Jon EnsignThis Month’s Expert
Jon Ensign

Belgrade, Montana, horseman Jon Ensign conducts clinics throughout North America, drawing upon the influences of mentors that include Ray Hunt, Martin Black and Buck Brannaman. In the August 2010 Western Horseman feature “The Mañana Principle,” Ensign explained the importance of properly structuring a riding session to avoid “overdrilling.” Here, he answers four reader questions about horse purchases, riding safety and tack.

Q: I’m in the market for a horse and have found what I consider an ideal candidate. Unfortunately, he’s also a cribber. If I purchase this horse, are there ways I can manage this behavior, or should I continue to look for another horse?

Susan Robinson, Billings, Montana

A: Just because a horse cribs doesn’t mean he is a bad horse. I have seen some horses deficient in minerals crib until they were supplemented with what their bodies were lacking. I have also seen confined horses do this out of boredom; if they are given something to do, the cribbing can stop. However, it can become a bad habit, one other horses can observe and pick up.

In the past, I have had some success with a cribbing strap. It can prevent the horse from swelling its neck and sucking air. You can minimize the damage to your facility by covering rails with metal or painting the wood with a bitter substance, such as carbolinium or a commercial chew-halt product. Often, if you can pasture your horse in a larger area, he might stop cribbing on his own, as the habit is mostly caused by confinement.


Q: I have a mare that loads well in a three-horse slant-load trailer, but kicks the wall after she is loaded, sometimes immediately after loading her. She also kicks while the trailer is in motion. What can I do to correct this problem?

John Nevil, Benton, Pennsylvania

A: This can be a difficult and frustrating situation to say the least. More times than not, a problem with the trailer stems from trauma, fear or stress. A horse’s defense is escape. Horses remember bad experiences, but can overcome those memories with the correct approach. It sounds to me the she loads okay, but I have a few questions:

How does she come out of the trailer? Are her feet stuck? When she loads, is she soft or is she braced up? Can we move her forward and backward with the slightest try from the lead rope? If not, we need to back up and work on all of these things.

It sounds to me like your mare is kicking from anxiety. This tells me she is not comfortable with the trailer. Move away from the trailer, and work on making the trailer the best place to be. When you load her, instantly unload her. Change things up on her: put one foot in the trailer and then take it out; then try two feet and then three and then four.

We need to work on helping the mare not panic. Support your horse when the desired response occurs. Make a big deal out of all the little victories. Before long, you will be happy with the result. This takes a lot a dedication, so take the time that it takes and make sure you keep a good frame of mind.


Q: I grew up riding with only a front cinch – no back cinch or breast collar. If I’m riding primarily on level surfaces – no mountain trails or steep country – how vital are a back cinch or breast collar? Can I get away without either?

Mike Garrett, Santa Fe, New Mexico

A: I always recommend a breast collar when riding. If, for some reason, things went wrong and a saddle with just the front cinch were to slip, it could roll underneath the horse, causing major trauma for your horse while tearing up your saddle. The breast collar will help keep your saddle from slipping from side to side. A back cinch is designed to hold the back of your saddle down. I feel more comfortable when riders use a breast collar instead of a back cinch.


Q: While circling the perimeter of a warm-up arena, my horse shies away from oncoming horses, and tends to spook a bit if a horse approaches too closely from behind. How can I make her more comfortable in crowded warm-up pens?

Penny Gilbert, Tulsa, Oklahoma

A: Something that caught my eye on this question right away was your phrase, “How can I make her more comfortable?” Let’s not make her do anything; let’s try to set up situations to help her without force.

While I am riding horses that are a little insecure, I try to give them a lot of support to build their confidence. We can support a horse in different ways, so when your horse spooks, don’t tighten up your body or your reins, as this sends the message to your horse that he should be bothered. If you can relax your body, go with your horse and reach down to stroke your horse to let him know things are okay, it will build his confidence.

Have someone ride up to you and pet your horse. Then have that person ride away and come back and do it again. Do this until your horse can stand there with a respectful attitude. When your horse handles this at the standstill, try it at the trot, always supporting your horse as you go. This may take a little doing on your part, but the results will be worth the effort.


Next month’s ASK OUR EXPERT features Montana horseman Zane Davis. (Learn more about Zane here).

If you’d like to submit a question, please email Western Horseman editor-at-large AJ Mangum at [email protected] This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it by August 25. Please include your full name, city and state in your inquiry. Depending on the volume of questions received, some questions may not be answered. Western Horseman retains the right to edit submissions for clarity.



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