Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Num, Yum, Snort, Hey! What's that???!!!

Rebbecca said - I have a 9 year old paint gelding, Junior. He was broke enough when I got him and we've been spending a year working on show finishing for western pleasure and hunter under saddle. Considering I'm an amateur (I do have a trainer, but I want your take on this) I think he's coming along well. BUT he is the mouthiest most ADHD horse I've ever known. He looks all around and gets distracted in the arena whenever a horse comes in or goes out. He will put anything and everything in his mouth and when he's bored/irritated/playful he kind of snaps at me.

Rebbecca has two problems with her horse. His mouthiness and his distractibility.

This gelding is a pleasure, hunter under saddle and maybe, a halter horse.

Each of these events requires standing still, or slow steady movement. None of these events are designed to take much thought on the part of the horse. Nor is there a lot of mental stimulation involved.

Most mouthy, easily distracted horses are also alert, intelligent and athletic horses. This is the kind of horse I like to put on a cow. Once I focus all that bubbling energy I usually lose the problem behavior.

I truly don't know what you pleasure guys do to occupy the minds of your more sharp minded horses, so input would be good here.

I also need to point out I have honest-to-God, diagnosed, severe, ADD. If I was a pleasure horse I would slit my own throat. So if Rebbecca’s trainer is happy with her horse’s progress I doubt he has ADHD.

What I do know is that a mouthy horse should not be given stuff to play with when he's being handled. Be it the end of a lead rope or the back of my shirt.

I have a 2 to 3 foot area of personal space that I want every horse I handle to respect at all times. No horse is allowed to cross into my space ever.

I come out of it to approach my horse whenever I want mind you, be it to love on them or discipline them. They don't get to come to me though.

This simple rule saves both me and my horses a lot of grief.

Have you ever watched two horses (usually geldings or studs) initiate play?

Horse #1 sneaks a quick nip at Horse #2.

Then Horse #2 nips back.

#1 whips back with a slightly harder nip.

#2 squeals and lunges.

The next thing you know they're rearing and play striking and acting like a couple of mustangs.

Next scenario: An owner is standing and holding her haltered horse by his lead rope right under his chin. The horse turns to look at another horse being led by him and the owner yanks on the lead rope.

Then the horse turns the other way to watch a tractor. The owner is pulled again and yanks on the lead rope again.

The horse sighs and stands still for a moment.

The owner strokes the horses nose.

He nips at her hand.

She gives him a small slap.

He nips again, a little harder.

Owner slaps a little harder.

Pretty soon they look like a couple of cheerleaders bitch-slapping each other.

Owner is pissed. Horse is thinking this is great fun.

Does any of this sound or look familiar?

So I keep things clean and direct. I don't handle mouthy horses faces below the eyes unless I'm bridling. Period.

There are lots of other places to pet my horse.

I DON'T HAND FEED THEM! (here we go again)

Between my personal space and my no petting below the eyes rule my mouthy horse never has a reason to touch me with his mouth.

Therefore, if he does touch me with his mouth I can discipline him. Not with a little slap or a bump of my hand on his jaw. I'm going to wack his shoulder or hip with my lead rope and bend him or back him around some.

If a horse in the field doesn't want the neighborhood punk horse bothering him he will lunge, kick and chase, making it extremely clear what's expected.

Every time he touches me with his mouth, I'm going to make a big, dramatic, unpleasant movement kind of thing. Then I'll ignore him.

On the other hand, I'm also going to ignore anything he does which doesn't affect me.

He can wiggle his ears, wag his tongue, shake his head, I don't care as long as his feet stay still and he doesn't touch me.

I give my horses at least four foot of lead rope when I lead them or hold them.

They get to do pretty much whatever they want on that rope as long as they don't touch me or bring their nose past my shoulder. They can't tug on the rope either. They have to keep their feet still when mine are. No grazing.

So they spook and spoof and rear and buck all they want as long as they don't break the rules.

I have noticed the only horses who choose to act this way are either stalled or in a small pen and haven't been out in a while.

I would want these rules clear before I started teaching them halter. Which I don't know how to do.

When the Don't Touch me, Keep your Feet Still Rules are clear I start to expect my horses to focus on me when I ask then to.

So if I quit ignoring my horse and look at him he needs to prepare himself to work. Which may be standing for the shoer or vet. Or loading in a trailer. Or being shown at halter.

If I ignore him he can look around, play with his own mouth, whatever, as long as he follows the rules.

I’m the same way about my horses being distracted. If I’m not working and they aren’t affecting me they can look at whatever they want.

If we’re working they need to work.

I expect as much focus from my horse as I am putting on them, on the ground or in the saddle.

So again, if my horse should be working and he’s googling around, I’ll get after him for not getting the work done, not so much for looking. Does that make sense?

As far as specifics, you’ll have to listen to your trainer, because I don’t know nuttin' about halter or pleasure horse training.


  1. Thank you, Mugs, for answering my question. In the time since I emailed you the question I've stopped hand feeding him and have signs posted on his stall that he is not to be given treats. He may receive a carrot on the ledge of his stall or tossed in his feed pan, but no more while being handled. This, combined with getting more stimulation by being used as a lesson horse (which he seems to LOVE) he has much improved on the mouthiness. He is also enjoying an increasing assortment of toys ranging from dog rope bones to balls, and he's getting a rubber duckie type thing soon since he thinks his water buckets are good places to store said toys. With the increased stimulation he is less likely to reach for my person. Less stimulation = more mouthy. We've not started working on halter showmanship yet, but I finally understand why "nipping" him back with my hand doesn't always work. ...cheerleaders bitch slapping ROFL... and you have now given me an alternative which makes sense to me.

    As for the ADHD we're managing. I did put him on SmartCalm and I'm pretty sure it's made a difference. He was really great at the last show we did but his weakness is still seeing other paint horses, ponies, and foals. It's kind of funny in a way, and I'm learning better ways to keep him focused.

    BTW, I was told he was broke on cattle. :)

  2. ...cheerleaders bitch slapping ROFL...

    Coffee all over the keyboard..............

  3. I have one of those mouthy brats. I had to laugh at the cheerleaders bitch slapping, I did this just yesterday. Not really smacking him, but he kept trying to lip me and I'd move him away, we repeated that till it got to smacking. Good lord we must have looked like idiots out in the pasture. Maybe that's why the mare took so long to come up to us. She was secretly laughing. This horse constantly chews things. His bit being the worst thing, or nothing at all. He grinds his teeth, drives me freaking nuts, I don't know how to stop that and when you ride in a hackamore, how the heck do you stop it. Not really looking for an answer, but he was allowed to do it for years so I don't really know what to do about it. His original owner said " I let him chew on a lead rope as a baby because he wouldn't stand still and he needed a pacifier. Well thanks for that, he still chews his lead rope. I need to get McNasty to spray on it.

  4. "I give my horses at least four foot of lead rope when I lead them or hold them."

    My biggest leading pet peeve is when people lead their horses RIGHT under the jaw like if they don't have them on a short lead they might run away. My boss' husband was leading a particularly large goofy gelding this one day. He was leading him right under the jaw. I walked by the doorway, we didn't know we were both about to cross each others path. Said goofball leapt sideways with a great old snort, pulled the boss' husband right under him and proceeded to tromp on his foot and ankle pretty bad. Then since he was hanging on to the snap at his jaw when the gelding threw his head up he got a pretty good tug on his whole body cause his foot was under the goofball geldings.
    Lesson learned he came up to me after and said "I now understand why you always lead on a real long rope" I guess he was more observant than I gave him credit for.

  5. Have you tried a cricket or roller in your bit? Might help a bit. Just check that the bit you get is legal.

  6. I actually prefer to have my mare right next to me. I went to a clinic at one point, though, and the clinician constantly got after me for my horse being too close. "Get her off you!" I heard that a lot...

    But my mare is used to being very close to my side because of our showmanship classes. She has to stay right at my shoulder, and if I'm leading her, in my mind we're working. I want her focused on me at all times. The only time she gets slack is when I allow her to graze. That's it.

    But she is also not mouthy at all and never puts her mouth on me at any time. Perhaps things would be different if she was mouthy.

  7. about keeping pleasure ponies entertained- I have a too-smart-for-his-own-good pleasure pony, and i keep him entertained by actually only working on his boring pleasure stuff for half of our ride, and the other half i try to teach him reining. (all attempts at spins, rollbacks, slides or anything else i try to teach him were all EPIC fails)Also, to keep him interested, we chase barn cats. Its great fun...i wish we had cows to chase

  8. Mugs says: "I give my horses at least four foot of lead rope when I lead them or hold them."

    I've taught my daughter to leave the lead rope loose/not hold the horse right under the chin. It's just the safest thing to do.

    And then at the last 4-H show she does, the judge knocks her down big time because she was not holding on at the clasp. Huh? The judge placed her perfectly well-mannered horse and decent showmanship performance below some kids whose horses had refused to do the patterns and were all over the place.

    It's hard to teach your kids the safest way to do things when you're being undermined by the "experts."

  9. I've always found that very intelligent/quirky horses tend to lose most of that naughtiness when they are busy enough. Pleasure events aren't necessarily mindless for the horse and if you have one that's sharp enough you can vastly expand their repertoire of events. Trail is a good one to keep their minds really busy. Get them on patterns - same thing. Horses like these make great all arounds.

    Oh, and definitely stop hand feeding. It sounds like you might need some firmer boundaries.

    Great post! Loved the bitch slapping bit. Seen that a bunch of times and found it equally funny each time.

  10. First time poster, but I've followed you from the advent of your blog, and really enjoy your stories and Mouthy Mondays.

    I found that you share a lot of my horse philosophies. I joke 'absolute obedience equals absolute freedom',but really, a well trained and self disciplined horse earns and keeps so many more perks than one handled by someone that 'loves' him too much to make it behave.

    Horses understand herd/body language, they are willing to please if you are fair and consistent, and they appreciate discipline as providing structure to know how to please you.

    My horse always gets a vote, but it's not a democracy!

  11. brilliant sensible advises from Mug, she is the real deal, not like this internet experts who have seen a horse only the once in their life.

    Keep your distance, flap your arm, swirl lead ope to keep your horse away from you.

    I agree with Mugs I know a couple of mouthy horses who are very very very smart and athletic. Not sure they are suited for pleasure. I thought that pleasure horses were kind of dull of very low spirited. I understood that the most spirited QH were for cow work, then medium spirited are reining, and dull are for pleasure ...

    But I might be wrong. I would love to do pleasure and trail with my mare, but she still has lots of reining in her and straight line soon becomes a sprint unless I really work her mouth and back. We might end up to be the fastest pleasure horse ever ^-^

  12. I love this post... It is real funny how it came after my afternoon session with my mother's over spoiled, ADHD, mouthy and very disrespectful gelding. He is the most amazing horse and very sweet when his head is screwed on correctly.
    He was used as a stallion and gelded at the age of 4 so sometimes we have to correct bad behavior. He decided today he was going to kick the holy heck out of the two mares in the pasture when I brought the food buckets out. I am sorry I will not tolorate this behavior. They know where the food dishes are and I allow them to guard there own but not kick the other horses when there standing at theres.
    So I set the buckets of grain down, went and got my halter 8ft leadrope and my handy stick. After cornering him I haltered him and he started racing around rearing and bucking. So I hollared at grandpa to feed the girls and we spent the next 20 mintues lunging and getting him to focus on me.
    Once we were collected on both sides we startedd walking up and walking away from the food dish. Standing while I poured the dish and leaving the dish once I poured it. This took another 10 mintues but it worked. I was able to make him stand to remove his blanket. Then once I tuurned him lose he walked up and started eating and when I went to duck through the fence next to his food he backed up and wait for the okay to eat. I was so proud of him.

    Our biggest problem with him is he is lame from an abussive trainer. That was a horrid mess never trusted to leave my horse with a trainer since. He likes to go and wants to please ( he is Appy/Arb need say more!! ) He gets out on short rides a few times a year but just isn't enough for his poor ADHA brain. He gets very upset everytime we load horses into the trailer. He isn't getting the attention he needs.

    Side note -- I wasn't planing on lunging him he caused that by bucking and rearing on me. I will not tolarate it so he got the lesson right then and there. I normally have a 12ft lead rope and of course no blanket.

  13. As I previously posted before, I am constantly working on finding new things to do while riding to keep my mare's attention. She is so bored with w/t/c...but I need it to practice my seat. Thanks to Mugs, we've added spin/lope and/or rollback/lope. We did that after I w/t/c and she really woke up. Hand galloping around like a TB! (Okay she is 1/8 TB). I think we'll do that first after warm up next time and see what happens.

    She also plays with her crosstie and sometimes the reins after I get off. Only mouths them. Hmmm. Interesting observation, Mugs. She is definitely not a dull horse!

    Still working on lead distracted by trail riding :). Went back to it yesterday, started with the circles, then walk, then circle other direction. Now we are expecting a few days of rain, then Sunday another trail ride. We'll eventually get there!


  14. I also wanted to post this link about using spooks to your advantage. Yes, it's dressage, but I liked what she said about the pre-spook signals, and how to collect that energy to get a better ride.


  15. Great post! I think we've all had issues with mouthy horses. Mine was Oh So Mouthy when I got her, she wouldn't stop, be right in your face. She spent the first 3 years of her life alone (after weaning), so I guess she was lonely. We got 2 other horses that put her in her place. She is now much better, still a bit mouthy. She is still young, but I would like for her to focus on me, not mouth me all the time. I do give treats by hand, but I make her wait for them and be patient. If she doesn't touch me for 5 seconds, she gets the treat and she will not get one if she keeps stepping in my space. I do not feed treats often.

    Maybe if your horse is lonely he will give signs of ADHD... Mine certainly would've qualified!!! Be patient and consistent... it's the key to everything! Good luck, he seems better already!

  16. I don't know when/where I got in the habit of leading under the chin but I have caught myself doing it more times than not. The thing I've always noticed about it is it never seems I can really get the horse far enough away from me they don't tend to kick my heel with their toe. ;) So I started leading on a longer rope.

    My horse is pretty orally-fixated but he's good about not directing his mouth at me unless I'm handing him a treat (yes, I hand feed) and he only uses his lips so we seem to be okay. I figure as long as he stays respectful, it's not an issue. He also likes to pick up buckets in his teeth, play with anything within reach when he's tied, and lick the grain residue the other horse dropped on her "windowsill" of her stall (she cribs on it.)

  17. Our Horse Curly- This stuff is always hard. If you want to show and win you have to play the game.
    My daughter showed in showmanship halter classes when she was little.
    Her old mare,Annie,had been a halter horse in her day.
    She would square up and perk her ears every time the judge came by.
    My daughter handled her the way the class expected while in the arena, then would lead her out on a long rope to collect her ribbon.
    I chose to forgo halter, but that's my problem. If you approach the short rope as a show maneuver maybe it will work for both your daughter and her horse. Remember, we get to invade the horse's space when necessary.

  18. Lesli - My horse always gets a vote, but it's not a democracy!
    I love this and may have to borrow it.
    winterstormranch - good call. Pasture manners ooze over into how they behave while we're on their backs.
    Horses and Turbos -Can you put up that link again? I couldn't find it and I love the conceopt.


    I don't know how to post direct links so you'll have to cut and paste.

    If you have to, go to The upper middle has stories "rotating" through..there are 4 and it's the 3rd one. Creating Positive Tension.


  20. Mugs- Some other favorite horse words of wisdom (self-created, paraphrased, then just plain stolen):

    I whisper to horses, not people. Horses will actually listen.

    What his own mother/bossmare do in this situation?

    You jump ahead... you jump alone.


    I am Boyfriend

  21. Lesli - I LOVE "You jump ahead, you jump alone." So true!

    I loved this post. Just bought my first pleasure horse....the black and white paint in my profile pic. I just want to say WP is harder than I thought it would be. I spent a lot of years learning to ride one certain way and now I have to learn to sit back and not do so much. I'm so used to setting up my horse to transition and with pleasure horses you just bump and they go. No half halts? Weird. And why the heck to they stop when you lean forward? :) I understand but my brain needs to convice my ass/shoulders to stay back there. Ride #2 was much better than the first time. The trainer says at least I listen well and do what she tells me. I feel like a goof. I thought I knew how to ride!

    When I was looking it was important to me to find a horse I thought was suited to pleasure/trail, but I also wanted something I could show english too if I wanted. The paints I looked at seemed over all more versatile than then the AQHA. My H/J trainer is going to die if she ever sees me riding around on my little black and white dairy cow colored paint. Most importantly to me she is quiet, focused and has the patience of a saint with my kids. I'm happier knowing I don't have to fight to make her want I want. I've got enough of a battle convincing the OTTB that he can, in fact, canter instead of galloping at full speed.

    It's so weird to have a horse that came trained with no issues. I wonder if I'll know what the heck to do with myself... Oh yeah, enjoy it!

    Owning a silly, mouthy OTTB I agree with Mugs. I don't hand feed treats. We work hard on learning to respect my space using the same technique she described. (Thanks Mugs for explaning why you go back to ignoring them after the behavior is addressed. That's an important bit I didn't get when I was younger to avoid said bitch slapping!) And I have always dealt with the distracable thing by immediately making him work so hard he doesn't have time to pay attention to anything but me. Want to google at a kid running down the fence line? Fine, we can also do 10 meter circles until you decide you don't want to look around at stuff anymore. We can half pass and shoulders in and work on serpentines before we go back to the rail too. And if he gives me any grief or starts to want to take off we stop and back halfway down the arena before we go back to circles. It seems to have worked with him and he's really focused on me now when we're working. Also we take days off to trail ride which gives him lots of new stuff to think about. He's really a good boy. Give 'em plenty to do and good luck.