To help you establish whether your horse is showing signs of stress, take a few moments to consider the following.Read More
Is your horse stressed? Follow these tips to help your horse feel happy and calm.Read More
Help your mare to handle her hormones with our advice for managing moody maresRead More
There’s nothing more frustrating than a horse that won’t load. You’ve spent hours getting him ready for his journey, but he walks up to your trailer or horsebox and refuses to go in. In this situation it can be tricky to know what to do, but with a little bit of time and patience you can have your horse travelling happily. Specialist trainer, Michael Peace offers his tips and advice on how to overcome three common loading problems, so your horse loads first time, every time.
Problem: He won’t walk up the ramp
Solution: When your horse plants his feet, don’t walk to where he’s standing as this suggests to him that he’s moving you and not the other way round. Try standing where you want him to move to and wait without any pressure on the lead rope. If you try and get into a fight with him you’ll not win. By simply waiting you’re giving him time to assess the situation and realise it’s easier to stand with you.
Problem: My horse is scared of small spaces
Solution: Some horses will load quite happily, but he’s not so happy when you close the partition. This creates a smaller space for your horse, and as a flight animal, he may find this restricting. Stay calm and patient while he figures out what what you’re asking him to do is ok. Resist the temptation to pull on the rope, wait in the spot you want him to walk to and let him think for himself. Once he moves to you praise him.
Problem: He doesn’t understand where to stand in the box
Solution: Some horses can’t work out how to position themselves once they’re inside a horsebox. A good technique is to use his head like a rudder. Move his head to the opposite side you want his quarters to go, you’ll find if you do this he’ll swing his quarters round into the position you want. You need to give your horse clear signals and be precise in what you’re asking your horse to do.
The 13 behaviour signs that show your horse is happyRead More
Before you can tackle your horse's fear, you need to be able to move your horse in all directions at all speeds. Here Richard Maxwell shows you howRead More
You can do this exercise anywhere – in a school, arena, or a corner of your field. Tack up as usual but don’t mount. Take the reins over your horse’s head and lead him into your arena or work space, using the reins like a pair of leadropes. The reason for this is to give the horse maximum freedom and so he doesn’t feel held down or controlled.Read More
If your horse won't be caught there are two possible reasons why – our expert Debbie Marsden explains what they are, how to spot them and how to deal with them.Read More
Sharing a strong bond with your horse is hugely important, without it you can’t achieve a winning partnership. Here, our expert international dressage rider and trainer Claire Lilley shares some simple ways to bond with your horse at home.
Give him a thorough groom
Horses bond by grooming each other, so it makes sense to do what another 'horse friend' would do. A good grooming session should last at least an hour. You can go further by using massage techniques after your grooming session.
Walk him out in-hand
In-hand work in the school is a great way to bond with your horse, and if you stand by his shoulder you can see his facial expression. Practice walk, halt, walk transitions in the school to start with and progress to leading him outside down a quiet lane. Just taking him for a walk in-hand will help you bond. Sit on a wall and pick some nice long grass to hand feed him.
Teach him turn around the forehand
Stand by his shoulder and with a schooling whip held alongside his body, tap him on his inside hind leg, on the thigh or cannon bone (whichever works the best) to ask him to step away from you. Alternatively press him with your fingers by the girth where you inside leg would be. The movement resembles shoulder-in 'around a dinner plate' with the front legs stepping around 'the plate' without crossing. The hind legs should cross over in big, sweeping steps. This is a great in-hand exercise that should get him thinking and means he’s working in close proximity with you, rather than only listening to you when you’re in the saddle.
Learn to long-rein
Long-reining is a great way to improve the bond between you and your horse and improve your schooling at the same time. Practice school movements in walk, such as circles of different sizes, serpentines, leg yield, shoulder-in and so on.
Master halting square
With your horse in-hand, try to achieve a square halt, if he leaves a leg out behind, touch the offending leg with a very long schooling whip, or use an old lunge whip with the lash chopped off (leave about 3 inches of lash attached). Try not to fiddle around too much with the halt though. If he won’t stand square with a couple of taps, then walk on and try a new halt.
Just enjoy his company
Find the time to just be with your horse, whether he’s in his field or his stable. Wrap up warm and take a picnic full of goodies you can share like apples and carrots. Sit in his stable and spend some time talking to him, stroking him and sitting with him.
More about our expert
Claire Lilley is an international dressage rider and trainer who trains horses and riders of all levels and knows just what it takes to achieve that winning partnership. See Claire's new DVD Stop! Go! Turn! for more schooling ideas. Visit www.clairelilley.com for details.
Napping is often thought of in terms of a horse being naughty. But when he refuses to leave the yard, or goes so far and then tries to whip round and head for home, he shows another example of separation anxiety. If this sounds familiar, follow British Dressage and British Eventing Accredited Coach, Joanna Day’s tips for success:
1. Work him out
If you work your horse hard at home, then take him a short distance away, let him rest and, if possible, graze, you’ll find being near the stables will become less attractive to him, and going away from home will become more so. Repeat, gradually building up the distance.
2. Back to school
In the school, try riding a nappy horse with one other, then taking him away from the other horse while both are rested. Don’t let them stand together, but rest them in different corners for a short time.
3. Ask for help
Don’t cause yourself more problems – and risk having an accident – by trying to cope alone with napping problems. If you’re nervous and lack balance and stability, get help to give your horse confidence, which in turn will help your state of mind, and work on your own riding too.
4. Tough love
Don’t pat a horse to try and reassure him when he’s napping, because by doing so, you’re rewarding the behaviour. Pat him when he moves on, because that’s what you want to reward.
When you’re ready to ride out, once you’ve done in-hand work and separation exercises in the school you should be able to ride out a short distance and then gradually increase this. If you can go with another horse, try a useful technique called leapfrogging, where one horse overtakes the other and moves off and the one who is left behind is asked to accept this and stay calm. This work can progress to more challenging manoeuvres, including one horse going out of sight of the other. It can be used in-hand as well as ridden.
6. Be clear
Schooling for the right response will reap benefits. If your horse understands and is responsive to your aids in a schooling environment, you should have better communication away from it.
Even if you prefer to hack, establishing communication will make hacking more enjoyable and safer.
What does a horse have to worry about? Not too much, you’d imagine, as he stands rugged up and warm in his stable awaiting his evening meal. But while he may not be fretting about paying the bills or his next career move, your stabled horse could well be feeling strain of a different sort. Unable to exercise his freedom or indulge his natural urges, he might seek to relieve the stress caused by confinement or isolation by developing his own coping mechanisms.
Some horses become more anxious in the stable than others. An inability to cope with restricted movement, food or social contact can lead to undesirable behaviours such as crib-biting, weaving, windsucking and box walking – with these stereotypies (traditionally called ‘vices’) often regarded as a fault or misbehaviour on the part of the horse, rather than a result of the unnatural environment he’s kept in.
In the past, most treatments have used physical intervention to prevent the horse carrying out the activity, such as foul-tasting pastes to deter the crib-biter from latching onto parts of his stable, and tight-fitting neck collars that make it harder for the wind-sucker to gulp down air. However, instead of merely addressing their symptoms, modern thinking seeks to better understand the cause of these behaviours in an attempt to create more effective methods of relief.
Here, equine behaviour expert Dr Debbie Marsden helps us understand stereotypies.
A crib-biter will grasp a fixed object with his incisor teeth and bite down onto it.
Crib-biting is sometimes accompanied by wind-sucking – where the horse arches his neck and gulps down air, usually with a loud grunt. Chronic crib-biting can cause uneven wear of the teeth, but occasionally a horse will wind-suck without crib-biting.
The stationary horse moves his weight from side to side, usually with a corresponding head and neck motion and sometimes lifting his forefeet as he sways. Weaving is performed at times of excitement such as feed times, or continuously in the stable or over the stable door. Some horses, particularly ex-racers, who’ve had weave bars previously may have developed an ‘on the spot’ weave (less side to side and more up and down).
A box-walker will make repeated circuits of his stable or pace back and forth behind the door. Usually a result of anxiety due to confinement and separation from others in the horse’s ‘herd’, box-walking is sometimes triggered by an unusual commotion in the yard or a move to an unfamiliar stable.
Less common stereotypies
These include circling, head twisting, tongue flicking or curling, teeth grinding and self-mutilation. While non-stereotypic or learned behavior includes wood chewing, relentless gnawing of wooden surfaces and aggressive behaviour. This can be directed at people or other horses and may take the form of kicking, biting or other threatening head movements such as teeth snapping. Other habits that may indicate unsuitable management include pawing the floor, bed eating, door kicking and head nodding.
Spotting a stereotypy
Most horses have their quirks and funny habits, but how do we distinguish between a true stereotypy (or vice) and the kind of learned behaviour problems so commonly seen on the yard? According to Debbie, one of the chief identifying factors is whether or not there is an apparent goal for the horse’s actions.
“Stereotypic behaviour is traditionally defined by a lack of obvious motivation or function,” she explains. “So while kicking the stable door at feed-time in an attempt to hurry up the arrival of a meal would indicate learned behaviour, relentless box-walking would be classed as a stereotypy – even though the calming effect a stressed horse might experience by pacing around the stable could be considered some sort of goal.”
Stereotypic behaviour can also be identified by its strictly repetitive nature, she explains, and sudden arousal such as a yell or the crack of a whip can worsen the problem. Even threats or punishment make little difference. “As the goal of the behaviour is its actual performance, subsequent pain or adverse consequences don’t affect it,” says Debbie, who adds that horses performing a stereotypy experience an increase in ‘feel good’ beta-endorphins. “This explains why horses with stereotypic self-mutilation continue to bite and lick at an open wound.”
While many stereotypies may look bizarre to us, Debbie points out all are based on elements of natural behaviour – albeit without the usual goal.
“Examples are teeth grinding without food to chew on, and tongue-flicking in the absence of grasses to be selected,” she says.
The main causes
Studies suggest that as many as one in 10 horses exhibits some kind of stereotypic behaviour – sometimes more than one type – and that the problem occurs in many different breeds and in all ages. So why do some develop stereotypies? According to Debbie, it’s a combination of a horse’s genetics, his life history and the environment he lives in.
“An estimated 40% of the equine population are genetically predisposed to stereotypy,” she explains. “Even if he inherits a predisposition to do so, however, a horse will not necessarily develop a stereotypy unless he is placed under certain management conditions. Conversely, any horse could develop one if sufficiently stimulated.”
Factors that trigger stereotypic performance, explains Debbie, include frustration, excitement, stress or pain. These could stem from the horse’s early life, perhaps around weaning-time, or by aspects of day-to-day management – especially the practice of stabling a horse for long periods so he cannot interact with company or otherwise occupy himself with activities such as grazing.
Additional triggers include feeding time, seeing stablemates leaving the yard, being moved to a new box or meeting new horses. Less frequent events such as travelling, moving yards, or alterations in work, fitness or diet are also thought to stimulate stereotypies in susceptible horses.
New behaviour patterns could indicate underlying health problems, so Debbie advises consulting your vet if you spot the onset of a stereotypy. But, in the absence of any obvious direct physical causes, it’s now thought that a horse is less likely to develop coping mechanisms in the form of stereotypies if sufficient consideration is given to his natural requirements.
“It’s now widely recognised that ‘stable vices’ are not misbehaviour but a sign or inappropriate husbandry,” says Debbie, who recommends reducing anxiety through specific and permanent changes in management. “It’s proven that the time spent performing abnormal behaviour decreases with time spent feeding, so ideally the horse should be feeding for between 12 and 18 hours a day.”
If a horse is stabled, Debbie advises providing forage in small-holed nets and feeding a high-fibre, low-calorie diet.
“Strict routine can actually encourage frustration instead of relieving it, especially around feed time, says Debbie. “Ideally, put the feed in the stable before the horse is brought in, and try sprinkling concentrates among the forage ration to avoid the arousal caused by a highly palatable diet and the associated burst of beta endorphins.”
Turning a horse out might seem the obvious solution to a lack of social contact, but Debbie advises arranging company carefully to reduce excitement and prevent stress caused by bullying.
“Select small groups of three to five horses of mixed age and gender, and allow to them to form long-term relationships,” she suggests. “Loose yarding or partitions that allow maximum possible physical contact and a choice of neighbour are a good idea for the stabled horse, while a safety mirror may relieve feelings of isolation if the horse must remain alone.
“It will take at least two to three weeks for any noticeable improvement as a result of a management change – and three to six months before the behaviour is eliminated,” says Debbie. “But the behaviour will return if the horse is placed in that same stressful environment.”
Uprooting and moving house can be stressful enough for a human who can quantify the reasons for doing it, but moving your horse can be a whole different ball game and even more stressful.Read More
If you have a horse who kicks or strikes out at you without warning, it can be a worrying and nerve wracking experience and can damage your relationship. Make sure you and your horse are safe and sound with expert advice from Natural Horsemanship Trainer Charles Wilson.
“Kicking is a terrible habit, especially if it’s hard wired into your horse’s brain,” says Charles,
“but punishment for kicking is futile and often counter-productive, as fear is the root cause of the kicking in the first place, so punishment simply re-enforces it. Horses need to feel safe and know that there is nothing to fear and being around you is the safest place for them to be.”
If you have a horse who kicks out at you, it’s important that he learns to accept you at close range. This exercise will help:
Step 1: Get him used to your touch
Hold him loosely with a lead rope over your arm in a small area (bigger than a stable). Don’t tie him up as this could make him anxious.
Stroke him from his shoulder, using long gentle strokes and see if he relaxes under your touch. Lowering his head and breathing deeply are signs that he’s beginning to relax and accept you. For the first few sessions, don’t even attempt to go towards the hindquarters, stay up at the shoulder end and always wear a riding hat and sturdy footwear.
Stroke his head, neck, shoulders and front half of his ribs, before stroking further back towards the stifle. Remember to be patient and calm.
Step 2: Pay attention to his reactions
As you stroke him, make a mental note of any areas on his body where he tenses up, leave these areas and return to a point where he relaxes again. Return to the area that caused the tension and work around it - gradually building it up until he is fully relaxed with you being there.
Step 3: Take care around his back legs
Before you head down the hindquarters and back legs, familiarise him with being stroked with a stick over the parts where he feels least resistant. You are essentially using the stick as an extension of your arm. Then, when you feel ready, move down his back legs with your stick. It’s important to be very patient and gradual with your movements.
If he kicks out, don’t panic. Just keep soothing him with your voice and stroking him, until you can stroke a little way down the leg without him lifting it. Then stop and let him rest. Chill-out time is a must to take the pressure off.
You should find that over time you’ll be able to stroke down the hindlegs and even lift his tail a little. Be observant and monitor his body language. You should expect this process to take a few weeks.
Once he accepts the stick touching him, your hand will be the next step, but before that, allow a rope to swing around the leg, near the hock. Again, expect this work to take a few sessions and progress slowly until he’s familiar with the sensation of the rope.
Once you move on to using your hand, be sure to convey an air of confidence and calmness with slow and deliberate movements.
More about our expert
Charles Wilson MA, BHSAI is a Natural Horsemanship Trainer who has a wealth of experience in training horses. Training his own horses from his late twenties, Charles has successfully competed in all the major disciplines. It is this all round horsemanship skill and knowledge that gives such a deep insight into his work with both horse and rider.
While watching your horse buck and play in the field is lovely, being on-board when he kicks up his heels is quite another matter. Bucking is a behaviour developed to stop predators getting on the horses’ backs. In domestic circumstances, however, it can be triggered by fear, pain, over-excitement, excessive energy, or high spirit and poor riding. Some horses do also seem to have particularly sensitive backs, while others will use the excuse of cold or windy weather!
Dealing with bucking:
1. Have a health check
Get in the experts to check his teeth, back and tack, so you can be sure there is nothing causing him pain. While you’re at it, invest in a lesson or two to be sure you are not inadvertently causing him any discomfort in his back or mouth by your riding.
2. Energy balance
Ask a nutritionist to assess your horse’s diet for his current workload. It can be easy to overfeed, especially if you have good intentions of riding more than you actually manage to. Good quality forage should make up the majority, if not all, of most horses’ rations.
3. Take avoiding action
Get to know the times when your horse is likely to buck and what the warning signs are. If his head drops and he slows, sit behind the vertical and take a firm contact to raise his head. Push your legs further forward and get your heels down, then encourage your horse to work forwards.
4. Safe circles
Riding onto a circle can help prevent bucking as your horse will need to use himself properly to balance. It also takes coordination and concentration.
5. What’s the benefit?
If you can either prevent the buck, or work through it and carry on with what you were doing, your horse will gradually realise he can’t get away with it. Be firm and confident, and he’ll realise that bucking doesn’t get him out of any work.
Once you’ve achieved complete submission, your horse will be totally calm, relaxed and obedient, and you will hardly have to use the reins at all. He’s simply doing what horses do naturally, which is following the leader.Read More
Some horses have a habit of flying out of their stables, through gateways or pushing past their owners, and there can be a number of reasons for this behaviour.
"Very often horses are afraid of moving through narrow gaps because of a past knock or bang to the hips," Sarah Kreutzer advises. "This may have happened in a trailer or walking through a narrow gap and, after this, the horse will attempt to get through any small gaps quickly, resulting in behaviour very much like barging."
This brings us straight to the 'medical'. Make sure your horse isn't in any physical pain from anything, including a previous knock or bang.
Usually in the herd, horses (and especially the unhandled foals) are extremely wary and respectful of our personal space. They don't barge or push, instead they keep their distance, only approaching with caution if they feel secure enough to do so.
"Over-handled, homebred foals can often end up being very pushy. If they aren't given proper boundries as foals, they'll grow up thinking they don't need them, and this can create a horse who will barge," explains Sarah.
"Also, if we put an unhandled foal from the herd in a small space, they'd probably want to get out of there as soon as they can. Being in a confined area isn't normal for horses, so naturally they'll want to get out - and, for them the quicker the better!"
What are the signs that something is wrong?
Barging is a behaviour that happens on the spur of the moment. But that doesn't mean it starts one day out of the blue.
Don't forget that your horse may have been, or may currently be giving you, little signs that he's not happy and spotting them early could prevent him from barging altogether.
- Reluctance to load, or move through narrow gaps
- You're no longer in control of his feet
- He's losing respect for your personal space
What can you do?
When barging is an issue you need to question - who's moving who here?
"You should be able to lead your horse in a controlled manner without the fear of him rushing past or over you if he becomes scared," say's Sarah.
"Remember, if your horse is moving your feet, then he's in charge."
- Positioning - Make sure your horse is never made to face or pass something he's frightened of too closely. Position yourself between him and the scary object to show him there's nothing to be afraid of.
- Move his feet - You need to be able to move your horse's feet. If you do that then you're the leader. You're acting like a mother figure, which will reassure him.
- Show him it's safe - Your horse could be feeling insecure and his barging might be an attempt to get close to you so he feel's safe. Take little steps towards the thing that's worrying him to show that it's safe for him to move nearer.
- Remember you contract - Don't forget that by barging and being pushy, your horse is letting down his side of the bargain when it comes to your 'contract'. As one of Sarah's five key concepts, your horse should know that he shouldn't walk over you in return for you not walking all over him. Take back the control by using your body language - not by force. If your communication gets louder, he will only do the same thing in return.
- Put boundries in place - Don't be tempted to let your foals get away with murder becuase they're small and cute. Put boundries in place early and stick with them from the point on. But don't go to the extreme and treat a horse like a machine - remember they're living, breathing, feeling animals just like us - let them keep their personalities.
Most of the veterinary treatments available are either hormonal or surgical. In terms of hormonal treatment, Regumate, which contains a progestagen, is used by vets to assess whether the sex hormones are to blame for the reported behavioural problems.
Short courses of the drug will provide information but the behaviour is likely to return shortly after the drug is discontinued. Some use it long term but it is not licensed for use in this way and is very expensive.
A more drastic approach, which some owners take as a last resort, is to have the mare’s ovaries removed. This procedure can be performed standing, but is not without risk, including development of signs of recurrent colic following abdominal infection (peritonitis).
Removal of the ovaries is unlikely to change the mare’s behaviour if Regumate hasn’t worked.
Supplements currently available for changing a mare’s behaviour include Frisky Mare, Hormonise, Hormonal Mare, Relax Her Mare, Mare Magic, Moody Mare, Stroppy Mare and Oestress – some of these are veterinary approved.
They contain a variety of herbal products including valerian, Ltryptophan, camomile, devil’s claw, poppy, St John’s wort and raspberries.
There is little scientific evidence available for any of these supplements working in horses. However, there is evidence in humans that the individual components may help hormone-related problems.
Valerian is a sedative and calmer, camomile and devil’s claw are antiinflammatory and antispasmodic, so may help those mares with mild pain. Poppy has pain-relieving properties and is a sedative, St John’s wort and L-tryptophan are effective antidepressants.
Care must be taken in the use of these products in competing mares as they may contain banned substances (such as valerian).
Some vets are advocating placing marbles in the womb of difficult mares. The idea behind this is that the mare’s body may think she’s pregnant
and may supress seasons and, therefore, the difficult behaviour.
There is no scientific evidence that this treatment actually helps difficult mares but it’s worth discussing this option with your vet if all other treatments have failed – and it's certainly less drastic than having the ovaries removed.
It’s not without risk, though – putting any foreign body inside an animal increases the risk of infection and this could affect future fertility.
It might seem counter-intuitive, but bitting expert Ema Odlin explains the solution to your control issues is likely to be a milder bit.
The mouth and tongue are your horse’s most sensitive areas, so the
bit is of crucial importance. It can do one of two things – bring about relaxation or evasion, with the latter causing tension.
The tongue is a very long muscle running all the way down to the sternum, and if there’s tension there the whole front end of your horse is tight. If your muscles are tense it makes you edgy, and it’s the same for your horse – you’ll see the whites of his eyes, his ears will be back and it takes less to upset him so he’ll be more likely to bolt.
If you hang onto a horse, he’ll just hang on back, regardless of the mouthpiece – he’ll take that pressure and keep fighting because he won’t give in.
On a horse who’s used to doing this, I tend to recommend the Myler 3304, a combination bit which works on five pressure points including the nose and chin, engaging these before the mouthpiece action kicks in, which can really help with a horse who’s become hardened and used to grabbing the bit.
Most cases of pulling, snatching or leaning are caused by a bit putting excess pressure on the mouth. A lot of people use single-joint bits but they can close like a nutcracker, pinching the tongue and pushing the joint up into the roof of the mouth, teaching the horse to push his jaw into the back of the bit to stop this happening.
A lot of people say their horse is too strong and resist using a milder snaffle, but their horse isn’t actually being strong, he’s just evading the contact. By going back to something less harsh or sharp their horse stops leaning because the uncomfortable feeling is no longer there, whereas if you over-bit your horse he’ll continue to evade and become more difficult, potentially damaging his mouth.
When choosing a bit, we’d select the most suitable mouthpiece for the horse – you want something which encourages him to relax his tongue. We then choose the cheek type (bit rings) for the rider to give them what they need, so you can combine a milder mouthpiece with things like a curb or poll pressure to give the rider
If you’re unsure about bitting options, always ask someone who knows about bits to help, don’t just rely on what your trainer tells you. Bits have moved on so much, there are so many new ones which can help and the difference it can make to your horse’s temperament and performance is amazing.
Mares - you either love them or hate them!
Some riders are adamant that if you've got a good mare then you've got it made - as they're loyal, intelligent, affectionate and make willing partners. Others refuse to put up with their ever-changing moods and unpredictability, especially if they want their horses to compete. Whichever camp you fall in you'll want to find out all you can about your mare and why she behaves as she does...
Why do mares get moody?
Find out why your mare can be an angel one day and a demon the next!
Horses reach puberty between 12 and 24 months of age and mares start their seasons (reproductive cycles) from then on.
During this time the two female hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, fluctuate in the mare's body - which can cause her changing mood.
To dispel the myths surrounding how to deal with napping equine behaviourist Michael Peace offers some effective solutions on tackling the problem.Read More