My horse is a saint as long as he goes first! When he’s at the back he turns into a monster. Any ideas?
“When my horse goes in front he’s a pleasure to ride but that all changes when he goes behind. In walk he jogs, in trot he canters sideways and when we start to canter in a group he bucks! Is there anything I can do to try to get him to relax at the back? At 12 years old I wonder if it’s too late to ask him to change.”
Good question! When you have a horse that is relaxed and happy to lead it can often be difficult to follow – especially at times that are exciting; like cantering. I’m a bit of a fan of ‘live and let live’ so unless this is a real problem to you I’d be inclined to stay up at the front unless you really want a long term project.
However where there’s a will there’s a way and if you have the patience and some good friends you can get your horse to do what you ask. Firstly think about making some small changes to your tack. Jogging, cantering sideways and bucking are usually set up by tension between your hands and your horse’s mouth. Whose fault that is is unimportant – the important thing is you remove it. I’m a huge fan of a standing martingale with a flash noseband (the broader the cavesson part the kinder). A flash will enable you to use the standing martingale and the drop part will stop him opening his mouth so wide that you lose control. A standing martingale takes all the pressure away from your horse’s mouth and focuses it on his nose – which he’ll soon realise he’s doing to himself. This takes all the tension away from your hands and arms and that will help to defuse the excitment.
Never make the mistake of thinking a stronger bit will calm a horse down. It won’t. What it will do is stop him going forward and increase the tension between your hands and his mouth and create more problems. A standing martngale really will give you more brakes than a stronger bit – and it’s kinder too.
There’s more about bits and tack here.
Another great addition to your riding skills is using you knee and thigh to slow your horse down – it’s what I call ‘The Other Way of Stopping. This removes the need to use your hands as much will really helps. It’s a great thing to learn and one that works on al horses. (There’s more on it here.)
Here’s what I do with young or difficult horses –
- Ride out on a regular basis on normal hacks with your horse alongside a steady companion – road rides are ideal because there’s no chance of a canter which may get him excited. Riding alongside is a gradual way to introduce him to the idea that he doesn’t have to be in front.
- It may sound unimportant but the more he gets used to following and not being left behind in a less exciting situation the better. It’s really important to ride with someone you trust who appreciates that you’re trying to solve a problem and will make sure they don’t walk or trot off without you (which happens more often than most people think!).
- If you can follow on an enclosed track so there’s zero chance of a vast open space to get him wound up or on a quiet lane (never play with new things on a busy road) with other horses behind him and only one in front it may give him the feeling of being in front without actually being there.
- Avoid canter for a few weeks – or even months – when you’re in company – so you start to switch him off to the excitment of it all. This will give you time to focus on getting the wak and trot right before you add to it by canetring.
- Practise cantering on other rides too but side by side whenever possible. Gradually allow the horse you’re with to get just one stride ahead so your horse starts to realise it’s not a race – nor is he going to get left behind.
- Try cantering in a field with another horse alongside, circle away if things start to get a bit exciting and rejoin when you feel he’s more settled. That will give him a sense of being in front or even on his own without his competitive streak coming to the fore.
I hope this gives you a few ideas. There’s a post here about hacking and what you can do while you’re out and about which might interest you too.