Waffle is a cross between a Quarter Horse and a type of Draft known as a Belgian -- hence the
name (Belgian) Waffle. She reigns as queen of the pasture. Don't dare try to give another horse a
carrot without taking one along for her. If you do, she'll run all the other horses off and grab the
She also hates for the shutters on her stall to be closed. If she hears you coming with food and the
shutter is closed, she'll knock it open and knock you over with the force of a gale wind.
Under saddle, she has evasions down to a science. She's figured out very well what the rider will
and will not allow, and she'll test you at every turn. She'll make you want to drop riding and take up
golf. But then, miraculously, she'll give you a beautiful ride. Her fantastic conformation makes her a
very smooth mount. Why does she behave like this? She's really a very talented horse, but
Unfortunately, horses pick up bad habits, or evasions. An evasion occurs any time a trained horse
wants to do something other than what you ask. This can range from going faster when you're
heading toward the barn, to bucking you off.
You can correct most evasions simply by redirecting the horse's thinking. You do that with a half
halt and then a corrective command.
To correct an evasion, you also need a reasonably good seat and sitting trot, knowledge of your
rein aids, and confidence in your ability as a rider. Confidence is the key word here. You can't
correct a horse if you doubt that you can. This is especially important with a smart horse like
Waffle. You have to be a smart rider to ride a smart horse successfully. You have to get inside her
head, not just sit pensively on top of her.
I won't bore you by listing all the individual evasions and combinations you may encounter. Besides,
I can't give you the exact solutions for all horses, because I don't know them all. Understand that
when evasions occur, many factors come into play, such as how the horse was trained initially, the
bit you're using, and your level of rider skill. You should ask your instructor for specific instructions
on handling this or that evasion in your particular horse.
Why Does a Horse Evade?
Horses are much like people. They have personalities, brains, and all five senses. They may not
feel as good on some days as others. They have emotional attachments. They may miss an old
friend that has passed on. They can even become depressed.
All these factors can contribute to evasions, making them worse on some days than others. And
some days, horses just don't want to go to work. Just like people.
However, to give you a better idea of what advice your instructor might offer, I'll cite some of the
common evasions and provide some common fixes. Except for "popping the shoulder," which is one
of the most common evasions you'll encounter, my fixes are brief and blunt.
I discuss these evasions, by the way, in their order of severity. Except for the most extreme
evasions, such as bucking or rearing, all horses -- yup, folks, all horses -- will demonstrate these
behaviors from time to time.
Snatching at the Reins
You've got to figure out if this is a physical or a mental problem, and that can be difficult to do. I'd
estimate that about 6 out of 10 times, it's physical. The horse may have problems with her teeth,
such as wolf teeth (teeth that emerge in front of the back teeth and interfere with the bit). She may
have tears in the cheek or gum, or the bit might not fit properly. It could even be allergies.
If your school horse tosses her head, you need to discuss it with your instructor. In the case of
Waffle, I can assure you the problem is mental, not physical.
In Defense of School Horses
Snatching at the reins is an obnoxious habit, but new riders teach school horses to do this. Your
horse may be paying you back for all the inadvertent jerks other beginners have given her. Of
course, such mistakes by beginning riders are unavoidable. It's how you learn, so when you foul up,
apologize to your horse and make it up to her later.
Your first reaction will be to snatch back at the reins. A correction is in order, but punishing Waffle
with your hands will only propagate the problem. Over the long term, it will make her gums
calloused, leaving her hard mouthed and even better able to evade you by snatching at the reins.
Other ways to correct Waffle would be to tap her with a whip or crop or give her a short, sharp kick
with your heels or spurs. It's unlikely you'll be using spurs at this stage of your riding. My druthers
would be to use a whip for this evasion, but that could make a horse go faster and may not be the
best option for you. So again, you need to work with your instructor if you encounter this problem.
Lower the Head and Shoveling Out the Nose
A horse that lowers her head and shovels out her nose may be signaling a physical problem, even
more so than by snatching the reins. A principal cause is a sore back. In fact, I think more horses
experience sore backs than many people realize. Unfortunately, diagnosing back problems is very
difficult. But if your horse lowers her head and shovels out her nose, the problem needs the
attention of your instructor and the stable veterinarian.
If physical problems have been ruled out, you need to think more about how the bit works in the
horse's mouth before attempting to correct this evasion. Understand that pulling back on the reins
will not fix the problem. Because the horse has her head down and her nose out, pulling back
simply forces the bit against the back teeth and, as you already know, steady pressure doesn't work
on a horse. Instead, use the sides of the bit. Pull one rein back toward the hip. This is a
punishment. The sharper the pull (or jerk), the more effective the result. If the horse didn't get the
message, repeat the punishment.
Well, Waffle's latest ploy is raising her head higher than normal and sticking her nose out again.
She's trying another way to keep the bit from working on her bars. Physical discomfort, fear, or poor
training can cause this problem, but in Waffle's case, we know it's mental.
To better understand what's happening, visualize a very collected (rounded) parade horse. It has a
very compact posture, whereas a horse running a race has an elongated posture. Do you want to
ride a race horse or a collected parade horse? I strongly recommend the latter. It's the degree of
the roundness that determines the amount of collection and how much the hind legs track under the
How does this apply to an inverted horse? Get her to round her back, which, incidentally, is the only
way to ride a horse comfortably.
You must drive Waffle forward into your hands, but here comes the rub: Most beginners take what I
just said to mean you pull your hands back to your hips. Instead, use your legs to push into your
Correcting and Inverted Horse
Here's a simple exercise to help correct an inverted horse: Use the aids for backing up. Sit down,
set your hands, squeeze with your legs, and push with your back into and beyond your hands.
Let me repeat what "beyond" means. It does not mean "pull on the reins." When a horse is
inverted, you can't pull the head down or the nose back. This only creates more resistance. It's a
futile approach! By closing your legs and creating the impulse to go forward, you are driving her
from the rear toward the front as opposed to pulling the front toward the rear. Driving her forward
from the rear will tend to make her back up. You'll feel the reins tighten, but it's important that you
be able to swear that you didn't pull on them to correct the inversion.
What to do if...the horse bends the wrong way and her body is cockeyed.
It's pretty hard for a perfectly straight horse to evade. There's a moral here: Keep your horse
straight. Go straight to where you're traveling, with your horse's hind feet tracking exactly behind
her front feet.
What to do if...the horse is running away.
Prevent this from happening! Nothings going to protect you if you trample a bee's nest, a plane
crashes, or aliens land in the paddock. But you can almost always prevent a horse from running
away simply by paying attention. The second she speeds up faster than you want her to, half halt
her. More about handling the runaway appears in lesson 8.
What to do if...the horse won't move forward.
School horses usually stop or stand still when given conflicting or confusing signals, which beats
having them run away, buck, or rear. A school horse has learned that when you inadvertently kick
her, you didn't really mean for her to gallop off into the sunset.
Learning to ride under these circumstances may require you to use much more leg and, sometimes,
a crop to keep the horse moving forward. If, however, y;ou are becoming frustrated riding school
horses, the solution may be to move up to the next level of horse. But I'll always err on the safe
side with a beginning rider, and you'll never go wrong by learning the workings of a school horse.
What to do if...the horse is spoiled.
Okay, your horse is spoiled. She occasionally swishes her tail or lays back her ears when you give
her an aid. On one of her bad days she'll make ugly faces at the other horses in your class. Most
barns have a spoiled horse to wo and you'll need to learn to deal with them. On the plus side, such
horses can help teach you how to handle evasions
However, if such behavior becomes commonplace, discuss it with your instructor. You need a good
ride every now and then to keep up your enthusiasm.
What to do if...the horse rears.
When most horses rear, they rear with a bend to the left or the right. If your horse rears to the left,
pull he left rein out with an extreme leading rein to the left and drive her forward. If she rears with a
bend to the right, do the same, but with the right rein to the right side.
It is absolutely imperative that you do not try to keep your balance with the reins. Do not pull
straight back. You could pull her over backwards, on top of you.
Rearing is the most dangerous of all evasions, and if you ride a horse that rears, you should refuse
to ride the horse ever again.
What to do if...the horse bucks.
This shouldn't happen in a school horse, but maybe the weather suddenly changed and there's
excitement in the air, or maybe other horses started running around and your horse decides she
wants to kick up her heels.
Earlier in this chapter, I told you that an inverted posture is bad. But in this instance, inversion is
good. Picture Saturday afternoon at the rodeo. The bucking horse has her back rounded and her
head down. The cowboy is desperately trying to stay on.
If you are riding a horse that bucks, invert, invert! Get he head up, using an indirect rein and a jerk
if you have to. The horse has more trouble bucking if her nose is above the point of the shoulder,
so do anything necessary to raise it. The get the horse moving forward immediately.
You're on track if you can:
of just your hands.
- Issue a half halt using the proper complement of aids instead
horse to do something.
- Use the half halt whenever you're about to tell the
- Use the proper aids to correct a horse that pops its shoulder.
Popping the Shoulder
While trotting around the ring, you decide to turn Waffle left to cut across the middle. You give her
the aids and she turns her head to the inside like a good mare, but her body moves to the outside,
away from where you want to turn. What's she doing? "Popping" her outside shoulder. She's
trying to move to the outside, following her shoulder, because she doesn't want to make that turn.
The shoulder is the leading part of the horse. Meanwhile, her head is turned so much to the inside
that it's beyond her inside shoulder. (No, horses don't have to follow their heads). Either Waffle is
just trying to get out of work or she wants to go someplace other than where you had in mind. She
might be trying to drift back toward the barn.
Your initial reaction, probably, is to pull her head more to the inside. How does Waffle respond?
She continues to travel to the outside, following that shoulder. You must refocus her attention.
First, straighten Waffle out and continue around the ring. Then assume she's going to try popping
her shoulder again when you ask her to turn. Prepare to use the following aids:
Aids for Preventing a Popped Shoulder
1. Position the outside rein as an indirect rein behind the withers.
2. Position your outside leg at the girth sharply.
3. Put weight on your inside seat bone.
4. Keep the inside rein passive, as an indirect rein in front of the withers. In other words, the
outside rein overrides the inside rein.
Yes, this adds up to a complex maneuver, but if you prevent the shoulder from popping, you'll get
the turn. Realize you are using rein aids differently than you normally would with a horse that
doesn't pop her shoulder. You must anticipate the problem and prevent it. Anticipating problems is
crucial to riding well.
How does the half halt fit in here? Before you reach where you want to turn, you would use a half
halt to get Waffle's attention, to let her know you're going to give a command and to stop her from
thinking about popping her shoulder. However, if she's already popped her shoulder and you
missed it, it's too late to half halt her, now you must straighten her out and try again
Evasions vs. Amusements
An evasion is something horses do to avoid doing what riders ask. There are other things that
mounted horses do for their own self amusement, such as eating grass, grabbing leaves off a tree,
or playing in the water trough. This can mean a lack of respect for the rider. But if you adequately
communicate with your horse and her thinking, she will respect you and be less likely to try to
|Woodland Horse Center
16301 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20905
301-421-9156 fax: 301-421-9049