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When do you give up on a horse?

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  • When do you give up on a horse?

    When do you give up on a green hunt horse? A little background... I've been hunting my 8 yr old homebred for almost a year now (he started Opening Hunt last year and we're cubbing now). He loves to hunt. Ears pricked forward or flicking around listening for the hounds at all times, never refuses a fence, never even looked sideways at a hound, has never ever kicked another horse even when he gets run up on, and completely bombproof.

    Problem is, he might love it a little too much. He's taken to exhuberantly bucking either after the first fence of the day or the first time we take off across a field and got me off the first day of cubbing (tried again today and I let him have it). It's also a 3 hour wrestling match as far as brakes go. We've never, ever, passed the Field Master or anything, but most days it is a battle. I ride in a 2-ring elevator and still the brakes are tough. In the ring, on trails, cross country, etc he goes in a snaffle, so the brakes and bucking are only hunting issues.

    It's only his second season and he is truly better than last year, but a few people I respect have made some comments to me about whether or not he's cut out to be a hunt horse. That there's no shame in giving up on him and getting a horse that I don't have to fight. I've never made a hunt horse before, so I don't know how much is too much. Do they eventually come around? Or am I spinning my wheels here? I honestly don't want to send him home to do something else. I'm crazy about him and want to think he is improving, but do the ones with true talent "get it" right away? He's the only baby of my once-in-a-lifetime mare, so am I letting that emotional attachment influence me too much?

    Help me out here, fellow hunters.

  • #2
    I think it's way too soon to give up on him. He actually sounds like a great guy and like you really like him. Besides, think of how devastated he'd be if he had to stop hunting!

    I think it often takes at least three years to make a hunter. If you can work with a few friends to create hunting like situations that aren't quite as exciting as hunting, you can perhaps give him a better idea of your expectations and his job. With our green horses we practice trotting and galloping pull ups, making way, jumping quietly in single file, etc. For now it may be a good idea to move him to the back of the field where life is just a little slower and not so thrilling and then slowly work back up to galloping and jumping.

    I'm sorry people have suggested you give up on him. Perhaps they might have some schooling ideas...


    • #3
      Yeah, I think there's still hope for him too. Try a Mikmar combination bit. I used to hunt my horse in a snaffle and I found it was much more pleasant in a bit I could actually control him in. Now I've got one I hunted in a happy mouth snaffle but she never pulls. I'm actually more afraid of pulling her over if I had anything more in her mouth.

      Move to the back, hilltop for a while. Mine that gets excitable is an eventer. He really doesn't need to prove that he can jump. I start them all in the Hilltop field or even the Junior field even if they can jump the moon. Those fields can be more fun anyway, it's a crap shoot as far as who sees the most game.
      -Painted Wings

      Set youself apart from the crowd, ride a paint horse, you're sure to be spotted


      • #4
        Congrats on recognizing a serious problem and having the guts to realistically ask if your horse is cut out to do this.

        A lot of people never get that far.

        That said, I would not give up because he sounds so good otherwise. If he were a pig in other respects, it would actually be simpler, no!

        You have two problems, bucking and pulling. The first is pretty serious and it has got to be stopped pronto.

        As I do not know where you hunt, and what your hunt is like, it is a little more difficult to address the issue but some things to consider doing:

        Say good bye to first field for a while, and go back to second flight, no jumping or if any, very small stuff, and when you feel that buck coming, (you sound like you know what you are doing), nail him before he gets it out. Whatever it takes - you probably know him well enough to know what would work best - definitely different strokes for different horses- but he has got CLEARLY UNDERSTAND that if he bucks, if he even threatens to buck, he will be punished far more severely than the fun/release the buck provides him.

        You need to establish a clear and consistent correlation: Bucking = big hurt.

        Remove him from the situations where he can get a big buck in and unseat you, put him in a situation where you can control him if he bucks, and then in that more-controlled-and-safer-for-you-environment, deal with the problem THERE where you WILL WIN every time.

        Do not let him even begin to get his head down, (you know what comes next!), no galloping or even trotting off down hills, just do not expose him to any situation where you might lose control; in short, ride very defensivley and attuned for that next buck, and nip it in the bud.

        It may take a while, maybe even a season, and you will probably need to be on guard for a long time, like if he has the summer off and comes up next fall, he will probably try it again, but it should not be as bad hopefully; that is, if you can solve it this season.

        And if you cannot stop it, then there is also the option of employing a pro.

        As to the bit, I do not know the mouth piece you are using, but I have found elevators to be highly overrated. Also, do not know how your horse is built and how he is pulling, which does make a difference.

        I would do some schooling in the ring and cross country, half halts, asking him to speed up and slow down while galloping/trotting, coming to full halts....all things to get him focusing on your cues. And I would try to use a mild bit.

        Then out hunting, try a hard double twisted wire or stronger, a thin knife edge or a single hard twist (ouch). You might need to tie his mouth shut too.

        If that does not work, maybe a double or single hard twist gag, they are very effective.

        From there, there is a western bit I have seen that is simple but elegant and I would consider it if I must. It is a gag + mouth piece + noseband; works on the poll/mouth/nose, so you are coming at him from every angle you can.

        They are on ebay for $30ish, rope noseband with long shanked twisted wire mouthpiece and I think they would easily go on an english bridle. I have seen people with good hands using them on horses that went very well - again, it is like your car, would you drive it with weak brakes? You don't drive with your foot on the brakes all the time, but when you need them, they had better be working!

        I would school him first cross-country with friends and re-create the hunt field, i.e., gallop on a bit and when he begins to pull, growl at him and slow him down, use soft pull, then a pulley rein, jerk him on one side - anything to get him focusing on you and not the horse in front - and hopefully, you will not have to get him to sit on his haunches!

        There was a super good article in Covertside maybe 12-15 mos ago, a gentleman in Aiken described how he rehabbed a horrible puller, but I do not recall the method.

        Am very interested in hearing other opinions on this matter as it is a common problem.
        Last edited by Tantivy1; Sep. 17, 2008, 10:08 PM.


        • #5
          I give up on a horse as a hunter when they:
          1. Rear. Not just little lavades, but honest-to-goodness i dont like you, i might flip over rears, because life is too short to ride horses that rear like that (imo)
          2. Horses who panic so much that they loose their sense of self preservation, they are then just hurtling 1,000 pounds of animal, and thats dangerous to everyone.

          good luck to you, your boy sounds spunky!
          It's psychosomatic. You need a lobotomy. I'll get a saw.


          • #6
            I wouldn't give up on him just yet. It sounds like he has a lot of good points and that if you could fix the two problems he'd be great.

            I agree that you should stop jumping him in the field. I would hill top him until he thinks hunting is ho-hum. I have a horse that I just started in the hunt field and I intend to hilltop him all season. He has the tendency to get hot and I'm trying to keep him in situations where he's not over excited.

            Do you know any professionals who might hunt him for you? Sometimes it helps to have someone bigger and stronger than you ride your horse on a few hunts.

            As for bits . . . I think it's somewhat a question of trial and error to see what works for a particular horse. One thing no one has mentioned yet is a kineton noseband. They are designed to help with horses that pull and are used in eventing. You might try looking into that.

            Here's a link that describes the Kineton.

            Good luck!
            Last edited by Bogie; Sep. 17, 2008, 10:38 PM. Reason: added link
            Equine Ink - My soapbox for equestrian writings & reviews.
            EquestrianHow2 - Operating instructions for your horse.


            • #7
              I'll give up on one after 3-6 hunts if they are truly stressed by it, e.g. coming off the trailer in a lather (knowing where they are going) or rearing. And yes, most of mine took to it first time like a duck to water.

              But yours...shoot I'd hunt that. If it were mine- yes I'd apply some hydraulic brakes. Whatever it takes. Fighting with a horse all day long is no fun. I did hunt a tb that jigged or cantered in place in the field- but you could hold the reins on that plain snaffle with a couple of fingers, because he just didn't pull and was easily rateable at all speeds.

              As for the playfulness- as Tantivy said, that has to be stopped. Now. You didn't say what he is getting in the way of grain, but maybe part of that exuberance is Too Much Energy. If the horse were mine I would not feed grain on hunting mornings- this is the practice I followed with the aforementioned tb and it enhanced his brainpower and reduced the silliness significantly. Some horses are just very reactive to grain. Heck, I don't even feed grain any more unless the horse really needs it to maintain weight. And, as has been suggested, see if you can bore him to tears in the hilltopper field.


              • #8
                Beverly's sage words regarding cutting out the grain is excellent advice and sadly, highly underated.

                As she mentioned, I would seriously consider cutting out any and all grain and maybe keep him turned out the night before hunting too, if at all possible. You might have to get up earlier to clean him, but it is worth a try in my book if it keeps him more relaxed.


                • #9
                  yeah like they said!!

                  Absolutely he's a keeper! Just gotta figure out a way to compromise and work with/diagnose those behaviors.

                  I want to add this: is there any possibility he's "overfit"? And the "exuberance" your seeing is him blowing off first run excitement? Maybe hack him out some the night before? Back off on the fitness preparation? Are you running/gunning him into the fences where he bucks and he might do better if he's asked to trot those early fences? Get to the meet earlier and hack him around to blow off the excitement. I've seen people actually lunging their horses before hunting which always seemed crazy to me but if it works who cares! I had one do this first run buck thing for his younger years and it disappeared after hunting became just another day at the office!

                  My experience is that sometimes you have to bit up or change bits often to keep their necks a little tired. Not letting them develope the muscles to handle it. Try changing bits every month and only use it out hunting just to keep him listening and a bit confused! A double bridle gives you 2 kinds of effect on him too, try that. Use one, then the other bit, then BOTH!!

                  I had one start bucking whenever I took hold as we moved off cantering or on a run or after a fence. It was worse when I got to a more severe bit. I always thought it was his way of saying..."Damn it mom, get OFF my mouth! I wanna go-go-go"!!! He was pissed at my trying to hold him. If I let him go some; he wouldn't buck. I was defensively grabbing too strong. Had to compromise some. I found a gag a good compromise bit and after awhile had to go to a flash attachment when he'd evade or try to. Over the years with this bad puller; it was a big compromise. It was worth it as he was a star otherwise. But my goodness; what a workout! I'd joke that I always came in hunting with my knuckles dragging on the ground!!


                  • #10
                    Great advice from the other posters. The only thing I would add is make sure you are not doing the dreaded knee pinch, leg clamp in anticipation of the bucking; this can inspire bucking in a more sensitive horse. I also rode a horse that would buck if I got him to a crazy distance, he hated the long spots (smart boy) and I think he was scared and out of balance on the landing. Also, double check how your saddle is fitting. I find that if I have a horse in hard work, the saddle needs a reflock every 6 months. My father in-laws draft cross had a woohoo buck in him that has faded with age. The other horses that came from Canada at the same time also had a bit of a buck the first season and it lessoned with each season. Good luck, sounds like a nice horse!!


                    • #11
                      Another thing, I have a young horse that if we get on a run early kicks out. If we are on a hunt where I know there will be some trotting early (like a hack to the covert), I'll hunt him in first field. Otherwise I'll start him in second or third field and after he's got a mile or two under his belt I'll ask permission to move up to second field. Also there's no shame in moving back to second field from first.
                      -Painted Wings

                      Set youself apart from the crowd, ride a paint horse, you're sure to be spotted


                      • #12
                        I wouldn't get rid of him. I might drop back to second flight and let him settle in. If I read everything correctly, its sound like you started him off in first flight last year. It may have been too much.

                        I would ask how much you warm-up before the hunt starts. With my older guy, when he started out hunting we did an extensive warm-up with a lot of bending, changing directions, etc. It was all about getting his focus on me.


                        • Original Poster

                          Thank you!

                          Wow, there are so many great replies on this thread. You have all made me feel so much better that there is hope. Thank you!!

                          After he got me off the first day (5 minutes into the season no less, SO mortifying and probably some sort of record), he did not run off even though the other horses were at the top of a hill. Boy was I , but I didn't punish him as I should have because I didn't want to teach him that when I fell off he should run away because he was in big trouble. In hindsight, this probably created another type of monster. I really let him have it yesterday when he started bucking as we galloped across the first meadow, and he was better after that.

                          I've been thinking about dropping back to second flight for awhile, so maybe it's time for that. I didn't want to go back to second because there is an annoyingly high number of people with kickers in our second flight and I'd rather avoid them. They're also pretty bad about not putting red ribbons on their tails. I guess I'll just have to suck it up and be incredibly careful.

                          I'm definitely going to try a few of the bits suggested. The double twisted wire stuck out to me because that's what I rode his mom in. Maybe he has her mouth Granted, I only ever rode her in the show ring, but it's worth a try. I do have very soft hands.

                          ss3777 - I actually took my saddle in yesterday to get reflocked and have a few repairs. Every six months, wow! Maybe that is part of the problem.

                          wateryglen - Overfit? Haha, definitely. Especially last year. We eventually got to the point where he was ridden hard the day before. He lives an hour away from me and is kept very fit by the huntsman and first whip. I'll have to remind them to please start doing that again when they can. I'm definitely not gunning him to the fences. He was pretty bad about charging them last year, so I worked on that all summer. I'm trying my best to get him to trot the fence. He usually trots up fairly nicely, puts in one canter stride, jumps, and then explodes with a "Woo hoo! That was fun!" buck, especially when the horse ahead of him has galloped off. I was ready for him yesterday and he barely got his head down. And yeah, I do hold on to him when we start a run across a field. Last year I gave him his head, and it became a dead run within seconds. I don't *think* he's trying to get away from the bit, especially since he only does it in the first field we come to or over the first fence. I'll have to try rewarding him with a looser rein when he stays quiet.

                          Beverly - as always, great advice! I know last year he was down to just one handful of grain a day to mix with his Strongid. That and he's a butt at feedtime, so they always give him a little something. I'll have to ask them to make sure they are cutting his grain again. He kept his weight all season and we have a lot of hills, so he must not need much. He also gets turnout every night, but apparently spends most of the time standing at the gate.

                          Bogie - I had completely forgotten that I saw something about the Kineton last summer on the eventing board. I am definitely going to look into it again!

                          Thanks again everyone. You have really made me feel so relieved. I'll keep checking if anyone has more ideas. I'll also have to try and hunt down that Covertside article.


                          • #14
                            the horse pictured in my profile

                            my first year
                            double bridle. stout ride the day before, no grain the morning of the hunt.
                            by year 3
                            jointed phelham and just tack up and go

                            he was always strong the first 20 minutes but only once a runaway [ground bees]
                            more hay, less grain


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by ab06 View Post
                              He usually trots up fairly nicely, puts in one canter stride, jumps, and then explodes with a "Woo hoo! That was fun!" buck, especially when the horse ahead of him has galloped off. I was ready for him yesterday and he barely got his head down.

                              One last comment - if possible, ride with a friend on a quiet horse in front of you and make sure they trot their fence, and most importantly, move off slowly after jumping it. Maintaining a workmanlike trot out and away from the panel would be ideal.

                              And if you are at the very rear of the field, you could even pull up with your friend after jumping and pause a moment (but of course you do not want to loose the second flight so it must be done judiciously; perhaps more easily done while out schooling with friends).


                              • #16
                                I wouldn't give up on him yet, especially since he seems such a good horse and the "problems" are only demonstrated during the hunt.

                                The reason why you are not experiencing these problems in the ring is because there are no other horses present. In a group your guy wants to go go go. If it would be me, I'd let him go. Just don't pass the Master. Once your horse catches up with the horses in front of him, he will slow down as he doesn't want to be alone.

                                I would also just feed him grass/hay 2 day's before a hunt and exercise him the night before a hunt. He's just too excited, and who can blame him? He's not a bad horse at all.

                                Also try and get a group together and go on some trailrides and mimick the hunt.


                                • #17
                                  running martingale

                                  I like a running martingale on the exuberant young horse type. You can snatch them once in the mouth and then let go. But don't give up, good luck.


                                  • #18
                                    Do you hunt him 1x a week or more? I found with my horse if I got him out 2x a week he was much better. Also no grain really helped. Hay cubes were my friend. :-)

                                    It is season #3 and I think it will be good this year, so I agree with whomever said 3 seasons! My other horse was horrible til about halfway through his FIRST HUNT and then he was a prince and still is. So it really depends on the horse. Horse #2 is much more opinionated and exuberant.

                                    I also think practicing some of the stuff on "off" hunting days will help. Like I have my friends canter behind me then pass me so I can practice making my horse behave when that happens.

                                    Hope it works out, he sounds nice and fun.

                                    Oh I also ride #2 in an elevator, but I don't think it helps with pulling, I think it helps me with him wanting to put his head down and plow around on his forehand! Maybe they are overrated for pulling/fast, but it seems to do the trick for what I need.

                                    Cheryl & Uzi (not-so-easy-Uzi) and Opus (the red prince)
                                    Cheryl Microutsicos, in the heart of Virginia


                                    • #19
                                      While we are on the subject of bad behavior... what about the new to hunting horse that is kicking? Whether it is while moving out or as a stressed stamping kind of kick. Any suggestions? I know it is bad, bad, bad but it seems to be pretty common in thefield. Does that lend itself to more doing it? We often do not even have a second field so it is hard to remove yourself or back off enough.


                                      • #20

                                        I've been quite surprised to learn how many of the horses we see in our and neighbouring hunts' fields are sedated, and alll this time I thought they just had perfect manners!

                                        Anyway, what about talking to your vet about Ace (the flavour of the week here), or Rescue Remedy, etc.

                                        Never used it myself, so I can't give any insights, I'm afraid.

                                        Also - definitely consider cutting back his grain, or even no grain at all for 4-5 days before the meet - you've got nothing to lose by experimenting with that one.

                                        And can you hack to the meet? Hack earlier in the day, long before the hunt starts?

                                        As for the poster with the kicker, if you can, get after it for bad manners as quickly as possible. Try and be aware of the rest of the field, and steer clear of potentially sticky situations, cramped quarters, etc - often easier said than done, though, in the heat of the moment! And tack a red ribbon somewhere near the top of its tail, which at least gives fair warning to others that it's known to kick.