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Working With A Hot Horse - Part 2

By Jeffrey Rolo

In Part 1 of Working With A Hot Horse we learned that defiance is rarely the cause of hot behavior in a horse. The root causes are either poor prior training and/or a lack of comfort and respect with you or the riding process as a whole. Since defiance is not the cause, meeting the problem with an equal quantity of force will surely not be the solution.

When a horse has been trained incorrectly or is uncomfortable with your requests it's time to go back to the basics. I don't care if a horse has been riding 10 days or 10 years – the length of time a horse has been under saddle is no indication of how well trained he is.

If your horse is naturally wary of you on the ground as well as under saddle then your first step is to establish a connection with him. There must be a bond of trust and respect between you and your horse before you attempt to correct any riding issues, which means a few trips to the round pen (or a longe line if a pen isn't available) is in order. Don't rush things… a couple days, or even weeks, of productive round pen work can help you immeasurably once you return to the saddle.

Once a bond of respect has been formed you're ready to take things back to the saddle. Although this next statement may sound rather obvious at face value, it's something that we often forget in the heat of things: make sure you are cool, calm and collected if you expect your horse to be. Remember that a hot horse is an antsy horse, so you must lend some of your strength to your equine companion. If you are on edge, there's really no way you are going to convince your horse that he need not be.

Regardless of which riding school you normally follow, be prepared to train your horse to walk slowly with no direct rein contact. Start with a very slow walk, and if your horse speeds up when you release the reins pull back gently until he slows down, release and then try again. Don't let him accelerate, but try not to jerk the bit around in his mouth. Many hot horses have become desensitized to the bit due to their prior owner's heavy hands, so you need to convince him that the bit is no longer the enemy. You want your horse to respond to subtle cues rather than blunt force.

Take the walking steps slow and intermix the walk with some complete halts. Your goal is to show your horse that riding need not be a stressful or uncomfortable experience. You are showing him that the aggressor-slave relationship he may once have experienced is no more, and that it's to be replaced by a leader-partner relationship where both parties can respect the other and take things comfortably.

Try not to proceed to the trot until he is fully relaxed in the walk. Once he's no longer antsy during the walk, bump him up to a slow trot and continue as above. When he has mastered the trot, work up to a slow canter.

Depending on how ingrained your horse's issues are, you may find that you can't pass beyond the walk for many riding sessions. That's fine – it's not a race and there's no deadline to beat. Take the time to establish a level of comfort and trust, for that's the only way to truly cure a hot horse.

Backing up follows the same general theory as riding forward. Pull back gently on the reins when the horse is at a complete stop to initiate the backwards movement, but the moment he begins backing up release the reins. If he stops, apply some more gentle negative pressure, then release the instant he accepts your cues. Once again we're working to desensitize the hot horse and teach him to accept subtle, painless cues rather than physical force.

Someone out there I'm sure would shout that my methods are too slow, or too "accepting" of poor behavior. Instead they may advocate one or both of the two major mistakes most people make when working with a hot horse:

A Harsh Bit
Some believe that if a horse wants to speed ahead the best manner to combat the problem is by applying a harsher bit. The general philosophy is if the horse cannot respect a lighter bit then the increased pain of a harsher bit will surely convince him to slow down.

What makes this theory so dangerously deceptive is that it can mask the problem somewhat, but it can never solve it. When you take an asprin for a headache, the root cause of the headache never really went away – instead you masked the pain. A harsh bit shares the same problem (though in an opposite context); your horse might slow down some due to the increased pain, but you're not actually increasing his comfort factor or respect for you. In fact you're making him despise you and the riding process even more, so you're actually making the problem worse… you just can't see it because the pain momentarily slows him down and masks the underlying issue.

Run Him Ragged
Some riders believe if you run a hot horse ragged (either before the riding session or during it), eventually you will tire him and convince him to slow down. Once again, it's a dangerous perception because it only appears to work by masking the issue.

When you burn away a horse's energy through a rugged exercise program he'll have no choice but to slow down for that session, but don't make the mistake of believing because you tired him out you somehow shifted his mentality in favor of collected riding. If anything you only reinforced in his mind that you're a bully who demands he run and never look back until he simply can't run anymore.

Burning energy away before or during a ride will make the individual ride easier, but it surely doesn't teach the horse anything. All it does is mask (or worsen) the underlying problem and place the horse's health at jeopardy; overexertion is no healthier for a horse than it is for us.

Once you realize a hot horse is an uncomfortable or untrusting horse, you'll better understand that going back to basics to build up a bond will serve you well, whereas force will only reinforce the existing problems.

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