This Month’s Expert
A native Montanan, Greg Eliel got his start educating horse owners in the Dorrance traditions of horsemanship while traveling the clinic circuit with Buck Brannaman. After several years working for Buck, Greg ventured out on his own, conducting clinics throughout North America. He recently relocated his headquarters from Ellensburg, Washington, to his hometown of Wisdom, Montana.
Q: I have a 7-year-old Quarter Horse that I bought a month ago. He needs some work at quietly standing tied. Can you give me some advice on how to teach him to do this?
Randall Fryar, Choctaw,Oklahoma
A: If your horse has no history of problems and his halter-breaking basics are solid, he’s ready to progress to the step I’ll describe. All progressive steps are a combination of preparation and timing. In preparation, I like my horses to have the ability to softly move left and right with the front and hindquarters, individually or together as a unit. In addition, they need to back and lead forward softly. Finally, I would have the horse very soft at putting his head down. (I would define soft as an ounce or less of pressure.) It’s important to remember that horses learn from the release of pressure, not the application of pressure. Here’s where the timing comes in. When you first tie the horse, hang out nearby so you can watch him. He might be a little nervous and fidget a little at first, so wait for him to get quiet. That is the time to untie him and turn him out. By untying the horse at the correct moment, you reward him for getting quiet. Each day, let him stand a few moments longer, then turn him out, always waiting for him to get quiet. It won’t take long until you can tie him up and he’ll stay quiet the entire time.
Q: I bought an 8-year-old Missouri Fox Trotter mare about 3 months ago. I have ridden her about six times and she has bucked me off twice. She is very nervous and jumps at everything. She is the same on the trail, in the ring, in the barn. Is this something she will overcome? I have been working with her on groundwork, but I will not get on her again, as I am scared. I am a 61-year-old woman who has been riding for six years, and I am not an aggressive rider.
Bev Robillard, De Pere, Wisconsin
A: This horse does not need an aggressive rider. She needs an educated rider and I am sure that is your goal. This mare is neither comfortable nor prepared to be ridden. She needs to go back to the most basic level and be restarted. Once a strong foundation is in place, she will likely be more calm and forgiving. My suggestion is to find a person with experience and a good reputation for working with this type of horse. Have that person restart the horse and advance her to a place where you can safely take over the riding. Be diligent in your search for the right person who can understand and solve the problem, but still be respectful of the horse.
Q: My mare is a 15.2-hand, stout Quarter Horse; my gelding is a 14.3-hand, stout, stocky Paint. I have used the same saddle for both, but would like a much lighter pleasure/trail saddle. Do I need to take both horses in the saddle shop for fitting?
Kay Felming, Spring, Texas
A: A good saddlemaker will be very helpful in this search. We live in a very blessed time. There are more good saddlemakers now than at any time in history. If your budget allows, you can either have a saddle made or look for a good used saddle. This will take a little time, so be patient and find a good saddlemaker. If your budget is tight, you’ll have to be even more patient. You will probably try quite a few cheaper saddles before you find one that is adequate. The good news is that it sounds like your horses are similar in build. One well-made saddle should fit both horses.