Ask Our Expert - Al Dunning

Al DunningProfessional horseman Al Dunning lives and trains out of the Almosta Ranch northeast of Scottsdale, Arizona. An avid and successful competitor in reining, cutting and cow horse events, Dunning has won more than $912,000. Though he specializes in Western performance events, this multiple-association-approved judge of 27 years offers horsemanship advice to all riders through his online mentoring program, Team AD International.


Al Dunning

This Month's ExpertAl Dunning

Professional horseman Al Dunning lives and trains out of the Almosta Ranch northeast of Scottsdale, Arizona. An avid and successful competitor in reining, cutting and cow horse events, Dunning has won more than $912,000. Though he specializes in Western performance events, this multiple-association-approved judge of 27 years offers horsemanship advice to all riders through his online mentoring program, Team AD International.In the March issue of Western Horseman, Dunning lends his expertise to the article “Riding in Alignment,” starting on page 27. For more information on Al Dunning, visit aldunning.com.

Q: I have barrel horses and have one horse that I have had for about a year and a half. This horse has come a long way. She is race-bred and has a lot of anxiety, and she expresses it by "chomping at the bit." This seems to distract her from her job and it is hard to keep her focused on what I'm asking her when we go to barrel races. I ride her just about every day to help with built-up energy and anxiety. Do you have any pointers on how to help with chomping at the bit?

Morgan, Arizona

A: Hi Morgan,Horses “mouth” the bit for many reasons. First, I always start with having a veterinarian check the horse’s mouth and teeth.

Barring any problems with a horse’s teeth, anxiety is the number-one reason for mouthing the bit. Anything to relax your horse will help. I have found that wrapping a bit in latex tape helps a horse not to chomp. Also, I have a bitting bit, a thick-barred bit with the shanks cut off, and a simple string headstall. I let a horse carry the bit in the stall for a few hours each day to help it accept the bit better. The better the horse is broke, the softer the poll, usually the better the mouth.

May your horse run true, Al

Q: My gelding is skittish when you are just walking around him. He is 9 years old. How can I change his behavior?

Curtis, North Carolina

A: Hi Curtis,At 9 years old, a horse is mostly “set in its ways.”  However, you can develop a trust with your horse by spending time with him, working on both sides, and checking on all the physical possibilities for his issue. You should check your horse’s eyesight and hearing first. If all is well there, then go about trying to find the key to the root of the problem. Horses that you can work on both sides equally are usually more trusting.  

Be logical and continue to evaluate your horse, and desensitize him or work around his quirks. There is no one true way to fix this until you know everything about your horse and why he is skittish.  

Move smooth, Al

Q: I have a 4-year-old Paint that every time I go up to in the pasture, or when I feed or groom or work him, he will get in front of me and block me or come charging at me, trying to kick me when I turn to leave. How can I stop him from doing that before he hurts me? When we are in the round pen he does everything I ask him to do and never acts up. I work him for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. But, once we are done and he's back in the pasture and I'm going back to the house, it's like he doesn't want me to leave.

Ann, North Carolina

A: Hi Ann,Horses are amazing animals. Your horse obviously likes to be worked but doesn’t understand “space.” No matter how much we love them, they are only  horses and we are the boss. Not the other way around. I suggest that you take a lunge whip with you in the pasture and don’t allow your horse to get in the “I’m the Boss” position.

Also, when I work a horse on a line, I teach it to go away from me and come back, but to stop outside my space. Stay in control of the situation to be safe and maintain that all-important barrier between you and your horse.   

Safety first, Al

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