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Pulling on the reins and separation anxiety


Hello Franklin,

I am having difficulty with my daughterís 15 year old quarter horse mare. We have had her about 1 year and when I bought her she didnít seem to have any bad habits. However, my daughter is an advanced beginner and has been the only one riding her and she has developed the bad habit of pulling the reins very quickly out of your hands. When she is asked to stop or wants to go rather than stand, she will quickly pull the reins from your hands. She pulls so hard at times that my daughter cannot hold her. I read one of your past articles and have been working on flexing her head around to my foot when she pulls than releasing. I have been light on my hands and give her plenty of rein when she is behaving. I am not having much success breaking her of this habit and wanted to know if there is anything else I could be doing. She also suffers from separation anxiety from my 5-year-old mare and becomes distraught when I go too far from the barn. This causes her to throw her head consistently and not listen to any cues.

Thank you, Aimee

Hi Aimee,

Well, most problems as you described, come from a rider pulling too much on the horse's mouth. The animal is trying to get away from the hands of the rider. You state your daughter is an advanced beginner. She could be pulling in such a way that is even not too obvious. Perhaps trying to balance herself with the reins or to help her not to be thrown back a bit when the horse accelerates. That's enough to spark the behavior you are witnessing. Try riding the horse in a small paddock with a rope halter and lead w/o snap and the rope tied up like reins. Your daughter needs to not be using that rope much at all and developing her seat and a nice gentle stop on the horse w/o any pull. That's how it is supposed to be actually. Also, lunge your daughter on the horse w/o reins. This is an excellent exercise to develop a seat, balance and proper use of the legs. It does sound as though the horse is being pulled on more than is advisable. Additionally, make certain the horse has no mouth pain (vet to check her teeth). Getting rid of the bridle and bit is the best way I know to develop equestrian skills and a great seat and balance.

Most folks think a snaffle bit is so easy and mild. WRONG! That bit is like a nutcracker in a horse's mouth. Many English and western riders just do not know how to use a bit properly. Even though they think they do. Too much reliance on the bit for a stop is not what is suppose to happen. It is not kick to go and pull to stop. Also, your daughter should get very good at asking the horse to bend tightly in both directions (turns on the forehand). For a horse that does not want to go forward this is a great consequence. Leg yields, both turns on the forehand and turns on the haunches are a very important skill for any equestrian. Focus on these as they will help everything.

For the herd bound behavior, make separations very gradual at first. Walk out 3-4 minutes and come back and end it for the day. Over a period of a few weeks, gradually extend the time away. Keep it short at first. This way the horse gets used to the separation gradually. One-step-at-a-time training, with lots of reward (release of pressure for calm compliance) is the best way I know of. Good Luck and please let me know how it all goes.

Sincerely,
Franklin

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