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Arabian mare forges ahead and is spooky to ride

Hello Franklin,

First of all...this is a fantastic website! Here is my problem, and if it takes a long time for your answer, that is ok. It is a 9 year old problem...

I bought my Arab mare when she was a yearling. She is now 9 years old. She is a very intelligent and lively lady...with all that entails. I am now 55, and had past experience with horses (teenage..trained my second horse using the Beery manual...she turned out really well!) My Arab is a sweetie...and we have two issues which I feel are closely related.

1) She pulls ahead when I lead her from the ground. Always has. I have tried everything technique I could find during the 9 years to stop this. Her breeder and another natural horsemanship trainer gave advice and worked with her. The trainer finally told me I might just have to pick my battles and this one wasn't worth it...I have tried turning around and going in the opposite direction(to re-establish leader position), twirling lead rope in front of her nose, bumping her nose/chest with a crop/wand/you name it, making her stop and back up a few steps each time she pulls ahead. Not just once or twice, you understand..but I tried these things over and over and over, giving each idea a proper trial.

2) So I feel the second thing comes directly from the first..when we ride, she is the lively Arab, and I really have to be on my toes because I feel like if something scary comes up, she will not listen and take my direction, but trust her own head more. Bottom line is... I don't think I have ever become her trusted leader. She will let me handle her in amazing ways...I can pick up her feet, worm her with no problem..she will back up, side over (front, side, back) by voice command. When I mount, she will automatically side up to a gate or mounting block beautifully and willingly. She learned that the second time I showed it to her. She does not bite or kick. Lowers her head for the halter...I ride with a bareback pad and English hackamore..but always at a walk or trot. Anything more I don't feel I could depend on her staying quiet enough to listen if something spooky came up. My age tells on me..hitting the ground is a lot scarier and it affects my confidence, though I try hard to stay calm as is needed.

I have read on your website to spend lots of time working with them to gain their confidence and I am doing that...any other suggestions for me?

Thank you so much!

Hi Linda,

Consider you are not backing the horse up far enough (20 yards or so) as a consequence for the horse forging ahead. One or two or three steps are not enough for a horse who forges ahead as you describe, when on the lead. You don’t want to scare the horse but you need to be able to lead and direct each step taken. Get VERY good at stopping the behavior before it happens. You know the horses pattern of behavior, so you should be ready to stop it before she takes the first step. If you ineffective, you will lose and not make any progress. Becoming the effective leader is a great skill. Free lunge first for 20 minutes before taking the horse in-hand. Then when on the lead only move forward one or two steps and stop. Don't allow momentum of movement as then it will be more difficult to stop the horse. It is easier to stop a car before it has gotten too much forward momentum. Horses get into habits quickly. Seems your horse has had this habit for a long time. In order to change it, you have to change the action and take enough time for that to become the habit. Setting and keeping boundaries every step and moment is a good exercise. Setting boundaries around food and personal space boundaries is a great place to start. The horse does not approach the food until you allow it or come into your personal space (three foot diameter circle around you). Whatever you allow becomes habit.

Determine if the horse is getting too much feed for the amount of exercise it is getting? Consider more exercise and less food. When riding, get very good at turns on the forehand as a consequence. Be able to flex the horse's neck in both directions and hold it until she yields the hind end around and immediately release when she takes a step with her hind feet. Get very, very good at this. Another name is a one-handed-stop. It does not hurt the horse but can be very effective if done properly. From your email it sounds as if the horse has too much energy and you are not a confident enough rider to continue on in a bareback pad and perhaps it is time for a bit. I understand your desire to ride with minimal equipment. But if you remain fearful, the horse will pick it up daily and this will elevate the horse’s anxiousness as well. The horse’s anxiety will increase your fear level and a dangerous cycle comes into existence as it seems it already has. Consider that you could re-start the horse using a saddle (one you know fits very well) and bridle with a bit (easy snaffle) and do it slowly, carefully, thoughtfully and ask for professional help if you are unsteady or unsure. Do not just give the horse to a trainer because they say they use ‘natural horsemanship.’ You should either do it yourself or do it with a very experience and gentle trainer. It is not the equipment that is cruel or damages the horse, it is the human using it. These are my sincerest feelings and thoughts on this. Good Luck.

Sincerest regards,

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