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Franklin Levinson's

Horse Help Center

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Learning to stop all over again.


I have a 20 year old quarter horse mare that has a horrible, horrible head throwing issue. She is a recent addition to my herd as I acquired her before Christmas of this year. She was very, very thin and in poor condition when I made her previous owner sell her to me. Her ears were badly infested with mites and a bad case the crusties. I knew that I had to bring her home after looking into her sad eyes. I am happy to say she is very healthy now with no ear problems. Although it took me several months to win her trust, she allows me to handle her ears and mouth. I remember the first time I tried to look in her ears I thought she was going to tear down my corral!

This horse loves to ride, loves to be with our group and loves to GO. She likes to be the lead horse on trail rides and I think she would lope the whole way if I let her. The head tossing/head throwing issue progressively got worse and worse until it all boiled to a head last weekend. She side stepped and chewed her bit and tossed her head every single time I even slightly moved the reins. I have tried several different bits (and a tie down) and I get the same response every time. About two months ago I had her teeth floated and checked, so I know her problem does not come from a dental issue. I was at a loss and very disappointed after that ride.

After much research and reading on the internet I found your site and read about others having similar problems. That night I got into the round pen and saddled up with only a halter on my girl. Lucky for me, my reins have clips so I clipped them to her halter. We worked a good 45 minutes and she responded like a dream. She stopped when I asked, turned right & left when asked, turned around and even BACKED UP when asked. Backing with her has always been an issue when saddled up. Oh, and there was absolutely no head tossing. I would have never thought to try this type of training before reading your site.

My question is this - where do I go from here? I plan to continue the round pen/no bit work with her but when is it okay to go on a ride with her? I thought about borrowing my friend's hackamore to see what kind of response I get. Should I even try to go out trail riding with no bit? Unfortunately, I do not know much about this horse's prior training other than she was "trail ridden a lot by my teenage son."

As you can see, I have absolutely fallen in love with this horse. She has gone from trying to bite me every time I got near her in the stall to following me around the pasture when I go out to check the fence or all the other pasture work that needs to be done. (And no I do not have carrots in my pockets every time!) I have the time to work around an hour a day 4 days a week during the week and I like to trail ride at least 2 times a month.

I look forward to your response! I have found your site has the most practical advice out there! Thanks for all you do. -Angela

Hi Angela,

I am really delighted you have found my suggestions helpful. You now have seen it is not about the bit when asking a horse to stop and having it do just that. I am going to attach a video of a bridless/bareback reining freestyle competition for you to really see it is not about a bit or even a bridle or saddle. It is about trust and skillful training and wonderful horsemanship. You already know about the trust part and how to develop it. You just don't know the training part. Both obviously take time and do go hand-in-hand. But horses can be fast learners depending on the teacher. To go to the next step in developing a stop, start by only going a few steps, immediately putting more weight on the horse's back, perhaps move your feet just a tad forward, sit down and softly say Whoa. Do not pull on the leadrope. If the animal does not get much momentum up, it will probably stop. The key is to not allow much momentum of movement at first. You gradually allow the horse to go a few more steps then a few more steps...all this at a walk. After ten minutes the horse should get pretty good at this verbal and body cued stop (no hands). Put the horse away with a treat. If the horse does not stop any one time, give a pull on the rope at the same time you ask for the stop. It will get it....

Next put a neck rope around the horses neck (a tied on leadrope or any appropriate length rope will do). Basically practice the preceeding technique with the addition of a little neck rope tug when asking for the stop. Eventually the horse will stop with just the neck rope. You can also walk the horse diagonally across the round pen and directly into the panel (side of the round pen) and give a verbal stop as it gets right up to the panel. This will support the verbal and/or neck rope stop as well. All this time you are developing a stop and not messing with the horse's mouth. This new stop at a walk (vebal, halter and rope, neck rope and no hands at all) should be flawless and perfect before going on to the next step. It might take a week to get it great. Alwasy end your sessions on a happy and wonderful note.

Next step is to begin to GRADUALLY ask for a bit more speed The process will remain the same and should be flawless and perfect before moving faster.

You can begin to ride in an arena or bigger paddock after a couple of weeks. Eventually you should be able to lope your horse and ask for a stop without useing your hands and get it. Now you can begin to try a few different hackamores (bridles without bits). Of course once you see the vid I am attaching and you begin to ride like this, you may come to want to allow more and more freedon for your horse when being ridden. I do suggest something on the animal's head when you go out on trails. Several types of hackamores are: bosals, leverage hackamores like bike chain style (not as bad as it sounds) and something simply called a bitless bridle. Once you really get the 'stop' without using your hands, it mostly will not matter what sort of hackamore you use. As with a bit, it is only a tool and only as good as the hands of the individual using it. There are videos on the market that demonstrate this sort of riding. I do a little in my Training Thru Trust DVD. My next DVD will have a feature of it.

Good Luck and keep me posted.

Sincerely, Franklin

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