Ask an Expert

Pulling Through the Bit

September 26, 2011

Does your horse get overly excited out on the trails? A Certified Horsemanship Association instructor offers solutions to calm your excitable horse.

Question:

I have a 12-year-old gelding whom I've owned for seven years, and during that time, I have spent little time riding him because of work, but we have spent time working in the round pen.

In the past year, I have ventured out trail riding, and when possible, have maneuvered through obstacle courses.

Since my gelding lives on our property along with our other horses, he has not had a lot of exposure to strange horses. When he is around other horses, he gets overly excited and wants to follow every passing horse group on a trail ride. This is where the conflict begins. I want him to walk and not trot, but he resists by pulling through the bit or moving backward or sideways.

It is not a dangerous situation, but it is exhausting, so much so that by the end of a ride, we are both worn out.

When I take him out alone on a ride, he is usually good and responsive. Perhaps this will take time for him to be comfortable around other horses and stay calm.

Any ideas are appreciated.

You love spending time with your horse. But are you missing out on fun opportunities? AQHA’s Recreational Riding report will inspire you to saddle up and hit the trail in exciting new ways.

Answer:

In my opinion, to be safe on the trail a horse needs to be fairly well schooled first in an arena setting. You need to school him specifically so that he understands your aids. Also, in this way you can condition and supple him and work on your own riding so that you know that you are riding to the best of your ability.

Round pen work can be useful, but it sounds as if your horse needs work that prepares him for exactly what you need from him so that he understands what you're asking of him. Working him in an arena on basic work such as circles, transitions, teaching him what a half halt is and making certain that he understands lateral work will make your trail ride safer and more successful. It will also establish a trusting relationship with him so that he listens to you. As you know, horses are herd animals, and if he is not sure of your aids, he will certainly want to follow any other horses on the trail.

Also, realize that the bit should just be used as an aid. If you feel that you need to rely on it for control, that is another signal you need to devote time to schooling him. You may even want to try a bitless bridle in the confines of an arena for some of your basic training.

Mitzi Summers

Certified Horsemanship Association clinician and master instructor

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