Tuesday 11 September 2018


In a lot of ways things with Kachina are going well. We've had some great rides and lessons. We are doing new things under saddle, both progressing in dressage, and trying out some pole work for funsies and Kachina is a willing partner who is learning quickly and trying hard. I have lots of posts I could/should have written about that side of things. But after every high under saddle, I come crashing down from the simple act of asking Kachina to stand in the barn so I can untack her (the pre-ride routine is just as bad). She wiggles, paws, screams, poops. My willing partner is replaced by a tense bundle of nerves who can't think about anything other than getting out of the barn and back to her buddies.

Tense pawing horse at old home

Please see this post for review of the problem and potential causes. (I really can't fully summarize it in a couple sentences, but basically Kachina is fine at other places and fine when I'm doing anything with her that involves her moving (lunging, riding, ground work), but standing at home (wherever home is) is a major problem. I expect this is related to past trauma, herdboundness, or both).

As an update from that post: I've tried using her stall and getting her to just chill, she doesn't. Instead she works herself into a sweat in the stall. She has only been in a stall while I've been on property so it's not every day, I've debated switching her to indoor board so she is inside 12 hours every night but I'm not sure if that will help or make things worse (right now no other horses are on indoor board so she would be alone). Trying to handle her feet in the barn has also regressed, so much so that I had to cancel a trim appointment because I wasn't willing to subject my farrier to that. I've also had to start putting hoof boots on during the grooming process so that Kachina doesn't get sore from wearing down her hoof with pawing (that happened a couple times). She also has completely disregarded my location and swung into me a couple times (I shut that down hard because I know that could get dangerous quick). I dread having to put the bridle on or off because it is not a smooth process and it takes everything I have to keep her from leaving or throwing her head in the air while avoiding the bridle hitting her in the eye or teeth. To remind you, she knows how to have her feet handled etc, because she can do it well when we are away from home or working in a round pen etc., the root cause seems to be the standing inside at home.

Tense pawing horse at new home

Moving one foot at a time isn't even enough at times

I know asking for help on the internet is not ideal but that's where I'm at. It gets harder and harder for me to keep working with her on my own when I'm not seeing any clear improvement. Also I know emotion has no place in horse training and I'm starting to get more emotional because it's so difficult to see her this way. This is beyond the ability of any professionals I have at my location, and since the problem is related to home, sending her off for training seems like it would have limited value. It may work if I send her off for multiple months so that training place becomes home and problem redevelops, but that is a significant cost both financially and in losing all riding progress and access to her for that long. I'm willing to do that if required but I want to see if there's any other solution first. Finding the right trainer who has dealt with this type of problem before is also tough.

So, does anyone have any ideas for me? Specifically, has anyone had experience with a horse like Kachina and what did you do? What was your solution with the hardest-to-stand horse you've ever encountered? I'll take any advice I can get, but hearing "this is my typical way of dealing with training horses and I've never had a problem"-type of comments isn't super useful. Many horses are fairly willing to just stand, Kachina is not that horse. There is a level of tension here that changes the equation considerably. For example, I know a common solution is to give the horse the option between moving=work, standing still=chance to rest, but Kachina will choose to work all day (downside of a seriously non-lazy horse). Help?


  1. Gosh, what a challenge! I'm so sorry you're having to deal with this.

    I'd suggest trying clicker training if you haven't already, and working up to things like "stand". We're doing this with our baby (who isn't nearly so bad, but doesn't want to be still in some situations) and it's improving.

    I'd also reach out to Dom over at http://harnessphoto.blogspot.com/. She does a ton of rehab work and is a respected horsewoman.

    Hugs and good luck!

  2. This sounds so frustrating, I have totally been there too (with Henry and my TB in high school - who took many years to stand quietly and definitely knocked me over a few times). I'm just going to throw out some random ideas, I'm sure other bloggers will have more cohesive/helpful suggestions ;)

    1) So Henry was previously very impatient about tying and I think part of it is because he is very prone and to ulcers (or an upset stomach when it's empty). I give him acid fx before I ride and I often let him graze or give him some hay while the other horses are inside to keep his stomach settled. He may have conned me (lol). To be fair he stands very politely inside for long periods of time now without acid fx/food when needed but when he was still in ulcer treatment phase it was noticeably very hard for him. I could imagine horses who had been starved or left alone for a long period of time would have some mental baggage with it too. Maybe worth a try (even just a hay bag or something)? Acid fx is pretty cheap (might explain some girthy-ness too if she has an upset stomach, not necessarily ulcers).

    2) Also with Henry I spent a lot of time praising him excessively in the fleeting moments when he was calm. It seemed when smacked him from bumping into me/being rude he would just escalate (I still would smack him if he bumped into me but I tried really hard to look for good moments to reward). My negative reinforcement of pawing or swinging around always led to a fight/escalation. Mystic and Apollo always responded well to a smack or harsh word but Henry would be like "eff you lady" and would be even less cooperative.

    3) I have this random horse nutritionist lady who also does some animal communication stuff. I swear by her (and I am really not into that stuff but she is literally amazing). If you're open to it I can certainly give you her contact info and more information. She has helped me a lot.

    Sending good vibes <3

  3. You’ve already tried everything I would suggest. I’m sorry it’s such a challenge. Maybe see if you can ask Lee at your sidesaddle clinic. She s a wealth of knowledge and has dealt with all manner of issues

  4. I feel like the mare Audrey I ride used to be very, very similar. She'd actually get so upset and frustrated she'd either bounce off the wall repetitively or repetitively kick and then throw herself on the ground. I don't have a miracle story because her manners when tied are still not perfect, but I can say she's WAY better now, and honestly, the secret seemed to be consistently going about business as normal and ignoring the drama. Also, she came in and was tied for everything from extra grooming, to her dinner grain, to hanging out while the kids did 4H. I know I posted about my old mare Josie, but she's literally the only horse I've ever met who didn't really figure out that being alone is sometimes OK. I love KateRose's comment, lots of good input there :)

  5. My horse did this when i first bought him. He had a lot of anxiety from being away from bonding with his new herd. I keep a hay bag with good hay out and try to get him to eat and relax. He also got a treat for specific acts such as standing still for saddling, lifting feet etc. He slowly calmed down and understands he will get to go back with his buddy. you do need to do this daily till you see the effect. If you can make the barn a good place to be, and keep the routine similar, she should settle down.

  6. Amanda Chance's Tree of Knowledge. Find a big tree or a tall, well-set pole. Tie her so she can't tangle herself, with the lead rope up high, and leave her there. It might take a couple of days of doing nothing but standing there by herself, but eventually she will chill. Cowboys have used this trick for a couple of centuries to help train a horse to stand quietly. (I wouldn't leave her entirely alone, but be far enough away that she has to figure out how to soothe herself).

  7. You might look at the TRT Method. It is an online module course used by a lot of dressage riders that uses Natural Horsemanship to teach a horse to self sooth. I am a huge fan and it helped my horse go from super spooky and anxious about certain things to showing on a loose rein. I know spooking is not your issue but the genius of the Method is that it works for a variety of anxiety problems and really changes how the trainer/rider approaches pressure and release. https://www.trtmethod.com/ Also, several posts on my blog. Good luck!

  8. RAndom ideas to choose from:
    Does she ground tie? Irish was very restless in cross ties and would sometiems blow up in them. I taught him to ground tie and life got so much easier. He will stand very still with the ground tie.

    Given her history I would also consider the clicker training. Aslo, if she does stand even for a millisecond can you let her go? Who cares if she's not groomed perfectly? that time can gradually be increased.

    Does she have ways to calm herself? Does she know to look for a release? If not teach that. royce used teaching Carmen to lower her head. I see her to that to herself if she's really worried about things.

  9. I'd do the tree of patience/wisdom pole/patience pole/whatever you want to call it. Tie high with no breakaway option and leave her for a few hours. You could be somewhere in the barn in case you hear an emergency and need to respond, but don't sit where she can see you. Bring a book or go clean tack or something away from her. Cowboys do this to create broke ranch horses. I've had success doing it as well. The trick is to not give in while they're still freaking out.
    Like Carmen(above) Nilla was trained to lower her head and also to stand still and square by her trainer. If she was still and square and head down, she was left alone. If she was fidgeting or putting her head up, she got "pestered" to put this foot here, this foot there, lower the head. I watched her do this and it took FOREVER. Every single time. But she really is a lot better for it and I use some of the same ideas on Levi though not as much as I should and he's not so great.

  10. I hope you find a good solution to your problem :(