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Numerous issues with a rescued horse

I rescued two horses about 1 month ago, 1 a quarter horse ex-roping champ who is 21 and the other, my problem child, a 19 year old Arabian gelding named Buddy. Buddy has numerous issues, the first of which is getting the bit in his mouth. This is a 15 minute long process, usually 2-3 people, and when it's over, I feel so bad about the trauma we put him through it really detracts from the joys of riding! Then, once we get started, I never know if I'm on the good Buddy, who is quiet, well mannered and a joy to ride, or the bad Buddy, who head-tosses, dances, prances and acts so herd-bound to be back with his friend (they were together before I adopted them) that, once again, it is a constant battle, and I hate to traumatize him! He is currently on a rubber-training snaffle bit that he behaves with a little better, and yes, I do have a bit-less bridle for him. My husband wants to increase my life insurance policy before I try the bit-less bridle again. The head tossing gets so extreme at times, and he does everything short of rearing or bucking (thank god for that!) Then, of course, I have to try the turning the horse in circles to stop him from rushing the barn, and, frankly, I'm getting a little dizzy from the whole experience! Yes, I always try to keep a light hand, never pull the bit hard unless he gets out of hand, and of course, once we get into the Buddy verses bit he-wants-his-own-way fight, well, it's all down hill from there. He has shown that he can be a well-mannered if spunky little horse and I love his spirit,, it shouldn't have to be this hard on both of us! He actually enjoys his trail riding; he is very curious and intelligent once we are on the trail. I just can't seem to ever convince him to "walk" instead of trot! Yes, he lunges beautifully...please help me with this ornery, ex-glue factory bound beast!

Thank you, Becky

Hi Becky,

Well, lets see if I can offer some suggestions. I would take the horse back to the basics of getting him used to a bridle by forgetting the bridle for a while. Go back to haltering. Make certain you can get the horse to lower his head nicely into the halter. Your position is very important while doing this. Face forward and stand just in front of and near the horse's the left shoulder. Rest your right hand along his neck and your left hand on the bridge of his nose a couple of inches below the eyes. Move your right had up his neck a bit so the weight of your arm is on his neck near his pole. Do not push down. Merely steady his head with your left hand and have the weight of your right arm and hand on his neck near the pole. When you feel him lower is head even a little try, release the weight on his neck. He will get that by lowering his head the weight (pressure) goes away. Once that is done, begin to work his mouth by putting your fingers into the area the bit sits. DO NOT GET YOURSELF BIT! If you have never done this before, find someone who has. You need to be able to message his gums, esp. the upper above his front teeth. Next, if he lets you work his mouth well, try the headstall and bit. But this needs to be done carefully and appropriately. Something else you could do is put some molasses on the bit and as he is licking it, gently raise the bit up into his mouth. Proper position for the bridle and bit is similar to position for the haltering. First, put your right hand over his head so your wrist in hanging down between his ears holding the top of the bridle. Just slip his nose through the bridle w/o asking him to take the bit. Wait and praise him if he allows this. Then remove the bridle and do this a few more times until he is really OK with his nose in the bridle. Then, after he puts his nose in, get the bit ready in your left hand (there is a particular way to hold the bit during this process that is allows you to put your thumb into the horse’s mouth on the left side near the back of his lips. Doing so usually will prompt the horse to open his mouth a little, but enough to get the bit in simply by raising your right hand at the wrist. Then the right ear forward and under the bridle and then the left ear. Wish I could be there to help with this. I have done it many times.

Sounds like you might want to try turning this horse loose for a while. Stop trying to control his head. Go into a reasonably small paddock with him tacked up. Remove the bridle (assuming you actually got it on him) and replace it with a rope halter with the lead rope tied up like a rein. You could have someone on the ground with a lung line hooked up and ready to lung him. Get on board and have the lung ready to happen. Have the ground person ask the horse to walk. You just sit there and enjoy the ride. When time for a stop, just sit down with more weight on him, maybe even lean back just a bit, raise the rope rein and say HO! At the same time the ground person stops the horse. This way you begin to put a softer stop on the horse w/o going to sever control which he only fights. Do this a few days until the horse stops and changes directions softly and easily. Once he gets it at a walk, try a trot. Wean yourself off the ground person when you feel ready.

Stay in the paddock for a couple of weeks. Do this soft stop at a walk, trot and lope. Then take him out a bit with another horse and keep the same thing going. This is how it all works. There is no quick fix. But the quickest way to stop head tossing is to release control, ride in a halter for a while. Ride more from your seat. I do not suggest going to heavier bits or restraints. It will make things worse.

As far as his being herd bound, that is another process that takes time. How is your relationship with the horses? Do you have the daily time to put in an hour or so? It will really go faster if you can. Release your agenda if you can completely and make his sense of safety your main priority. This is what builds trust and confidence. Do not push into his frustration and fear. It will only make him worse. This is not babying the horse. This is rehab pure and simple. If this were a person there would be no question as to proper therapy and time. But this being a horse, we want more and we want it fast so we can go ride the horse. I suppose this is normal. You sound very conscientious and caring for your horses. That is so great. Thank you for rescuing these critters. It is always and completely about trust, how to earn it and show it. You can get this horse back on track so to speak. Take your time. Make it fun for him. You know how to do it. Patience, consistency and please release any judgment or anthropomorphic projection. This is what is required and you can do it.

Where are you anyway? Perhaps you are along the way of my travels. Please let me know. I am interested. Please keep me posted. I am here to help.

Aloha, Franklin

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