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Difficult Mare / Difficult Owner

Hi Franklin,
I've been riding my friends mare, called Promise who is 19 years old. My friend seems to have become to scared to ride her properly as the mare bolts when you go into trot. I've noticed that she always tries to run for the barn when you ask for trot. Most of the time I can control her, although it seems like an ongoing battle. I'm not afraid to ride her, despite having a very bad fall off her last week and I really want to help her owner out by getting her to be able to hack out without the risk of her bolting off. Her owner doesn't trust her and she has barely been ridden in the last few years. She has never really been ridden properly as her owner had two other horses, a shetland and a palomino gelding. The palomino gelding died a few years ago but Promise never had the attention she should have had because the palomino gelding always used to get jealous when she gave Promise attention so she always turned her attention to him. Promise is a very sweet natured mare when you are handling her and I think she may be afraid of something when you try to ride her. She is normally alright in walk but although she will go into trot she becomes very difficult. I have checked her saddle and I don't think it fits her properly so we are going to get that sorted out but I have a feeling that she may be trying to run because she has never really been trained properly and the saddle just adds to this and she thinks that riding is not a nice experience so doesn't want to do it. After the fall I had I checked the saddle and decided not to ride until it was sorted out and I have been trying to build up a relationship with Promise and she is no longer unwilling to do anything I ask when I'm on the ground as before when I led her round she tried to resist so I spent lots of time grooming her and making a fuss of her and encouraging her to walk with me when I lead her and she is really good when I lead her round now. When we have the saddle sorted out I plan to continue the work on the ground but with the saddle on before I really start riding her again. Her owner seems to think that I should just be riding her all the time but I think that I should treat her as if she is a young horse who is not used to being ridden as she isn't used to being ridden. I want to take things slow and build up her confidence in me and then work on getting her confidence in her owner. Am I doing the right thing or should all my work be riding? I'd really appreciate any advice on training her.

Thanks, Kathy

Hi Kathy,

You are absolutely right and the owner is absolutely wrong. The mare doesn't trust that she will not be in some sort of pain (have her back checked by a vet/chiropractor) when ridden. Assuming you did get the saddle problem sorted out, she is habituated to experiencing pain. She expects it and it will take some time for her to realize there will be no pain. Get very good at ground schooling with her. You correctly stated that you want to go back to the basics of her training, beginning on the ground. This is what will change her attitiude into a more more positive one. I wouldn't even ride her for a couple of weeks and consentrate on the ground schooling. 'Restarting' the horse is the right thing to do and it won't take but a few weeks at most. I agree the horse sounds very 'greene.'

The vast majority of horse owners only think of 'riding' horses. They know nothing of the real nature of horses and frequently don't give a hoot. When you do begin riding, ride endless circles and serpentines (figure eights) at the trot. This will absolutely relax the horse and get her good again. If she drifts out towards the barn put her to hind-quarter yields immediately and then back to the figure eights or small circles. She'll get the message that if she drifts off in a particular direction the 'work' becomes a bit harder.

With horses there is only fear or trust. Horses will become fearful if they experience pain, frustration, confusion, apprehension, ignore them, or have anything other than mutually successful communication with a human. Take it one step at a time and do not proceed to the next step until the horse is comfortable and mastered the previous one. It is somewhat like building confidence in a young child. Trust is earned and not a given. Its the same with respect. The mare is really not the difficult one here. Its the owner! Good Luck.............

Sincerely, Franklin

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