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Cold backed and nippy

Hi Franklin

I have spent the last two days reading and thoroughly enjoying your web site.

I have a trialed but unraced 5 yr old thoroughbred, which I have owned for a year; I have been riding and handling horses for the past 35 yrs.

I share this horse with my 16yrs old daughter; we both have instruction weekly with him.

We have put a lot of ground work into him, when we brought him he was rude and pushy, now he backs up on command, moves the hind quarters well, turn and follows well, we do a lot of liberty work with, which we love, and he respond very well with it him, , he can be a bit nippy, like when he is crossed tied to be brushed, you bend down to pick up his hoof and he brings his head down and try to nuzzle then a small nip, one of us always watches him, and you can see him thinking about it, and can stop him just with a “ no Solly” (the look in face is so funny, what, I didn’t do anything,) we also like to lead him out for walks, take him to the local pony club, I have to walk a bit behind my daughter, to catch him out from nipping, we don’t hold him tight, so he does have a length of lead rope, we do stopping and backing up if he try’s to pull or walk in front of us or tries to nip, I believe that we have establish ourselves as leaders, so how can we stop this, quite often we stand which our hands on hips so if he nips he hurts him self on our elbow, we are also working on moving the shoulder over, one hand on his cheek moving his head over the other on his shoulder with the tapping, but he always seems to nip out, as you try to move him over, I would love to know what we are doing wrong, that is asking him to nip, how can we stop this behaviour.

He is also what is called “cold back” we have to saddle him up slowly and gently, or he will exploded when led out, bucking and bucking, (that’s why we affectingly call him Solly the Wally) we have to have the saddle on loosely and lunge him and slowly do the saddle up hole by hole, and some days he still does goes mental on the lunge, we wait to ride him till he gives us the softness in his body and eyes. (As he has had both of us off,) it can take up to 30 mims of us lunging him at a walk and trot, some days only 10 mins, what can we do for his horse, have had the saddle professionally fitted and have it checked and refitted at least every 6 months due to his body shape changing.

We also have had had him professionally remounted and retrained.

When my daughter rides he tends to be more forward moving, and can give her a hard time, she handles him well, making sure that he is working with his head low, and gets him relaxed before she thinks about doing anything with him. With me, he tend to be much slower and I have to work hard to get him to go forward. I love the dressage and my daughter loves the jumping.

Can a horse bond with two people? Can both of us be leaders?

Ros and Katrina
Western Australia

PS - the lady we brought him from didn’t tell us everything about him, so we have had to learnt the hard way, we are hearing from people who knew how bad he was, and they cannot believe how far he has come.

Hello Ros and Katrina,

Yes, it is possible for a horse to bond with several 'good leaders.' It is most helpful if the humans are pretty much handling the horse the same way, with the same attitudes and paradigms about horses. Sounds like you are both doing quite well. Bravo! As far as the horse being 'cold backed' make certain his back and neck are not out of alignment (equine chiropractic might be able to sort him out a bit more). Also, do a lot of flexing. Side-to-side flexing in both directions as well as up an down flexion can really help. Consider doing this more than you think is necessary. It may surprise you how much you can warm and limber your horse up with simple flexion, legs extensions, etc. Many riders never do this. Additionally, start him out slowly with many stops and short breaks in action as reward for any effort. A slower starting out can make for a smoother upward transition in motion, speed and intricacy. Lots of removal of all pressure (reward) gets the animal in the habit of turning on action and turning it off. This is most helpful as it is always easier to amp a horse up and not so easy to settle it down. I much prefer to start out with a calm horse as I know they learn better and faster. So, keeping the animal as calm as possible is important to me. At the beginning of a session, I keep them as calm as possible and only work up speed very gradually and with lots and lots of short rest periods as reward (15-30 seconds up to a minute of two). You may find this is very helpful for your cold-backed horse. School him one-step-at-a-time, with a little 'peace' as the great reward for effort. Try it, you'll like it I think.

As far as the biting/nipping goes, I do not allow it at all. I 'nip' it in the bud always. I provide a solid, firm, perfectly timed and perfectly placed POP right on the end of the animal's snout with my well-protected elbow, fist even (bottom of my fist), or hand. I do not tolerate any nipping and I do not mess around at all about it. No having to watch the horse every minute to see if he is going to do it. I train it out of the horse. It might take 2 or 3 POPs as I described, but thats it. The horse may try to nip someone else, but never me again. You would both need to provide this training. I set up the situation where I know the horse will try to bite. I am wearing a heavily sleeved jacket and heavy gloves. It is an intentional, controlled, set up. When I provide the POP, I immediately forget about it and move on. There is no anger and the POP is not done like a punishment. It is a consequence for unwanted behavior. It is simply that. There is no malice or grudge behind it. If done properly the animal will not run away scared, will not become head shy or have any negative effect. It will just stop biting and nipping. This technique has obvious risks for the inexperienced or less than knowledgeable human (especially if they have the wrong attitude) and should only be undertaken after good forethought.

There you have it. So, let me know how it all goes. Additionally, please check my Aussie schedule and perhaps we can 'horse around' in Oz. Perhaps I could even come to Perth. Good Luck to you.

Sincerest regards, Franklin

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