California 8 year old Fox Trotter ridden with Medium Port with Canvassen and Western Saddle in Round Pin/Outdoor Arena/Pasture by Intermediate Level Rider.

Question: I'm having trouble with my mare and her behavior and I'm not sure what to do about it. She has reared at me when leading her out of her stall, shows aggravation when saddling (Cinchy) and when riding her in the arena she will at times not do her gaits when asked. She tends to balk at me and run off with me when out on trail. When I ride her outside of the arena but not in pasture she does her foxtrot beautifully but I have a hard time keeping her at the gate as well as encouraging her. Her previous owner I believe was very rough with her and spurred her quite a lot as well as using a tight rein. I have another foxtrotter who I finished and enjoy riding very much and have shown but never encountered this type of behavior with her. I believe this horse is a good horse I just need to know what the tools are to correct this and to
enjoy being around her and riding her instead of being scared of her and what she will do.

From Panelists Liz


Sounds like I would check your saddle fit first . She may be getting some soreness and is telling you the only way she can that she is not enjoying the riding. Maybe going back to some good ground work basics will help her as well. I would also check her teeth top see if she is having any ,mouth problems. when was she last floated/ Are her wolf teeth still in. If this is all in order maybe a different milder bit may be the answer too.

Good luck,

From Panelist Lee

My first thought is that your saddle may not fit her. Do you have access to anyone who can help with saddle fitting either through computer technology or a good eye for saddle fit? This may help identify the problem if it is a saddle issue.

My second thought is that she may be in some physical or mental distress somewhere. Has she been checked by a vet for tooth, back, or leg problems or ovarian problems?

My third thought is that she may not have had very much training other than the "push/pull" style of riding common among some Fox Trotter trainers who tend to keep a death grip on the reins and the spurs dug into the horse's sides to keep them going in gait.

You may have to do some retraining with her to wean her away from the need for a spur in the side to keep her moving.

Other thoughts: How much turn out time does she get -- out of the stall, with freedom to move around? Lack of this can lead to the rearing behavior you describe when a horse is finally let out of "stall prison". How do you lead her? With slack in the lead rope or a steady strong pull? Most horses do better if the lead is left with a little slack in it. If you can, the next time you ride her, let her have some turn out first before you saddle her up. If possible, borrow a different saddle to see if that makes any difference -- a different pad might make a difference, too.
Without seeing the horse, it is difficult to say what type of saddle or pad you should use, but try to set the saddle so that it does not fit over her shoulder blades ( the front of the tree should be at least a finger's width behind the upper bone of the shoulder) and the cantle should be clear of her hip bone, with room for at least two fingers between her withers and the gullet.

As far as the not staying in gait goes, I can't give any good specific suggestions without some more information. What does she do instead of the fox trot? A different intermediate gait (pace, hard trot, running walk) or slow down to a walk? If the problem is slowing down, teach her the "lesson of the leg" to keep her moving -- carry a dressage whip (the long kind) and teach her that leg pressure means "go forward with energy" . At an ordinary
walk, ask her to speed up into a flat walk by first squeezing/releasing with the leg, then following the leg action with a strong, quick, tap from the whip on her haunches behind your leg. As soon as she speeds up, drop all leg contact (don't keep squeezing) . When she slows again, repeat -- remembering to always use the leg first, then only a follow up from the whip. This may take some time .. but practice for a while and you will be able to wean her away from a spur. At the same time, ride with light even
contact on the reins, not a strong steady pull or a totally slack rein.(this is not easy at first, but if you practice feeling the weight of a small plum in each hand all the time, you will get there).

I would work on getting her to flat walk consistently using this method before asking for the fox trot.

You may be having trouble keeping her in gait because of the footing of the arena you are working in. Very deep, soft footing can make it difficult for a horse to hold a fox trot. Don't work too much in such footing if you can avoid it -- spend only a little time in it to work on the flat walk, then go out on firmer ground to work on gait.

Good luck with your horse, and if you can, email back more details on what gaits she is doing when she does not hold the fox trot.

Lee Ziegler


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