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 treat.
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 extremely lazy.
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
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
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
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 horse.
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 hands.
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
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
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
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 amuse herself.
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