a few weekday morning practice rides. However, on the weekends, I ride between about 1 and 3 pm. I'm not sure why, but for some reason she becomes obsessed with being away from her pasture mates during that time. She couldn't care less in the earlier hours and is a joy to ride then.
Initially, she is easy to catch and she gets a big carrot. It's all very positive. But then it all starts in the barn, where she paces her hind end in the cross-ties and whinnies constantly. She doesn't even seem to know I'm there as she obsessively stares towards the pasture. Then once I'm on her...whether I lunge her first or not, she is high and hard to calm down....sometimes trying to break into canter from the get-go..which is unusual for her normally. She strains to look out towards the pasture and whinnies every five minutes or so while I'm riding her. As in the barn, I feel like she forgets I'm there. I usually work circles or practice on the bit, which we just learned and has been my focus...and that helps to a degree but it is a major struggle to keep her attention.
I cannot change my schedule and have not been looking forward to my afternoon rides on the weekends. Summer will only be worse because then I'll probably only be riding afternoons.
I'm not sure which is worse, the lack of focus or whinnying!
Could this be because I have not fully established a bond with her yet? I have owned her about eight months. I'm wondering if perhaps she does not yet see me as a leader?
I owned a gelding years ago who never behaved this way so this is new to me.
What's different around the barn when you're riding in the afternoon versus in the morning? Are the horses still in or have they been turned out? Is there a specific other activity going on that's different at either time?
I went through a similar issue with my mare over the spring/early summer. We had moved from a small, quiet co-op to a larger barn where she was suddenly thrown into a huge pasture with 6 or 7 other mares. It blew her mind for a while. I'd say the first couple of months I had to deal with near constant whinnying during our rides and at times, I was ready to send her to the glue factory (totally would never happen, but just to say I can understand your frustration). Getting emotional about it never helped. Eventually, she settled down but still threw one in every now and again - it was just a totally different environment from where we'd been. Ironically, we ended up returning to the co-op for a variety of reasons and she went right back to her "normal" self.
My experience was rooted in our move - has your mare been at the same barn for the entire 8 months you've had her?
If there's nothing in particular going on that might be spurring this distracted behavior in the afternoon, then it's just going to take time and patience (which I know can be difficult!). It's tough but try to remain cool and collected - get her moving forward and not just in circles around the ring. Lateral work, changes of direction, changes within the gaits - anything to get her mind moving enough to keep up with her body!
My perspective is this - I try to be considerate of my horse and her time - i.e. at the other barn I tried not to ride right around feeding time if I could help it, etc. But, what it really boils down to is I ask my mare to work an hour out of the day. If your mare is distracted, then make her *work* in a firm but fair manner and offer her breaks of your choosing that are rewards - if she loses focus again, then back to work!
Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.
For the moment, or at least while this is occurring, please don't be aiming for "on the bit"... that should come from other elements that are clearly lacking if her attention is so diverted. You need to focus on getting maresy "on the aids" and "in front of your leg". This basically means that she is responsive to you and you have a steady contact with the bit and attentiveness. Work on very frequent transitions, changes of bend, and changes of pace within the gait. This is not about a bond or establishing a leadership position or whatever... this is a basic respect and obedience issue (i.e., submission), and should be nipped in the bud immediately. Carry a whip and use it to reinforce your leg if necessary.
You may think this is overly harsh but please remember that your girl has 23 hours a day of her own time, and what will happen if you decide to compete her one day and can't push her out of these moods?
Last edited by Lost_at_C; Jan. 29, 2013 at 07:41 AM.
I've noticed the mares at my barn are all getting herd bound. Seems to happen every spring when there hormones start raging, even to the stall girls. Work on ground manners and respect, but be fair, loosing your temper will make things alot worse.
Also, what time does your barn feed in the afternoon? In the winter I find the horses are more worried about missing a meal, and much more aware of the feeding routine. Can you give her some hay cubes soaked with warm water while tacking up?
What time do you feed dinner? She may be worried that it's getting to be dinner time and she may miss it or her pasture mates will eat it. I've had horses do this before, be fine to ride mid-morning, but horrible to ride later in the evening close to dinner. You might try feeding lunch, (if you don't already), or feeding it later, and riding her soon after she is finished and a little full. That way she won't be so worried about missing a meal!
"A good horse and a good rider are only so in mutual trust."
Set some exercises in your mind, starting with circles and insist that they be ridden accurately. If worse comes to worse, I would suggest starting a 20m circle, divide it into quadrants, at each quadrant, do a 10 m circle. This will give you a rosette pattern, . Then change the rein doing the same thing on the other rein. Progress to spiral circle and serpentines with transitions to halt at each bend change.
Ignore the whinny, so long as your aids are being honored. The idea is to keep her so busy with what you want, that she has to pay attention. If you are ignored a tiny tap of the whip, or a sharp reminder of the leg are in order.
Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.
Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.
My last competition horse did that. It can be one of the most irritating habits your horse can do. I used to fear my dressage test more than any of my jumping phases when we evented.
This is what I did--
KEEP BUSY. I'm not talking a circle here or there, I'm talking circle, trot, walk, canter, serpentine one loop, leg yield out, transition, shoulder in, transition, lengthen, 10m circle, leg yield, shorten stride, serpentine 2 loops etc etc.
All of this I'm quick succession. Not much time between movements. I don't know how far along your training is as far as lateral work is concerned, but try and do whatever you and your horse are able to.
If your horse is still whinnying, you need to increase the difficulty, it'd not hard enough for her to pay attention you.
I have similar issue, gets way worse when she is in heat. My problem is that I can keep her occupied when I am working/riding, but coming back in & trying to get her untacked, dried, etc is an ass pain.
I don't cross tie her, b/c I want to be able to actually respond to her fidgeting. We have been working on ground tying, so if she moves around, I try to back her, spin her around, etc. Some days we are good, others not so much. I wish I had other ideas on this b/c on certain days it really is just hopeless.