Ask Our Expert - Dr. Robert M. Miller, DVM
This Month's Expert
Dr. Robert M. Miller, DVM
Dr. Robert M. Miller, DVM, has contributed to Western Horseman magazine as a writer and cartoonist since 1949. In the January 2011 issue, “The Horsemanship Revolution” tells of the vital role Western Horseman played in spreading the word on natural horsemanship and imprint training, of which Dr. Miller was a leading pioneer. Dr. Miller retired from veterinary practice in 1987, but continues to write and teach riders how the horse’s mind works. He lives in Thousand Oaks, California with his wife Debbie.
Q: I am a current subscriber looking for some help on a mounting problem. I have an 8-year-old mare that I've had for almost 2 years. Recently, when I try to mount by placing my left hand on her mane while holding loose reins, she begins backing up. When she occasionally remains still at that point, and then I place my foot in the stirrup, she begins to circle.
I looked for suggestions on your website [westernhorseman.com], but didn't find anything that exactly fit. I read about the come along halter or "war bridle" but not sure I'm experienced enough to use it effectively. Any suggestions?
Don Vermeil, Carmel Valley, California
A: Horses that move when being mounted usually do so because they have learned to anticipate having to move in some direction when mounted. To prevent this behavior, green horses, after being mounted, should always be asked to stand still for a while and then moved in an unexpected direction—sometimes left or right, or forward or back.
To correct the habit once established, don’t mount completely. Mix it up. Sometimes, just place the foot in the stirrup, or put a bit of weight on it. Sometimes mount partially, other times completely, then immediately dismount. Do this from both sides. It helps to do this in a corner so movement forward or backward can be inhibited. The object is to never allow the horse to know what you are going to do until you request it.
I hobble break my horses before I ever ride them, and then mounting while hobbled and sitting there awhile is another way of solving the problem. Avoid jerking the reins in an attempt to solve it. As always, patience and persistence is the answer.
Q: I recently lost a horse in a car accident and our other horse was really attached to him. Now that he is gone he is always out in the pasture. When we fill his water tank, we fill it only halfway, and it will sit there for a week and a half and not be touched. We have had freezing rain and he stands out in the pasture and eats all day, could he not be drinking because he is getting water from the grass, or do you think it's because he's depressed? I have asked a number of friends about this and they said it could just be because he is depressed.
Heidi Anderson, Dell Rapids, South Dakota
A: Horses are very much herd animals, and a horse alone, with rare exceptions, is not happy. Sometimes a goat or other animal for company helps, but loneliness or isolation does not inhibit water consumption. Physiological thirst determines when to drink and how much to drink. Be sure the water is palatable. A dehydrated horse looks drawn up and depressed. If it looks plump and normal, the horse is getting enough fluids somewhere. Lush pasture will lessen the need to drink.
Q: Just read the [newsletter] article from John McComber about horses that pull back [when tied]. I have a Quarter Horse mare 8 or 9 years old, and we have had this problem of her pulling back all the time. I cannot tie her without this being a major problem. It doesn't matter where I tie her, she will still pull until she gets hurt or is worn out. I just don't know what to do with her. I am afraid that she will hurt someone one day.
Jimmy Guidry, Scott, Louisiana
A: Pulling back is a nasty habit; it injures horses, breaks tack and sometimes injures people. Many more neck injuries to horses are caused by pulling back than is realized. It is similar to “whiplash” injures in people. Injuries to the nerves in the neck can cause foreleg lameness. This is discussed in depth in my book Understanding the Ancient Secrets of the Horse’s Mind.
For most of my life I discouraged this habit by tying my green horses to elastic inner tubes. But now, a better device is the Blocker Tie Ring. Invented by Ted Blocker, it is available with a video that demonstrates its use. I have used it effectively to both prevent and cure pulling back.