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Working With A Hot Horse - Part 1

By Jeffrey Rolo

An all too common belief among many horsemen is that hot horses are just born that way, and the only way to remedy a horse's hotness is through the use of escalating force, such as harsher bits and more rigorous exercise sessions. Unfortunately while these "solutions" can temper a horse's spirit somewhat during an individual session, in the long term you will only worsen the problem while causing your horse significant and unnecessary pain and discomfort.

(As a quick side note, if you're unfamiliar with the term "hot" it defines a horse that is overly aggressive or fast under saddle, uncomfortable with following your leads or relaxing.)

Although it is true that to some degree horses retain individual speed and gait preferences, ultimately any horse should be comfortable if asked to walk, trot or canter in a slow, controlled manner. If your horse refuses to relax during your ride and you're constantly holding him back, it's not a matter of defiance; it's a matter of training, comfort and/or respect. Your horse is not comfortable with you, nor does he respect your authority.

Contrary to the belief of some, you can never develop a bond of respect through violent force. Would you respect a bully that verbally tormented you if he escalated his bullying and smacked you across the head? Absolutely not – you'd only resent him more. You might fear the bully, but you would never respect or like him. The same is true of horses. You can use violence (harsh bits, spurs, etc.) to strike pain and fear into a horse, but it would be the height of ignorance to think such methods will ever develop respect.

The main root of hot behavior, discomfort, is brought about by two reasons:

bulletMistaken poor training
bulletIntentional poor training

Poor training is poor training – by separating the two I'm just trying to split hairs, right? To some degree such an observation would be true, but I separate the two because the foundations are significantly different.

Mistaken Poor Training
Amateur riders all too often do not understand how severe certain bits can be, how vital it is for a bridle and saddle to fit their horse properly, etc. As a result every time they attempt to train or ride their horse they could be subjecting him to significant pain without ever realizing it. A horse in such a position is in a permanent state of discomfort while under saddle, which will cause him to be very leery of both the rider and the whole riding process.

This is compounded when an amateur rider has rough hands and jerks the reins frequently and heavily. For example, when a person leans too far back and starts losing their balance often they'll snatch the reins and use them as leverage to regain their balance. Imagine what this does to the horse's mouth!

Ultimately the horse is in a no-win situation, and the only option left to him is to try and race ahead to finish the ride (discomfort) quickly. They may also fear moving too slowly and thereby provoking the wrath of an impatient rider. Although some people would create these scenarios on purpose (people that have no business being near a horse), more often than not a bad rider or trainer doesn't even realize the damage he's causing. He's completely oblivious, and thus he mistakenly produces a hot horse through his riding and training.

A mistake that you and your horse will have to deal with once you purchase him.

Intentional Poor Training
Sometimes people will intentionally create a hot horse, never realizing that to do so reflects poor training practices. Let me share an example to better illustrate that statement.

I once owned a Quarter Horse who was an ex-barrel racer, and he was as sweet a horse as you could ever find; a true gentleman and a cuddler. That being said, once you put him under saddle he found it very uncomfortable to move at a slow walk or trot. He was so used to kicking into overdrive that he had two speeds: fast and faster!

By no means was the horse defiant by nature; it's just that this was everything he ever knew. He was trained for one purpose and when a rider would ask him to slow it down he felt he was doing something wrong. Perhaps it was the years of barrel racing that became ingrained in him, or perhaps the previous owner would harshly retaliate if the horse tried to slow down – either way, the horse was simply uncomfortable moving at a measured pace.

The previous owner may have felt he achieved the ideal barrel racer through his training methods, and to a degree this was true. That old Quarter Horse could run a heck of a race if you allowed him to go the distance. The problem is the previous owner was so focused on kicking the horse into overdrive that he failed to enforce the basics of good riding practice. There was certainly no problem training the horse to race, but there was a problem with not working on controlled, low-pace speeds too.

So as we can see with one of my past horses, the horse was intentionally trained to be the way he was – he was hot because he was taught that hot behavior is what was ideal in a horse. The rider intentionally created that problem, but it was poor training… training that took me many months to lessen and resolve. A horse should always be comfortable at slow gaits, even if your ultimate goal is to use him as a racehorse.

I realize I spent a significant amount of time focused on the causes of a hot horse, but I think understanding the root causes is of the utmost importance. There is no way you can take the proper corrective actions unless you understand the root problem.

Now that you have learned about the causes of hot behavior in horses, head to Part 2 of Working With A Hot Horse to learn how to best resolve the problem.

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