On September 27th, horse behavior expert Tik Maynard stopped by our Facebook Live for a webinar where he answered questions on everything from respect to anxious horses. We wanted our Masterclass members to have a full transcript of the Q+A for future reference!
Q: “I bought a young stallion two years ago now he's five years old with a lot of blood (indoctro x Chinchín x contender). He has been very smart, with very good skills to jump and he's an excellent sport young stallion until now. He's developing his daily training program and his progress is important and very good. His behavior has been very stable with normal ups and downs of a young stallion. I'd like to get your recommendation on daily management to keep his sports concentration and behavior as good as possible Do you have any tricks or tips for people working with young horses, especially young stallions, as they go through growing pains?” -Christian
A: The big thing to realize is that we can have different severities of the same problem. You can have a horse that gets mildly anxious or majorly anxious, or you could have a horse that’s mildly distracted or very distracted. Depending on how long those things have been going on, we may be dealing with them in different ways. You might fix it different ways, depending on how severe it is, and sometimes you can even make a problem worse if it’s one severity versus another. A great example is a horse that’s really anxious and goes really forward. Sometimes by having that horse work on canter to walk, canter to halt, a lot of those before a jump or after a jump will teach a horse to think and come back to you. If the problem is really severe, you can actually make the horse more anxious. Taking away the instinct to want to go forward and feel free from a horse that’s really anxious is only going to make it worse.
With this five year old stallion we’re talking about, part of it is going to depend on how distracted he is. I think a big part of it is finding out in what circumstances he is distracted and then trying to work on that. For example, if he’s distracted at home because of mares, or if he is distracted at a show because of other horses jumping, or if he is distracted every day when you’re flatting because you are next to a highway, being able to recognize: Is this a problem I want to fix or is this a problem I want to manage? With everything we do with horses, we basically have two options: is this something that I’m really going to take the time to fix, or is this a problem that’s not worth addressing so I’m going to manage the situation?
With a distracted horse, what we have to do is make ourselves as the handler, trainer, or the rider of the horse, the most interesting person in that horse’s life. There are little techniques we can use. When I have a horse that’s distracted I don’t tell them that it’s going to be okay. I won’t punish them, but I’ll go to work when the horse is distracted, maybe a little leg yield or shoulder in When the horse is more relaxed, I’ll reward them and take a break It takes a little experience and creativity to do that in the moment. One thing I might do is in the middle of a trot circle, if that horse offers me more focus and more relaxation, I might say, “hey, let’s take a break at this moment,” and try to catch them doing something right. With a more advanced horse, if they are on a trot circle and I’ve asked them to do something, I’m going to keep doing that even if they have offered me more relaxation or more focus because they are a more mature horse. The thing with horse behavior is that some things take a lot of time. With a five year old stallion, that’s something that people specialize in for years in order to be able to deal with those situations. It also depends on the person’s experience and confidence around young horses. Just like if you asked Ian Millar about jumping a 1.45m fence, it’s going to depend on the experience of the person. A common answer may be, “hey, we’ve got to go back and work on the fundamentals a little bit more.”
Q: “Can you talk about how you personally go about making the distinction between what you want to address and what you want to ignore at the moment?”
A; It depends on how important different things are to you and what your goals are for you and your horse. I think the further you want to go in your career with your horse, the more important it probably is to address issues. There is nothing more frustrating than getting a horse up to a high level of competition and then realizing you’re getting a lower score or a rail because your horse is distracted or spooky. I think once you’ve got those top goals in mind, it’s that much more important to focus on the fundamentals. For anyone out there who is starting young horses or buying a young horse, the biggest thing is taking time when the horse is three, four, or five years old and start to have a really tame horse before you begin training. A tame horse means that there are pretty much no situations in the horse’s life where it feels like it is going to get hurt or it fears for its life. I’ve seen horses that get up to high levels and there are moments where the saddle pad will slip, the person will do up the zipper, they will mount in a way that is a little different than they did normally and, all of a sudden, it doesn’t matter how much training you’ve done. At that moment, that horse is worried about being hurt or it’s worried about its life. It goes into a fear reaction and that’s where a horse isn’t tame. Sometimes I’ll get horses in for training and I’ll spend a month or more working on having that horse be tame before I start training. Otherwise those things will just come out later and later.
If you’re in a clinic or a lesson with me and you’re asking for my recommendation, my only thing is that you’ve got to make it safe. After that, it really just depends on what your own goals are. A great example is with horses that will crowd a person’s space. If that doesn’t bother you at all and it’s not really that dangerous, then I don’t care if your horse is pushing into your space. I don’t want my horses pushing into my space and I don’t like it and, in some situations, I would say that it’s dangerous, but not every horse will take a behavior and make it an extreme behavior.
Q: “How do you stop spooky/looky tendencies in the competition arena? I have a lovely 17.2hh Holsteiner who jumps like a stag. He Is extremely level headed in training, but in the bigger shows he get very ‘reactionary’ to what is going on outside the arena-the shadows, the people, stalls etc as we enter. Once I’m over the first fence he’s focused but on entry I feel this handbrake come on as he spooks at what’s going on around him, rather than focusing on my aids! He’s almost looking for something.”- Kate
A: The first thing is to think of that as a separate issue from your jumping. Whenever you have a problem with a horse, it is going to be easier if you can isolate the problem, work on that problem, and then put them back together. With this particular thing, think of your horse’s spookiness as a separate issue and you work on that once a week or for five minutes a day.
Let me give you an example. In 2015, I took a horse called “Remarkable” to the Thoroughbred makeover. A lot of thoroughbreds struggle with being distracted or anxious. When you go into that arena, it’s a lot of pressure for people and for horses. You have banners all the way around the ring, loudspeakers, people, etc. A really nice trick is to be able to look at everything in a horse’s world, not just what’s in the ring but what’s outside the ring, and start to realize where a horse is pulled to, like the in-gate, the barn, other horses, his food, his stall, and things he would be pushed away from, like loudspeakers, banners, puddles, and crowds of people. You want to try and even out their world. Imagine little positive signs everywhere they are drawn to and little negative signs everywhere they are pushed away from. You are going to have little pockets of those positive signs and little pockets of those negative signs everywhere in the horse’s world. You want to try to even those out, so there is an equal number of positive signs and negative signs everywhere. All you have to do to influence a horse’s direction or movement is add in one positive sign or one negative sign. Just gently ask them to go forward, or just gently ask them to turn or stop and they can do that. Imagine grains of sand in an hourglass. If they are exactly half and half on either side, all you have to do is tip one grain of sand and you are influencing your horse’s life.
The evening before the 2015 Thoroughbred makeover, we had an hour to climatize our horse to the main arena at the Kentucky Horse Park. What a large majority of people did in that hour is go through their routine with their horse that they were going to do the next day in the freestyle. Instead of practicing my routine, I went in and I had a friend stand behind each banner around the arena and I took my horse around. At the beginning, it took five or ten minutes to get up to each banner, but my friend gave him a treat behind the banner. We went all the way around the arena doing that. After twenty minutes, he was walking up to the banner in a much more confident way because he got a treat behind every banner. The other thing I did is I went to the in-gate, a place where a lot of horses are drawn to, and I worked him around to the left and the right. In the last ten minutes, I had my friend bring in the grain my horse would be getting later that evening. My horse wasn’t that tired, he had just gone around one way and around the other way and had done a little work by the in-gate. We went to the far end of the arena, away from the in-gate and where some of the loudspeakers are, and I let him eat his dinner there for about fifteen minutes while I stood off to the side. The next day, when I came in to do my freestyle, a lot of the horses still felt that pressure from one end of the arena. If any horses got loose, they went straight to the in-gate. My horse didn’t feel any pushes away from one place or any draws to another place. He was able to stay with me and be relaxed the whole time. That’s because I went in with that specific goal the day before, not to practice my routine but to even out his whole world so he could listen to me and not have to worry about those other things.
You can just start this as a really nice game at home, whether you are in the saddle or on the ground. Pick something in your head, like a jump or a fence post or a mounting block. See if you can challenge yourself to have your horse lower its head and neck to touch that thing. If you’re really struggling with it, you can go out before you ride and put little horse cookies on all those things. Even if you don’t like the idea of your horse being pushy or taking treats from you, they are taking treats from all those other things. My dad coaches the Vancouver Mounted Police in Stanley Park in Vancouver. When he has some of the police horses that deal with spooky issues, they will go out in Stanley Park and put treats on those things and within two or three days those police horses aren’t worried about anything.
Q: “I just moved to a new barn and I am struggling with getting my horse to calm down and relax. When I try to walk her around, she will try and trot past me, when they turn her out she will run around, and when we get on her she’s so tense. I’ve had her for 9 years and have been to so many barns and shows, but this time she just won’t calm down, she's never acted like this. What can I do to get her to calm down on the ground and then calm down when we get on her?”- Alle
A: There are two principles that I want people to try and understand. The first one is to deal with a horse’s anxiety. When I used to start a lesson, I would ask, “Is your horse relaxed and ready to start jumping?” Now I’ve got a really clear idea that a horse isn’t just relaxed or anxious; there is a whole scale. Your horse could be at a zero, which would be eyes drooping and ready to sleep, or they could be at a ten, which would be extreme fear. At some point, your horse can get so anxious that they are not capable of learning. On the scale I have in my mind, that is when they go over a three or four out of ten. For me, a three is when the horse is trotting around on the buckle with a loose rein and keeps breaking into the canter. That’s a horse that I can control, but that’s a horse that is too anxious to learn. With a horse that is above a three, I might be able to do a lot of things, but if they are above a three, they are probably just doing it. They are probably just reacting and you’re controlling them because they are not in a frame of mind that is relaxed enough to learn. For my horses, if they aren’t able to trot on the buckle without breaking into the canter I won’t try and put them on the bit or jump them because I won’t be improving. They will be doing it but they won’t actually be learning it. That’s why you’ll see horses that are constantly doing things at a three or four or five out of ten stay at the same level for years because they haven’t been relaxed enough to learn. Sometimes, I’ll work on taming a horse before training a horse for months. It can take being really aware of your horse’s level of anxiety and being able to say, “Hey, I shouldn’t be working on this today because my horse isn’t relaxed enough.” If you’re taking your horse cross country schooling, for example, and have to ship two hours and pay $50, it can take a lot of self-discipline to not jump anything that day. Sometimes, the best thing to do is ship the two hours, pay the $50, and take your horse for a walk, trot, canter around the field and not jump anything. If you jump, you may have just wasted all that time and money, even though you think it’s the opposite. That can be a real tough pill to swallow sometimes, especially if your horse is at that constantly simmering 4 or 5 out of ten whenever they go somewhere.
Q: “My horse is extremely herd bound after coming back from a year at pasture (he's been back to work for almost a full year now) and I can barely ride with other horses in the ring. He will plant his feet and not move if we are near another horse, or to try to get through the out-gate and go back to the barn. When you add leg or tap him with the stick, he rears (like full-blown stand up rear), spins, and rears some more. He'll also do the fun rearing and spinning and more rearing move towards the end of a ride if he thinks he's done (has walked on a long rein, or has stood in the middle for a minute) and then I shorten my reins and ask him to do something again. He's on Ulcerguard daily (scope didn't show anything, but just as a precaution), and has had a full vet workup including X-rays. He does get hock and fetlock injections, but has recently had them done and the vet says he's good to go. We've even tried a few days of Equioxx to rule out pain, but he's still just as sassy. He does not do this behavior at all if I'm alone in the ring! He also doesn't do this while jumping, just on the flat. This horse has always been the sassy type... not a super work ethic, especially on the flat, but loves to jump. He's a spooky, fresh 7 year old gelding but not a hot horse. He's always loved to buck and play which I've never had a problem with, but the planting the feet and not moving combined with the rearing is making it hard to ride him. Would love your insight!” - Erin
A: First of all, the vet is a great place to start and I congratulate them on that. The next principle, which I was also going to talk about for the last question, is trying to find a way to bridge the gap between what you can’t do and what you want to do, or between what you can do and what you can’t do. Let’s say you can ride by yourself but you can’t ride in a group. It’s a matter of finding a way to create situations that you would not normally see in order to do that. What if you could ride by yourself with just one horse standing on the sidelines eating grass? Then, can you ride by yourself with just another horse walking around eating grass outside the arena? Can you ride your horse with another horse in the arena that is just standing being held? Can you ride your horse with another horse that’s walking around? You gradually try to put yourself in situations where you can build to what you want to be able to do. We do that all the time with jumping. If you can jump one foot but you can’t jump four feet, you jump 1’3”, 1’6”, 1’9”, and you gradually build towards that. We don’t do that often enough with extreme behavioral problems. One of the biggest differences in my life right now is my ability to go cross country schooling and come to a ditch or a bank or water and not have it be a success or failure. Now, my horse can have the same problem and they can gradually get better at it. I could not go through the water three days in a row and still feel like I was improving because I had the steps in mind of how to gradually get my horse used to the water. The mindset is not that I’m trying to get the horse through the water, but that I am trying to get the horse more confident about water. That’s a huge paradigm shift in how you think of obstacles or horses, that you’re not trying to get them to do something, you are trying to get them more confident about a situation. If you can get them more confident about a situation, then you can get there in the end and it is going to be longer-lasting. You’re not going to have that same problem come out so much again in the future, if at all.
Q: “Are problems always issues of confidence or are there ever times when it is just bad behavior?” -Caroline
A: The problem that I have with anthropomorphism, or when we use human words for horses or objects, is that we use words like like, love, trust, respect, greedy to describe horse behavior. You could write a whole book, you could do a whole series of webinars on what horse behavior means to other horses and what it means to us and how we have different definitions for it. I’ll give you one example and the word is respect. If you ask different horse people what respect means to them or what respect means to a horse, you’ll get different answers. For me, if I’m going to use the word respect with a horse or in a lesson or a clinic or a webinar like this, I want to have a working definition that I can share with you about what that word means. For me, respect means that a horse gives an appropriate response to pressure. If I ask a horse to trot, they don’t overreact and canter or they don’t underreact and walk faster or disregard my leg. Respect means that they don’t underreact or overreact. Also, horses don’t give us respect. We have to earn respect. The way that we earn respect is by using an appropriate amount of pressure for every situation. A great example is a horse that stops at jumps. With some horses, that might mean that you don’t use the whip at all. The horse might be a Thoroughbred mare and she’s got enough internal motivation and just didn’t see the jump, that if you hit her it would be an overreaction on your part. With another horse like a big, dull warmblood horse, you use the whip just a little bit and it’s not enough, the horse will come around and stop again. We earn respect by getting enough experience with horses or taking enough lessons that we can use an appropriate amount of pressure for every situation. When we use all these different words that people have for horses, I think it’s important to have in mind what that word means to you and what that word means to me.
Q: “Hello! I have a 7 year old gelding that I have had for 6 months or so. He was very calm for the first few moths never bucked. Now After I left him at my barn for 3 weeks as I went for a clinic elsewhere he is suddenly very attentive, gets scared easily and bucks not too much but only when he is scared. He is also quite excitable while walking outside the warmup ring or while hacking. I would like some tips just to get him a bit calmer as the arena in which I train everyday is in a park so it’s full of noises and things he might get scared of.” -Caterina
A: A lot of the problems I’m hearing could be helped by working with a trainer, and not just someone who is experienced in dressage or showjumping. For lots of these behavioral problems, there are specialists in different areas like groundwork and horse behavior. If you’ve never jumped 1.20m before and go on a webinar and say, “I’m jumping cross rails, can you give me tips on how to jump 1.20m?”, you’ve got to take some lessons for a few years. It’s the same thing with these horse behavior things. I’m definitely going to be able to give you some tips for that, but we also need to recognize that I’ve spent thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars on lessons to be able to deal with those situations. Sometimes it’s just the realization that you need to find a good person you can trust to help you. That said, I am going to give you some tips here. Doing groundwork with your horse, whether that is a western style or what I do, is a great idea. Even if you’re not doing that, simply lunging your horse beforehand is a safer way to get them used to a new space and let off a little steam. Whenever you work with a horse, be aware of making their world neutral. When you’ve reached a place of calmness with your horse or you’ve finished your work, don’t always take them back to the horse’s stall or the barn or the herd to get off. When I’m done with a young horse, I’ll get off in the arena. I’ll loosen the girth, sometimes I’ll even take their saddle and bridle off and I’ll wait out in the arena until they can take a deep breath. Sometimes, if the situation calls for it, I’ll let them roll or eat some grass before I take them back to the barn. Otherwise, you are creating a situation where they work where they work and they rest in the stall and the horse is going to want to go back to the stall. If you fall off, they are going to run back to the stall. With my horses, if I fall off, they are probably going to stop and eat grass or come back to me. They’re not drawn to the barn and the arena isn’t just a work environment. I’ve really tried to make their whole world neutral, not just the arena.
Q: “Hey, wanted to know if you have any tricks to help calm down a horse while pulling his mane or doing his teeth. Even with a tranquiliser, he still tries to stand, but just when we touch him.” -Armande
A: This brings me back to that principle of what you can do and what you can’t do. If I’ve got a horse that won’t let me pull its main or look in its mouth, that is not what I try to do. Instead, I think: Can I run my hand down their mane? Can I run my hand on the back of their ears and their back? Can I just pull one hair and then give them a treat? If it’s working around the mouth, can I massage the gums, their upper and lower gums? Can I massage the lips? Can I massage the tongue? A similar thing would be with a syringe. With a horse that doesn’t like getting a syringe in their mouth I think, can I just rub their mouth with the syringe? Could I take a syringe full of applesauce and syringe applesauce into their mouth 8 times and only on the 9th time give them a medicine they don’t like? With the mane, it’s the same thing. Can I rub along the mane without trying to pull hair out? Can I pull a little on the mane and then let go and go back to giving them a treat or a rest or whatever it is? I try to do things like that after work, not before work. I try to do that on a hot day rather than a cool day because it sets your horse up for success. If I’ve got a horse that doesn’t stand on cross ties, then I’m just going to get him groomed rudimentarily, tack him up in the stall and get him ridden. After my ride, I’m going to get him used to standing on crossties. Try to find ways to set them up for success and be creative to build the gaps between what you can’t do and what you want to do.
Q: “I have a six year old mare that cannot seem to maintain the canter. I keep saying she just needs to be stronger, but she is pretty fit already. I don't seem to have as much of a problem with it when I ride her in the fields, but in the ring she swaps her hind and fails to be able to complete either a circle or the long side of the ring. I never really thought about it being a behavioral issue but maybe that's my problem.” - Colleen
If the horse can do it outside the ring but not inside the ring, it sounds to me like the horse is at a point where you just need a little more space. Bridging that gap between what you can do and what you can’t do is a matter of saying, can I go into a gradually smaller space? Or can I really go forward down the longside? For a horse to canter in a smaller space, it needs to be more collected. If you try to go slower by only pulling, they lean on the forehand, they lean on the bit, their mouth opens, they break to the trot, their hindquarters go to the outside, etc. When we bring a horse off the track almost all the time the leg on the horse means go faster. What we want the horse to realize is that sometimes the leg means go sideways for leg yield, it means shoulder-in, it means half-pass, it means haunches-in, etc. Sometimes when we use the leg and seat in a certain way, it even means more collected. Using your leg to mean something other than go faster can be a big paradigm shift for horses and people. It can be a lightbulb moment. If you haven’t experienced that before with a horse, my suggestion is to find an instructor or rider that is talented at that and get them to ride your horse. People learn in all kinds of ways. Some people learn by reading, some people learn by taking lessons. My personal favorite way to learn is by watching people. I’ll watch people ride their own horses. If I go for a lesson, I’ll actually get way more out of it if I watch that person ride my horse than if I have a lesson from them. If you’re in a lesson, think about the different ways you learn and the different ways your horse learns.