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Mare is too smart

Sir, I am in need of some help if you have the time.

I'm afraid this could get kind of long but I will make it as short as possible. Any little tips you have I would be so very grateful for.

I have a 5yo (6 in March), Arabian mare whom I have owned since the age of 8 months. She was my first baby, but definitely not my first horse. We went through trials and troubles, but all in all things turned out pretty well, I didn't start riding her till she was in her late 4yo year. So we did lots of ground work, before I got in to the saddle she could move sideways, lead, load, clip, tie, move on the for hand and quarters, drop her head, everything I could think of. She stayed pretty occupied, was willing and I could do just about anything with her. She was never a very affectionate horse and always very mare-ish and grouchy. But her attitude improved.

Well as a 2yo I'd lung her for on a few minutes a day as I believe too much lunging can bore a horse. She would turn and try to run off to the hay. She did not fear me at all and I always communicated with her as clearly and kindly as possible. But no, she did not want to work. After a while she got over that, no more problems.

Now as a 5yo, she has picked that problem up again. I ask her to canter and she will, but then falls to a trot. She canters, then falls to a trot. I got after her and pop her on the butt once. She canters around once or twice so I stand in the middle and don't do anything so she knows she did the right thing. Then all of a sudden she turns straight away from me and trots-canters off to the hay. I go to get her, she trots around like "ha-ha!" She has no fear of me, but when I grab the rope she runs and takes off. Then she finds some grass and stops dead and eats. When I get to her she doesn't look at me, just starts walking slowly away. Finally when I get the rope and pull her around she follows very calmly. This has happened I don't know... 30 times? Which means she knows she can get away. I assumed if I caught her, didn't 'punish' her, and continued the lesson until she didn't play her little game anymore. This would just go away and she'd figure out she has to finish her job. Nope, I've been through heck with her lately. My round pen is a 60x60 and just 1 single wire. Well, last night she ran through it, I also had her on a rope, I hung on she pulled and drug me. She's beginning to act like a spoiled child. Every time she just trots to the hay.

I am at such a loss. I wish I had a stable round pen. I just don't know. What is your suggestion sir? I am very frustrated at the moment. I never have problems continue on this long and none of my other 3 horses do this, nor do the horses I work with. She's smart, she's selfish and knows how to operate me. I came so close to running to the store and buying a chain to put over her nose. But I never in my life thought I'd use one. I had to restrain myself from slapping her as hard as I could. I know she senses I'm angry and hurt and upset, and that cannot help the situation. Please let me know what I need to do to change both her and my behavior. Jay

Hi Jay,

Sorry it has taken a while to get back with you. I have been traveling and somewhat busy. Let’s see if I can offer you some helpful suggestions.

First off, I do not think being a disciplinarian is what you need to do. I do not discipline horses. I prefer to direct (lead) their energy. Remember how discipline from a stern parent made you resentful? The horse will have the same response. Like a good parent directs a child's energies, I think you can direct your horse's energy. You definitely need a solid round pen. They are not expensive. If you already have a level, flat area, please consider somehow acquiring a solidly built, pipe round pen. It will be one of the greatest purchases you will make in behalf of your horses. If she has already run through your wire pen, she will continue to do so. The only way around it is to begin to work her on a short line (10 to 15 feet or so) so she cannot run off with you like she does on a lunge line. Even with a good short line, if she gets herself pointed directly away from you, she will run off with you again. Also, being on a short line is risky as you are close to the horse and somewhat vulnerable to kick or strike. The solidly built round pen is really the key to safely not having the horse run off.

Something I do that helps a lot is to take the lead rope and turn towards the horse's butt, I hold the rope in the outside hand, bend the horse's neck in my direction and walk right at her butt making clucking sounds to motivate the horse and bend the horse tightly in my direction as I walk right at the horse's rear. You are pretty safe doing this move as you cannot get kicked or struck even though you are very close to the horse. Do this in both directions 3-4 rotations. Usually this will get a horse's attention on you quickly and effectively without you becoming a disciplinarian. After a couple of times bending the horse like this in both directions, ask the horse to do whatever it is you want. If she is resistant, bend her again. Be careful you don't get dizzy. Look at the animal's butt as you do this. Horses move away from where you are looking with whatever body part you are looking at.

You do not want your horse's fear. You want the horse's respect. The way you earn that is the same way a parent earns the respect of a child; be consistent (extremely consistent), decide what your horse can and will do in the way of ground work (circling around you primarily, moving straight ahead on a line, stopping , backing and turning) and make certain your horse will do them, always be the leader, be confident in attitude (even if you do not quite know what to do) and always be kind and compassionate. Use the ground work (circles, etc.) as what you go to when your horse is resistant. What you are doing is making the wrong thing hard for the horse and the right thing much easier. She needs not to be able to walk away from you without the consequence of being put to work. This is important. It is a key to non-abusive horse training.

Having the right tools and equipment is important and a secure, sturdy round pen is something that should be on the top of every horse owner's tool list. Anyway, you are smarter than your mare. You can make the right thing easy for her and the wrong thing hard. Perfect a few ground skills using the right tools. They will be the key to your success along with your wonderful attitude, patience and leadership. Thanks a lot for your question and I hope I have been able to offer some useful suggestion. Please keep me posted.

Sincerely, Franklin

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