This Month’s Expert Mozaun McKibben
Mozaun McKibben has made an art out of winning ranch horse championships. The Whitesboro, Texas, horseman has racked up several American Quarter Horse Association titles, including 2011 and 2013 Versatility Ranch Horse World Champion, and 2012 and 2013 Ranch Pleasure World Champion. In addition, he has champion titles in Stock Horse of Texas and Ranch Horse Association of America competition. McKibben has also trained Mustangs for the Mustang Heritage Foundation’s Extreme Mustang Makeover.
In the July issue, read about how McKibben teaches horses to extend at the walk in preparation for ranch pleasure classes or long rides in the pasture.
Q: I’d like to compete in ranch versatility, but I’m having a hard time keeping my antsy horse patient and standing still in the arena. How do I get him to relax and keep his feet in one place when I drop my hand down to his withers?
A: When I have a horse like that, I’m not going to pull on his mouth with my hands to ask him to stay still. If the horse is moving around, I’m going to hold with my hands by picking up the reins and keeping constant pressure on the mouth, and kick hard with my feet until he stands still. The second the horse puts his feet down and stands still I’m going to reward him by dropping the reins and petting him.
I’m not going to let the horse go forward or backward until he stands still. As long as his feet are moving, I’m going to kick hard with my feet and hold the reins steady with my hands. I’m not going to yank on his face with the reins.
It’s not going to take very long for him to understand what you’re asking. The second a horse gets antsy, get your point across by kicking hard. Don’t jerk on the horse’s mouth and get him scared of the bit. Just apply rein pressure by lifting your hand and making contact with the horse’s mouth, and holding your hands steady.
The worst thing you can do is yank on a horse’s face. The minute a horse gets scared of the bridle, it takes forever to get the horse over that fear. If you punish with your feet and hold with your hands, and don’t let the horse go forward or backward, then you get something accomplished and you don’t scare the horse by pulling on his face.
This method also works with horses that sling their heads around or push on the bit when standing.
By using this technique, a rider is saying to the horse, “You’re going to stay still, and when you do, I’m going to reward you.” Horses don’t speak English, and we don’t speak horse. The only thing I’ve found that works is to punish a horse when he’s wrong, but then I’m real big on rewarding and petting him when he’s right. Then the horse starts to understand what it is we’re asking him to do.
Q: Putting a bit in my gelding’s mouth is difficult. I gently bring it to his lips and hold it against his teeth, but every time I have to slip my finger into the corner of his mouth to get him to take it. Even then, he tosses is head a little and is slow to open his mouth. Is there a better way to get him to take the bit? I have a mare that always accepts it. I’ve never had her teeth floated, but I just had my gelding’s teeth worked on.
A: It sounds like you want your horse to open his mouth without putting your finger in the corner. I have about 20 horses I ride every day, and there are probably two that open their mouths for the bit. You’re just going to have to stick your finger in the corner of your gelding’s mouth to open it, and then slip the bit in.
Once in awhile you get a horse, like your mare, that will open his mouth and take the bit. Even with horses that open their mouths, my hand is already there with my finger inside the corner. It’s a habit for me.
Bad habits form if a horse has gotten away with slinging his head and getting away from the bit, or if the bit bangs on his teeth while the bridle is put on or removed. You just have to put your finger in the corner of the mouth on 99 percent of horses to get them to open their mouths.
I wouldn’t worry about it. It’s like asking your horse to turn around by you just thinking about it and not using your reins.
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