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New horse - settling in and knocked confidence

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  • New horse - settling in and knocked confidence

    Please excuse the long and rambling post, but I'm feeling a bit topsy-turvy with my new horse and would be grateful for any insights or reassurances.

    After many years of leases, I bought my first horse just over two months ago. He is a 10yo 16.2 ISHxHolsteiner, a been-there done-that type (dressage, show jumping, eventing some years ago). I bought him on sales livery, and prior to that he'd been with his last owner for just one year -- she was selling allegedly because she wanted more of a fancy dressage horse. So he is new to me and new to this barn as well, after a few bounces around over the past year.

    So far, plenty of positives: He's had plenty of training, can use himself beautifully when he wants to, is very smart and a quick learner, is pretty level-headed, and is very affectionate.

    On the other hand, some challenges: He's typically a quiet ride to the point of laziness, is a little bit dead to the aids when he doesn't want to work forward, he is opinionated, can be pushy on the ground, and can be a little mouthy when bored, nervous, or frustrated.

    I know we are still in the getting-acquainted stage of things, and I'm trying to remember that it takes 6-12 months before a new horse and rider typically become a good team and having faith that we'll get there eventually. Still, the following things are weighing on my mind:

    1) As mentioned, he can be a little pushy on the ground -- sometimes he's great, sometimes less so, but I'd like it to be consistent. I try to do regular groundwork with him (suggestions welcome!) but he can get bored and frustrated quickly, and get a bit fussy and nippy. Any suggestions for fostering respectful behavior and using in-hand work to help build our relationship and roles?

    2) Treats or no treats? He quickly learned that he only gets treats when his head is forward (not when he frisks) but he can get nippy in their absence when he expects them (e.g. when being blanketed after riding and grooming, which I think is a carry-over from prior riders). I've had different advice as far as just no treats ever vs. feed treats and teach good manners. Thoughts?

    3) He continues to be pretty sluggish in our outdoor arena in particular. Lots of transitions and mixing things up seem to help get him going a bit, but it can feel a lot like being on a pony club horse. Struggling to get him in front of the leg over jumps especially has led to a lot of chipping in and approaches without enough impulsion, followed by massive leaps to clear a fence. I think this is partly his laziness, but I think the busy-ness of our yard location is another factor. It's adjacent to a busy road with lots of cars and big trucks, and there are some small warehouses semi-visible through hedges bordering our outdoor arena with a lot of activity. I think this makes it hard for him to focus, and rather than get "up" he just shuts down a little bit when he's nervous. Will this just take time for him to get accustomed to? Anything I can do to address any of these issues?

    4) I've taken him out on hacks 3-4 times and he's been very good. These have been short (30-60 mins) and in company. Today we went out with three other horses, and at the canter at points he got pretty strong and pissy about being behind other horses. This was a long hack (nearly three hours) and I think he got a bit overstimulated and unsettled, so when we went for a canter toward the end, he bolted -- couldn't get him to stop and finally got dumped off. He ran off, ended up crossing a big road and jumping a gate into a field near the barn before someone I was out with went and caught him. Fortunately all fine, but that really knocked my confidence a bit as far as hacking goes. He'd had three days off prior, which I didn't think would've been an issue given that he's generally so lazy. I admit we might've overdone it a little bit and I should've been more in tune to him being too unsettled for another canter, but would appreciate any thoughts on what went wrong and how to prevent this in the future (especially as I'd really love to try him hunting eventually ...).

    My hope would be for us to have a trusting and respectful relationship (hesitate to use the word "bond" but yeah, that would be nice!), for him to be respectful on the ground and more forward in the school, and to be safe out hacking. I would be so appreciative of any thoughts on how to get us there. Thanks!

  • #2
    Find a good coach and take a lot of lessons. Maybe have coach ride him to tune him up.

    You are describing a horse with a mind of his own that doesn't think he needs to listen to you. He will be sluggish when it suits him and bronc when it suits him. You don't quite have the skills to handle either productively yet.
    ​​​​​​
    I would continue to hack out but I would not canter on trails until you have a reliable emergency stop and I would ride out with one person maximum not a group. If he is fresher on trails I would warm up on trails and then go into the arena.

    I don't know how well you ride or how serious the problem is. I would suggest getting him evaluated by a good coach you can say whether or not you are a good match ch.

    Comment


    • #3
      It sounds like he will benefit a lot from structure. I'd ditch the treats for the foreseeable future and be very consistent with your expectations. He needs to respect your bubble when leading, stop when you stop, and quietly stand outside of your bubble without pushing/crowding/nipping.

      Have you had a saddle fitter out to look at your saddle? A horse becoming suddenly slushing and behind the aids could mean discomfort.

      Comment


      • #4
        Ditch the treats unless you are doing a structured clicker training program correctly.

        Comment


        • #5
          No treats from the hand. Randomly in the dinner bucket if you must.

          I think you need to listen to Yourself. You know the horse is new to you, new to the barn, new to the environment and has been bounced around for quite some time. Be patient.

          If you're not proficient with groundwork, whatever that means to you, leave it alone. It's just like riding... if you're giving confusing signals, no one benefits. If you want to learn, take some lessons with someone who specializes and who has a good track record with producing happy horses who enjoy the exercises.

          If you're not already, get into a routine of regular lessons and keep them basic. Reduce your expectations and be on the horse's side. Help him find out work in the arena can be enjoyable again... short sessions, lots of verbal Good Boy affirmations, plenty of transitions and changes of directions. Make it interesting and positive and help him become interested in his work, maybe for the first time in a long time.

          He sounds to me like a really good guy who's been Ridden without being considered as part of the partnership beyond the vehicle status. Make sure you really let him know you appreciate him, with kindness, focus, positive action and your Presence.

          Next time you want to go out hacking, don't do it after a days-long break, and ask friends along who don't mind riding quietly and for a short while.

          Give him time.
          It sounds like you know this.
          Do it.
          Patience pays.

          Comment


          • #6
            Sluggish can be from a horse that is frustrated/shutting down from skipped steps in training. I would go completely back to basics and retrain the stop and go response until the horse listens to light aids. I would start on the ground, and then proceed to riding. This will help with the sluggishness and the confidence. I like Equitation Science's ground work as it translates well to riding.
            Freeing worms from cans everywhere!

            Comment


            • #7
              Some good advice here - the one thing I would add regarding today's experience is that (as you can already see with the benefit of hindsight), three hours was too much. Don't beat yourself up, but remember it's important to take things slowly and build up the confidence and trust on both sides. Always err on the side of too little rather than too much - and always try to end on a good note.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by CHT View Post
                Sluggish can be from a horse that is frustrated/shutting down from skipped steps in training. I would go completely back to basics and retrain the stop and go response until the horse listens to light aids. I would start on the ground, and then proceed to riding. This will help with the sluggishness and the confidence. I like Equitation Science's ground work as it translates well to riding.
                I disagree. The horse seems to know the "basics".

                It seems to me that the OP and the horse need some time to get to know each other as is usual with a new partnership, and that the OP needs some local help/advice to establish the pecking order.

                Going "completely back to basics" as in re-training with a "system" that is sold on the internet, seems a little much to me, at this point in time.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Groom&Taxi View Post
                  Always err on the side of too little rather than too much - and always try to end on a good note.
                  Going from a 30-60 minute hack to over 3 hours. Yeah, that's too much. His forwardness may have been from anxiety, not because he had 3 days rest. I would also work with him being in front and behind other horses but definitely not for that length of time.

                  Ditch the treats altogether. Horses don't need them and many horses develop bad habits from them - anticipating, nipping, getting pushy. If you give treats at all, I'd put 1-2 in a feed bucket when you are 100% completely done with the horse. This may be why he is pushy on the ground, so I'd give up treats for a while and re-evaluate that.

                  I would establish a schedule that is similar every day for a while - definitely not putting in a random 3 hour ride in the middle of a week of 30-60 minute sessions.

                  Did you have a PPE before buying? I wouldn't be so quick to assume sluggishness is "laziness" unless you know he passed a PPE with no findings. I would definitely consider a saddle fitter at the very least.


                  Comment


                  • #10
                    I second (or third or fourth) checking saddle fit. I had the sluggishness with a new horse and it turned out he hated my saddle.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      I agree with others.

                      No treats by hand, you are teachimg him to bite.

                      No ground training, you are boring him and making him frustrated.

                      We have all been there. Horses learn lightning fast. Us riders on the other hand learn very slowly by comparison.

                      You need lessons from a fantastic instructor. That is the hardest thing, because at the moment you can not tell a good instructor from a bad one.

                      Stop jumping until he is doing 100% what you want on the flat. After that use poles instead of jumps. If you cannot meet the poles in the correct stride every single time, do not make them higher.

                      Never canter towards home on the trail. Always walk the last half hour home. Always halt before crossing a road even if there is no traffic. At this stage of your riding there is no breaking of any of these rules

                      If you can ride him out alone. Go for a hack out before riding in the arena. It will become the norm.

                      Learn from a fantastic teacher how to lunge with side reins. Side reins do not kill and maim horses. Incorrect use of side reins kill and maim horses. On the lunge you will be able to get him forward and into the bit correctly, probably years before you can do it in the saddle.

                      The horse you start with on Monday is not the same as the horse you finish with on Monday. He is either a little bit better or a little bit worse. Ride him 7 days in a row and he is a little bit better each ride. The horse you start with on next Monday is a lot better than the horse you started with last Monday and this continues.

                      If he is a little bit worse each time you can see how quickly things go bad. Get good help sooner rather than later.
                      It is better to ride 5 minutes a day than it is to ride 35 minutes on a Sunday.

                      Comment

                      • Original Poster

                        #12
                        Thank you all for the insightful responses, I really appreciate it.

                        The consistent replies regarding treats were convincing enough, so no treats going forward!

                        We will see how we continue to get on with just reinforcing proper ground manners, nothing too much more complicated than that. I had someone out to work with us on the ground a while back; her comment was that he had clearly been allowed to get away with things, so I think this is probably a case of breaking old habits. I did order a book that may help (Kelly Marks' "Perfect Manners").

                        Well noted on the suggestions regarding hacking. I fully acknowledge that I overdid it, and the comment about just hacking him out with one other horse was spot-on -- I do think he gets more excited with multiple horses. I am hopeful that with slow and consistent building up his confidence and capacity we could try our hand at a slow hunt or XC schooling -- any suggestions for helping prepare for that would be very welcome.

                        As for the lack of forward, I did have a five-stage PPE (all normal) and had a very good saddle fitter out when I first got him; he's had back and teeth done and I have a very skilled farrier looking after his feet as well. The laziness is not new according to the prior owner, but I suspect he's just not been made to work consistently forward. I do have a good instructor and am now doing weekly lessons, but had another really excellent trainer out today and she very simply said, "He's a great horse, just needs to be told exactly what is expected of him when he's in the school until that becomes his new way of going." After being more firm with him at first than I have been as far as Go Means Go, within five minutes he was nicely in front of my leg and maintaining better impulsion. After the lesson, her comment was that as long as I can keep him moving that way, the fences will be no issue -- he does have a great jump, just won't work if he doesn't have to.

                        All three trainers I've ridden with since I bought him have been really positive that he was a good purchase -- you all have been very reassuring that more structure and consistency and a bit more firmness from me will help to get things well established.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          He sounds like a lovely horse. You've already been given some great advice and I agree with the suggestion that you limit treats to a treat bucket, not by hand, and not when you are tacking up/grooming. Were you heading home after the 3 hour ride when he bolted? A 3-hour ride is a lot right out of the gate if you haven't conditioned him, and it's always a good idea to walk the first mile out, last mile back. I wish you a long and happy partnership with this horse.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            If you had the saddle fit to him when you first got him, and since that time he's been in more consistent work than he was before you bought him, it's quite possible that the saddle now pinches him somewhere. It would be worth having the fitter out again to re-check the fit.

                            Otherwise you've already gotten some great advice. Good luck.
                            "The formula 'Two and two make five' is not without its attractions." --Dostoevsky

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Slight quibble with the "No groundwork training- he's bored" advice above. While long drilling sessions probably not productive, I'd incorporate a few tests into every time you handle him. I have a pushy big mare and here are two things I do that minimize pushiness in any other areas. 1) never walk around him to get where you're going. Own your straight path from A to B and make him turn his head and move out of the way, every single time. 2) Before he gets any kind of food/treat, make him back up 2 steps and patiently wait a beat before he gets his food. Don't belabor this, I'm not suggesting you set him up to fail by teasing him with an endless wait for food. Just get him to back 2 steps and pause there with a nice polite face, then reward that nice polite face by dumping food in the bucket. My mare now does it on her own-- she'll trot up to the ground pan when it's feeding time (sometimes with the grumpy-pursed-lips look that she used to deploy to get her way). Then quickly backs up 2 steps and ears go forward with a pleasant "may I please" attitude.

                              These aren't miracles that will transform her under saddle, but it really has helped on the ground. The key is consistency-- have you observed how the barn staff is handling him? Timid/lax handling by barn personnel might be undoing the training you're installing.

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                You need a very knowledgeable instructor/mentor. You sound as though you are in a situation where everyone is an expert. Be assured there are those who have over many years had several horses, and still have not a grain of horsesense.

                                So,listen carefully to all the free advice you get, and learn to smile and say thank you unless it fits your program.

                                Treats are useful, for some horses. For others they do not work. At best they are dispensed only for positive results.

                                As said before, learn to longe with either side reins or vienna reins. Some advocate well adjusted vienna reins as bolt protection. They do work, but must adjusted accurately.

                                I suspect the horse may work very well from seat and leg alone, In that case your personal need will be able to develop the muscle memory and strength to react quickly enough to stop one before it starts.

                                Also, before you even think of approaching another jump, get your flatwork push button!!! You sound as though you are far from there at this point.
                                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.

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  You need a very knowledgeable instructor/mentor. You sound as though you are in a situation where everyone is an expert. Be assured there are those who have over many years had several horses, and still have not a grain of horsesense.

                                  So,listen carefully to all the free advice you get, and learn to smile and say thank you unless it fits your program.

                                  Treats are useful, for some horses. For others they do not work. At best they are dispensed only for positive results.

                                  As said before, learn to longe with either side reins or vienna reins. Some advocate well adjusted vienna reins a bolt protection. In your case.

                                  I suspect the horse may work very well from seat and leg alone, In that case your personal need will be able to develop the muscle memory and strength to react quickly enough to stop one before it starts.

                                  Also, before you even think of approaching another jump, get your flatwork push button!!! You sound as though you are far from there at this point.

                                  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.

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    I do not know if this will be any comfort, but over the decades EVERY TIME I got a new horse I rapidly ended up asking myself why in the world did I ever think I knew anything at all about handling horses/training. It usually took a few months before horse and I would get onto the same page.

                                    Never feed treats by hand (well, maybe once every year or two.)

                                    Unfortunately at the stable where I get lessons they often let the lesson riders hand feed the horse a treat.

                                    I often have to end up lecturing a horse, with a shaking finger, about how I never give treats by hand so the horse can stop wasting his time and energy trying to mug me. Usually after the second, slightly more vehement lecture, the horse gives up and politely waits, giving me encouraging nickers, until I give him a treat or some grain in a bucket.

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by HungarianHippo View Post
                                      Slight quibble with the "No groundwork training- he's bored" advice above. While long drilling sessions probably not productive, I'd incorporate a few tests into every time you handle him. I have a pushy big mare and here are two things I do that minimize pushiness in any other areas. 1) never walk around him to get where you're going. Own your straight path from A to B and make him turn his head and move out of the way, every single time. 2) Before he gets any kind of food/treat, make him back up 2 steps and patiently wait a beat before he gets his food. Don't belabor this, I'm not suggesting you set him up to fail by teasing him with an endless wait for food. Just get him to back 2 steps and pause there with a nice polite face, then reward that nice polite face by dumping food in the bucket. My mare now does it on her own-- she'll trot up to the ground pan when it's feeding time (sometimes with the grumpy-pursed-lips look that she used to deploy to get her way). Then quickly backs up 2 steps and ears go forward with a pleasant "may I please" attitude.

                                      These aren't miracles that will transform her under saddle, but it really has helped on the ground. The key is consistency-- have you observed how the barn staff is handling him? Timid/lax handling by barn personnel might be undoing the training you're installing.
                                      I did not mean no groundwork. I meant no taking him into a yard and doing it for half an hour at a time. As above the horse was taught to back 2 steps to be fed by backing 2 steps to be fed. Not taking it into a yard every day and training it every day for an hour.

                                      Mine are taught to come when called, walk when I click. Halt when I say halt. Back when I place a thumb on the chest and say back, to stand still while I groom and tack while untied.

                                      Initially they are taught in a yard to face up for coming when I call. They learn really quickly and I would do it in the yard for less than a week. Only one session for the really smart one. I do not do groundwork training any more outside of catching the horse and taking to the tack shed to tack up.

                                      Horses are fast learners. Just laugh when they do something you don't want and voila they will do it again!

                                      They learn extremely quickly. This is where newbies get into trouble as it is just as easy to teach the wrong thing. Experienced trainers only teach the thing they want. Newbies teach the things they don't want. It is easier to train than it is to retrain, so now it is harder to get the horse to do what they want.

                                      You are better off lunging correctly in side reins that are never used to pull a horses head in, than boring the horse with 'groundwork training'.

                                      Just look at the very bored snakey Parelli horses as proof. (Generally- not all of them of course)
                                      It is better to ride 5 minutes a day than it is to ride 35 minutes on a Sunday.

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by CHT View Post
                                        Sluggish can be from a horse that is frustrated/shutting down from skipped steps in training.
                                        Which is exactly what clicker training is about, as we can't move on until the horse understands and is willing to cooperate, because as long as we stick with +R there's no way for us to make him. Not that CT is in any way the be-all or end-all, but it does require the trainer to figure out what they're doing before they start to pressure the horse to do things he doesn't understand and/or feels like he's unable to do.



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