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QUESTION:

Hello,

I am an avid horse person. I give 4-H horse clinics to the local kids here in our county and I feel pretty confident in regards to working with youths and their horses. But there are times I do not have the answers, and now is one of them. Only this is not a kid's horse - this is my mother's.

She bought this renagade mare at a sale barn that we are comfortable with and, yes, I know this is not a good idea, but we felt safe with the barn and the man that runs it is a very good professional friend, so we felt safe. The problem is when we bought her she was pregnant and we got a foal out of the deal, but this mare is something else. She has quieted down a lot, but she has a lot to learn and so do we.

...She is very flighty at times, and at others she can be a real dead head. And at other times she can be dangerous. We have tried everything to gain her trust in us, but she does not slow down or really want to bond with us. Is this normal?

She is an excellent specimen of horse flesh. She is quick and can turn on a dime - a perfect horse for cattle and reining - but we are a little lost in how to get in tune with her. Do you have any info?

Also, are you in our area? We are always looking for fresh insights during our clinics.

Thank you.

- S. B.

ANSWER:

You didn't mention the mare's age, but if she's old enough to have had a foal, she's old enough to have some deeply ingrained vices. The older the horse, the harder it is to cure those old habits. In her former situation, she may have been the lead brood mare - at least that's the safest assumption. If so, you may have a hard time correcting that mind set.

Is it hopeless? Probably not. Difficult, yes, but not hopeless. The key is in getting back to the basics.

Think of this horse as if she had just been captured in the wild. What would you do with her? The safest approach is to simply use her as breeding stock. But you see some real potential for her to be a good ranch animal. How would you convert a wild horse into a reliable riding horse?

First, you'd establish your dominance in the herd. Take your lariat or carriage whip - whichever you're more comfortable with - and move her around the field. When she disobeys you (as she almost certainly will) drive her out of the herd and keep her there until she faces you in an attitude of submission - head down, ears toward you, etc. Allow her to approach you and restore her to the herd by giving her some friendly pats, perhaps even a nice brushing.

Now it's time to do some ground work in the round pen. I don't have time or space for all the details here (John Lyons has done a good job of publishing that material). Essentially, you'll want to work with her as if she had never been under saddle before. You want to wipe the slate clean of those bad habits and replace them with a whole new set of good ones.

A thorough sacking-out is also important at this point. She needs to know that you (or any other rider) will keep her safe - it's no longer her job.

If you want to do it right, it will take a lot of time and commitment on your part.

Rodeo bucking horse putting in eight seconds of work Now, I hope you'll bear with me for a moment while I get something off my chest that's been really bugging me. (You'll see how it relates to your problem in a moment.)

A couple of weeks ago, a well-meaning but ill-informed lady launched into a condemnation of the use of bucking horses in rodeos. Her position was that such activities were cruel abuses of the animals. After she calmed down a bit, I asked her how she would like a job that paid her a good livelihood in exchange for eight seconds or less of activity and mild discomfort just four or five times a week. After just a few years, I added, she'd be retired on a full pension. The lady allowed as how that was a better life than most humans have. A couple of days ago, I was chatting about horse personalities with long-time rodeo promoter Howard Pitzen. Howard mentioned that - just like some humans - horses sometimes have genetic personality disorders that make them too dangerous for normal horse life. In those situations the choice is either the rodeo arena or the slaughterhouse.

This little digression was simply to point out that not every horse will have a personality like in My Friend Flicka or Black Beauty. Just as good temperament is a breed trait in many lines, a rank disposition is also a trait of other bloodlines. Only you can make the final judgement as to your mare's disposition. Make your best effort at training, but don't risk your neck by trying to ride an animal that isn't worthy of your trust. If you decide to just use her as a brood mare, try to match her with a stud that's known for siring foals with excellent dispositions.

As to your final question, I don't get out of northern Minnesota much except for visits to family. If you want to tell me where you live, however, I can let you know if I'm ever in your neighborhood.

Happy Riding!

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