Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Two Tips on Calming and Managing a "Jumpy" Horse

Horses and man have a history together that spans thousands of years. Despite all that time and domestication not all horses are ready to give up their instincts to a human rider. Bluebell is beautiful Arabian and quarter horse mix brought from a rescue. She is smart, knows what she is doing, has lots of skill and potential but jumps at the slightest sound! Doors, cars, dogs, almost anything!

Let me say that I have met a lot of people who love a challenge. They come latte in hand into their offices and work everyday while looking out the window. When its their time off they take on challenges like horse riding, training, trail riding and enjoy being away from the hustle and bustle of big city life. Horses have a lot of benefits for business people who need some time outdoors working with something they can see results. Research indicates people who like outdoor activities like horse riding are more intuitive and introverted than others (Cashel, et. al. 1996). For them, there is something about the basics of it all. 

While you may enjoy working with animals they may not always be willing to work with you! The horse is a prey animal and its natural instinct is to run. Because I'm unsure of Blue Bell's history I cannot say what might have created the startle response: perhaps it was always there. What I can say is that we have to teach the horse to maintain calm. Over the long run that ability to be calm will make the difference between a horse that can be saved and one that can't!

The first thing I would look at are the causes of bucking. It could simply be a nasty horse that doesn't want you on her or it could have another cause like pain or improper tackle. In the first case, the horse needs more consistent riding and firm command to extinguish bad behavior. In the second case, the horse might have something hurting him and adjusting its equipment can make a difference. 

Bucking can be dangerous because it can throw the rider and cause serious injury. The horses value is also much lower if she cannot be ridden without having a problem. Even with some riding experience I'm a little nervous when I get on her and that likely makes things worse. Dangerous horses are a major liability and they must learn to enjoy riding or be all cost for the owner.

Research indicates that a lot of this jumpy behavior is based on reflex and impulse (Friese, Hofmann, & Wiers, 2011). To limit and eventually extinguish this behavior there should be more emphasis on immediately stopping dangerous reactions and helping the horse calm down. Beyond lunging the horse to remove excess energy, and habituating her to the environment, you may also want to use the one rein stop.

You can also get a feel for the horse by paying attention to your horses snorts to see if he/she will be willing to let you ride. Not kidding! 🤣 The snorts of your horse indicate its happiness level (Stomp,, 2018).  The frequency of snorts gives a peak into the horses state of mind and this could impact how it acts in the arena. It will snort more when in a good mood so just keep it in mind.

If you are destined to ride then consider these two tricks......

1. One Rein Pull: If few things are working for you try the one rein pull. You are turning the horses head to the side of her body in an effort to keep from losing control. This should be used only if you have no other option to protect yourself, others and the horse from injury. It will still be a bumpy stop but the horse will be force to cross over its hind legs.

2. Environmental Familiarity: Horses can be jumpy because they are unsure of their surroundings. It is as though they walked into a busy street and keep reacting to everything around them. Walk them around the area a number of times and prepare them for training at those facilities. Let them create a memory map of where they are and encourage them to sniff, stand, look around, etc... until they don't care. You may want to do this everyday until you reduce environmental impacts.

I might add as a side note that around Rapid River Michigan (and Bark River) you can find some pristine land with super cheap housing for horses. That is assuming you want to buy some land in the area and make a new life out of it. Its about 15 minutes out of town. The cost of boarding at a local ranch in the area is $235 with hay and grain but doing so yourself is much cheaper.  I always thought someone could set up a fairly large horse ranch take in rescues and rehabilitate for the larger markets of Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago (all under six hours drive). Just a thought for people who like that stuff.

Please feel free to distribute this article provided by the Escanaba Polo Mallet Company. We provide quality polo mallets and donate much of our profits to encourage children's development, orphans, and other charitable causes.

Cashel, et. al. (1996). Personality preferences of outdoor participants. Report (ED413133).

Friese, M., Hofmann, W. & Wiers R. (May, 2011). On taming horses and strengthening riders: Recent developments in research on interventions to improve self-control in health behaviors. Self & Identity (3), 10. Retrieved

Stomp, M., Leroux, M., Cellier, M., Henry, S., Lemasson, A., & Hausberger, M. (2018). An unexpected acoustic indicator of positive emotions in horses. PLoS ONE, 13(7), 1–23.

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