How do you work with a horse that tries to leave the training ring?

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I would take him out in the fields or trails and quietly add exercises appropriate to his current training but not grill him. Example: While walking along a trail, I would ask for shoulder fore left for a few strides and straighten and later ask for the shoulder fore right. If that is calmly accepted, I would add a few steps of leg yield (or half pass) at the walk to either direction. Each movement spaced out with relaxing stretching walk. The horse is trying to tell you he is tired/bored of working in the arena and needs a change of venue. The other reason could be pain or soreness...usually from the saddle and sometimes in the mouth. The rider has to determine is the issue is boredom from monotinous arena work (all work and no play) or a pain response which is associated with the arena. If the flight problem continues outside the arena...I would tend to think it's a pain issue and check him from head to tail.
You begin with leadership and a lead rope. If your horse will softly and obediently yield their head, neck ,and hindquarters on the ground they will have enough respect and confidence to not try to run out of, or over, the training ring. Horses try to ditch their trainer from either fear or disrespect. Once you have established a simple foundation of leadership on the lead you won't have to worry about training ring boundaries.
I guess the first question to ask is if it is a problem with the riding style or an ingrained sourness and the horse has learned to "one-up" his rider.

(Note I only ride English :-)
I would first try to support the horse on the outside rein by first lifting it slightly higher then the other hand and laying it on the neck to help the horse balance and to make it clear that he should not "escape through the shoulder". Most times when I have seen this problem, the rider was controlling the head, but not the shoulder. In this case, the horse's nose can be turned quite severely to the inside but the horse just "side-steps" through his shoulder and crab walks right out of the ring!

Preventing that shoulder from falling out on the inside should stop the confusion. One case of this: I once watched one rider repeatedly ask for a curve in the body with the inside leg while turning the nose to the inside. The gelding always ran through his shoulder because that was what she was unknowingly telling him to do, buy pushing him out so forcefully. She thought she was doing the right thing buy curving his body around her leg, but he was almost a boomerang! As soon as she stopped using so much force with the inside leg and supported that outside shoulder it stopped.

The other case is when the horse willfully ignores the riders aids, and this is a more dangerous and tricky situation. Often these horses are safe on a the ground, good manners, but when put to work they try to spin, run through the shoulder etc., to avoid work. First I would rule out possible medical problems, go back to lunge work to make sure he knows his verbal aids so there are effective brakes. When the horse tries to the leave the ring I find it useful to put the outside leg forward and use a strong aid to indicate he should move to the inside and to pull the inside rein around slowly and consistently until the horse has no choice but to turn. Do this by pulling your elbow directly back, not the the side, you don't want your arms to get to wide. Don't yank, slow and steady pressure is less shocking then a yank!). Keep urging him on until he spins right around and is going in the correct direction again. Continue every time he makes the attempt to leave the ring until you get a satisfying distance within the ring. This distance will change depending how bad the problem is. One really sour horse I spent several weeks doing nothing but going around in circles everyday, but he eventually caught on, and only tries it with new riders until he learns they will do the same thing to him ;-) Its harder for a horse to work in a small circle then just to listen and go straight!
If your horse is looking to leave all the time, let him go to the gate or opening in your training area and do the training there, spend 5 or 10 minutes just keeping him busy, then walk way from the gate and let him rest.
Continue your session and if he is still wanting to return to the gate, back you go and work him some more. He will eventually get the idea that trying to leave is not a good idea. It worked for me, only took one time and he started liking the rest of the paddock. Good luck
Kathy N
In my opinion, first I would make sure I am working with steady rythmn and if everytime I get close to or go by the gate and my horse leans/slows down/pushes against me then I would immediately work her harder with purpose in the opposite direction that she was leaning/pushing towards. Timing is everything. Be aware of the subtle changes in his/her gait and attitude as you are nearing the gate area and drive him/her immediately and keep working him harder for a minute or two everytime he/she does that before relaxing back to your steady rhythm work. It won't be long he/she will stop charging/leaning towards the gait once they make the connection that it only ends up in having to work harder as a result. It doesn't have to be complicated.
My first question is Why? Why does the horse want to leave? Horses are sensitive and emotional creatures, are they running away from the person doing the training? Is that person's energy too busy, aggressive or frantic for the horse to cope with, or does the horse have bad memories of being abused in a training area, and what you are dealing with is the horse's natural instinct to flee? Maybe what is going on in that ring is boring the horse to death, or scaring him, or he feels overwhelmed by too many demands. My horses don't ever try to leave the arena, either on the ground or under saddle, sure I've had horses bolt out of something startling them, but that is controlled after only a couple of strides. Handling the behavior is only half of the equation, because without knowing why the horse wants to leave, you are dealing the the effect, but not the cause. Find the cause, and address it, and the problem will disappear. It's like having a headache and someone gives you a pill which takes away the pain, but why did you get the headache in the first place?

I have always found it effective to slow my breathing and heart rate, and calm the horse by taking an inward journey with them, meet them on an energetic level, as on the physical plane they will always win. Check in with your own emotions, how are you feeling? Whatever you are feeling is transmitted to the horse, especially if you are holding a leadrope or riding or lunging, then the horse and you are plugged in to each other, and there is an energy exchange. Go slower not faster, be less aggressive not more aggressive, become the legs of a fly, and realize how little it takes to make changes. Remember - we do not train horses, we build a line of communication so the horse understands what we are asking, and once they understand the question, they will willingly give the correct answer.
Nicely put!
Absolutely, always look for the why first. My horse, as a rule, under normal circumstances does what I ask so when she doesn't do as I have asked I first look to myself to see if I am doing something wrong and questionning if my cue is clear both to me and to her....usually I'm the problem, not my horse. Once you have ruled out all the possibilities of fear, pain, aggressiveness on the part of the handler, bordom, etc remember that a horse wouldn't be a horse if he/she didn't try to slow down or veer towards the gate once in a while. They are just checking in to see if we are still the leader. And there are times I think when you can even use the gate area as an aid or as a test. For example, I have a friend who said her horse turns great towards the left but she has a hard time turning her towards the right so I suggested she try asking for a turn towards the right in the direction of the gate instead of away from. Guess what? The horse had no problem turning towards the right at all. It might not have been as fluid and soft as the turn to the left but she turned on a neckrein position too. So turning to the right wasn't a problem but if it had been, using the gate area as an aid to work on the turn could help. I also had a friend whose horse would not back-up in the ring. I suggested when she was done riding that she back her horse out of the ring. Well he was more than happy to oblige if it mean't he was done working for that session :)!!! They truly are very smart animals and sometimes we don't give them enough credit!!
All my horses try to leave the ring for one reason or another at some point. It is usually in the first couple of lessons and mostly the older horses who have made it a habit because of unattentive riders and handlers. When they try it with me I "go with the flow" and go to the gate with them, they can't get out because the gate is closed all the time anytime we are working in the ring and the fences are high. When I say "go with the flow" I mean relax and ride in control to the gate with him. When I do this I feel the horse's excitement at getting his own way and doing what he wants, at the gate his excitement decreases when he finds the gate closed and I begin to put him to work right there in the corner at the gate, doing circles, leg yields back and forth on the fence, backing, turning haunches and forehand so it's not a comfortable place and he has no time to get himself fussed up. When I sense in him a feeling of giving up I ask him to go down the rail with cues to go straight. As a rider I know I need to pay close attention to his every move because at any moment he could deek back to the gate or if we've made it around on the rail and are coming towards the gate. Legs, hands, seat and voice aids are key at all times but especially when teaching your horse to trust you and not escape. When riding away from the gate keep your legs on with light pressure adding more either side should he move left or right, keeping him straight between the reins. As you approach the gate a stronger inside rein and stronger outside leg pressure (the gate side) this should help you to drive your horse away from the gate and past. This will need to be done over and over until he realizes it isn't acceptable to be leaving whenever he feels like it. It's all about keeping your horse's attention and focus on you. Good Luck!!!
How do you work with a horse that is trying to leave the ring?

First things first, why is the horse trying to leave the ring?

It sounds like you would benefit from bringing a coach/natural horsemanship expert to observe you and your horse to help diagnose the problem and fix it accordingly. Below are some tips and things to think about in the mean time.

Horses are generally happy to work with us and learn our new tricks; if the horse is trying to leave the work/play area then you need to ask yourself some questions while you observe the horse:

1. Is my horse healthy, sound, and physically capable of what we are doing?
2. Is my horse in any pain at all?
3. Am I using the appropriate tack and equipment?
4. Is the environment distracting (are there horses calling to each other, lots of commotion going on, etc)?
5. Did I have a good partnership on the ground even before I got to the ring? How was my horse’s behaviour before I mounted (if you are riding)?
6. Is this a constant problem, or just out of the blue once in a while?
7. Do I do the same routine or pretty much the same routine each time in the ring?

Lets take a closer look at each of these questions to ask ourselves, and what we can do:

1. Is my horse healthy, sound, and physically capable of what we are doing?
2. Is my horse in any pain at all?
3. Am I using the appropriate tack and equipment?

For the first three questions, you need to be sure your horse is healthy, sound, not in pain, and using appropriate and properly fitting tack and equipment before you even bother assessing anything else. If you are unsure how to assess, then contact your veterinary, chiropractor, massage therapist, farrier/blacksmith, coach, and/or a saddle fitter to assess your horse and equipment.

4. Is the environment distracting (are there horses calling to each other, lots of commotion going on, etc)?
Regarding the environment, it is best if you can decrease distractions around the ring if possible. Only once you and your horse have a good partnership and ability to work/play in the ring without distractions, should you attempt to work/play in an environment with distractions unless you are experienced (but if you are having issues with the horse trying to leave the ring then likely you need some assistance).

5. Did I have a good partnership on the ground even before I got to the ring? What about right before I got on (if you are riding)?
You need to have a good relationship even before you start riding or working in the ring. If your horse is disrespecting you when you catch him from the field, or groom him in the barn, things are not going to get better when you start riding. You need to be able to recognize signs of distrust and disrespect, and correct them no matter what you are doing with your horse. Your horse should be respecting your personal space, and looking to you to ask questions. If you are unsure how assess/fix these issues then I urge you to have a natural horsemanship expert/ coach come help you figure out when the problem started, because it likely started before you got to the ring.

A tip to help you recognize if your horse is paying attention and asking you questions
is to watch his ears. He should ‘check in’ with his ears every few seconds. You know the horse ‘checks in’ when he flicks an ear, or both ears towards you. You will notice that you can get a horse to check in with you by asking them to do something – it could be something simple like asking the horse to slow down, or take a step to the side, or it could be more difficult like asking for a transition, flying lead change, haunch turn, or a pattern.

A tip to build a partnership –
a lot of the time we only think about ourselves when it comes to spending time with our horse. Why not try just being in the field with your horse or just catching him and grazing him on some grass without doing any riding or work at all? If you can show your horse that you are a herd member and you spend time with him, it’s not all work, then your horse will start to look forward to your company and be eager to be with you.

6. Is this a constant problem, or just out of the blue once in a while?
If your horse is constantly trying to escape from you in the ring, then you need to consider how you are affecting your horse.

If the horse is trying to constantly escape from you, challenge yourself to consider the following:
• You may be doing tasks too quickly – not allowing rest breaks is like taking away the pay check. Who wants to work if there is no reward? Make sure you allow rest breaks both to reward the horse for good responses, but also to allow the horse time to think. Every horse is different, some horses need really long rest breaks of a couple minutes, and other horses prefer you to be quick and giving them variety before a short rest break.
• You may be asking with too little or too much pressure. Too much pressure when you ask your horse for cues can make a horse feel threatened and anxious – you can notice this because the horse will appear a bit high strung, with quick steps, holding their head high, and they may have ‘nervous poops’ where they seem to constantly be going to the bathroom. A horse that is calm, relaxed, with a low head set, and just appears to be ‘cheeky’ then you perhaps are using too little pressure and you need to be more clear with your cue to get your horse’s attention.
• Are your training sessions going too long? – a horse’s attention span is usually quite short, about 30 minutes or so, so are you asking for too much? It takes time and training to build a horse’s attention span to longer time frames, but the horse still requires rest breaks throughout work/play.
• Are you being boring? – do you do the same things all the time, do you ever play out of the ring, are you being too slow, are you not challenging the horse enough?
• What motivates your horse? – is it rest breaks, treats, rubs, play time? Do you reward your horse with his favourite things or how does your horse know when he is good and doing what you want?

If it is just an occasional problem then perhaps it is just a temporary distraction and you need to refocus your horse by doing something that requires him to think such as backing up, forehand/haunch turns, leg yielding, etc. Only asking a horse to go forward or stop is quite easy and doesn’t require the horse’s full attention so they continue to be distracted. You also may be working the horse for too long, or perhaps not giving enough rest breaks between tasks.

7. Do I do the same routine or pretty much the same routine each time in the ring?
Horses are quick learners and fall into routines easily. It is your job to make sure you stay out of at routine and stay in a conversation! You do this by keeping your tasks and movements different each time. This means mounting or dismounting at different places in/outside of the ring and mounting/dismounting from both sides of the horse. It means changing up how much walk/trot/canter you do, changing up the directions and patterns you do, and differing the length of time you spend practicing different tasks (change up how many transitions you do, how long you trot, etc).

This will keep our horse interested and focused on us, but it will also make the horse feel more comfortable with changing routines because there is no routine! This translates into a more relaxed horse on a trail ride or a calmer horse at a show… all because the horse is familiar with change.

I hope you have found this helpful,
By Lindsey Forkun May 6, 2010
First of all you need to figure out why the horse tries to leave the training ring. Is this something he was taught. Is he lazy and doesn't want to work. Did something traumatic happen to the horse in the traing ring? All horses are different. I had a gelding that when I first got him he would work for ten minutes and then go to the gate. If you tried to get him to continue to work he would throug a fit toss his head stomp his feet. He was lazy and his old owner did not know how to get him to do what she wanted so would give up and put him away. It took alot of persistance on my part to get him over this and to relize that I was more stubborn then him but we got there. He would still run for an open gate if given the chance but he learned that he couldn't have it his way. So first figure out why then who the horse is personality wise and then how do I fix it with this horse.
I would take him out of the training ring and work him pretty hard. Then when you take him back in the ring, let him stand, walk, do nothing. Then take him out of the ring and work him a little. He will start to associate the training ring with good things. It may take a week or so, but believe me he will be happy to work in the ring if you work him harder outside of it. Marti Hair-Langley


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