Question of the Week: Rambunctious Trail Horse


Q: My gelding is a great ride in the round pen
or on a trail, but as soon as I get him in an open field he starts stops
listening to me and starts bucking. I have tried groundwork, but it doesn’t
seem to help this problem. What else can I do to prevent this from happening

A: We asked professional horsewoman Molly
Jenks, the trainer and barn manager at Canyon Creek Ranch in Alta Loma,
California, to answer your question. Though Molly won national titles with her
Arabians, and offers clinics and lessons in a variety of disciplines, she’s
also earned a reputation for producing dependable trail horses. Her talents
have helped her become a Top 10 Finalist at Extreme Mustang Makeovers.

you say your gelding is great in the round pen, you don’t mention anything
about his behavior in an arena. The round pen is a very controlled environment
with few distractions. Most horses feel very secure in that small enclosure,”
Molly explains. “For those reasons I start my horses in a round pen. Then I
graduate to working them in an arena, which presents more of a challenge, before
I venture out on the trail. So I would encourage you to take a step back and do
some problem solving in an arena.”

suggests working on basics in the arena so you can learn how to regain your
horse’s attention when his mind wanders. “Walk, trot and canter in the arena,
and if your horse decides to get excited like he does on your trail rides,
begin some distraction techniques. For example, if you’re cantering and you feel
him tense up—maybe he gets a hump in his back or his head elevates or his speed
increases—circle him until you get his
attention back. I’m not talking about spinning him around in a tight turn. That
will only rev him up more. Instead, make your circle about the diameter of a
longe line circle. Stay on that circle until he’s calmed down and listening to you
before you continue around the arena at the canter.”

if your horse has developed a habit of tuning you out, cantering continuously
in a circle may be difficult. If that occurs, Molly offers this advice. “If you
can’t get him to stay committed to a canter and circle, then do a couple of
nice big circles at the trot or jog.Then
stay on that same circle and ask again for the canter. If he stays focused,
then open up your circle until you are able to canter around in the arena in
both directions. Until he is behaving in the arena I would not ride him on any
trails that you already know are challenging.”

Molly says
that when your horse demonstrates that he’s a good boy in the arena, you can
take your schooling tactics on the trail. “Once you are out in the wide open
spaces, ask for some circles at the walk, trot and when you’re comfortable, the
canter. The moment he reverts back to his old behavior, and gets excited, put
him on a circle again. Eventually he’ll get to the point that he’ll figure out
it’s much easier to behave and go in a straight line rather than expend energy
working on a circle. Just keep in mind that a distracted, excitable trail
horse, especially one that bucks, can be dangerous to ride. So if these tactics
don’t work, be sure to consult with a local trainer who can help with your

— Cindy Hale

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  1. what if you dont have an arena to work in? (like me) then how are you suppose to get his attention back? all i have is a round pen, which is a mud hole right now, and the trail. i dont have a horse trailer at the moment to go to an arena, and i have no neighbors who even have horses, let alone an arena.
    ive been having issues with my horse here lately, (my friend has driven out of her way to pick me up for a few trail rides) when other horses pass my horse, cause he wants to be in the front, he starts dancing and sidepassing and throwing his head up and down. and when i try to circle him on the not very wide trails to try and gain his attention and focus on me, he fights the reins terribly and has started rearing. he is completely ignoring me and my ques when other horses are around and he’s only started this in the last month or so. he is not alone at home either, so its not like he is just over excited to finally be around horses. im at a loss on what to do. i dont want to ride alone forever. any suggestions?

  2. WoW! This is sooooo helpful! The horse I used to ride bolted all the time, and I never thought of this. Now I know what to do in the future!

  3. That is alway so scary when a horse just bolts, across an open field. I will have to re=read this a few times and practice it.


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