Training a young mare I
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Saturday, November 14, 2009 07:15 PM
This summer I had a 4-year-old Lippizaner mare in training for 3 months. She was just started by her owner who was concerned about how to continue the work properly and wanted a good dressage foundation for her horse. When I came to see the horse I was drawn by the noble beauty of her head and eyes, very typical for the breed. However, mare's behavior did not reflect the first impression about her. She was very restless, pushy, constantly invading her owner's space, etc. I got a feeling that mare simply didn't not see the handler as something to take into account, not to mention respect or listen. Riding looked similar. When I tried myself she was the same - spooking, stopping and going when she wanted, didn't really turn either way. However, the owner told me she didn't ride her for a month and she simply brought her to the ring mounted and rode. Considering mare's head, the reputation of the breed and owner's comments about her I decided that I will take her in training.
Our first working sessions were simple and short - staying calmly for grooming, leading from both sides, stopping, turning. Mare was surprised when she couldn't simply move into me, pass me, stop without my permission. She didn't argue much. If she could talk it felt like she would say - "Oh, well, whatever you say." She constantly was looking around and not paying much attention to me. A few times I really had to put pressure on her to stop her advancing into my space.
I have to point out that I paid close attention to the mare from the moment I opened the gate into paddock - to the way she was accepting me, walking with me, standing for grooming, picking up feet, etc. When handling restless, pushy horses it is important to be very focused, balanced, confident and calm on inside. Very often these horses are like that because they are scared, confused and feel very insecure. They need to know their place. If you offer them love but allow them to push you around this will not help the situation. While working with the mare I kept very good balance so she could not knock me off it and make me step back or sway. Every time she tried to "lean" into me or my space with her head, shoulder, hindquarters I was ready to stop her and set her straight. This is something I want to bring to my reader's attention. Many riders let their horses knock them off balance. It does not mean a person falls down, it means a handler has to make a step back or sway backwards in order to remain standing. This is enough. After that pushing the horse back, chastising him or yelling at him is too late. It does not teach him anything. He already knows he is the one who is pushing around and not the human. Do not tolerate even smallest invasion in your space unless you invited and be prepared to stop the invasion. I'm not suggesting of punishing the horse, just constantly correcting the horse's position before their advance make you change yours.
Your way of presenting yourself to such horse must be calm confident gestures, good posture, assurance must emanate from you like a radiance. Do not fuss and move too much around such horses. On the contrary, it is very helpful to stop and stay absolutely still for a few moments, especially, after you made the horse stop invading your space. When the horse has done well gentle stroke or a short praise said with calm soothing voice is much better than too many pats, smooches or too much talking. When the handling is confident, firm and VERY CONSISTENT such horses start turning around very quickly. It will become like a snow ball, the better they are the more you praise and reassure them. This in turn makes them more confident and willing to listen to you. Just remember, horses constantly reevaluate their pecking order. They do it very discreetly, most of the time people do not even notice that. They do the same to humans. Do not ignore small signs such as leaning into you, bumping into you, stepping into your space while you are grooming, etc. It starts very small and if corrected right away do not progress anywhere. If you let it slip and allow your horse to realize you are not paying attention to the pecking order when you finally see it it will be too late, the correction usually has to be strong and involve emotions from both sides.
Next time I will continue on the mare's progress. The riding progressed from walk to trot to canter, trail riding, learning to relax the back and stretch into the bit
Happy riding...
Comment by Kathleen on Monday, March 21, 2011 03:40 PM
I was wondering what exact actions you used and said when the mare invades your space, pushes with her head, and tries to bite. Thanks! P.S. She is 3yo and a spotted saddle horse with TN Walker too.
Comment by Irina Yastrebova on Monday, March 21, 2011 09:35 PM
First of all you have to constantly watch your mare when you are close to her. And I mean this literally, watch her with your eyes. Never ever turn your back to her. If you are standing close enough that she can swing her head into you, or tries to bite you, keep your feet apart, your knees slightly bent, one leg slightly ahead of another. Keep one of your hands at chest hight, in front of you and made into fist. As soon as your mare starts to advance toward you she will meet your fist. At that moment push it into her with all your weight. Depending on what part of her body she advances toward you you will push her either into head, shoulder, neck, etc. If your actions do not stop her advancing, use your other hand, voice, what ever needed to stop her moving toward you. If she tries to bite aim your fist into the most sensitive area such as muzzle and lips. Depending on where you stand elbow works really well. With my voice I usually say "No!" with very strong low pitch voice. I cannot stress enough that you must notice your mare's intentions when she only begins to shift her weight or turns her head very slightly toward you. Stop things happen before they escalate to something dangerous! When you stop her advance, freeze for a moment and see if your mare follows your action and stays still too. This is very important follow up. Really teaches them to pay attention to you.
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