My Mare is Being Pushy
Q. Hi Dana,
I have an 8-year-old APHA mare that has been shown some in the western pleasure and trail. She has developed this bad habit of trotting into my leg and pinning her ears back right before the lead departure. It may be because she is in season, but I don’t know how to fix the problem. Will any of your DVDs help this problem?
A. Dear Barbara,
I feel for you, that is a frustrating reaction to your leg and it sounds to me like you have a couple of different issues. First of all it does sound like an angry mare that may be in season, but it also sounds like she has developed a behavioral pattern that is unacceptable. When you put your leg on her and she trots into it, she is actually being pushy, which can turn into aggressive behavior. It is a loud and clear refusal. She is telling you “no”! My goal in developing my show horses is for them to be willing and accepting to all of my cues. Some horses are more resistant to the leg cue than others. Every horse has different areas of sensitivity. Some are more resistant to the bit, or cues with the bridle. I evaluate my horse and when I know the sensitive area, I am prepared to spend more time maintaining it.
I had a grey mare named Zip My Blue Jeans, her barn name was “Boog”. She was my daughter Brook’s show horse, and she was extremely sensitive to my legs and spur. When I had her prepared she was a wonderful show horse. She was a multiple Congress Champion and was an honest and great mare. But she took a lot of maintenance, especially to become accepting to my leg. She was particularly difficult when she was in heat. For the big shows, I kept her on Regumate, a naturally occurring hormone that helped to keep her out of heat. Sometimes that didn’t work and she would come into heat anyway. I had to make the decision that this horse, as difficult as she could be, was worth it to me to have as my daughter’s show horse.
There were times when she took a long time to get ready. Your mare sounds like this mare in a lot of ways. Boog would get so upset with my leg that she would wring her tail around in circles. She would either stop and stick on my leg or run off of my leg. I learned so much from this horse, including this principle that I still use. If a horse is ever aggressive off of my leg, like kicking at my spur or moving into my leg, I will punish them by pushing them off of my leg or even making them trot around off of it. If the horse is so heel sensitive, such as running off of it and showing me that they are truly upset, I will take the time to develop the relationship and build acceptance. I also learned that when a horse cheats in the show ring, that resistance was probably there in the warm up pen. The rider either just missed it or didn’t deal with it all of the way through before the class. Sometimes we have to deal with a situation and allow the time to get all of the way through to the other side of it with our horses. Then we don’t have it come back to haunt us. That was the way this mare was. If I spent the time to build her acceptance and get her to say a willing “yes,” then she showed like a million bucks!
Your mare primarily has an issue with your leg, so lets deal with that. Learn her body language, because she is speaking loudly with that! One signal is her ears, another may be her tail, another is when she moves off of your leg, and finally how she moves off of your leg. My goal is to put my leg on my horse, move them over and to mash with my leg or spur to control every step. I like to take it to the point where I want more reach or more step with the hind leg I can ask and my horse will give it to me.
Start by riding two handed and asking your horse to move her head off to one side or the other. Use your leg to push her around off of that leg. If you pull her head to the left, then use your left leg to push her hip around to the right. Evaluate how you approach her with your leg or spur. Be mindful and don’t make a harsh cue. Just as you would speak to another person, your first approach with your leg is how you communicate with your horse. When you ask, just mash or apply more pressure until she moves over. By pulling her head off to the left you have potentially unlocked her hindquarters so it will be harder for her to push into your leg. Build her acceptance to your cue. When you ask her to move over, pay attention to her steps. Are you driving every step? Even to the point that when you remove your leg she stops moving? That is your goal. And that you are even controlling the speed or rate that she moves over as well! Listen to her tail. Watch her ears. These will tell you exactly how she is thinking and feeling.
There are great benefits to having a willing and accepting horse. When your horse is happy she will do a better job, and her movement through her legs will be softer and prettier. She will learn to show more honestly and she will last longer in the show arena! You will have a lot more enjoyment in your ride and in your horse. There is something so satisfying about taking a resistant horse and building a relationship with her! The DVDs that I would recommend are “Secrets to a Truly Willing Horse” and “Maximizing Your Western Pleasure Horse”.
Good Luck to you and your mare!
Dana Hokana is one of the top female trainers in the Quarter Horse industry, and currently operates Dana Hokana Quarter Horses in Temecula, California. Raised in Southern California, she has had a lifelong love for horses. Dana has trained multiple Western Pleasure circuit champions, winners at major futurities, and horses who have placed in the top ten in Western Pleasure at both the All American Quarter Horse Congress and the AQHA World Championship Show. Riding her own stallion, Invested Dimension, she captured an AQHA Reserve World Championship title in Senior Western Pleasure.
Dana’s DVD series entitled “The Winning Strides Series,” is designed to educate horse owners and riders from the basics of horse handling and horsemanship, to competing at high levels in the show arena. Skilled at teaching in an encouraging, relaxed, non-intimidating way, she carries these traits into the instruction in her video series. Dana will be a featured clinician at the Mane Event in Red Deer, Alberta, and has spoken at the Equine Affaire in Pomona, California and was a clinician at the Equine Affaire in Massachusetts and Columbus, Ohio, focusing on topics from grooming to western pleasure.
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