Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Warp Drive!!!

The questions that came in seem to run on the same theme. I should be able to cover them in one post.
I have to stress, my advice on hot horses that are lugging and pulling, and sometimes bucking is be careful!
I know we're talking different levels of ability and experience here.

As a middle of the road trainer, I am given lots of hot horses to "fix". I've gotten pretty good at it, but as I have said before, I can't change who a horse is. I guess I can if I break them down, but I don't go there.
Riding a hot horse is a continual, ongoing thing. The horse will always have to be reminded that jiggling, jumping, speeding up, etc., is not what we're doing here.
I happen to like a lively horse. They're usually smart and engaging, and I like to ride a work in progress. Plus, it makes me look cool.
I am known for how quiet my horses are. Most of them are fair to middling hot potatoes. But they know the rules, I try really hard to be consistant, and I spend lots of quiet time with them. They appear really quiet.

So here we go.
I got a really nice horse in for an evaluation. Ted is a pretty, stout, put together bay. He came off of the BarJP Ranch, out of a dynamite stud, Little Dors Lena. If you want to check out a good site here it is,

The Big K had started him, and he had done a couple three year old futurities.
His latest owner, Lyn, had spent some pretty good dough for him.
Ted had a lot of training on him, but not a lot of time. And he was hot. Lyn soon had a rearing, bucking, charging mess. She couldn't even lead him, he would play and goof, and just cause trouble.
He had been to a NH guy who didn't ride him, but worked him in the round pen for 30 days. Ted thought that was great fun, did well, went home, and ate poor Lyn for lunch.
When I met her, she had him in for training at the Big K's. Another on site trainer (like me) had him for 60 days. He rode him, but Lyn still couldn't.
She switched to me because she noticed how quiet my horses were. And the fact that my daughter showed her how to slap Ted into shape when she led him. It took five minutes to get Ted leading around like he should.
Lyn said, "Where did you learn how to do that?"
"My mom taught me."
"Where's your Mom?"
I swear, I didn't steal her, she jumped ship. The other trainer forgave me eventually.
I asked her, "What do you want from this horse?"
"I just want to enjoy him. If I want to go trail riding with girlfriends, I think he should do that, and not act like a dumb ass the entire ride."
Lyn started lessons with me, and they were going pretty good. His ground manners improved, and she could walk, trot, lope, and not get massacred.
I liked Ted, to be honest, I thought he was funny. There was no meanness to him, just a lot of horse. His sense of humor was going to get him sent down the road though.
He really gave Lynn a rough time.
Finally she asked me to ride him.
"I'm going to be on vacation for two weeks. How about you ride him, decide if he's fixable, and when I get back, I'll come ride with you and we'll go from there."
So here came Ted.
I knew he could be good. He just needed new rules that made sense.

I saddled him up, and longed him. I am pretty strict about horses bucking under saddle.
If I don't tack them up, they can play, and buck and yahoo around.
Once they have a saddle on, we're at work.
Ted didn't agree with my plan. He took off, bucking and leaping, and dragging me around.
I got out one of my secret weapons, my big long rope.
It's fifty feet of thick, soft cotton rope.
I have a loop tied at one end.
I use it for a myriad of things, that day it was a bucking rope.
I put it around Ted, and ran one end through the loop. It made a loose noose that I slid behind the saddle, so it hung around his flanks.
I sent him out on the longe line, where of course, not appreciating the rope around his flanks, he proceeded to buck.
I pulled the bucking rope tight. Ted went a little nuts.
I hung on, the noose stayed tight, and I kept yanking on the longe line and the bucking rope.
This is easier in a round pen, but I don't have one, so we just wrestled around the arena.
As soon as Ted stopped to catch his breath, I loosened the noose.
He took off again, threw out a kick, and I pulled the noose tight.
Ted was fat, and smart. So he figured out that I was going to pull that noose tight every time he bucked. He really didn't want to work that hard, so he started to lope around nice and easy on the longe line.
My first point was well taken, no bucking under saddle.
Then I bridled the very foamy and wheezing Ted, and got on.
I put him on the rail, and threw out my reins. He immediately took off.
I pulled him into the rail and essentially did a roll back.
I didn't execute a proper roll back though. I just yanked him through it like a dude on a rent-a-plug.
As we turned the other way, he walked for a step or two. I made sure he was on a very loose rein, and that my body was relaxed and quiet.
He took off again, and I yanked him into the rail again, and released my rein as soon as he walked that step or two.
We did this for a while. Ted couldn't believe I wasn't hanging on his face. To him, a loose rein meant go.
I realized he expected me to work him hard, he had no idea his behavior was causing Lyn to hold him in all the time. He was worried. He had no clue what anybody wanted. He would gas up in anticipation of the tight hold he was normally ridden with.
So I kept it up. I can't give you an exact time frame,( training is usually as exciting as watching paint dry) but I probably did the loose rein thing for an hour or so before Ted was walking around the arena relaxed and happy.
Then I got off and gave him a bath.
The next day was the same schedule.
He started to buck on the longe line, I got out my rope, he gave two half hearted bucks and quit.
I got on, and in a few minutes he was walking around on a loose rein.
I put him up.
The next day he longed like an angel, and when I rode, I worked on walk, trot transitions. He got excited, and chargy, but I simply turned him into the fence, which brought him down to the walk, and started again. He got that one pretty quick.
I stayed at that step for a couple more rides. I wanted Ted to understand his job. Which was to calm down.
I hadn't pulled back on him once during this whole time. I just said "Whoa". I didn't try to stop him until he was really ready to quit.
When I turned him into the fence I just turned him, I didn't pull back. I also only pull one rein at a time.
I wanted Ted to take responsibility for his speed.
I ended every ride with a quiet, loose rein walk.
When he had his walk, trot, lope transitions solid (I transition up the same way I talked about in the last post, and come down with an exhale, a deepened seat, and a lift of my rein hand) I changed our routine.
We started the day in our big arena. I expected a walk around the perimeter on a loose rein. Then I would do my basic reining work out. Lots of circles on a loose rein, different sizes and speeds.
I worked Ted hard, but made sure my priority was his level of calm.
If he blew, which he did often, I would shag his little butt back up to the little arena and repeat our first workouts. Then Ted would still have to finish whatever work I had originally planned.
If he broke gait, up or down, I would haul him through a roll or two until he was walking and start again.
I was extremely consistent. My cues were clean and to the point. I spent a lot of time just standing. If he moved I would lope a few circles and then see if he wanted to be still.
I still hadn't pulled back on him. If he didn't rate off my seat we would rollback.
we started walking around the place for his cool down. If he got goofy, back to the arena we'd go for another little workout. Then we'd try to walk again.
By the time Lyn came back from vacation he was walking around the ranch like an old dude. He liked it too.
It took Lyn awhile to get the hang of a loose rein. So we stayed in the upper arena for awhile, and reinforced the initial walk, trot, lope cues.
Then I added a step. I had Lyn sit on Ted with a loose rein. She would begin to bump him with both legs. He would jump forward with every intention of taking off. I had Lyn pull him straight into a back. (Finally, he got a pull!)
Not a pretty back, just haul on him until he backed up.
Then Lyn would release, slow count to three, and do it again.
The result was Ted eventually began to take a cautious step forward, almost on tip toes, when Lyn bumped him. When he crept forward Lyn would relax, and let him walk out. If he took off she would haul him back.
I wanted to instill slow into his brain. He needed to quit reacting to every bump and thump that his rider gave him. I wanted Ted to think before he responded.
This is NOT an exercise to do on a fresh horse. This is an end of the ride thing. Ted got to where Lyn could lift her rein hand, and he would pause, and wait to see what Lyn wanted. Kind of a cowboy half halt. If he didn't pause, she would back him.
Then we began trail riding. If Ted would jig or start to pull I had Lynn zig-zag him. She would guide him left until his feet moved one or two steps left, then take him right.
I would continue on in front with my horse.
The more he jigged, the farther behind he got.
When he finally walked Lyn would release her reins, and relax.
Since this was a variation of our arena work, he picked it up quickly. He got further when he walked on a loose rein, he realized he could catch up to my horse when he walked quietly, in a straight line.
Once again, consistency was the key.
Lyn would make contact with Ted's mouth when she had something to say.
If he leaned on her hands she would back him.
If any of my horses pull against my contact, I back them. Just a step or two. But I always do it. I back with my legs by the way, I only pull if they resist me.
So Ted started waiting for Lyn.
That is the key to soothing a wound up horse. They have to learn to wait.
Ted and Lyn are happily riding all over the place. She takes him on cattle drives, and trail rides.
He rides alone, and in a group.
She still has to school on him fairly often, but she keeps it simple and clear. Lyn told me that the schooling sessions are getting shorter, and easier.
I consider them a success.


  1. mugs- could you email me at
    I need to talk to you about a wimpys little step filly.

  2. You must write a training book! You have to sometime, I love your training stories, they make everything sound much more simple to do and possible to achieve for the average rider.

  3. I just love reading your blog! I love how you sometimes tell wonderful stories, and then other times you give us free training advice!

    Today caught my eye and I decided to comment, as I have a horse that is always in "warp drive". She's my 8 year old Paint mare who has been a trail horse for her entire life until I got the bright idea that I wanted to show her this year. I've had her since she was a weanling, so all her training has come from me (maybe that's half the problem) and she really is a great horse. She's kind, tries very hard to please, is very smart, and is responsive, although a bit too responsive. When we were out on the trails, I didn't pay too much attention to the cue I gave her for anything. We just plugged along. That was fine then, but now I need to refine her cues and need her to listen to me for a change.

    She's very eager to go. You can think about trotting and she'll trot. You can adjust your seat or tighten your reins and she decides to trot. Forget about riding her with any leg contact because she's going to go. If I ride her with a loose rein, we'll be galloping around the arena in no time. She'll trot, canter, and then haul boogie around the arena. I've been working to teach her to stay in the gait I've requested by doing the famous "one rein stop" when she changes gaits without being asked, and it seems to be working, but she will go as fast as she can without changing gaits. It is HELL to try and ride that trot, let me tell you. She just won't slow down!

    Consistency is the key it seems, and I know I'm not consistent with her when I make corrections. I'll read something on the Internet or overhear a conversation and think, "hmmm... I bet that would work with Lilly!" and I go home and try it. I know different things work for different horses and I'm hoping to find something that just clicks with her, or me.

    I'd like to do western and hunt seat, so it would be nice if she would rate her speed according to my request, whether that be my seat or my legs. Is the key to correct her when she starts going at a speed that is faster than I want? Is backing better than the rollbacks or one rein stops, in your opinion?

    Can you come to North Carolina and give me some lessons? :-)

  4. I am not a fan of one rein stops. My roll back is similar but I want them to keep moving.
    When they come out of a turn they will slow, thats when I release my rein. They learn that slow means loose rein.
    If I stop them then I'm not teaching them to slow down, I'm stopping them. That's not what "I'm trying to teach.
    I get nervous when the feet stop moving.
    I don't use backing as a slow down tool. Ever. I back when the horse resists the bit. I also used the back with Ted to create a hesitation. I f your horse over responds to your legs then the backing exercise is a good one. I don't eer let a horse dictate how I cue. They need to respond to what I want.

  5. One of the things I like about you is that you don't just make a horse and toss it back in the owner's lap. I like that the people that take their horses to you for training also learn how to ride their horse, and this is a great example.

    I think a training book would be a good thing for you to put together. From first unbroke lessons to, I don't know, however far you want to take it. With the examples you have, I think it would be very effective.

    I also want to reiterate that I love the way you explain things because you explain exactly what you do. When I'm not learning from direct instruction, I am a very textual learner -- that is, I learn best from reading. So many training books only say "When he gets strong, make him work hard at the faster gait until he is willing to offer the slower gait," or something equally simplistic. You explain the details, right down to WHY you do the rollbacks, WHY you stay off his mouth, and you SHOW how your consistency through all cues produces the response you want.

  6. Hey mugs, just wanted to be sure on the cotton loop thing. Is the loop both around the saddle and the horses butt? I'm just thinking it must be since if it was only looped over their butt it could come off.

  7. esquared-no, it's over their back,under the belly, and around their flanks. Don't try this alone...and bail if things go wrong. You can always start again.

  8. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had finally figured Indigo out. I always used to ride on a loose rein. When I got a really comfy good fitting english saddle we switched for the summer. I found her getting more and more anxious. Finally I remembered to let her loose. She was as good as gold. No more trying to trot off.
    Now she just speed walks. She knows better than to speed up so she gets this idiotic fast jarring walk. No it's not a jig, shes not trotting shes just walking fast and it makes the ride bumpy and uncomfortable. I have no place to school but the lane. It goes one line, to or from the farm. Crops are planted/ditches on either side. I can't turn her nose into a fence because there simply isn't one (soybeans are a tasty fence!) or do rollbacks without her homing device kicking in as soon as she points towards home. I do however like backing. She backs better than any horse I have ridden or trained.

  9. Thanks, mugs! That makes sense as far as the rollback vs one rein stop and her release comes when she slows down coming out of the turn. Hopefully she'll pick up on that. I might just have to prepare myself for a long night the first time I go to work with it.

    I was told by my trainer to try the backing exercise with her at the canter to try and slow her down. I would canter 10 strides, then back... canter 9 strides and then back, all the way on down, and all the way back up again. The goal was to create hesitation as you mentioned, but it seemed to make her hotter as she was anticipating the canter departure more than she was anticipating the stop.

    Any excuse to go...

    Perhaps the backing in conjunction with the rollbacks, might help her get the idea to wait for the cue and also slow it down.

  10. sydney-zig-zag, zig-zag-zig-zag. It's all I got. Because it has always worked for me.

  11. The other day I was thinking about something you said, "I cant do my job if I'm worried about getting bucked off." The importance of that didn't really strike me at the time. I thought, ok, yes, bucking is definitely bad. I realized the other day bucking was crippling my ability to make much progress with little arab mare. I was going to work on some cantering in the field, but we had walked away from buddy, and now we were fighting about whether or not running off was OK. Long story short, it would have been very helpful at that moment to go out and run for a while. I thought about doing it, then I thought "if I do that she'll buck and I dont have the energy to deal with that, and I dont want to be bucked off/injured today, etc. etc." Dont get me wrong, she has made a lot of progress, especially as I've been learning more, and she really doesn't buck too terribly much, (probably why I let myself ignore it for so long) but I started thinking about the many many dozens of times I must have changed my plans to reduce the chance of having to deal with her bucking.

    I'm not sure big R would let me do the bucking rope thing. It looks like a fairly advanced maneuver and he doesn't do it so he wouldn't be able to advise/help me. Still, I'm inspired. I'm going to actually do something about the bucking thing rather than just trying to stay on and see that she doesn't gain much by it.

  12. Great post, mugwump! I have always had more angst with hot horses than lazy horses (perhaps it's to do with the fact that I'm basically anxious, and the hot horses push that button), though I've dealt with plenty of both. I never did cure my old horse Burt of jigging, or my spooky horse, Gunner, of spooking, but I got along with them both. I am grateful to be riding a lazy one now. When I get inclined to over and under him to speed him up, I remember how much I hate it when they jig, and decide that (mostly) its Ok with me if he wants to meander down the trail in a relaxed way. I get to observe the wildflowers that much better.

  13. Gillian-I don't use the bucking rope can be hard to maneuver.
    Spurs make horses lift their backs, so I don't use those on them either (at first)
    Long trotting and lots of changes in direction is what helps in most cases. They don't get to run until they don't buck!

  14. zig zag zig zag, got it. Thanks.

    Incidentally the spurs quote is another one of my favorites.
    "Spurs dont make them go faster, they make them lift their back, and I'm willing to deal with how high their back goes"

    If you dont write a book we may all just have put together our favorite quotations.

  15. Mugs, thank you very much for the clear and concise description of what you are doing and why you are doing it. I am beginning to realize that my clutching the reins like a terrorized monkey is the root of lot of problems. giving Pip his head and making him responsible for his actions seems to make a lot of sense. Thanks! And you are a really great writer, your calmness really comes through in on the page! keep it up, you're fostering a whole new group of decent riders!

  16. Very well described. When we got my old mare Lacy, she would leap like a kangaroo if you tried to slow her down with the reins. She was a big, hot horse and she wanted to go. She taught me a her case what worked was putting her into a circle and letting her figure out she couldn't go as fast on the circle. I only pulled enough to turn, and I did it with a very elastic hand. Other than that, she had to figure out what do with her feet on her own. If she slowed, she got to go to a bigger circle or a straight line down the wall. Took off running, back to the circle. It did work, but honestly it took years to get her to where this behavior disappeared completely. It's so hard to fix them once they've learned to fight your hands, as opposed to not riding off your hands to begin with!

  17. If you mention this in another post, sorry! I can't seem to remember reading it--- how do you "back with your legs"?


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