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The case for 'collection': My 8 yr. old mare testing me

I've been working primarily on the ground with my mare and she is wonderful- does everything I ask and focuses on me entirely. Very respectful of my space and very accommodating. I've recently started working on my riding...I'm an early intermediate rider - not much formal training. My trainer had me work on walking her with keeping her head down. She gave me some trouble with slowing down and stopping some times but it was mostly due to the fact that I couldn't work on my hands and keep my feet into her at the same time. When my trainer would remind me to keep her moving band put some leg into her, hers ears would go back and she's kind of kick out. I'd be persistent and she'd give in but not be happy. Today I went out to the barn to work on the "lowered head" and she really gave me trouble. At times, not only would she slow down so much to nearly a stop but when I'd ask her to move out, she's back up!! I could feel her doing things with her back legs, not sure what and her ears were back - I almost got off as I was getting a little scared. I stayed on the squeezed her more insistently and she did move out but she never really gave in to me - it was a constant worry for me as to whether she was going to pull it again and would it be worse. Is she taking advantage of me knowing that I don't really know yet what I'm doing......testing me? What can I do to stop this? Should I not worry so much about her headset? I'm not doing shows...I just want a good trail horse!

Thanks. Jan

Hi Jan,

A horse with a vertical face working off the bit and bridle appropriately, will tend to be paying attention to the rider better than a horse with it's nose in the air. iI will probably tend to smooth it's gait a bit as well. It may travel in a softer way as collection tends to soften the horse's foot fall The faster it goes the more it will need to elevate it's head for balance. Its a good thing to develop a natural head carriage that is not too high for a lot of reasons, most of them health related. A horse with a bit of natural collection will carry weight better. It also presents a better esthetic.

Horse also tend to do what they can not out of any malace. In other words, they respond so heavily to the appropriate and confident leader, that if a good leader is not present for a while, they quickly get into the habit of fending for themselves. This 'fending for itself' behavior can be a challenge to change as it becomes a hibitual way of being. Old habits are hard to break. If there is a chance the horse will be aggressive to the point of dangerous when asked to respond to a leader on the ground, being able to work the horse at a safe distance is very valuable. Tools such as a round pen or roped off, to eliminate corners, small paddock (simulating a round pen) can be extremely helpful. If a horse tends to dangerous behavior when being ridden I always go back to ground schooling as that is the first step and only way to really begin to rehabilitate deepseated, unwanted behavior. Sometimes it is advisable to give up riding for a while in favor of re-training the basics of willing partnership and trusting efforts at compliance to requests. If you do this, if you learn the process from someone qualified (not a rubber stamped trainer), you will gain more of the world of horses. It is not about controling your horse. It is truely a dance. You need to be able to lead this dance. Sometimes we have to go back to the basic dance steps to learn a dance.

Have your trainer show you how she/he would ask your horse to collect and soften up in the bridle. Consider you may want to change the bit. Sounds like you are using a snaffle. Is that correct? From the behavior you describe it sounds like it. You should be able to ask your horse to flex it's neck to your toe in either direction as well as lower its head, break over at the poll and stand collected quietly. These are very worthwhile and good things. Perhaps your horse is being asked for too much too fast. I really don't know for sure. But I do know 'too much, too fast' is sometimes difficult for us to see when we do it. Are you really going at it one little step at a time and lots of short breaks and praise for even the slightest effort. Riding in a confined area (round pen or small paddock) for part of a training session is fine. It is good to be able to ride your horse anywhere. Watch somone ride your horse who is substantially a better rider and see what happens. If they can do things you can't with the horse, it is up to you to come up to the level of the horse rather than the other way around. Being too unsure about what to do or how to handle certain situations with the horse will prompt and reinforce the unwanted behavior you are experiencing. The horse is afraid because the leader is confused and doesn't know what to do to. Anyway, if you only want to go out on trails, a horse with it's head up all the time is looking for a problem (danger) and a horse that carries it;s head down a bit, a bit collected, is paying attention to the rider and not so worried about spooky things that may or may not exist. This means a generally calmer, more trusting horse and ..... a smoother ride. Good Luck.....

Best regards, Franklin

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