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Just started my mare! And a question

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  • Just started my mare! And a question

    To make a long prologue short, I have a 13ish year old 14+ hand Arabian (Arabian cross?) mare. I picked her up at an auction consisting of 80% kill buyers just over 3 years ago and have finally started her under saddle. They claimed her to be trail broke but she had so many issues that it was just a bad idea to try to start riding her right again. We get her ground issues and trust issues sorted out, she's learned to bridle, saddle, and lunge very nicely, and I finally got her started under saddle.

    She's currently in my other Arabx gelding's crappy bridle (from the same auction she came from ) and his Dee ring snaffle with copper rollers. I did get her a dressage bridle (tentative plan for her) but I figured this was okay to start her in, especially because of the nice thick and grippy rubber reins. Don't laugh, but they have blue vetwrap as reinforcement for where the mice started chewing at them. To add to our odd appearance, I'm currently riding her in a treeless endurance saddle that came with the Belgian we lease. But hey, at least it's super light, fits like a glove, and is easy to stay in! No stirrups yet until she learns to quit caring about things hanging around her side. They aren't supposed to be crutches anyway!

    Now, back to her actual progress. Prior to getting on each ride, I lunge with the saddle both ways, just walk trot until she's focused. First ride (afternoon/evening) I was able to get on after the general leaning over her/rubbing/etc. (with the help of a friend) and she stood nicely. Ask her quietly to move forward, she bolts. One rein-stop came to use nicely. Calm her down, ask her to move forward. Shorter bolt/jig combo. Gets working through all of that. Stops, turns, goes. Doesn't back up. Well, we'll get to that.

    Second ride the next morning. Cooler outside, snorting while lunging. Able to get on more quickly with minimal wiggling beforehand. She stands. Ask to move forward, she backs up and scares herself when she hits the mounting block. Slight hop/jump. No biggie. She walks, halts, turns all relatively quietly with minimal jigging. Nothing extraordinary and we have a relatively short ride (15 or so minutes) and end on a very good note.

    Skip one day due to rain.

    Third ride was this afternoon. Lunges very nicely. No snorting, minimal energy, quiet trot, if not a bit lazy. Good- going to be a simple ride, right? Eh, not so much. I get on, no jigging/wiggling, stands quietly. Ask to walk forward. She walks off like a rockstar. Good pony! She goes relatively well, turning, walking when I ask her verbally to walk with light leg cues, halts when I say whoa and sit deep with relatively minimum hand/rein aids. Of course it's my fault (she's the first horse I've started, therefore the greenest, as well as the most sensitive and hot), but as I'm talking to my grandfather (who's supervising and helping), I get bolted off with. Not good. Around and around the paddock we go. Big big strides, a couple minor kick-outs, and finally she's done when she stops against the fence. Whew. I did stay on well though, especially with no stirrups! I realize she did this because I wasn't paying full attention to her (bad mistake on my part- it's only her third ride!) and I wasn't keeping her mind busy. I must have done something to set her off, even if it was slight. This is a mare that doesn't do things to be naughty, but only out of fear. Okay, so I get her working again, relatively well, halting, turning, switching directions, and she's calming down. There I go talking again, but still paying attention to her. Then another bolt. Not nearly as long, but still no fun. I quickly realize this is because I raised up my hand while I was talking. Stupid me, of course my mare's going to freak out when she's barely used to having someone above her like this. Use the fence to stop her again, and she's quite worked up. We get working again, and after a few nice quiet laps around the ring, I ask her to whoa and I get off.

    Overall, I'm satisfied with her so far and of us as a pair. She is incredibly smart and learning quickly. I know I have made some mistakes, but I'm learning too. I have managed to control her bolts and quickly get her mind working and focused again and we've had a lot of positives. I'm taking things slow with short rides as often as possible, always ending on a good note. I do have experience with bringing along green horses, but she's my first that I've had to pretty much start from the ground and by far the one with the most past issues (abuse and whatnot).

    Any tips? Especially for controlling the bolting? I'm pretty sure the only trigger was me moving around my hand too much with only one hand on the rein and trying to keep her still at the same time since I was talking and not paying attention to her, but still, she's prone to it when she freaks out. Thanks!

    And here are some pictures. Please excuse the lack of bridlepath and overall unattractiveness of her right now. I cleaned her up a bit more today, but no pictures. This was from her 2nd ride.




  • #2
    Ya' know, I hate to say this but...some horses just are unstable (pardon the pun). Not all those auction pen occupants are well meaning animals that are just innocent victims of bad riding and bad luck.

    Was there a reason you waited 3 years to get to this point??

    There are bad breeders crossing horses that never even were tried under saddle or, worse, retiring the untrainable, unstable whack jobs to the breeding shed to perpetuate those fine qualities.

    This one is 13 years old (at least if you do not have the papers) and something as minor as moving your hand makes her bolt-do NOT blame yourself or moving your hand an inch for this. That is HER, not you.

    Now, maybe you can school this out. Or, maybe, you are just another in a long line of well meaning riders trying to help her and there was a reason she ended up where she was.

    Good luck for her sake and yours. I really have no advice for that bolt other then to try to stop it from happening, once she does bolt like that, she has won the round. But if all it takes to set her off is moving your hand????

    Like I said, hate to be negative but...you cannot save them all...and 13 is pretty set in it's ways. Don't let her break your heart.
    When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

    The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


    • Original Poster

      First, thanks so much for your reply, FindEight.

      From my understanding, she has been passed along from dealer to dealer- I was able to speak to her owner who worked at the auction that had a slew of other horses there besides her and not the least bit friendly.

      Yes there were reasons I waited 3 years. One, her ground manners were almost nonexistant. I am a junior rider, well almost amateur age, and I am not going to put myself at risk trying to get on a horse that may or may not be broke that does not respect me completely on the ground. I am no pro! lol. So we worked extensively on ground manners and respect. Learning to yield to pressure was a necessity. Also, learning to let me rub my hand past her shoulder and rub/brush her belly/hindquarters/hind legs was difficult to her. She was abused and therefore did not trust me right away. She did learn to accept that she cannot kick at me and it is NOT a good way for her to express fear. So she got over it. Next step was for her to learn to allow me to throw a towel/saddle pad/whatever all over her neck, ears, legs, back, or belly without pitching a fit. She had to learn to allow to quietly be bridled, to wear the bridle, and to lunge. She had to learn to wear a surcingle without pitching a fit. She had to learn to stand to be tacked up. All those things you'd think a horse ought to learn at a young age had to be taught.

      Teaching her all this, plus dealing with being busy doing schoolwork/riding my show horses/distracted by boyfriends/no opportunity to work daily with bad weather, had me putting her on the backburner. If I had more motivation, more skill, and more time, I'm sure she would have made it to this point in a third of the time.

      I'm trying to look on the bright side and be hopeful she may come around with consistent schooling. I accept that she may never show, may never be sane enough to trust on a trail ride, but I bought her as a project for myself and if all I get out of it is becoming a better rider, or even just better at staying on, then so-be-it. At least she provides great company for my semi-retired Arabian gelding when we take the other 2 horses out. And at least she is a very cheap companion, an easy keeper food-wise and only needing a hoof trim 2x a year because of how fantastic her hooves are. But I do think that maybe she will get better with time. She is a bit hot and quite sensitive, but decently sensible and very, very, very smart in the sense that she learns quickly (at least as smart as some horses can be) and quickly learns good behavior = reward and she is continuing those good behaviors. I know it's ridiculous when they spook at moving a hand, but I wasn't doing her any favors by half asking her to stand with one hand on the reins and half letting her kinda walk/jig aimlessly. That paired with me suddenly flinging an arm in her sight didn't help it, especially when she isn't at all used to someone up higher than her. I'm just hoping for the best.


      • #4
        Could you get your grandfather to lead her/hold her while you just move around on her a little, and get her used to you doing the little things like moving your hands, etc?
        RIP Don - 3/28/2004-8/15/2012


        • #5
          I read a book once where the author told a story of a man had his green horse spook when he waved at a friend. The man then avoided the problem by keeping still up there, but the author supposed he could fix it if he just had more friends! Basically, that you need to desensitize the horse to that movement, just as you did to all the objects you talk about. If you don't want ot do that from her back at first - and honestly I wouldn't - then stand up on a mounting block or use a stick as an extension of your arm or something, and gradually work up to doing it while on her.

          All that said, please be careful. I can understand the "it takes as long as it takes and there may not be an end goal" sort of project. But as you said, you don't want to get hurt taking unnecessary risks. And even as she learns and progresses, she sounds like the type who may never make it anywhere near the title of "safe".


          • #6
            I have started several horses from the ground up, and I'm currently restarting one now. That said, I wouldn't mess with a horse like that and would pack it off to someone who gets paid to do that for a living. I expect all my green horses to stand with a foot cocked while I shoot the bull right from the first ride. It's good manners.

            I would send her to a trainer who can start her right or tell you that she shouldn't be ridden at all. If she's bolting already that isn't good, and you're going to develop some fear issues riding it out all the time.

            My barn took in one like yours as a rescue. She'd spook/bolt/kick at people and she was sent to a trainer to have her manners improved and be started. She came back after 6 months and she would still flip out if the trainer sat for too long then moved an arm, and he even herded cows off her. She's a pasture pet now.


            • #7
              I don't have experience breaking horses so I certainly cannot offer an expert opinion but I thought I would offer my thoughts.

              From your story the horse bolted the third time it was under saddle in at least three years (since based on your information it doesn't sound as though you knew the last time she was ridden prior to you purchasing her). While bolting is certainly dangerous behavior and if occurs regularly with a horse that is in regular work very concerning I wouldn't be quick to label a horse as unstable or dangerous that has a take off incident once or twice after having YEARS off and with an unknown riding history prior to that.

              It sounds like you are taking things quite slow which is great. Perhaps you need to get her a little more quiet and tired on the lunge line before riding her - at least for the first few weeks or months of being ridden. You might also consider having someone - who has experience with horses - lead you or keep your horse on the lunge line while you ride. Or if possible move to a small ring or round pen so she doesn't have the room to truly bolt. I also agree that you will need to work on desensitization of moving your hands, etc. as the other posters suggested.

              As a final note - be careful! While I wouldn't give up on her just yet bolting can be very dangerous - if the behavior continues you might have to reassess her suitability as a riding horse. Best of luck and keep us updated!
              Last edited by amt813; Mar. 22, 2011, 10:09 PM. Reason: grammar


              • #8
                This is a near-total newbie talking, so take this for what it's worth - very possibly nothing But it sounds like these are her very first rides with you and the problem arises only after an initial moment of "oh, okay, she's on my back, that seems okay..." on her part. Maybe you just need to slow it way down again, like you did for the ground manners. Get on, she's great, get off. Repeat, repeat, repeat. No chance to bolt, no chance to misinterpret turns or stops or hand motions, everything as simple and easy as can be.


                • #9
                  First, get the horse on a lead line. You know she has a propensity to bolt, so it's up to you to not set her up to fail. You should be a passenger at first, with the ground person giving all the directions. Once she walks, trots, turns, and stops reliably on the lead, try the lounge. Only then would I start giving the horse directions from the saddle and head out on my own. For some horses is is one ride, but it sounds like this horse isn't ready for that.

                  Second, I won't sit on anything that wont lounge with the stirrups on the saddle. I'd work on that as well

                  Third, 15 minutes isn't a short ride for a baby. Unless the horse was born broke so to speak, they are done when they do something well. For your horse,that might be walking away from the mounting block quietly on the lead line. I might sit on one for 1 minute on a particular day if I get what I want. If you get what you want on the first try, up your expectations the next day, but remember to evaluate the horse you get on that day. If she comes out very hot, revise your goal down. If you meet your goal easily two days in a row, up your expectations and ask for something else before you put her away.

                  Hopefully some of this helps


                  • #10
                    I'd also make sure your saddle isn't such a wide tree that it's pommel is sitting on her withers. I have a hard time picturing a saddle that would fit a Belgian, fitting that small, narrow mare. I can't see the pommel in your pics, but make sure you can easily put your fingers between the pommel and the withers while mounted, and that it doesn't rub at any gait.

                    Saddle pain can definitely cause bolting/behavior issues, and knowing that it is a saddle bought for a Belgian, makes me wonder about the width.


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Crown Royal View Post
                      No stirrups yet until she learns to quit caring about things hanging around her side. They aren't supposed to be crutches anyway!
                      This comment, especially in combination with the comment that she bolted because you waved your hand, indicate to me a horse who could use a step back. More desensitization and more groundwork that gains her trust and teaches her to be less reactive and calmer and braver. If you can pony her? Bonus! I do not pony most of the youngsters I start, however they are not bolting due to my waving hands around or such because they have already been desensitized to such and I've taught them to trust in me and to have confidence. Put the stirrups on and get her used to them! Play around with cones, TARPS, bridges, ROPES - whatever you can get your hands on. Those types of exercises not only desensitize her but they build her confidence both in herself and in your leadership (hey look, you got me through that, I got through that, and we all lived! I can do this!!). Right now, she feels neither confident in herself NOR in you, so she's going to be extra alert and take matters into her own hooves when she feels the need arises, by bolting (classic fear reaction).

                      Back-up a few steps. Get on her, get off, get on, get off. Then start getting on, asking her to do a few turns (don't ask for back-up until she is relaxed, she's too tense to give it to you yet), and getting off WHILE SHE IS STILL RELAXED. If she relaxes noticeably after working on something in particular, get off. Depending on her progress, you can remount and ask some more of her, or you can save it for the next session. End with relaxation. Relaxation is key, because as you end with it increasingly more often, you will eventually start with relaxation, until it permeates the entire session. You should leave the horse in a better state than you found it that day.

                      A horse like this is going to really feel confident in repetition, so repeating patterns or exercises over and over initially will also help.

                      Otherwise, it does sound like you are on the right track and she's a cute mare! Just take a few steps back, is all I can advise.

                      ETA after reading other comments: 13 is NOT old or too "set in her ways" and yes, some (many) horses are unstable, but it IS possible to develop them to the point where they are balanced horses again. Else I would have no work 13 is a little harder when they have established patterns and habits, but know that it is possible (except in perhaps extreme and rare cases) to re-teach them new patterns and habits, albeit likely with a lot more time. Doing so with an abused horse is beyond fulfilling

                      Joiedevie had some excellent suggestions in particular imo.

                      Oh and definitely have someone check saddle fit - that will only exacerbate the issue!
                      Last edited by naturalequus; Mar. 23, 2011, 01:53 PM.
                      ....horses should be trained in such a way that they not only love their riders, but look forward to the time they are with them.
                      ~ Xenophon, 350 B.C.


                      • #12
                        Ok, I didn't read all the posts. I have a gelding in that was like this a year ago. Anything done over his head and you were a goner. He'd do it a the mounting block too if you got on weird, and sometimes just because.

                        Stand ON the mounting block and have someone at her head. Move around, dance, jump, flap your arms, shake water bottles with rocks in them, toss towels, zip/unzip jackets, etc. Anything and everything. Get her desensitized. Then do it again on the other side. Start slowly and softly until she's not trying to run over who ever is holding her, and slowly make it bigger, and grander until she's ignoring YOU. Don't do this while on her. But get her used to stuff moving over/around her head and body.

                        This made a HUGE difference in our gelding. Now his rider can get a drink from her metal water bottle with ice in it, take off her coat, throw the cooler over him, etc without fearing for her life.

                        Good luck!
                        Life is hard. After all, it kills you. - K. Hepburn


                        • #13
                          Ok, I don't agree with the no stirrup statement at all. You shouldn't start off with sheltering the horse at all.

                          I'd lunge her in a saddle with stirrups down until she stops caring about them. If she can't handle stirrups banging her sides then she is going to go ballistic when something else bangs her sides.


                          • #14
                            Some great suggestions above and I have to admit I picked up on the no stirrups thing too. If you are starting a horse, you really need to be able to get out of the saddle and have a light seat - be kinda hard to do that without stirrups.


                            • #15
                              I think a crucial step you left out is long linging/ground driving.

                              It is the transition between longe knowledge and riding knowledge.

                              How is the horse supposed to know that a pull on the reins means stop or that stuff happens along their sides and directs them if they have never been long lined?

                              Horse ought to be long lining at all three gaits, playing with half halts, leg yields, and baby SI and HI, and going over rails and tarps on the ground before anyone ever gets on it, especially if it is a remedial case. And throwing the reins over the back to switch directions is excellent desensitization, btw.

                              Then, when it is time for the rider, use a ground person to help. First they give you a bonafide lead at the walk (holding on to the cheekpiece, not the reins, so that you will be less likely to go for a flip if the horse panics). This ground person needs to be experienced and reliable, not someone who lets go to save themselves the second the horse acts up, leaving you on your own to deal with it.
                              Then they longe you around themselves on the longe line until you start to be the one directing the up and downward transitions. When you hear them say "trot" you squeeze, so the horse starts to put together the aid from the ground with the aid from the saddle. When they say "whoa" you play along and sit and use a little rein. Eventually the horse associates the two and you can start to author the transitions without input from the ground.
                              Then you practice steering and halting going large around the arena but still on the longe with the person ready to help.
                              THEN you go free (possibly with the ground person still following along to reinforce your leg aid with a wave of an arm if need be).

                              You can't just get on and expect it to walk off politely when you cluck and psychically figure out what you want now that you are using a completely different set of tools to communicate with it. For all it knows, when you lift your hand it means go forward. Maybe when your hand grazes its neck it means back up. Horse has no idea.
                              And until it learns that going forward will release your leg pressure, it has no idea why you are squeezing and prodding and escalating your leg movements and doesn't know what to do to 'get out'. The horse needs to be transitioned from what it knows on the ground to the riding aids.

                              So, try to be patient with her, take SEVERAL steps back and really make sure you are dotting your Is and crossing your Ts. There is a lot to do between successfully navigating a longing circle and actually getting on.
                              Last edited by meupatdoes; Mar. 24, 2011, 08:23 AM.
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                              • Original Poster

                                Thanks everyone for the suggestions!

                                I should rephrase the stirrups thing- she lunges with stirrups and has for a while, but when she "gets going" and if she gets worked up over something, those stirrups agitate her to no end, similar to another sensitive horse I have. In the case that I would lose my stirrup, I don't want to have to worry about THAT agitating her while I just try to stay on. I hope that makes since, but I plan to introduce them during riding when she's a bit more settled. Plus, the stirrups/leathers that go on this particular saddle are much too long for me. I'm waiting to use my good saddle (pancake-type saddle) until I feel a bit more secure on her.

                                The saddle does fit her fine. Like I said before, it's treeless. Wraps around her and is as light as can be.

                                I've done the desensitizing thing on the ground- she is FANTASTIC on the ground, better than my other "more trained" horses in fact, because she is just that sensitive to her person. We've done the tarps, saddle pads/blankets, cones, ropes, hula hoops, and other random stuff I have around the farm. She's wonderful about it. I think she's just having a difficult time converting that to when someone is up higher than her. When we brought her home she actually was afraid to walk into stalls, the barn, etc. because the framing above her kind of freaked her out. She's 110% fine now, but I think it'll take some work.

                                and naturalequus- the part about her having to trust me as a leader- I am so proud of her in that aspect on the ground! Before, if she got away from me for one reason or another and the lead rope would drag, she would FLIP OUT and spend 15 minutes galloping around the field and kicking out at it. Now? She either stops in her tracks when it scares her, or comes straight to me and stops. So proud of her.

                                Thanks for the wonderful tips on desensitizing her to things above her head- as much as I'd love to pony her, I'm not sure if the horses I have will be okay with that. My steady-eddie guy is leased out and my TB DOES NOT like her at all! And is a little hot to begin with. I might see if the Belgian will be okay with it- he's 25yrs and 16.3hh- yet is afraid of her. lol

                                I will slow down with her, definitely lunge a little longer, get off and on, etc. She really isn't awful though. I don't feel like a couple short bolts are a reason to give up on her though and deem her dangerous/unstable/whatever. Like I said, she's had three short rides. In 3 years minimum. She's hot to begin with. But I only have to keep a very light feel of her mouth, slight touches to ask her to turn, and she's great about it. She stops when I sit deep and ask her to whoa, with minimum rein use. Better than a lot of horses I've ridden. And for three years? I'm not sure I'd expect this much out of my semi-retired old hunter! lol. And for clarification, the area where I'm riding her isn't large. It's a large paddock at most. Not a lot of bolting room. Unfortunately my help is limited on the ground since she's kept at home. Training is out of the question because of money.


                                • #17
                                  I think the long lining and ground driving are an excellent idea-so is working with her every day you can in short sessions. Quit on a good note and try to build on each small success. I would not try too much from the saddle right now, set her up to succeed and not to fail yet again. Until you are sure she will not bolt or get upset with you up there, don't do it.

                                  This is going to sound really stupid but...can you ride another horse where she can see it?? Just being around horses that are working quietly can help her to understand and not be so scared. If you cannot Pony her, this might help. Alot. They learn by watching other horses just like every other creature does by watching their own. Everything has been a crises for her when somebody gets on, maybe you can reverse that.

                                  One other thing, and I hate to generalize. But Arabs usually do NOT get tired. They just do not get a little tired and give in like most do with a few minutes on the lunge. They are waaaaay too smart for that-if anything, they can get worse. BTDT. Keep her occupied with short sessions and keeping her mind busy and always, always, always quit with something she can do, even if it's just walking in a circle. Don't risk that situation where she is likely to fail. And if it happens anyway, ask her to do something simple correctly before you quit.

                                  Hey, summer is coming. Warmer weather always helps.
                                  When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

                                  The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.