Teaching a Horse to Slow Down
Hi, I am hoping you can help. I have an 11-year-old Appaloosa mare named Kash who used to do one-day eventing. I originally bought her for my daughter, who tells me that Kash has a “hard mouth,” and bolts when in a canter and won't stop. She has tried sitting deeper in saddle and saying “Whoa,” but I think my daughter has let Kash get away with this for so long that she continues to do it because she can. The problem is that I want to start riding Kash, and I am a beginner. I am afraid of falling off due to her bolting. She is a great horse apart from this vice. Is she too old to be taught to stop?
Melissa, the response of slowing down when pressure is applied to the bit is a learned response. It sounds like Kash has learned an alternate response to bit pressure, at least while in a canter. She’s definitely not too old to teach, and there are several methods to help her relearn the proper cue. I will highlight two for you:
Set up a chute in a ring with jump stanchions or ring panels. The chute should be about 8 to 10 canter strides long, and should end with a wall, fence or gate. Begin a canter and enter the chute, applying light pressure on the bit while using a new stop cue such as “easy.” Kash will slow because she will see the wall in front of her. When she breaks to a trot, release the pressure and give her a vigorous scratch on her crest. Repeat several times. Next, begin the light bit pressure and your cue word (“easy”) about 10 to 12 strides before the chute. Again, when she breaks to a trot, immediately release the pressure and give her a vigorous scratch on her crest. Begin to ask for the “easy” farther and farther from the chute.
Work her on a lunge lineagain, teaching her a new cue instead of “whoa,” like “easy.” Ask for the canter, and once she has engaged in the canter for five or six strides, use the cue “easy,” turn your body a bit to the side, make the lunge circle a bit smaller by taking in line, and wait. When she breaks to a walk, walk to her and reward with a treat and a scratch. Repeat until she quickly breaks out of a canter when you cue. Now, put a rider on while lunging to apply bit pressure during the verbal cue.