Ask Our Expert - Jay McLaughlin
This Month's Expert
Jay McLaughlin trains for Carol Rose Quarter Horses in Gainesville, Texas. The multi-event trainer has nearly $780,000 in lifetime earnings in working cow horse, reining and cutting events. Riding A Shiner Named Sioux, he captured the 2010 AQHA Junior Reining World Championship, and, aboard Genuine Masterpiece, McLaughlin won the 2010 AQHA Junior Working Cow Horse World Championship. At the 2011 NRCHA World Championship show, he captured the both the Open Two-Rein World Championship and Reserve World Championship in Open Hackamore.
McLaughlin shared his advice on how to keep your horse connected with cattle in any event in the July feature, "Making the Cow-Horse Connection." For more information on McLaughlin, visit CarolRose.com.
Q: I have an 11-year-old Paint that has a problem with popping his head up when either cantering or at a stand still. I've had a vet come out and check his teeth and I checked the bit—but nothing. I was wondering if anyone had any advice on how to fix it before it becomes a real problem.
Karen, New Mexico
A: First thing I would do, if I were Karen, is to call a horse dentist and not a veterinarian. I would find someone who focused on teeth to check that the horse is problem-free. Second, you might check different bits and bridles on the horse to see if one works or fits better. If you only have one bit, purchase a few more or borrow several to try and see if one fits the horse better. Without looking at her, I can't say if the bit is too wide for the horse's mouth, or too narrow and may be pinching the horse. So, it may be as simple as changing the bit.
The horse is an 11-year-old, and usually if a horse is doing something like popping its head up and down while standing still, that is a learned behavior. Everybody likes to think of horses as a recreation animal, but they are also something we use for work. If the horse is standing around a lot and is bored, it may have learned to toss its head. If I am sitting on a horse and it starts popping its head, then I will take its mind off the boredom by gently bumping my legs or pulling it around in circles. If a horse is bad in its face, I would move its feet. If the horse is popping its head up when loping off, I would do more preparation before loping. For instance, I would gather that horse's face and drive the hindquarters up so that the horse is better positioned to lope off.
In summary, first, I would call a dentist; second, I would look at the bit; and finally, I would work on riding more and keeping the horse from getting bored.
Q: My mare has been off for about eight months, for no reason other than I was too busy to ride her. I lunged and then rode her last week, and she was great! I want to get her back in shape, but I don't know how long I should ride each day, or what I could do that would build her up. I don't want to get her sore or to make her resent being ridden again.
A: You can never go wrong long-trotting a horse, Jenny. It gets a lot of air into them and builds a lot of muscles because the horse has to stride out and push forward. I would try to set a routine: start by walking 10 minutes, trotting 10 minutes and then loping 10 minutes in one direction, and then go the other way. This will gently build the horse up to where you can trot her around briskly for 20 to 30 minutes without the horse breaking a sweat on its neck. When a horse is out of shape, it will sweat profusely, and when you can trot for several minutes without the horse breaking a sweat, that is when you know it is in better shape.
You need to build up a horse every day. It is not something that you jump into, and this can take awhile. There are a lot of muscles on a horse. If it takes 200 muscles for a person just to stand up, it must take a horse a lot more. If you live in a hilly area, I would trot up and down the hills because it takes just as many muscles going up as down. Always be aware when you cool a horse off. I don't ever put a horse up when it is breathing hard, and when I rinse one off, I always start at the hoof and go up the leg for each leg. After that, I move to the belly, then neck. The last thing I rinse is the back because that is where a lot of organs are and you want the horse to be used to the water temperature before you shock those organs.
Q: I sent my 4-year-old to a trainer for six weeks to work on "finishing" him for me to ride. He came home and was great for a few weeks. I ride about four days a week, and he was getting worked five days when he was at the trainer. Now, it seems like he has reverted back to some of his "old" ways, like not picking up the correct lead when I ask, and also dragging the reins through my hands by grabbing the bit. I don't want to run back to the trainer with every problem, but I don't know what to do to fix this.
A: Caroline, my first thought would be to suggest selling your young horse and buying a broke or finished horse. I take two years to train a horse. I don't know who your horse trainer is, but there is no miracle that lets a trainer finish a horse in six weeks. Every horse that is sent home from me, I try to show the owner and rider how to work with the horse. If they are competing, I show them how to show the horse, and what the owner should do to maintain the training. When the owner needs help, he or she can bring the horse back and I will help them. There is no way someone can know all the ins and outs of a horse that has been trained by someone else in just a week. With all horses and trainers, every time a horse goes home, it will fall back on old habits without the same consistent riding and training. A young horse, especially, will come undone.
A horse learns by repetition and if you don't repeat the same cues, then the horse will learn the wrong one. If I teach a horse to back up with its head up, and then do it again 10 times, well, that horse has learned to back up with its head in the air. If I show the horse to back with its head low and its back round 10 times, then that is how it will learn. If you keep working to progress, then the horse will get better, but if you change it up, the horse will get mixed up.
If I were you, I would go back to the horse trainer and get some lessons on how he or she rode your horse, and what they think is best for keeping the horse maintained. If getting a new horse is not an option, you may consider sending the horse back another few weeks and also taking lessons so you learn the same way. I learned a long time ago that the rider does not grow up with the horse—you don't buy a yearling for a 10-year-old to learn with. People need to buy a broke horse so they can learn the ins and outs, and then go from there. Good luck with your horse, Caroline!