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On this page: Lungeing, Cold Backs, Resistance.

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Are some horses impossible to train?
I wonder how many desperate horse owners key this question into their internet search engines? It popped up among the many queries which bring people to our website. Of course the question itself conjures up all sorts of other questions - how much experience has the owner got? How old is the horse? Is the horse young or an older one with bad habits? Has the owner tried asking an expert to help?

Are some horses impossible to train, then? I believe only very few are and probably for physical rather than mental reasons. However, many people will find it hard to train certain horses. The vital thing is to know when to throw in the towel, give up and call in the help of an expert. It's safer for the rider and kinder for the horse.
If a horse is behaving badly, the first thing to consider is whether he or she is in pain. It's worth asking a vet and a dentist to check to see if there is anything seriously wrong. You also need to check whether the saddle fits correctly. A badly fitting saddle can cause pain. An intelligent horse learns quickly but this is not always a positive because he learns bad habits as quickly as good ones if he thinks he can get away with them.

Horses are herd animals and feel secure if there is a definite pecking order. This means that the rider should be Number 1. A leader, or boss, horse will keep trying to take control so be ready for this. The Monty Roberts Join Up method works well to establish this. See
www.montyroberts.com for more. I have often found nervous horses to be easier to manage in the long run than boss horses but they can be very difficult until they settle down and learn to trust their trainer. A nervous horse needs an experienced trainer.

If you feel you have a horse which is impossible to train, don't blunder on expecting him to change - get help fast! It's amazing how many seemingly difficult horses can change immediately when an experienced trainer takes over. Learn what works for your horse and you can then apply it yourself.


Horse and rider partnership combinations to avoid
Boss horses and nervous riders - (the horse always wins this contest!)
Nervous horses and nervous riders  - (who frighten the life out of each other)
Young horses and beginner riders - (neither has enough experience to teach the other)


An older experienced pony with a kind temperament is excellent for training young riders. In these pictures above, a 10 year old girl learns how to ride on her own,
to adopt the jump position, negotiate a small fence, ride down a bank. She has confidence in the pony as he is very quiet.

Lungeing a horse or pony for the first time

Lungeing is useful for horses and ponies which: 

1. Have cold backs
2. Are very lively
3. Haven't been ridden for a while
4. Are young and unbacked
5. Are being re-trained after racing or a long time out at grass
6. Are being trained for dressage or showjumping - in order to improve rhythm and way of going.
7. Are naughty and need a bit of discipline before a child gets up.

I have taught people to lunge horses and ponies and, while they have no problem lungeing my animals, they have gone home to find that no matter what they do, the horse just won't lunge. The horse will go sideways, backwards, upwards - any way except forwards. This is called resistance and can be very frustrating to deal with, especially if you're on your own.

Don't despair! The following tips might help:

Create a lungeing ring
The first thing to do with a difficult horse is make an enclosed circle in which to lunge him. A more permanent one can be made of wooden fencing but I just make it out of electric tape (not actually electrified) and plastic electric fence posts. The advantage of this is you can put up the lungeing circle anywhere you like and move it around, making it bigger or smaller to suit your horse or pony.
A circle of about 18 metres in diametre should be fine.

Use side reins
There's no point trying to lunge a horse without side reins. The side reins help keep the horse under control and teach him to accept the bit. Don't make them too tight in the beginning as it will encourage the horse to rear and he may fall over backwards and injure you or himself. You can gradually tighten the side reins as the weeks go by but never so tight that he is behind the vertical.

Walk slightly behind the horse
If he won't go forwards, you can ask a friend to lead the horse around until he gets used to being lunged. If you're on your own, walk slightly behind him until he learns to go forward. Make sure you stay well out of reach of his hind legs so that you don't get kicked. When he learns to walk and trot forwards, you can then stand in the middle of the circle and create the lungeing 'triangle': one side is the horse's body, one side is the lungeing rope and the other side is the whip.

Be careful using the whip
Lungeing whips are not meant to be used to beat horses. The whip takes the place of your legs and is supposed to move the horse forward. Usually you won't need to touch the horse with the lash but follow him around with it or else make a slight crack on the ground behind his hind legs. I have had several horses and ponies which have been terrified by beatings from other people with lungeing whips and it makes them very hard to relax. I would not use a whip with these animals unless they calm down and become lazy. I could never use a lungeing whip with my dressage horse who had been badly broken by a previous owner and who would take off and gallop madly in circles the moment he spotted the whip.

30 minutes is enough
Don't do too much lungeing, especially with very young and old horses as circling is hard on their joints. 20 minutes to start with (10 minutes on each rein) building up to 15 minutes on each rein - a total of 30 minutes - is enough. Other trainers might feel differently but I wouldn't lunge a horse younger than three years old. Horses should do the same work on both reins (clockwise and anti-clockwise) to build up correct muscles. Remember horses are like right and left handed people and will resist going the way that feels awkward. The only way around this is to keep trying. Don't give up and let the horse go the way he likes best.


Horse or pony with a cold back

A horse or pony with a cold back can often be a scarey ride. Some are more difficult to deal with than others. I take a cold backed horse to mean one who tenses up the muscles of his back when you first get on and who will then try to buck. One of the worst problems with a cold backed horse is that it can make the rider nervous and this, in turn, can make the horse more tense.

I rode a 17.3 hh horse with a tendency towards a cold back. He bucked me off on several occasions and always within the first few minutes of getting on him. I was thrown so high in the air, I felt I needed a parachute coming down! I had to work hard to keep calm myself before getting on, especially if he was well fed for showing or just back in work. Sometimes I even whistled tunes and hummed to myself to try to fool myself and him that I wasn't feeling nervous at the thought of being bucked off. Once you have owned a cold backed horse, it can be difficult to get up on other horses without worrying. 

Strong nerves needed!
A friend with a cold backed horse became so nervous after a nasty fall when he bucked her off and injured her back that she gave the horse to a relative. The interesting thing was that the horse behaved himself for this man who wasn't a bit afraid of being bucked off. If you have a cold backed horse which is getting the better of you and your nerves, I strongly advise you to seek help because it can be very dangerous.


       Tips for handling a horse with a cold back

  • If the horse hasn't been ridden for a few days, I would always lunge him. I found loose lungeing worked well as it got rid of excess energy and tension more quickly.
  • Plenty of padding under the saddle is also a good idea. I used a gel pad with a numnah and some riders use two numnahs. Do up the girth gradually. Don't make it too tight to start with.
  • Taking the horse for a walk before you mount is also useful as it helps to relax him and loosen out his muscles.
  • Another obvious thing is not too overfeed a horse with a cold back, especially if he isn't competing or working hard.
  • Mount facing the horse towards a gate or corner of the arena so that there is nowhere in front for him to leap forward and gather speed.
  • Use a mounting block to avoid your weight dragging on the saddle and sit lightly onto the saddle.
  • Try to avoid mounting on your own - ask someone to hold the horse for you as you get up. (This is often not possible, I know).

Dealing with resistance 

Resistance is a horse's way of saying 'No Thanks'. It can take many shapes, depending on the horse or pony's temperament. For instance, if a horse doesn't want to walk forward, he'll say 'no thanks' by doing one of the following: spinning around, rearing, stopping dead in his tracks and refusing to move, shying at an object or moving sideways or backwards. Some forms of resistance, like rearing, are more dangerous for the rider than others.

Resistance often appears in horses and ponies which haven't been fully trained. It is particularly noticeable when breaking horses, especially when lungeing them. A horse always prefers to go round one way (usually anti-clockwise) and will resist going the other way. The trainer has to work through the resistance in a firm, non-violent way until the horse accepts what he is instructed to do and he should then be praised immediately. A young horse which is being overfaced by too high a jump or worked too hard will resist. Be more sympathetic with young horses.

Resistance stays with a horse all his life (don't you often say "no thanks" yourself?) and will become obvious each time he is taught something new which doesn't immediately appeal to him. Another interesting thing about resistance in horses is that they quickly work out which rider is going to let them get away with bad behaviour. A pony will often play up on an inexperienced rider but behave perfectly for a more experienced one.


      Tips for dealing with resistance

  • Work out why the horse or pony is resisting.
  • Firmly but kindly insist the horse does as he is told.
  • Praise him for any little improvement. Praise must be given immediately (within 3 seconds).
  • Always finish work on a good note.
  • If teaching a more difficult excercise to a horse or pony, sometimes coming back to an easier one will help. Then tackle the more difficult one again.
  • Terrible battles can take place between stubborn horses and stubborn riders. Don't make it dangerous for you and your horse. A very stubborn horse can often be tricked psychologically into doing what you want rather than bullied through force.
  • If all else fails, don't be afraid to ask for help from a more experienced trainer.