Horses - Behavior Issues, Breaking and Training/starting a young filly


QUESTION: I just got a 2 1/2 year old red dun filly, and already (after only a couple days of work) we're great buddies. She follows me around like a puppy dog, and she's very bright and easy to work with, so far. I've been trying to lunge her, though, and I'm kind of stuck. If I push her to move, or if she gets scared, she tends to crowd close--less like she's trying to bully me than she's trying to hide beside me or something. I never, ever, ever want to get rough with her, because she's so gentle and trusting, but I'm not sure how to teach her that I want her to walk around me without coming toward me. I've also tried walking around the circle with her and starting to give her more line while I move toward the center, but she follows me in. My line is very short, and I don't ask her to move that far away from me. Should I keep doing what I'm doing and wait for her to figure it out? I don't have a round pen, though I plan to get one before I start her under saddle, so I have to use the line.

ANSWER: Are you using a lash whip or lunge whip when you are doing this?  A cane fishing pole also works, but you need something that will define the distance to her that you are wanting her to stay at.

Also, how much experience do you have with horses, of any kind?

While she appears gentle and trusting at this point, it is a short step to having a horse that is a problem or even dangerous.  Horses are herd animals and work off of herd dynamics, in that there is always a clear leader, and if the human isn't it?  The horse will be.

And being firm and being a leader does not mean you have to be rough, rather that you establish what you are wanting to do, and making her do it.  

At all times, you are teaching a horse, whether you are only feeding it, leading it, or working around it.  If for instance, when you feed, you immediately step back after dumping feed into bucket, the horse will view this as "I have run you off my feed" and begins to be more dominant with you at feeding, as well as at other times.  

If while leading, you allow horse to lollygag around at the end of the line, you are allowing horse to set the pace, and when for instance, you want horse to stand quietly beside you when you stop, the horse will forge ahead, or lag behind.  Same as if you allow horse to snatch lead or reins out of your hands to forage for grass.  That tells the horse it can do what it wants to.  

Most important, if your line is short, you are asking to get kicked in the teeth.  You have to have at least a 20 foot line to work with.  AND a lash whip/lunge whip/cane pole to keep horse at the distance you are wanting to establish.

Go to a hardware store and get some poly/cotton line, 25 feet long is my suggestion, the type that you can burn and melt the end.  I like a line that is about the size of my little finger, others like one closer in size to a lead rope.  Get a snap that will swivel, and then run the line through the ring end, and while I simply bend it to about a tail of 3 inches hanging down, and then sew it with thread many times, and wrap with electrical tape, you can also simply knot it well.  Make sure to burn the ends so it does not unravel, you will have to just pinch flames and then roll with fingers, use caution as it is HOT!

Always hold the coiled end in the hand which is at the rear of horse and the leading end is at the head.  And do not wrap the line around your hands, nor allow it to puddle on ground where you risk stepping in it and getting hung up.  The whip will be in the hand holding the coils also, and will be used to urge forward movement.  It is also used to get horse to stay distance from you.

Without a round pen though, you risk the horse getting away from you easily, which will serve nothing.

If you can find a horseperson to lead horse, while you control lunge line, and they work off of your directions, gradually over a couple of days moving into the center that would make this easier, but you really need a pen to work in I think, if you don't have experience with this.  Even using the corner of a pasture fence can help here.

Are you also working on yielding hind and fore, and backing?  That will help set the stage for all of the work yet to do.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: I have two other horses, and I've worked with them enough that they know better than to run over me or get out of line. I've had quite a bit of experience with horses, just not much with untrained ones. This is my first attempt at training.

I've been using a lunge whip, but it's so long that it's been getting in my way. I have a dressage whip, too, so I'm going to try that one, and gradually work back to the lunge whip when she's less afraid of it. I have a cotton rope and a lunge line--I'll use those. I just thought it'd be easier to keep her from pulling if I'm closer. I definitely stay out of kicking range. I lunge my other two horses on a line, and they didn't know how to do it very well at first, but now they understand what I want.

If I have somebody lead her from the outside of a circle while I stand in the center, and that person gradually leads from farther and farther away until I'm the one controlling her, will that work?

I've been backing her up when she gets too close, and I've worked with having her move her hindquarters and shoulders. Like I said, she's very smart, so she's picking up my commands very quickly. She's really responsive for a young horse with very little handling. Maybe I'm just expecting big results too quickly, though I've been determined to teach her slowly like an unexperienced horseperson should.

ANSWER: Okay, was worried you didn't have a clue, like so many I have seen.

If you have someone that can help a day or so, then have them with a lead also on halter, and they will be on the side of horse closest to you, and they will be at first doing the starting and leading on your commands.  At first they will be in normal position, but will then move off towards you, feeding the line out as necessary, until they are at you.  They must be careful to not get tangled of course.

IF horse acts like village idiot, you let them correct as they will be closer.

You can also, with lunge/lash whip, coil the drop around the whip and secure, giving you the length, but dispensing with the lash length for time being.

One of hardest things for horse to "get" if you will, is the whole concept of "okay, you want me to stand over here while you "lead" me???  What's up with that?"  I do teach a voice command of stay, just like with dogs, to get horse to plant feet, and that might help here too.

As for being afraid of the lunge whip, I would keep using it, as she is going to have to get a grip and deal with it anyway, so might as well save time.  I doubt that she is afraid as much as just reactive to it.  You can use it to rub her all over too, as I do that if needed.  Legs, barrel, dock, neck.  Butt end, and then use other parts of whip, even dragging lash over body.

I think you are on right track and would try having someone set the pace/perimeter of the circle, and would also consider using a command for when wanting to lunge her?  Forward maybe?  Something though that would settle as "stay on this track" in her mind.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: I tried having my brother lead her (a few hours ago) while I stayed in the middle, and he slowly moved away from her. I finally got her going on her own around me, but now all of a sudden she doesn't respond to the whip at all. I let the whole thing out, and even popped it a few times, but she kept up the slow, plodding walk she was doing. Should I just be satisfied with having her walk around me at all, or is there something I can do to teach her to speed up when I ask? Is that something that I ought to work on with somebody leading her and responding to what I say, like you suggested? I can tell that she just doesn't know what I want her to do.

Get the walk down pat a few more times, so that she understands the perimeter firmly.  And work with her in hand too, moving her up into a trot, using the command "trot" also.

Then, when working with her on line, you may have to move in close enough to tap the rear with the lash as you tell her to trot.  

Let the whole thing sink in, as once she begins moving faster, it is much more important to have her staying in the circle you are settiing out for her, than for her to take off and drag you.

The in-hand work will help a great deal.  

Horses - Behavior Issues, Breaking and Training

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Melanie Rowley


Questions relating to first time, or inexperienced horse owners. Other questions as needed. Questions on American Saddlebreds. Old fashioned training advice, riding advice for beginners, and general care questions. Behavior problems, with emphasis on thinking through aspects of problems that might not seem an issue at first.


About to turn 55. My father was a Saddlebred trainer, and I grew up around horses. I have also worked as a Master Saddlebred Show Horse Groom, working with Dale Pugh, Art Simmons, Sonny Sutton, and others. I also have worked with Quarter Horses, and Thoroughbreds on a mare and foal operation in Alabama. I have owned for years, and currently have two teenaged geldings. I also for many years have taught riding lessons, to adults and children, working with beginners just learning, and older adults who have lost their confidence, or wanted to get "back in the saddle." I was lucky to be around many of the best horsemen in MO, and AL and learn from them, and strive always to think through a situation and work to keep riders and horses safe. Those also include the many talented grooms, and farriers I met along the way.

Some college. General studies towards a nursing degree, which derailed due to divorce. Horse skills learned through over 50 years of watching, learning, doing and absorbing as I grew.

©2016 All rights reserved.