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pushy young gelding, nice older geldings

From: Linda and Steve

I've just finished reading your new book cover to cover. It is a great reference and I'm sure that I will be pulling it back of the shelf for many years to come. My husband and I enjoy your newsletter so much, we anxiously look forward to receiving it.

I've come back to horses now our children are grown, and have been away from them for 25 years.

I do have a problem I'd like your advice on. We have 3 geldings, two are over 20 years old and perfect gentlemen. One is pretty much English a TB and the other is ridden western an Appaloosa. Both have taught us how a horse should behave, both with ground manners and under saddled. My trainer says the TB is a great horse and looks after me during my lessons. The 20 year old Appaloosa's ground manners are so good he anticipates your every movement when haltered.

Both have been taught very well by previous owners.

The other Appaloosa is 6 years old and "like a bull in a china shop". He does know ground manners but is pushy and more aggressive. In the herd the older two share a paddock and the younger one gets beat up if he's in there with them. They can all be out together in the larger pasture where then can move away from each other. Although they don't really accept the younger one.

Tell me is it possible for me to train the younger Appy to be the kind of horse is older buddies are. Everyone tells me he can be taught but asks do I want to spend the time and energy on him when I could replace him with a horse that already knows it all. My trainer may be worried he's too much horse for us. My husband and I do ride him, my trainer thinks that when I bought him he maybe had 30 days on him and not as much training as the previous owner led me to believe.

My husband really cares for this horse as much as the others and hopes I'll choose to keep him. Can you recommend some books or videos on training, I'm thinking from the ground up.

Thank you again for all your information we find it so valuable.

Linda and Steve

Hi Linda and Steve! I'm so happy to know that you're enjoying THE HORSE BEHAVIOR PROBLEM SOLVER! Thank you very much for the kind words about the book, and about HORSE-SENSE.

If I were you, I would sit down - with the trainer and have a talk about this horse. I don't think the question is really whether he can become a wonderful horse over time, because as long as he is basically sound and pleasant, good training, increasing age, and experience will probably have exactly that result. I think that the real question here is just how much time and involvement you want to invest. If what you want is a mature, experienced, quiet horse that you can get on and ride today, a green youngster isn't the horse for you. But if Steve likes this horse a lot, and you like it at all, and your trainer likes the horse, then the question is whether you want to develop your youngster into the kind of mature horse that you will enjoy riding.

Talk to each other, talk to the trainer, and be honest. Can you afford to spend the time and effort to work with the youngster at least several times a week, preferably with help from your trainer? Do you WANT to commit to that kind of a project? There's no "right" or "wrong" answer, by the way. But I can promise you that if you want this horse, over time, to become much more like your current horses, you will have to understand that it's going to take time. Not just "time" as in "waiting a few more years until this horse grows up", but "time" as in "spending a lot of constructive, relationship-building and training time with this horse over the next many years".

Be careful when you compare your beloved riding horses with your new, young gelding. It's not really a fair comparison - it's like comparing the behaviour and demeanour of your old, highly-trained gun dog with the behaviour and demeanour of the six-month-old puppy you just brought home. The puppy doesn't have a long-time relationship with you - in fact, he's not old enough to have a long-time relationship with anyone. He may have had some basic obedience training, but he's nowhere near as well-educated as the old dog. He doesn't know you the way the old dog does, and he doesn't respond to you, or anticipate your actions and responses, the way the old dog does. There's nothing WRONG with him - he's just young and ignorant. Both of these conditions are curable, and one of them will cure itself without any help from you. ;-)

It's the same way with your horses. The two "perfect gentlemen" horses you have now didn't develop their good habits or their kind, gentlemanly, responsible attitudes overnight. They had to be trained, and they had to grow up. A twenty-year-old horse is like a sixty-year-old human, so it's not surprising that your older horses are mature and educated and responsible. Your six-year-old horse is inevitably going to be much more like an eighteen-year-old boy - that is, NOT mature, NOT particularly responsible, and just beginning his real education. By the time he is twenty, with good training, good handling, and lots of experience, he may be every bit as wonderful an "equine citizen" as the two horses you ride now.

Figure out what you want and when you want it, then talk to your trainer, and THEN decide. Some people really enjoy working with young horses and educating them from the ground up - other people don't enjoy that process, and prefer to ride horses that are already grown-up, trained, experienced, and reliable. What do YOU enjoy? Be sure to tell your trainer exactly what you hope to do and achieve if you keep this horse - and what kind of horse you will want to purchase if you DON'T keep this one - and WHY. If you ride for recreation and to enjoy the scenery and one another's company, and want horses that are seasoned and dependable, then that's what you should buy. If you think that it would be interesting and enjoyable to bring this young horse along until he's more like the horses you ride now, then you might want to keep him. Again, there's no "right" or "wrong" answer here - what matters is that you figure out what you want, and then decide, with your trainer, whether the young gelding fits the bill.

I'll just say two things in favour of this youngster. You've both ridden him and aren't - at least, from what you've said - afraid of him, which tells me that he is basically cooperative and willing, and that his balance is good. It doesn't say anything much about his education, but if he had only 30 days - or less - training before you bought him, then he's just barely at kindergarten level. If he's ANY kind of a riding horse at this point, it's probably due primarily to his natural balance and his essential good nature. That says a lot about him - all of it good.

Your trainer may very well be correct about the young Appy coming to you with less training that was claimed - one way or another. Even if the horse did have a full 30 days at a trainer's barn, you should be aware that a horse with "30 days on him" is NOT necessarily a horse that has been given 30 days of sensible, systematic, progressive training by a careful, conscientious, competent trainer. Sometimes it means that the horse has had 15 or 20 days of "training" that involved an hour or two of standing tied in an arena, and possibly fifteen or twenty minutes under saddle. Sometimes it means that the horse was taken out of its stall for a grand total of two hours over those 30 days. Sometimes it means that the horse was at the trainer's barn for 30 days and never got out of its stall for even a moment. Unless you know the trainer and his program, and/or were there to observe the training, never assume ANYTHING about the state of a horse's training or education just because someone is selling him as a "30-day horse" or a "60-day horse".

If you keep this horse, start working with him all over again, from the ground up. In fact, here's something you can count on: For the sake of safety (yours and the horse's) and the horse's education, ALWAYS begin working with ANY new horse from the ground up, just as you would if you were absolutely certain that the horse knew nothing at all. If it actually knows something, you can be pleasantly surprised. If it knows very little, or if it knows things that you don't really want it to know, your approach will keep everyone safe. If it turns out that the horse has holes - or huge gaps - in its training, you'll discover them and be able to fill them before unfair demands are made of the horse, and before someone gets hurt. If the horse knows everything you could possibly expect it to know, then the time you spend working with it won't be wasted - you will begin building a relationship with the horse, and the horse will become familiar with the ways that YOU do everything. That kind of up-front investment in time will always be beneficial to you, to the horse, and to the communication between you.

If you do decide to keep your youngster, here are some books and videos that will help you understand and train him whilst you improve your own riding skills.

Author Cherry Hill has a great deal to offer. Begin with these: "Making, Not Breaking" This is available as a book and video set, or you can buy the pieces separately. It's apparently meant for young horses, but don't let that put you off - a six-year-old is still young, and a horse with 30 days or fewer of training is VERY young in terms of training and experience. This is good information, presented in a user-friendly style.

"Becoming an Effective Rider" Improving your riding is a good idea for all riders everywhere, at all times. In your case it will be particularly useful to consider both the physical and mental aspects of riding, because you and your older horses have habits and patterns and routines that seem familiar and "right" to you but about which your young gelding knows nothing at all.

"Beginning English Exercises" and "Beginning Western Exercises" These are handy, pocket guides to things you can do with your horse to help advance his education under saddle. If you go through both and become bored, just go back to the store - Hill has also written Intermediate and Advanced Exercises for both Western and English riding.

Two other useful books: "There are No Problem Horses, Only Problem Riders" by Mary Twelveponies "Basic Training for Horses English and Western" by Eleanor F. Prince, Gaydell M. Collier

I think that you would enjoy reading Mark Rashid's books. These include "Considering the Horse", "A Good Horse is Never a Bad Color", and "Horses Never Lie". These are not "how-to" instruction manuals, but if you want to get a feel for the horse-human relationship and how doing less is often more useful than trying to do more, these are very good books to help you on your journey.

And finally, "What Your Horse Wants You to Know", by Gincy Bucklin, will help you understand various different approaches to working with horses.

This is by no means a complete list of useful books about horses, horse-training, or riding - and it isn't meant to be. I think, though, that for someone in the situation you've described, a few items from this list would make an excellent "starter set".


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