Why Do Horses Lean, Pull and Root?

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Julie Winkel answered a member's question for EquestrianCoach.com.

Submitted by member: Bev

Question: Do you have any exercises or tips on how to get a horse to stop leaning, pulling and rooting?

By Julie Winkel

Answer: Whenever there is an issue with a horse’s training, we must always look for the root of the problem: ourselves. Horses develop bad habits due to miscommunication from the rider. Whether the horse came with the problem, or developed the problem once you bought him, it’s still a human-caused problem.

It takes two to pull, so if your horse is leaning on you, let go. Horses like contact but not a death grip.

When a horse reacts correctly to the rider’s aids, the aids must relax. This release of pressure is an indication to the horse that he responded correctly. If he doesn’t respond correctly, the pressure needs to become stronger and stronger until the horse reacts. If the pressure is constant instead of increasing, the aids become DULL to the horse, and he learns to lean. Horses lean into pressure. A frustrated horse learns to root the reins out of the rider’s hands because there's no softening of the contact when the horse responds correctly. Once a horse learns to root, the rider should reply with a sharp tug of the rein to correct him. THEN RELAX THE REIN.

Horse’s hate to be pulled on. But the leg helps to keep a horse balanced and engaged, thereby lightening the front end, and creating a better balance. So don’t forget to use your legs as well.

Lots of transitions up and down are good exercises for you to practice your timing. When asking a horse to do something, it’s always in this order: ALLOW-ASK-TELL-DEMAND. Never skip a step and stop asking (that’s a reward) as soon as the horse responds. Horses are creatures of habit and learn quickly if you always ask in this order and always stop asking when the horse gives you the right answer.

Horses just want us to be fair. So be clear, reward when they do it correctly and you will create a happy, successful partnership with your horse.

Tricia BookerComment