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How To Get Calm Under Saddle


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#1 kidsncritters

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Posted 18 March 2011 - 09:59 PM

I have a 6 yr old, 15.3 paint mare. She was an orphan and bottle fed. She is a failed WP prospect. Her original owner, while very nice, sent her off to a trainer to make a WP horse out of her. Snugs had other ideas. The trainers goal was to make her and all his other training horses a finished WP horse in 30 days. He took what I call lots of short cuts.
We bought her when she was 4. She is nervous under saddle. She always wants to go faster. Not what I would call real spooky, just can't stand still and wants to move out faster. I posted in the health thread asking about valarian root to help her calm but what I am interested in here is to find out if there are any exercises I can do under saddle to help her be more calm.
She has been trail ridden and is fine unless people start to run and then she wants to go all out.
She has been to 5 game shows. Did very well but just won't settle down when she is done. Also when other horses are running she gets all worked up.
I took dressage lessons on her thinking that would help her. It helped some but then she got an abscess. Had several abscesses last summer/fall that she was just turned out to heal. The dressage instructor has raised her rates by $10 more a lesson so I can no longer afford to take those to try to help her.
Rode her today bareback with a halter and lead rope in the pasture. She never tried to spook, just wanted to go faster than whatever gait I wanted.

Any ideas to help her calm under saddle would be appreciated. Thanks.

Edited to fix spelling etc.

Edited by kidsncritters, 18 March 2011 - 10:02 PM.

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#2 Sakura18

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Posted 19 March 2011 - 12:44 AM

Some horses never truley 'calm down'. An Appaloosa mare i LOVED was exactly like your mare. Im sure other board members here have great ideas though,good luck!
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#3 coloredcowhorse

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Posted 19 March 2011 - 09:22 AM

Since some fool thought he could make a WP horse in 30 days and took all kinds of short cuts with the training I would assume that there are some gaping holes in her work. I'd go back to basic ground work and find those and plug them up with good ground training first. Being responsive to verbal cues for all three gaits is a start. "WHOA" is a giant cue that should be so in there that she never, ever thinks about not responding to it. If you have a round pen you can also teach half halts from the ground or cues such as "easy" and less pressure to slow her down a bit. Lots of transitions both up and down so that she knows you have control of both. Work her around other horses (my favorite is to tie several on the outside of the round pen while working one inside...lots of distractions but work on keeping attention focused on me...you can move those horses further away over time so that she is still focused on you). You could then go to ground driving with the same kind of cues but adding in the cues from a bit (probably on a snaffle at this point which works very well for this)...you can stand in the middle of a round pen and lope/canter her on long lines with upward/downward transitions (I use "walk", "trot", "canter" as verbal cues as well as bit pressure if necessary to slow down a little if they get going too wound up). You can do direction changes as well on long lines which tends to slow them.

From the ground you can also teach a "relax" cue. Horses seem to be hardwired to get anxious when their head is raised up and to become more relaxed if it is lowered. This makes sense from a prey animal point of view....they raise their heads to look around and have to be ready to react if they see/smell/hear danger and they lower the head to graze which is an activity you do when you are safe and can relax. So take advantage of this and teach her to lower her head on cue...put a couple of fingers on her poll just behind her ears and lightly (ounces, not pounds of pressure) press downward. Don't increase if she raises her head, just maintain it at the same pressure. Release immediately if she lowers her head even a fraction of an inch. (Ideally your fingers will remain where her head was and she releases the pressure by lowering her head). Be sure to reward her with "attagirls" and some scratches or rubs for being so cooperative. Continue to work this and you can gradually keep your fingers there for a second or two to tell her "further down please"....and keep your fingers where they were when she lowered her head so that when she raises it she runs into them and will lower again...it doesn't take long for them to learn this (it probably feels good to relax and I've seen some almost go to sleep doing this). You can move the point for your fingers back along her neck gradually to the point that you can put your hand on her neck in front of your saddle when riding and have her drop that head and relax under saddle.

Once under saddle and trail riding you can play some games (not the Parelli type games) with other riders to relax her on the trail. Things like "leapfrog" where each horse and rider take turns being the lead, the middle and the last horse in the group by passing others going forward or pulling off and allowing others to pass. Another thing to do if there is open space is to ride out off to the side of the group, even momentarily going out of sight (and gradually increasing the time spent out of sight) and then returning so she learns it is OK to be alone out there and to depend on you for guidance and company and not the herd. In open areas you can, as a group, ride a braided pattern weaving in and out so that horses are in the middle and out on either side of the group and learn to be comfortable anywhere.

I probably wouldn't do game shows with her until she's really settled down a lot. I have a friend who does roping..his horses learn to walk calmly in and out of the box, to stand when the calf gate is clanged open and to walk from the box afterward for probably 6 months before he ever "scores" a cow out of the box and asks his horse to run. He puts an incredibly calm base on them and has been offered $20K for one he didn't even consider a finished horse, largely because of how calm they are...this is something horses have to be taught. (His also do barrels, walk in, do their run, walk out...very impressive).

Hope these suggestions help.

Edited by coloredcowhorse, 19 March 2011 - 09:26 AM.

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#4 Duns of Impact

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Posted 19 March 2011 - 10:02 AM

Calm down Snugs your life is good! LOL! If Ssnugs were mine I would do lots and lots of slow work. How does she flex, whoa, and back up? We flex both vertical and lateral before we begin our ride. Then we do cricles at a walk counter bending, really lifting the rib cage, and disengage the hind quarters. Remeber if they can't do it well at a walk they can't to it well at a trot or canter. Slower is faster. I want their brain on me and thinking "Ok what is she going to ask me to do next."

Also, we have a mare that has always been a little hot since the day she was born. That is just who she is, but she is also very sensative to your legs, seat, and the bit. She is a working machine and can cut a steer right out from underneath you, she loves her job, but you as a rider have to stay calm stay light in your hands, to help her come back and settle down.
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#5 kidsncritters

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Posted 19 March 2011 - 10:43 AM

Thanks guys. Snugs has good lateral movement. She is like a snake. There one min and wiggling away the next. She is very responsive to your seat and leg. Almost too much for me. She has only been ridden in a snaffle bit. She has been taught that no bit contact is good. She gets real anxious when you try and make contact with the bit. The dressage instructor really liked Snugs but didn't like the way she tried to hide from the bit. Snugs is never mean, just always in a hurry. My kids show WP, but we don't try to break and finish them in 30 days. Duh :bang_head:. So you guys think some of this will go away with slow patient work? I don't have a round pen here at home. She has one other gelding here she is turned out with. I can tie him up where she can see him and do that kind of stuff.
As far as ground work she isn't pushy. She does showmanship stuff really well. Pivot isn't what I would call show ready but she is working on it. I will do what I can with the other ground work stuff as best I can. I don't think they can ever have too much ground work.
Thanks guys!
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#6 Duns of Impact

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Posted 19 March 2011 - 01:09 PM

No it won't go away b/c that just maybe who she is... just like my mare. But what you are doing will be able to keep her calm and be able to bring her back if she were to get worked up. I have found that horses like routine it is their comfort zone so to speak. So if you do the slow work everytime you get on it becomes routine and it will then help her calm down.
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#7 qheventer

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Posted 19 March 2011 - 08:45 PM

What kind of feed do you have her on? Sometimes feed makes a huge difference. Also how much turnout does she get?

You've gotten great advice on going back and working on foundational stuff.

Sometimes horses will speed up because they get heavy on the forehand and they're not balanced. Lots of transitions can help with that. Also doing roll backs when they start to get faster can help re-set their balance and their brain. I've also stopped backed and backed up and then immediately started out at the same gait I stopped at to help re-balance.

Another thing that I've found that seems to help them relax a little more is encouraging them to stretch down. They seem to relax and slow down on their own when they stretch. I encourage them to stretch from the ground and then let them stretch under saddle.

One thing that I think is really important with a high energy horse is the warm up. I don't get on until they're truly focusing on me and I know that because their inside eye and ear is completely on me and they're working with an arc in their body.

More seasoning might help with the hotness around other horses. One thing that I like to do is haul to a barrel race and tie up next to the warm up pen. One of the arenas in our area has a warmup pen with holding pens along one side. It's nice to just tie them there and leave them for several hours and just let them get use to the high energy activity. They'll buck and carry on for a while and then they settle in after a while. Also ponying at a trot and then a canter will help get them used to another horse cantering close by.

One last thing that I do that I think makes a difference is when I can I'll tie them and let them stand for a good 30 minutes or so instead of just putting them up or turning them out. A friend of mine that trains barrel horses has a couple of thinking trees and he does a lot of tying out and he turns out some nice calm horses.
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#8 kidsncritters

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Posted 20 March 2011 - 09:01 AM

Snugs is a 15.3H paint and more of the greyhound look rather than the stock AQHA look. She is on an acre pasture- locked in the dry lot right now due to the mud but the dry lot is 1/2 acre. She is out 24/7 with a gelding. They can go in and out of the barn at will.

She gets 1lb ration balancer, 1 oz health- E-oil, beat pulp, 1/2 tbl salt and hoof supplement- 2x a day. She is on free choice grass hay through a slow feeder 24/7. She isn't on any sweet feed at all.

I like the idea of tying them as well. This mare stress coliced when we first brought her home. That should have been my first clue she was more high strung than my others. She settled right in once she bonded with us. She didn't drink enough the first winter and was getting all sucked up and acting colicy so we added the salt. Haven't had a problem since then with colic.

On a good note- Snugs hates you to mess with her mouth. Worming was a huge ordeal when we first got her. We have been working and working on touching her mouth without a reaction from her. Yesterday I wormed them. She didn't even lift her head. She was better than the gelding. He forgot he was good at being wormed. :confused0024: He wasn't bad, she was just better. So there is hope for improvement.
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#9 qheventer

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Posted 20 March 2011 - 01:21 PM

Something else you might want to look into is TLC Animal Nutrition. They have some info on how calcium to phosphorous ratios have an impact on making a horse nervous. They view it as a nutritional imbalance.
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#10 Smilie

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Posted 20 March 2011 - 11:53 PM

I agree with Coloredcowhorse. Before worrying about suppliments and calming agents, go back and fix those holes in her training
Any horse that has been pushed, will most likely be anxious under saddle, just because that firm foundation isn't there
If you try to have a horse frame up and travel on a loose rein, with one month training, or even with three months training, that horse is going to lack confidence in both your hands and your legs, over reacting to cues
I do not believe you can judge her true temperment and disposition until you go back and put that firm foundation on her, which includes having the horse relax, trust your hands and legs and look for that release able to understand all that is being asked, and confident that when she responds correctly, she is also given that reward of release from pressure
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#11 Julie Slater

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 08:38 AM

Howdy KNC...

Here is a video of a drill I use to focus my horses and students on their work instead of everything else.



There isn't a whole lot of training advice about how to do this or that, just "Come here, Pony, let's work".
Ride this drill a few times and see how you get along.

But I still think you need to get some solid foundations training under her belt.

Edited...
As sheesh... Youtube took my pics and subtitles out. Guess I'll have to go back to Vimeo for my uploads.

Anyhoo...
Here are the patterns I'm using in the vid.
Posted Image

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Edited by Julie Slater, 21 March 2011 - 09:02 AM.


#12 jamierose

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Posted 21 March 2011 - 10:19 AM

There was a time when i was working with horses taken off the track and teaching them to be pony horses. we had a particular thoroughbred that could not slow down. she was not fast enough to be a race horse though! we always took every horse back to the beginning to fill in any gaps in training and reestablish a solid foundation. joining up, using some parrelli games, and alot of confidence building usually got the job done. this girl just took longer, and clicked with a different approach. she just needed her mind changed! every time she wound even start to think of speeding up, i would change her direction or work her into a circle that slowly got smaller, then bigger. simple. it wasn't necessarily a tight turn, just tight enough to make her redirect her concentration on something other than the finish line! sometime in a circle i'd refresh some basic sidestepping lessons, and always, always, i would ask for two or three steps backwards before we actually stopped. this took about a month of consistancy. little by little she looked more and more to me for her cue and let go of her previous 'GOGOGO!' training she'd been taught for soo long. i never pushed her further than her attention could take. her attention span was short, that the moment her mind wandered she'd do what she was taught to do for soo long, Run! keeping her mind busy helped her put together that slowing down was not a bad thing. it could be exciting to! here's a good article that explains it pretty good to
http://www.juliegood...nsNew.php?id=20
hope it helps and relieves some of the stress from under the saddle!

#13 kidsncritters

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Posted 22 March 2011 - 06:11 AM

Thanks guys. Keep the good ideas coming. On Sun. I moved Snugs to the boarding barn where I keep the show horses. The mud is so bad at our house and I can't ride anywhere at home. Now I have an indoor arena to work her in. Keep the ideas coming. Thanks again.
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#14 Thomas Crown

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Posted 23 March 2011 - 11:02 PM

Without reading all of the above posts (I just read the original and a few of the others), I would say firstly- Groundwork. Then move through her gaits slowly, and when she decides to move up, ask her to half-halt, or halt all together. If slow works seems not to help then here is what I have done with several horses.
I have had a couple of ruined barrel horses that decided they could run through any bit, and rider. Quite frankly they can, at 1200lbs -/+. What my sister and I did, and still practice (ONLY on horses which do NOT respond whatsoever to slow work) is putting draw reins on the horse, not a martingale or "tie down", but something that will relieve your hands of the tugging she might do. We then proceed to an arena setting, or large open field, in which, we run. Allow the horse to run, and run, and run. Eventually every horse decides to be done, and that is when you need to make horsey decide running is not necessarily fun anymore. You continue to ask for a lope, or faster trot. Once she is willing to slow down on your cue, then reward and allow for a walk. Most of my horses have responded well to ground work, never needing this kind of dramatic retraining, but I have used this method on multiple horses, and it works. This is not to say it is your first choice, slower is always better, and much less traumatic to the horse overall. Sometimes, a horse who is "jittery" just needs a good run, or change in scenery.

Hope this helps you!