Ask Our Expert – Ruben Vandorp

Ruben Vandorp


Ruben VandorpThis Month’s Expert Ruben VandorpThis Month’s Expert Ruben Vandorp

By the time Ruben Vandorp moved from the Netherlands to the United States in 2002, he already had nine European reining championships to his name. Since then, the Aubrey, Texas, trainer has continued his success, and attributes much of it to his stallion, Einsteins Revolution, the first horse to earn $300,000 in National Reining Horse Association competition.

Among many of his accolades, Vandorp, who has lifetime earnings in excess of $625,000, has earned several National Reining Breeders Classic titles and National Reining Horse Association world and reserve championships, plus finalist spots in the NRBC, NRHA events, and the American Quarter Horse Association World Championship Show.

Q: I have a 6-year-old Arabian-Quarter Horse cross. He’s a wonderful horse, but the one thing I can’t get him to do is slow down. If I ask him to walk, he wants to trot. If I ask him to trot, he tries to gallop. Unless I do a pattern repeatedly, as soon as I change the pattern he’s back to taking off. If I try to stop him, he fights the bit and flings his head. How can I stop this behavior?

– Carissa, Flordia

A: There are two separate drills I’d recommend, and you’ll probably have to try both on the horse. The first drill is to let the horse run on a loose rein.

Since this horse wants to go fast, first let him gallop for awhile until you can drive him down with your legs [by pushing downward in the stirrups], and then let him walk. Let him make that decision that walking is a good idea. In other words, instead of trying to take hold of his face and make him stay slow, turn [the reins] loose, put him in a circle, and let him run around. Horses are smart, and they’ll figure out walking is easier. The first day, it may take 10 minutes at a lope before the horse is ready to say, “Hey, I want to walk now.” The next day it may take eight minutes [until he’s ready to walk], and so on.

But some horses, once you get them running, will never quit running. They love it and will keep running until they fall over. And it sounds like this horse may run for quite awhile before he wants to walk. A Quarter Horse doesn’t want to go anywhere for very long.

For a horse that has a little bit more “blood” in him, like this half-Arabian who may be a little warmer blooded, you may try the second drill: Every time the horse speeds up, turn him in a small circle, put some inside leg on him, and bend his nose around until it’s soft and loose. Try tapping with your legs until he’s relaxed, then release the rein. The horse has to learn to look for the walk and the slow pace as his reward.

Every time the horse takes off and speeds up on his own, don’t let him keep going straight. As soon as the horse takes off on the trot, send him around [in a small circle] until he walks. Then turn the reins loose, bump with your feet until he breaks into the trot, and every time he does, bend the horse around. Repeat this until the horse learns that motion in your leg doesn’t mean you want him to go forward and accelerate.

Once you have him solid in the walk, you can do the same exercise in the trot. Once he’s solid in the trot, you can do the same thing in the lope. Each time, break the horse down into the original gait [you asked for] and supple him up. The horse learns that every time you kick him, it doesn’t necessarily mean go forward; it means pay attention. Don’t turn him loose until you’re back in the gait you were in.

Q: I just recently bought a Quarter Horse. While she has had a lot of training, she doesn’t know how to back up very well. When I try to get her to back up she tosses her head up, sometimes hitting me. I’ll pull her head down then try to back up again. How can I get her to willingly back up?

– Addyson, Florida

A: For a horse, the reward is going to be what you want it to do, which in this case is going to be to make her back up. In order for her to want to go backward, make her work hard going forward.

If I were you, I would drive your mare into your hands with your legs, and make her walk circles for a couple of minutes in a very heavy collection, continuously driving with your legs. You probably won’t need to use spurs, but just use your legs and bump her up into the bit. Once she’s working hard, release your legs and leave your hands in the same position, holding the bit. Push in the stirrups and leave your legs off (like you’re going to stop), then just sit there and wait. As soon as that horse starts backing off the pressure [from your hands] and takes one step back, release the reins. Make the forward [motion] the work, so the step back becomes the release.

If the horse really fights the backup and it starts messing with her head, don’t make her go backward by pulling on her face. Make her walk again and push her back [into collection], until that horse thinks, “I’m sick of being pushed forward.” Don’t just make her walk two circles and try to back up again. Ask for a walk with a lot of forward momentum. She will start looking to the backup as the release. Odds are the horse will back away from the pressure in your hands and take a couple of steps back. Horses learn quickly, and that’s when they get lighter [in the face] to where if you pick up your hands, they’ll take one step back. That’s when you can start asking for another step and another step.

You don’t want to start a war. If you do, then the next thing you know, after slinging her head, she’ll stand straight on her hind legs, and that’s not safe and not what you’re after.

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