There’s no shame in owning a problem horse. I owned one, I’ve worked with many, and the important thing is to love them anyway. It’s also important to know and admit when you’re in over your head because you have to consider your safety. A “problem horse” can mean a lot of things: cinchy, bucks under saddle, aggressive, and so on. This series on problem horses will focus on horses with trust issues more severe than the average horse. Every case is different, so be sure to evaluate your individual situation for what’s appropriate; this is just a general guide to working with a problem horse under saddle. Horses always have a reason for the things that they do, so try to figure out why your horse is behaving that way and try to help them get past it.
-Do your research. Connect with others who have dealt with a similar problem horse and search which methods tend to work for your horse’s problem behavior. Not every method is going to work for your horse; you should always tailor your training to the horse that you’re working with at the time.
-Start slow. Introduce the horse to tack slowly and gently. For example, be careful not to harshly drop the saddle on the horse’s back. Make the experience as positive as possible by using lots of praise. Depending on the horse and the problem, the time this process takes and the steps you take will vary.
-Utilize the lunge line. With or without a rider, a lunge line is a great tool for working with a problem horse. It’s great to use with horses that buck, rear, or have other similar problems under saddle because circles are a good way to get a horse to relax and focus. Make sure you know how to lunge properly before trying it with a problem horse! Start simply by walking and halting. Don’t move on until the horse is responsive at each gait.
-Take it step-by-step. Get the horse relaxed and responsive at each gait before moving on to the next one. An advanced rider is preferable in these cases because oftentimes (depending on the problem), it can be difficult to get the horse relaxed and responsive enough to move on.
-Utilize your trainer. It’s always good to have an experienced professional to help you guide your horse away from the problem behavior. They can also help make the situation safer for both you and your horse. If not in direct sessions, your trainer will at least have a lot of helpful advice for dealing with your problem horse.
When you have a problem horse—especially a bad one—it’s important not to lose hope. I believe that problem horses are salvageable when given training, time, patience, and consistency. There are a lot of problem horses out there so look to those who know what you’re going through for support. Have confidence in yourself as a rider but don’t be afraid to ask for help as it can prove incredibly rewarding for both you and your horse. Take advantage of the resources that you have so you can get back to doing what you love!