What do you do when your horse is naughty?

This post over at Horse Listening got me thinking. I have had my share of naughty horses, and the one thing that I can take away from my cumulative experience is that what works for one horse may not work for another.

I have a zero tolerance for actual naughtiness (bucking, kicking out, getting light in front) but when one of my horses is “naughty”, I try to put it in context:

First I ask, why is my horse being naughty? Is it because they are confused? Stubborn? In pain? Overexcited?

Then I think about how my horse is being naughty. Is it behavior that I need to stop in it’s tracks because it’s dangerous? Or something that would escalate if challenged?

Putting the behavior in these contexts helps me decide how to respond.

If the answer is confused, then you must look long and hard at your riding/training. Often a horse misbehaves when it doesn’t understand what it’s rider is asking it to do, so “getting after it” is only going to ratchet up their confusion and potentially lead to a more explosive response. I ask myself if my commands are clear, my expectations are reasonable and my requests are appropriate to the horse’s level of training. This is a good time to take a step back and ask the horse for something less demanding. I try to end every ride on a positive note.

Stubben Soft Touch Spurs

These are my favorite Zelda spurs — Stubben Soft Touch. They are just “enough” to get her attention. It’s amazing how quickly she stopped trying to buck after I bought them!

If the answer is stubborn, then maybe you need to ride through an issue. But you also need to be smart about it. I’ve had two horses that could be enormously stubborn, but fighting them over it didn’t get you anywhere. Those were horses where you had to either change the question . . . or wait them out. Of course, if you have a horse like Zelda, who likes to test you, you need to be firm and patient. “Make me,” she  says. “Prove you really want it. Because if you’re not serious, I won’t do it.” This is a horse for whom spurs were invented. I’m not talking about big spurs; just spurs that are enough to reinforce the seriousness of the request. Some horses respond well to a crop; you have to see what works for you. Another approach that works when Zelda tries to buck or when she just stops and doesn’t want to move, is to spin her in a small circle. She doesn’t like to to that so it makes “regular” work less effort.

If your horse is in pain, then discipline is not going to change their behavior. An ill fitting saddle can cause your horse to buck, shorten its stride, hollow it’s neck or just act pissy. You’d be annoyed too if the tree points of a saddle were digging into your back or pinching a nerve or the saddle was rocking on your back. The wrong style bit can also make a horse “misbehave”. It’s important to understand saddle fit (or saddle mis-fit) and ensure that your horse is comfortable enough to do its job. I see many ill fitting saddles on horses owned by people who’ve never thought about saddle fit and know plenty of people who tell me their saddle was professionally fitted . . . two years ago! Horses’ backs change over time with work, age, and with weight gain or loss, so it’s important to regularly check that your saddle (still) fits. I know, some people tell me that because their saddle has foam panels it will adjust itself to changes in their horse’s back. That’s only true up until a point, a foam saddle will accommodate minor changes but it still will get to the point where it doesn’t fit.

If your horse is just too wound up to listen to you (think Freedom), then disciplining them is only going to make it worse. Freedom is a horse that has reinforced for me the need to ignore certain behaviors (such as bouncing), because they sort themselves out over time. Bouncing or jigging is a behavior that I can live with — as opposed to bucking. If he’s really distracted and won’t listen, I will put him in a “time out” using a one-rein stop while halted. I bring his nose to my foot and have him stand still until he refocuses. The other approach for the horse that won’t stand still or walk, is to make them work harder. Generally, that involves a bit of lateral work. “Sure you can jig, but you have to move sideways at the same time.”

How do you deal with your horse’s naughtiness? Any tips that you’d like to share?

As fall hunt season winds down

Blessing of the Hounds

Here we are lined up with the field for the Blessing of the Hounds. What you can’t tell from the photo was that it was freezing out!

In September the fall season stretches ahead and the possibilities seem infinite. Thanksgiving is a long way off and the weather is more like summer than winter.

Now, as the season winds down I’ve had to break out my heavy weight Melton and brace against the winds.

Saturday was the annual blessing of the hounds and when I woke up it was barely 20 degrees and there was a stiff wind.

The blessing of the hounds is a centuries-old tradition of blessing the animals and humans involved in a the hunt. The blessing practice was brought to the US in the 17th century but it dates back to the 8th century and to celebrations associated with St. Hubert, the Patron Saint of Hunters.

Blessing of the hounds

The hounds are about to be blessed.

Each year our hunt invites a clergy member, priest — or even a Native American Shaman — to the ceremony to recite prayers and bless the huntsman, hounds and horses. Each huntsperson is then awarded a medallion with the image of St. Hubert.

Some years we’ve had very elaborate blessing ceremonies; this year, the weather kept it short. The ceremony was held in an open field and the wind made the effective temperature in the teens. I think we were all thankful to get moving so that we warmed up a bit!

The first check

The hounds at the first check. Once we got moving, we all warmed up and the sun came out.

Considering the brisk wind and temperatures the horses were all well behaved; at last Tuesday’s hunt there must have been something in the air because despite the warmer temperatures, there was a lot of bucking and misbehavior. One horse also stepped in a hole, falling to the ground and nearly landing on her rider. That’s one of my greatest fears out hunting. It takes a lot of the pleasure out of galloping through an open field.

Hacking to the next cast

Hacking to the second cast — a line of shadow horses

But Saturday’s hunt was uneventful. Freedom complained that it was too slow — he likes the galloping and the open fields were inviting. He settled for jigging and bouncing with a few leaps in the air for good measure, but he was quite well behaved considering. Unlike Zelda, who tries to sneak in some bucks, Freedom never intentionally misbehaves; you can’t say that he’s naughty. He just can’t contain himself. The best thing to do is just ignore the behavior and ride through it.

Saturday’s hunt included some lovely open fields. It was held in a town called Pepperell which was first settled in 1720. It’s far enough away from Boston (right on the New Hampshire border) that it has a lovely rural feel to it.

Of course all the warmth generated by the hunt dissipated as soon as we got back to the trailers and back into the wind. It was wonderful to retreat into the antique farmhouse (circa 1790) and enjoy the hunt tea in front of a roaring fire!

Frozen Leaf

This frozen leaf — just ice, no longer any actual leaf — was on the fender of my trailer. It was that cold!


Soap ponies

soap ponies

I’ve been making soap ponies this week. I love that I can use organic soap base and add fragrance using essential oils. These ponies were made using a soap that has Shea and Mango butters in it.

I have never had the urge to cast my own soaps, but when I saw this adorable mold, I decided to try my hand at it. It is fun!

Now I have a growing herd of soap ponies. I’m thinking holiday gifts for my friends, items for the hunt club’s silent auction, and just filling my bathroom with them.

They are just the right size to hold in your hand.

For those of you who asked, I bought the silicone mold from GrandHorse on Etsy. The owner of the shop is an equestrian who makes her own molds. They are truly works of art!

If only I could paint . . . or fun with Photoshop

I see so many beautiful things when I’m out riding — we ride through such exquisite landscapes, enjoy the different seasons and experience the natural world up close and personal. I wish that I had the talent to pain what I see. I enjoy taking photographs, but on horseback (and especially on a horse that insists on bobbing like a cork on the ocean) the straight photo just doesn’t capture what I saw. So, thank goodness for Photoshop. I’m having fun taking the photos and making them just a bit more atmospheric and, in an odd way, truer to life.Fall foliage