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"fixing" the unconfident mare

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  • "fixing" the unconfident mare

    I have a mare that is a lovely ride, very well trained. I have owned her since she was a long yearling.

    My problem is that she has all the trademark horrid habits of an unconfident horse. The minute we put a less gung ho rider on her, she starts stopping (this horse can jump 3'6" in her sleep, but will stop at a cross bar if she senses weakness in rider, or rider sits there making no decision) and/or chipping.

    She jigs to "standy spots" - our barn has developed an entire language for this horse! She has standy spots, where we tend to stop and wait for our class, or watch our fellows at shows, or where you mount/dismount at home, or where you tend to stop to talk to the trainer... she is ridiculous about it. It has continued to escalate over last four years until this last show, I asked her to stand 8 feet from our standy spot while a tractor came in. It was raining and space under cover was at a premium, and I couldn't have her bouncing around. Note that I had merely taken her for a walk, and stopped to watch our barns last rounds of the show, she had been in stall, and not been asked to do anything that AM.

    Facing her 'standy spot' she jigged in place, tried to mow me over, I flipped her lead over her nose for more control (no stud chain) and she literally stood there and trembled. When she pushed past me, I flipped her around and facing away she stopped acting like a moron. I thought I'd use the moment as a training, so I didn't stay facing the 'safe' direction, I turned her back around facing her standy spot (note she doesn't seem to care about the horses there, her best bud was across the arena in a different direction). After about two more minutes or wrestling with her, she reared straight up and scared some nearby pony kids, so I had to give it up and get out of there.

    She is just gone beyond reasonable - to point I want to breed her or sell her and she is really a great horse, super smooth, super trained, when someone confident is riding her, she wins in all 3 arenas. She's sound, healthy, athletic - but I hate her right now.

    She gets upset at being left in line up, she gets jiggy at home in line up, she gets noise sensitive at odd times, regumate doesn't seem to help, but maybe we aren't dosing her enough. But it doesn't seem to have to do with the horses, it is her being lazy or sour. She is lightly worked, is 11 now, it isn't soundness, it isn't overwork, it isn't her saddle, it isn't me, its with all riders, my trainer who is 62 and has ridden every problem in the sun is at a loss, I have had many many green horses OTTB's, wb whatever, I have never had such a pig of a mare. She is pleasant and lovely to handle on ground except for at show near a standy spot. She is great to ride, unless you are in a line up, she knows when in flat, when we switch direction we are almost done and starts getting strong, she knows in a lesson when we are almost done and starts power walking to nearest standy spot.

    After going through every possible scenario, vet, health, turn out, regumate, yada yada - I can only think she is either so lazy she is miserable and can't wait to stop working, or she is so herd bound/unconfident that she can't relax mentally until she is in a "safe" spot.

    She comes right to us in turn out, doesn't hesitate to go into the arena, loves to be groomed, doesn't act like she doesn't like work.... until you are almost done, then she turns into a monster.

    Help me, I hate my horse

  • #2
    Eliminate "standy spots." that is just enabling her. Get on in a different place every day. Buy a small plastic mounting block you can move if you have to. Get off in different spots. Stop watching others from the same spots.

    Then make her stand as long as she can, but walk her off before she thinks it is her idea. Go stand somewhere else. Walk off again before she does. She will learn to stand for longer periods. Of she does get jiggy, put her to work for a few minutes. Not until she is a hot sweaty mess, just until you have her attention again. Then go stand again. She'll learn that jigging just gets more work.

    And give her time. You won't fix it in a day or week. Start by asking for small periods of cooperation and reward her when you get it. Build up to longer periods.

    She may also need more work. Some horses do better when worked more. A light program might not be enough.

    And if that doesn't work, honestly, there's nothing wrong with admitting she isn't the horse for you. Sell her and find a horse you will enjoy, and find her that confident rider who won't mind working through this. Life is too short for you both to be frustrated all the time. You should both be having fun.
    She Gets Lost


    • #3
      How many people ride her? Almost sounds like she's in a lesson program from what you write, like "when WE put a less experienced rider on her". Who is we and who is the less experienced rider?

      Sounds like more of a smart mare taking advantage of a weaker rider problem then a chicken crap horse. Jigging, IME, is not lack of confidence, more lack of manners or getting away with whatever they can or could even be nerves or discomfort. I think they can sense when the rider is frustrated or even a little scared by the jigging, so they win the round. Had a couple of them, both mares, it trained out but was really annoying until it did.

      The standby spot stunt is just because she's inadvertently been trained she doesn't have to do anything when she's there...she thinks it's a reward, that can grow into them picking their own standy spots if not corrected early and often. They can get quite pissy if you try to get them to move too. That's even more annoying to school out then the jigging since there's no forward.

      Sometimes when you own one a long time, you lose your perspective. If she does it with less experienced riders, it will start to bleed into what happens under better riders and the fix is no weaker riders. And sometimes horses we once matched well no longer suit our skill set.

      Probably do better with one experienced, very patient rider in a consistent program. No shame in admitting your frustration with her and moving on. She'd annoy the heck out of me.

      PS...please don't breed her. She might be a little impatient by nature and she's going to imprint and raise that baby to weaning even if it's not a genetic temperment trait. The horse world is full of mediocre horses created by those who forget its breed the best to the best you can afford, not breed her because they can't stand to ride her or she isn't any good at her job. Realize that's blunt but the resulting offspring populate those low end auctions, often not with the intention of the breeder or early owners but it's where they eventually end up.. Not fair to make more.

      Somebody will want her if she's priced right with disclosure. Somebody with a lot of patience that knows how to outsmart her and beat her at her own games.
      Last edited by findeight; Nov. 5, 2016, 04:04 PM.
      When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

      The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


      • #4
        And PLEASE don't breed her!!
        Breeders of Painted Thoroughbreds and Uniquely Painted Irish Sport Horses in Northeast Oklahoma


        • #5
          I agree with the please DON'T breed her! Foals get the majority of their attitude/how to react to humans from their mother.

          I just started doing some groundwork (i.e. "Natural horsemanship") with my jumper gelding. Something set him off and fried his brain when we were at Harrisburg that he spun me off when I was trying to mount. I subscribed to the TRT method online and learned the first basic pattern leading him on the ground by the time we had to do go to the Verizon Center in DC the next week. I think doing the pattern helped focus his attention enough that I managed to get on without having him completely flip out. Now, a couple weeks later, he's back to "normal" about mounting.

          I think part of your mare's problem, as others have noted, is that she has learned what she can get away with. Instead of being "insecure," I think she's taking the lead.

          Take a look at some of these programs. You don't have to fully throw yourself into Parelli magic-carrot stick mode, but some groundwork might help establish you as her "safety" and her leader. I'm not even doing round pen stuff, just halter and lead.

          Good luck,
          Ride on!


          • Original Poster

            Thank you all for your replies.

            she's not in a program, I just don't have time or enjoy showing myself anymore, and have had others at barn ride her for certain seasons. she did great with first two (one of which was a 12 year old kid she packed - but he was very confident - currently on list in MacClay to return tomorrow). then riders moved on in life, and I thought she was trained enough for a slightly lessor rider to show her...

            I enjoy watching a talented horse show and do well, but at this point bad habits are coming home too. It is just frustrating to have had so many kind, willing horses, to have one I raised from a baby act like a spoilt child and be so rude.

            Its true... there are too many willing, happy horses out there. If she wasn't so darned nice 95% of the ride. Just came home from barn where she was an angel, jumped beautifully for me... except I did have to deal with jigging at end and threatening to bounce around near where trainer always is and we often stop... sigh.

            Again, thank you!


            • #7
              I don't have any experience with the behavior your mare is demonstrating. I do however, have experience with a very sensitive, intelligent, talented and extremely difficult (and wonderful) mare. Here are some of the things she's taught me and hopefully, they'll help you too.

              My mare must have complete trust in her handlers. That means consistency with her riders, grooms and program. Only my trainer and I ride her and only one groom handles her. You've mentioned different riders on your mare. Could the switch from one rider to another be eroding her confidence? I also don't think my mare will ever be right for a rider who is not advanced.

              Work with your vet to make sure the Regumate dose is correct. Or try Medroxy, which works great for my mare.

              With my mare, seemingly bad behavior has always been linked to physical discomfort even if the cause is difficult to diagnose. Could your mare be jigging due to back pain? Unless you've had a bone scan, you can't be completely sure. Just a thought. Remember that mares are wired with a strong sense of self preservation and rarely are they stoic like geldings.

              I clicker trained my mare to help her overcome her claustrophobia about narrow spaces in the barn. It helped her so much, I've continued working with her. It's fun and we both love it. I've also used the clicker while riding to bookmark the exact actions that I want to reward. I highly recommend clicker training as a great tool to help motivate a challenging horse.

              Good luck with your mare or your decision to part ways.


              • #8
                Originally posted by Halt Near X View Post
                And give her time. You won't fix it in a day or week. Start by asking for small periods of cooperation and reward her when you get it. Build up to longer periods.
                This is very important. I have a horse that tends to have similar tendencies when I don't stay on top of it- he is very anxious. In the example where you asked her to stand somewhere new, I probably would have let her face away (in the "safe" direction) and left it at that, if she was standing. I wouldn't push her to face in the more difficult direction until she was comfortable standing in a new spot (no shaking, etc). These are habits that can be improved, but you need to be willing to take baby steps.

                I mostly event so we don't need to stand in a lineup, but my anxious horse could NOT handle standing under saddle when I got him- waiting his turn to jump in a group lesson, during an xc school, waiting to go into the start box, etc. I did a lot of deliberate practicing of standing, and yes, it took a long time and he ran the gamut of anxious behaviors- spinning, barging, scooting sideways towards the barn, jigging in place, etc. Any time he stood still, he got praise, and got to move off and go do something more fun. I gradually increased the time I asked him to stand, and then slowly got more firm about WHERE he stood- first picking a region of the arena/field, then a specific spot, then a specific direction to face. If I had demanded all of that from the beginning- stand in this spot, facing this direction- he would have been overwhelmed and escalated. It took close to a year to fix the issue by slowly asking for more, but he now stands reliably 95% of the time.

                He also has similar issues in terms of picking spots where he thinks he is done- we don't often stop in lessons, so his tend to be near the exits of the arenas, the edge of the XC field, etc. I often have to school him specifically in these areas to keep him reminded that work happens there, and I stay on top of his nappiness by always taking a different route back to the barn, exiting the arenas in different spots, always circling before leaving, etc. It will ALWAYS be an issue for him, and although I've gotten used to doing what I need to do to keep it under control, sometimes it gets annoying!

                Anxious horses can be incredibly frustrating, and unfortunately, they tend to feed off of our frustration. There is absolutely no shame in admitting that this horse is not fun for you, and finding someone for her that is a better match. I'm sure there are confident, patient riders out there who would enjoy the challenge she presents, and more genial horses that would allow you to have fun without dealing with the attitude. There are too many horses out there that you will enjoy to waste your time with one that you don't!


                • #9
                  OP, I have a young mare who reminds me of yours. I'm educating this one. But it takes a great deal of careful interpretation of her motives, lots of time and, frankly, some horsemanship skill to fix. (And hey, if your mare is a pretty mover and you want to dump her, I think I could figure her out and make her more secure.... which would mean happier and useful for more people.)

                  I'm not sure I can give you step-by-step instructions. Perhaps the underlying one is that unconfident mares are suffering from the fact that "It's lonely at the top." And she's right: There's nothing worse than being asked to take a risk by idiots. So she'll be *happy* to be comply with the requests of a handler or rider who has some credibility with her. But for her, moreso than for less discerning horses, it's a combination of frustrating and scary to have someone she doesn't trust calling the shots.

                  So the behavior you see-- the standy spot thing-- has to do with her making an association that's not useful for you. She knows she's safe when she's in place X. The other truth, here, is that you are wallpaper to her when the chips are down. You can't give her the security outside of the standy spot, so she'll fight you to get back there.

                  You want her to think, instead, "I'm always safe so long as I stay right under my handler's/rider's direction." And you want to teach her, "When in doubt, don't run and don't get pissed at someone who doesn't let you run.... stop and ask for directions."

                  ETA: The problem with thinking that you can get the job done by just.not."enabling".her by letting her chill in the standy spot is that you have only addressed half of the mare's problem. And it wasn't even the right half, lol!

                  Yeah, you don't let her misbehave with her body, ramping up her fight until she's rearing because you didn't give in fast enough. But that also did *nothing* to address-, or even acknowledge what she thinks is the first item on the agenda: her anxiety. And I'm here to tell you, you must speak to a mare about the topics of concern to her, in the order of their importance to her.

                  What you guys lack is a vocabulary and history together of you helping her de-escalate in her anxiety. She doesn't have practice with things, like "When you are jiggy, I will control how low your head is, your feet, your physical proximity to me until we are doing things on my terms." It sounds quite dictatorial at first, but really, what you are asking the mare to do is to put her body in a position of relaxation so that her mind as a hope in hell of catching up with what is really going on: She's standing still or walking slowly around you with her head level and relaxed.

                  There are, of course, more advanced versions of this, but I think it gives you an indication of where to start and what the purpose of doing this- or that with your mare's body/behavior has to do with the mental state in her that you are trying to produce.

                  Given the fact that you are trying to do this with a flight animal, an intact female version of that (because females who have to keep their babies alive by being good judges of character have been made extremely good at that), and one who has been looking out for herself for 10 years (so she thinks), you do have an uphill battle.

                  And I get it, including your frustration. I mean, good Lord, do I really have to learn to build a combustion engine? I just wanna drive!

                  Should you be up for the challenge of rehabbing your mare, I absolutely recommend groundwork. But it has to be of a very horse-centered, educated variety. You don't need the NH world's equipment or exercises. IME, you do need their high standard for a horse who is focused on her handler and mentally really pliable. Also, IME, you need professional help interpreting what this approach to horsemanship can do for your particular horse. It's not something you can learn from DVDs or whatever, unless you are already a superb horseman.

                  Maybe you or your experienced pro do that the depth of knowledge it takes to do your own version of this re-education with the above suggestion for reinterpreting her motives, and your training goal. If there's one local to you, maybe you guys could have a good, non-gimmicky NH guy local to you take your mare for 30 days. You must go watch until you learn to read your mare the way the NH guy does. If he makes her more focused-- anywhere anytime-- then he's got some horsemanship that this mare should make you want. I'll bet you could away with a big set of training tools that would help you.

                  Sorry you are having this problem, but it's a great topic. My own mare has really forced me to up my game. I'll be interested to hear what others have to say.
                  The armchair saddler
                  Politically Pro-Cat


                  • Original Poster

                    All of your posts have been super helpful. Even that other horses have this behavior is at least comforting, although why I don't know!

                    My trainer and I have never ever encountered the things she does, and she seems so well trained and has had such a 'good' life compared to show horses shuttled weekend to weekend and never turned out... but that's realative to the horses feelings on it!

                    We are going to give her one more year/season with only my trainer and myself riding her. The one thing I have done differently with this horse than any other is that I always did everything myself, with a trainer being the only other involved. My work/fitness level and my trainer's advancing age has made me make decisions that maybe aren't working for my horse, like putting a handful of riders on her to show for me. It seems like 'eveyone' does that without an issue, but I feel like it may have been an issue with this one.

                    All the tools and options suggested are definitely in our conversation in how to proceed this next year in hopes of salvaging what is one of the nicest horses either my trainer or I have ever sat on. My vet came out last week and prescribed some herbs, did acupuncture and some ulcer meds, but pronounced her super sound and fit, and pain free...

                    Just being able to field our problems on this forum are a version of therapy I very much needed.

                    Horses are so hard sometimes!


                    • #11
                      Good for you, OP!

                      I'm so glad you guys are willing to listen to her and to invest in your mare. Don't worry about what other horses let people do, or seem to you. You ride the horse you have.
                      The armchair saddler
                      Politically Pro-Cat


                      • #12
                        Let her go where she's wanting to go, and then put her to work. Make sure first your lateral flexion is good, and disengage her in small circles, have her bending through the body. At some point she will decide that the 'standy spot' is no fun at all, when she feels like she'd maybe rather try another spot, give her the opportunity to walk off on a loose rein as far as she will go. When she returns on her own, repeat.

                        Some horses this will only take 5 trips back to the same spot, others it might take 100. Depends on the horse, but it absolutely works and will get rid of her desire to want to be somewhere other than where she already is.

                        With a horse like this I always like to end my ride as far from what they perceived as the sweet spot as I can.


                        • #13
                          Maybe clicker training might work for this horse; clicker training to get her to stand whereever she is rather than in a specific spot??


                          • #14
                            Your trainers advancing age preventing active involvement from the saddle and admitted lack of experience dealing with this particular misbehavior us unfortunate. Must good trainers don't mind if clients seek help elsewhere for specific problems.

                            Is there somebody else that can temporarily help you with this?

                            Its not that rare as previous responses here have indicated. I would investigate that rather then giving her another year to straighten out under current conditions. It could just make it worse and more ingrained. You need somebody who understands what the horse is thinking and how to out think from the saddle plus pass that info to you. Kind of leaning to the NH theories without games or gimmicks. Many discipline oriented trainers have worked on understanding how to make the horse want to obey instead of trying to force it so there should be somebody in your discipline nearby who can help you. However this misbehavior has nothing to do with what saddle is on her so don't be afraid to "cross over" to solve this problem.

                            Ive dealt with this, not rocket science but its sure not a fun problem to fix and, frankly, sucks when all your riding time is dealing with it. It's not a quick fix either. Best guess is 60 days under a rider who has dealt with it before and you working with that rider to learn to not let her even think about getting started. If you and current trainer can't get this started immediately? Seek help from somebody else equipped with the knowledge to deal with it.
                            When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

                            The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


                            • #15
                              If your horse performs well for good riders and not for lesser riders...only ask good riders to ride her! That's an easy one.

                              As for the lineup, I trained a horse that was notorious for not being good in the lineup--he got very jiggy and nervous there. My rider would simply line up on an end, and we developed a subtle signal that I could give her when the judge had sent results over the radio whereupon she would move the horse back out of the line to walk quietly. The horse with this routine eventually grew out of the habit of jigging during the lineup.

                              I think jigging in general has something to do with feeling caught and being claustrophobic...allowing for a reasonable amount of movement without forcing the issue of the standstill will very often relieve the stress level enough that the horse will calm down and listen to reason.

                              That being said, some very good (even top level) horses will not stand still...and the grooms who care for them simply determine what the best routine for that horse is, and stick to that. Sounds like you may have inadvertently allowed this horse to train the people around happens with all sorts of animals that we think 'we are in charge of.' Unless there is a huge reason for this horse to have to stand in one spot (that you want to socialize at ringside or watch your stable mates would not be reason enough IMO), I would certainly suggest taking her to graze instead!
                              Inner Bay Equestrian