Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Are You Over-Horsed?

Most of us have heard that green horses and green riders don't make for a good mix. It's probably obvious to most why that happens to be true. Yet the instance of people riding horses who are beyond their skill level seems to be a pretty acceptable norm while it is just as dangerous a combination as green horses and green riders ever was.

Any time I go to a public event involving horses examples of over-horsed individuals are readily available. It doesn't seem to matter whether the people have a trainer or not, it's common practice to see people with an equine companion that is beyond their skill level.

It's easy to tell the worst of these horse/rider pairs from others, they are the ones with chronic problems. You see them in the warm-up and then in the ring fighting the same issues and the issues never seem to get resolved. If anything they just keep getting worse.

The horse might be tipping its head upside down and running off through the bridle. Or the horse might be bucking and kicking out instead of going forward. Other examples would be stopping and backing instead of doing the required gaits, running off, running the rider into walls, trying to run out the gate. You can name about any bad behavior and you'll probably see it from a horse that has learned its rider does not have the skill to get the horse to behave properly.

Sometimes the rider acquired the horse with these issues and doesn't have the skills to resolve them. Other times the rider causes the issues riding off of the horse's mouth instead of driving the horse forward into the bit. This horse develops bad behaviors trying to protect itself. Either way the combination of a rider with more horse than she/he can handle is a serious issue.

The unfortunate thing about this situation is it is a lose/lose for all concerned. The horse learns it can get away with unacceptable behavior making that horse difficult for any rider. Fixing this kind of horse can be near impossible sometimes. The odds that horse will ever be suitable for a less than experienced rider are slim to none if it even can be fixed.

A rider with this kind of horse loses confidence and may even develop fear. The rider may even lose all interest in horses out of frustration and lack of success. Sooner or later someone is going to be seriously hurt if the horse isn't sold first. There can be no other outcome with a horse that continues to learn it can cheat at whatever is asked of it.

If the relationship isn't terminated sooner instead of later, injury is part of the downhill spiral. Horses packing riders they don't respect can do many very dangerous behaviors. The more they get away with, the more the boundaries are pushed and the more dangerous things can become. It can become a downward spiral with no end in sight if the relationship is not terminated.

So how do you know if you are over-horsed? First off you have to get honest with yourself. It's impossible to see yourself as a great rider and accept that a horse is too much for you. If you can't get a horse through chronic behavior, then that horse is probably too much for you. If your horse is "good" for the trainer but naughty for you, it probably means that horse has your number. That would be another indication that the horse is too much for you.

In these kinds of relationships it's pretty easy for the owner/rider/handler to "blame" all kinds of things for a horse's bad behavior. It can be poor training, bad timing, the horse next to you, mares cycling in heat, who knows what else. Such excuses will not fix the situation. They will only hide it and thus make it worse. If your horse has chronic bad behavior, you've been working at it and it's not improving dramatically, then you and your horse are probably not a good fit.

It would probably be better for both of you to move on and cut your losses. Pouring more money into this kind of situation in the form of training or even more shows never works because money can't change the fundamental problem which is a negative history between this horse and rider.

The chances that a rider will gain enough confidence riding this kind of horse to actually ride through these issues are probably slim to none. Even if a trainer can fix the horse, horses never forget despite what some people say. They have long memories when it comes to things that have been threatening to them (which is the usual cause for horses developing this kind of behavior in the first place), the odds are the "offending" rider will be remembered by the horse and the pair will still have to resolve the issues between them together.

I'm not saying that this can NOT be done. I am saying that it is highly unlikely. The chronic bad behavior of any horse is not an issue for the faint of heart. One must be pretty darn determined, even more talented and not all that concerned about life and limb because a horse with chronic behavior will fight hard to hang onto what is within their comfort zone.......and that would be misbehaving.

Do you have an experience with a horse that was too much for you? I know I do.....

Visit Blog Village and vote daily for this blog Here They are now measuring the rankings by votes out, so if you find my blog on the site, please click that link too to improve my rankings. TY


  1. Heck yeah -- Poco. I am always in close contact with my trainer and more experienced friends. He was smart enough to never to act up with me on his back when we were at the trainer's ... until one day he did. He was just messin' with me because he could -- like you said, he had my number. Once Heather showed me how to ride through it, redirecting his energy, things got so much better for us. I'm still a sucky rider, but I have the confidence to work us thru it. I have had to learn confidence with him, and he has had to learn patience (and to chill!) with me.

    I consider myself lucky, as Poco has never bit, kicked, reared or bucked. He is still a lot of horse, and it could have ended badly. I am blessed to have hooked up with the right people to help me.

  2. Oh man - this post rings sooo true!

    I almost bought a 3yr old untrained arab at first, then talked myself into buying a 7 yr old paint - I still over-horsed myself... I thought I had waaay more skill and confidence than I actually did. It took a broken arm to realize that! I thought about things over the winter, sent him to a trainer for a month, then sold his spotted ass to a confident teenager.

    I'm on an 18 year old laid-back guy now and I'm doing much better.

    I've seen what you wrote about at shows - one trainer was there with a bunch of kids. After one kid got bucked off, the judge excused the horse and rider for the day. I thought it was good of her to make that decision - most other people were just looking the other way!

    (sorry for the long comment!)

  3. I love the term "over horsed!" I've never heard it.

    I've got a new acquaintance right now that scares the heck out of me. She simply had to buy this little Mexican horse she fell in love with. I gave her lessons on how to properly put a halter on. She had to practice on my mare because she's afraid to go into her own horse's stall.
    How's that for over horsed!

  4. I remember one experience that I had. While boarding at a barn another boarder asked me to ride her horse. A fresh from the track Thoroughbred, supposedly he was a real sweetheart and on the ground he was. Warming up walking went fine, trotting went fine, and then wham cantering was a disaster. This horse just got faster and faster and no amount of whoa would make him stop. I was actually starting to get dizzy(we were in a small ring). I didn't want to do anything drastic to try and stop him badly though and eventually, I did get him to stop, but it wasn't a pleasant ride. Since them I don't get on horses I don't know or haven't seen go a few times. I'm too old for excellent adventures anymore. I want sane and comfy horses now.

  5. actually, it is the mare I own now. One day she finally scared me enough to get after her. I am a mostly positive trainer, but I sure wasn't that day, and our relationship improved from that point on. She's still sassy, but she doesn't frighten me anymore and she pretty much does what I want. This summer we are going to expand her comfort zone more with line driving her out by herself. That will lead to riding her out by herself too (I hope).

  6. Oh...and one more thing...I think anyone who is TOO self confident is also asking to be injured. I think when you get too comfortable, it leads to being careless. We have one girl at the barn like this, and she has one horse that is a .monster. It has now gotten to the point that when she has either of her horses out, I either leave or take cover. You just know there is going to be hysteria and airs-above-the-ground...I want no part of any of that.

  7. Oh yes, I have been over horsed and the funny thing is that the better rider I become, the more I realize it.

    And I have seen quite a few horses ruined by riders who couldn't control them. And I have ended up retraining my share of them.

    An example that comes to mind is a really cute App pony who was obviously ridden by someone who was either too timid to follow through when he balked or just didn't have the strength. He would go along fine when it suited him but he was an expert at ducking his head and snatching the reins out of your hands so he could go his own way.

    Ground work and a firm but kind hand for a few weeks got him through it BUT if you put a timid rider on him, he will still go back to his old habits. His new owner is aware of his issues and able to continue working with him on it but I doubt if it will ever go away entirely.

  8. I had an instance with the afore mentioned green horse/green rider combination. I was a dumb 15 year old girl and bought a 3 year old horse. Now that I look back that wasn't the smartest thing ever. Through that situation, I had the best relationship I ever had with a horse. He was my best friend and just right for me at that moment. We were a true team. My new horse that I have now, is very smart and has pegged people in the past and had their numbers, such that they had him sent to a trainer then sold to me. I have to be aware of that and make sure that doesn't happen to me. Thanks for some new ideas on this topic!

  9. It is a sad thing that most of the problem horses have been "made" that way by people, whether inexperience or set in the ways of old time training (break that bronc!!) or genetics.

    In the end it is the horses that suffer. I see a lot of this type of thing at the shows I shoot too.

  10. Mikael - This is a very wise post. Too many people are too concerned with looking bad in front of others and aren't honest about whether they can really handle their horse. That said, when I bought my horse, she was much better trained that I was and had been abused by her previous owners. It wasn't until I went through several trainers and got injured that I was able to find someone who was calm and kind and able to help us. Once Silk and I got help from him, things got better quickly and only continue to improve as years go by. Every day, I thank God that I didn't sell her.

  11. Interesting.

    I consider a horse having his rider's number and a person being overhorsed two different things.

    But I guess the only time I have ever heard (or used) 'the horse has your number' is in situations where both the horse and rider are perfectly capable apart, and the rider is perfectly capable with this horse, but for some reason they are letting the horse take advantage.

    If the horse and rider are NOT capable separately of doing whatever activity, or if the rider is NOT capable of riding through whatever antics the horse is performing and addressing them, then, yes, they are probably overhorsed and that's a different situation.

    I guess people must use the term more broadly than I'm used to, because for me 'your horse has your number' has always been a challenge to a rider who should be perfectly capable of addressing the situation, not a dire warning of impending doom.

    When I think of all I'd never have learned if I'd given up on horses who had my number... yikes.

  12. Yup, I've been there. And admitting it and un-horsing my self from that situation was the best thing I could have done at the time. It probably saved me from getting really hurt or abandoning horses at a young age. It's also a good lesson to learn early: sometimes you just don't have the right combination. Nothing wrong with it.

    When I was 15 my dad, an experienced horseman, and I went on a search for an english show horse for me. It took a few months and lots of road trips but at the end of it we found what seemed to be the perfect horse: a teenaged arabian gelding who had lots of regional ring experience. He knew his leads, his changes, he knew how to show and he wasn't too tall. At the test ride, he was sweet and calm and I remember commenting to my dad how I liked how he lookey-looed at things but didn't spook at them. We both rode him and really liked him. At last!

    At home, every ride he had a melt down about something. After a few of these incidents, he had scared the pants off me. I started to get more nervous. He started to get more nervous. He preferred a double bridle, but my hands weren't yet quiet enough for one, so we rode in a snaffle. He was not a fan. I'm sure I ended up riding him with a death grip on the reins and was trying to hang on for dear life with my legs. Not a good combination.

    My dad rode him. He was fine. I'd get back on him and we both were basketcases. My dad kept riding him thinking it was the new environment and that he'd settle in. We never settled in. I couldn't even get him to work without spooking in his own pasture. Hauling him to the lesson barn, much less a show, was out of the question.

    I felt terrible as he was an expensive horse and on paper he should have been perfect for me. I finally just had to admit to my dad that I wasn't comfortable riding him and that he scared me. Good credit to Dad as he never once mentioned the price tag on a horse that became a pasture ornament for over a year until we sold for much less to a more experienced rider.

    Turned out that a 16 year old mare that my Dad had bought the year before as a broodmare happened to be broke and surprised my dad by how much she knew and how quiet she was. She wasn't perfect; her training had obviously been rushed to finish her canter transitions so she would hop into them with an explosion at first. She is to this day the hardest mouthed horse I have ever met and the concept of "round frame" was not a frame she cared to visit. I never could get her to perform a single flying change and I failed that test in every single stinking equitation class in every show. I didn't care.

    But that mare, I trusted. It made all the difference in the world. We earned our share of ribbons.

    And boy, could she trot: Mikael do you know the Rabyat line? This mare's tail female line was Rabyat and wow, talk about a park trot. I stuck out a bit from my hunt seat peers, but we did just fine. :)

  13. You know what's weird, is when I was in my teens, I would ride anything. In college I would ride anything. I never felt "over-horsed". But now that I have kids and such, unbroke horses freak me out and I think I would consider those over horsed for me.

    I have a freakishly weird skill for slowing horses down. I like to go slow and I like my horses to go slow. We have a Boston Mac bred mare that is a super fast barrel horse, but when I get on her, it's all slow jogging and loping around. I don't know what it is, but the slower the better for me!! :)

  14. I had a half Arabian mare, 17 years old and trained up to third level dressage, that I loved to death. But I was 20 and wanted to be free and "single". So I sold her to my barn neighbor who sold her green-broke 5 year old full Arabian gelding (overhorsed!) to buy her. I was astonished when she began having problems riding Shahreen. She got bucked off time after time. I came out and gave her some lessons on riding the mare and they clicked, and she went on to riding her in endurance. Happy ending! The problem was that she was giving conflicting aids and confusing the mare who would never hurt a fly, intentionally.

    BTW, I purchased the mare from another stable friend, years earlier, who gave up riding the mare when her boyfriend got hurt by a different horse. He got a serious knee injury and she felt Shahreen was too much horse for herself.

    Arabs are cue sensitive and this can cause problems with green riders, more so than other breeds, IMHO.

    I was lucky in that when I was 12, my first horse was a lazy, son-of-a-gun, Appy Welch cross that I could do anything with, even fall off. ;)