Ask Our Expert - Arizona horseman Mike Kevil
At Western Horseman, we know how lucky we are to have access to the best clinicians, horsemen and experts in the industry. Lucky for you, we also love to share. This month we’re kicking off a new series, “Ask Our Expert,” which bridges a gap between our two most valuable assets: our equine experts and you.
Each month we select one of our favorite sources and open the floor to readers to submit questions. We’ll pick a few questions to have answered in our Club Western Horseman e-newsletter, so each month you can expect fresh advice from one of the best in our industry.
This month’s expert: Arizona horseman Mike Kevil, author of the Western Horseman book Starting Colts. (Learn more about Mike at www.startingcolts.com.)
Q: My gelding and mare have an issue with separation anxiety when they are in the arena for sorting. When the mare is taken away from the gelding in the arena, he becomes extremely agitated. But, when I leave one at home there is no problem. What is the best way to deal with separation anxiety?
Brent Beaman, Heath, Ohio
A: If you tie a horse up for extended periods of time, it can teach him to be patience, relax and wait. But it doesn't happen quickly—it takes many days of gradually increasing the time to build up their patience. It has nothing to do with “breaking his spirit.” You’re not hurting or scaring the horse. But none of that matters because it won’t fix your problem.
This is a common problem with horses that are stabled together. When you take them to a new place they are usually a little uncomfortable, but they have each other. When you separate them you take away what's making them comfortable. I have some suggestions for you but it’s going to take time, be a lot of work and you may need some help. I don’t have an easy quick fix for you. If you can find one let me know.
First you need to establish yourself as the leader. The horse has to look to you for comfort and guidance. This is established through exercises on the ground and while riding. You do not want your horse afraid of you. He should be relaxed when you give him a cue, not jumpy or nervous. When the one horse starts to stress out when the second horse is taken away, do not punish him as this can make it worse. But you can keep him busy doing things until the second horse comes back. This is where you may need help. While a person takes one horse away another person keeps the nervous horse busy with different exercise.
When the horse is being good let him stand and relax. If he starts to get nervous, put him back to work. You can start by taking the one horse away for a short distance then increase the distance and time apart gradually. Your horse will get better over time as he gets comfortable with new places and he learns that this buddy is eventually coming back.
Q: I have a 13-year-old Azteca gelding that will just not relax and slow down under saddle. I have tried and tried to work with him, but just am at my wits end. He has all the ability in the world and loves to work cows, but I just can’t get him to relax. Any suggestions?
Larry Fox, Lacenter, Washington
A: Let me give you a definition of the Azteca breed.
“The horses have a naturally collected movement, with medium high action and excellent tracking. They are spirited and proud. The horses are gentle and willing, and are especially trainable and eager to work. They are alert, proud and courageous.”
A sports car and a truck can’t do the same job. Your horse was not bred to be relaxed.
Having said that, I do believe that you can make improvements in any horse, but how much improvement depends on the horse, the trainer and the method. So note: Everything I suggest may not apply to you because I’ve never seen you or your horse work.
If you want your horse to ride relaxed and quiet, you have to ride him relaxed and quiet. I’m going to share a story that happened to me while I was working with Matlock Rose in Texas. I was given a black colt to ride by Peponita and out of a Go Man Go mare. He was already started but hot and chargey. I was told to get a handle on him and slowed down so we could start him on cattle.
It was easy to get him stopping and turning, but it wasn’t easy to get him to relax. I kept loping and loping, trying to wear him out. I might end up tired at the end of the day, but the next day he was ready to go. Finally Matlock told me to ride him out across the pastures to the river and back every day, but don’t get out of a walk. So I rode him up and down the hills a couple miles to the river and back every day for about two weeks. Every day he got a little better.
When Matlock saw how well he was doing he told me to ride him to the river but then he would work him on cows when I got back. He took all the pressure off the horse and never got out of a walk or trot when working him. After a while I was amazed to see this colt working on a slack rein and going slow.
Next month’s “Ask Our Expert” features trail-riding specialist Mike Kinsey, who runs his Start ‘em Right horse-training program from his facility in Belton, South Carolina. Kinsey conducts a variety of clinics throughout the country, and authored the Western Horseman book Backcountry Basics, with Senior Editor Jennifer Denison.
If you’d like to submit a horsemanship question for Mike, email Associate Editor Melissa Cassutt at firstname.lastname@example.org, or post your question to Western Horseman’s Facebook page by February 19. Please include your full name and hometown in your inquiry. We’ll present your questions, and Mike’s answers, in the next Club Western Horseman e-Newsletter. In the meantime, be sure to read Mike’s article “10 Tips for a Successful Spring Ride” in our March 2010 issue.