Ask Our Expert - Tom Neel
Tom Neel trains performance horses at his facility in Millsap, Texas. He has earned more than $221,000 in reined cow horse, reining and cutting competition. He has earned world and reserve world championships in the American Quarter Horse Association and National Reined Cow Horse Association. He was the AQHA reserve world champion in junior working cow horse in 2011 with Zackly Right Time. In 2009, he rode Zezes Pepto Cat to the open hackamore title at the NRCHA World Championship Show. Zezes Pepto Cat also has American Paint Horse Association world titles in junior and senior working cow horse. Neel also is a judge for the National Cutting Horse Association and NRCHA.
Q: My 12-year-old Quarter Horse gelding started bobbing his head in the cross-ties and nips at me like he is angry as I groom him. I have owned him for nine years and it has developed slowly, so slow that I didn't realize it was happening. I have tried grabbing the cross-tie and telling him no. He will stop, but in a few minutes if I move away from the cross-tie to groom, he does it again. I have tried sticking my elbow or a brush up there, so that he will get the corner of the brush instead of letting it go. He seems to be getting worse about it, especially if I groom in the cinch area. He has never bitten me or anyone else, but I don't want him to be grumpy to my grandchildren. He never refuses anything that I ask of him, but feel like it has gotten bad enough that it is embarrassing when other people are around. He is worse when others are in the barn and doesn't seem to be as bad when it is just he and I. When I am grooming other horses, he bobs his head like he is bored, but only nips when I am brushing or currying him. Any suggestions?
Alice, Norco, California
A: Bad habits start slowly and develop over a period of time. It sounds like your horse is spoiled and in need of correction. I would use a crop to install the need to behave. When he bobs his head and nips at you, I would "pop" him hard enough to get a reaction. It must be during the act, not later! I feel this must continue until he understands that his behavior is not appropriate. I don't want him scared of me, but I want him to respect me. It's just like horses out in the pasture; if one misbehaves, another one may reach out and bite. They learn respect from each other, and we need to get their respect, too.Until his attitude changes, I would not let the grandchildren around him for their safety.
Q: My mare understands when I ask for a right or left lead, and steps into either lead willingly. However, we haven't yet been able to perform a flying lead change. It's most difficult when changing from a right lead to a left lead. I know one problem is that she tends to become uncollected easily. Is there a drill or a technique I can use to teach the flying lead change?
Chris, Belle Fourche, South Dakota
A: There are a couple of drills that I use almost daily. First of all, I do not ask the horses to change leads until they will depart well and guide very softly. If your mare becomes uncollected, I would make sure that gets addressed first. If you have a guidance problem and connect that to the lead change, it becomes a lead change problem!I feel it is very important to be able to counter-arc the horses (asking them to bend to the outside of a circle). They must do it softly; if not, then we keep working on that until they do it at the walk, trot and lope, in that order. When they are doing the counter-arc softly, then we can proceed to change from the counter-arc. I lope them around and when I feel no resistance, then I will ask for the change with my feet, not releasing the counter-arc until they change.The other thing I do is counter-lead (loping on the right lead in a left circle, for example) so they do not drop their shoulder. This helps me control the shoulder to keep it out of the way for the lead change.I feel it is very important to not change direction right after the lead change. I try to always change on a straight line. I take three strides on a straight line change and three more strides before I turn. This will keep horses from dropping their shoulders.
Q: I used to participate in speed events, but now I'd like to move into stock horse or versatility competition. I'm shopping for a new horse, one that I can show in the different events, including reining, trail and stock horse pleasure. I'd like to eventually do the cow work, too, but I've never done that before and will need to take some lessons. What are some of the things I should look for in a horse? What should I do when I'm trying a horse? And what questions should I ask a horse's owner or trainer to be sure I'm getting the kind of horse I need?
Michelle, Georgetown, Texas
A: When I am looking for an amateur horse, I look for something quiet, a natural stopper, and a nice mover that enjoys working cattle. For the reining and cow work, they have to be natural stoppers, pretty lopers, and guide easily. For the trail, they also have to guide well. I don't want a spooky horse, but I like it if they have a little "look" to them when they come to an obstacle. For the pleasure, a horse has to be a nice mover and quiet. Disposition is very important.To me, a horse doesn't have to be really good in all four events. If they're really good in two and average or above average in the other two, they can have a good career.I feel it is very important to have a professional help you search. Look for a professional in that field, and one that works well with non-pros. It's really important to take someone with you who knows what kind of horse you need. I also like to know the history of the horse. I want to know who originally trained that horse. There are certain programs where the basics are very good, and some where they're not. I also want to know if the horse has been shown and, if so, what the results were. I'd prefer a horse that hasn't been shown to one that's been shown too much, but neither one is preferable. And how it's been shown, too, is key. Has the horse always been run hard in the reined work, or has there been a building process? Has it been schooled some to maintain it, or just shown hard every time?As far as a horse's health and soundness, with some people in the business, their word is their bond. But typically I still have my vet do a pre-purchase exam. If we flex the horse and there are no problems, we might x-ray the stifles, hocks and navicular bone. If we run into a snag, depending on what it is, we can make an educated guess with our veterinarian about how the horse will need to be maintained and how long it should last.