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QUESTION:

Hello Cowboy Bob,

This is a two part question.

First of all I've had my mare now for about 5 years. I bought her when she was 3 and she was my first horse! Until the last year or so I never really had problems cinching her. However, the last year or so has changed. Whenever I try to cinch her it's a constant battle. She skirts from side to side as if she is being bothered by something. I'm constantly fighting with her to stand still.

I bought a neoprene cinch, thinking that would be better, but it hasn't worked. I've tried consoling her, stretching out her front legs to avoid pinching, tightened it in small increments to give her time to calm down, but nothing is working. I've been told that possibly her rib alignment is off, however, I'm looking for more answers before I have to fork any money out.

The second problem is that she is constantly fighting the bit. My past trainer told me to stay with a snaffle because it keeps their mouth from getting hard. However, she is constantly pulling her head forward trying to pull the reigns from my hands. I was told when riding with a snaffle that there should always be contact with the bit so I don't give her a lot of rein. However, as a result of this she in continually pulling out from me. Has she outgrown her bit, should I try a tom-thumb? Her wolf teeth are gone, so...........

Thank you in advance for your answer. I'll look forward to hearing from you.

- S. G.

ANSWER:

To answer your second question first, let me suggest a little experiment to help you get inside your horse's head. For this, you'll need a friend, a large enough area to walk around, and your mare's bit, bridle and reins. (I'll wait a minute or two while you scrub the bit clean.)

Okay, you're back! Now put the bit in your mouth, and have your friend do whatever is needed to tuck, tie or otherwise adjust the headstall so the bit will stay loosely in your mouth.

Have your friend hold the reins loosely and walk behind you while you walk around in a big circle for a minute or so.

There, that wasn't so bad, was it?

Now repeat the walk -- only this time have your friend keep constant pressure on the reins and even jerk your head back once in a while as you walk in the circle. See the difference? You probably even found yourself wanting to push your head forward from time to time in order to take the pressure off your mouth.

Your horse's reaction isn't much different. Constant pressure on the reins gets annoying and will actually distract your mount's attention from your cues. As long as she's doing what you want, all of your signals should come from your balance and leg pressure and position. Pressure on the reins is only used if you need to reinforce another cue.

As for your cinch problem, my first reaction is that she may have been kicked by another horse or had some other injury that causes her to be tender in the flank. To be safe, I'd talk to my vet, and even invest in an x-ray to try to uncover the reason for her soreness.

I'd also try a saddle with a different cinch placement, especially if you're using a center-fire saddle. Moving the cinch placement further forward may do a world of good.

Happy Horse Care!

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