Laura Phelps-Bell has over 25 years experience in the equine industry as a trainer and instructor. Her background includes successfully competing in dressage, on the “A” Open circuit in hunter/jumpers, showing in many western events, management of several large training/boarding facilities and teaching equine management courses at the college level. More about Laura
From: Bea Barry
I purchased a Quarter Horse gelding two years ago as a trail mount and he is perfect in every way, except one – he has gotten into the habit of jigging home. Although he is very comfortable, it is annoying and I always worry about getting back to the barn with a hot horse. My time can be limited and I hate the thought of having to cool a horse out when I get “home”. “Tucker” was an outrider’s horse on major race tracks and was pretty hard to rate at first – we started out with a hackamore/gag bridle with a tie-down – and have since worked our way into a long shanked snaffle without the tie-down. So we are making some progress. When he picks up his “jig” I ask for a walk – a quick succession of pulls and releases – sometimes, it works – but most of the time I resort to putting him into circle or turning around and heading back a few feet, then asking him to turn around and walk again. Needless to say, this is eating up a lot of riding time and since we have to walk along a busy road, I worry about “schooling” along the road. Any suggestions on how I might solve this problem?
The issue of “jigging” can be frustrating and annoying however, we need to resort to being ultra-patient in order to deal with this issue. The jigging at the racetrack when he was a pony horse was probably just overlooked and/or ignored and this might be a reason that he didn’t stay at the track as a pony horse. Horses that are used to taking racehorses to the starting gate need to be calm and relaxed, that’s one of the main reasons for having a pony horse with the racehorse. We don’t want the racehorses getting anxious and washed-out before they run their race, so a good pony horse can actually keep the racehorse calm.
I do agree with the schooling that you have already attempted. The pull, with release as soon as he comes back to the walk, is a good idea, but only if it works. Many times, the walk period in between the pull/release gets shorter and shorter and pretty soon you’ll just be in a pulling/holding contest. That just won’t work in the long run. Your turning your horse around and heading back out is also a good idea, but in order for this method to work, you need to make sure you have a lot of time to follow-through. I like this method the best for the simple reason that it doesn’t involve engaging in a power struggle with your horse. It instead involves a psychological approach of the horse having choices on how they will handle things when it becomes clear to them that you are going to follow-through.
In order for this method to be most effective, a lot a large block of time for several sessions. This issue didn’t just come up overnight, so the solution to the problem might not happen quickly either. I have had horses that did respond within one or two sessions because they made their choice very quickly, but some will take longer to make the correct choice consistently. What you will do is try your pull and release approach first, giving your horse every opportunity to make the “right” choice early on. If within 2-3 corrections using this approach your horse refuses to consider quitting with the jigging, then go to Plan B, which is turning around and walking at least 20-30 feet back out. Then stop, turn around, drop a slack rein and ask your horse to “walk”. If he walks briskly, that’s fine. If he instead resumes the jigging, turn back around and this time walk back out 25-50 yards. Then stop, turn around and ask your horse to “walk”. You know where we’re going here; it is conceivable that you could end up a few miles back out on the trail before your horse finally will turn around and walk. He’s hoping that you’ll just give in a let him jig or will get in a power struggle with him. When he realizes that you are serious about this and seem to have all the time in the world to continue back out instead of going home, he will eventually make the right choice. I’m sympathetic to the fact that you’re having to ride along a busy road, but the correction of turning around and walking back out is I believe a lot safer then dealing with a jigging, prancing horse next to a road. Many times when horses are jigging/prancing, they will shift their hindquarters from side to side, or they will jig and sometimes prance completely sideways. Their minds are also usually not focused and clear and they are highly distracted, so they are not really in good communication mode with their rider. This is obviously very unsafe next to a road. Turning around and walking back out doesn’t involve prancing and jigging, just some reluctance sometimes to walk back out, so I believe this approach is safer. There is also not the frenzied-mind situation going on either, so it is easier to draw the horses focus to the rider.
I had one mare that I had in for a retrain for just this very reason of “getting on the muscle” on the way home. I went out with two other riders and when we were headed for home, she just would not walk. The more she jigged and pranced, the farther we fell behind the other riders whose horses were walking along. I finally, after many pull and releases to give this horse every opportunity to do as I asked, told the other riders to continue home because we were going to be out for a while. I would guess we ended up about 3 miles back out on the trail before this mare finally turned around and walked on a loose rein. A very fast walk to be sure, but it was a walk with no jigging or prancing! We went out the next day and when we were headed home, this mare began to jig as the other horses continued to walk.
All it took this time was one “walk back out about 25 feet, stop and turn around” and she flat-footed walked all the way home. I then rode out by myself on the next trail ride and she was absolutely perfect! Very smart mare, but the first day we went out, she was convinced that I would give in as her current and previous owners had always done if she just kept up the behavior long enough. She didn’t realize at first that I am absolutely patient and consistent and I don’t work on issues unless I have a lot of time to spend on it. If I a lot a large amount of time to work on an issue, usually the situation resolves quickly. Its those times where you are in a hurry and can’t mess around that will get you into trouble every time.
If your horse is very good in every other area, then my suggestion is to ration yourself a lot of time on several occasions, be consistent and patient and let your horse know that you’re not angry or frustrated with him, you’re just going to be absolutely consistent in your approach and it would be a better choice on his part to do as you are asking rather then end up farther and farther from home. When he does finally turn around and walk toward home, let him know through plenty of praise that he’s doing great!