Controlling a Strong horse

Learn why horses pull strongly and how to cope

Young man standing between to riders and their horses in a training stable
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A horse that pulls, runs away, or goes faster than you'd like to go is not fun to ride. Taken to extremes, a runaway horse can be dangerous. Controlling a strong horse may not be as simple as riding in a more severe bit. Here's what former forum member myhorsefantasia says about using a harsher bit to control a strong horse. "A more severe bit is not the answer, education and experience are. If you just use pain to control her, not only will she be miserable and potentially dangerous, you will have to keep stepping up to more severe headgear until you run out of options, at which time she will most likely be ruined and unsalvageable. You need to control her mind to control her body."

BJSPATCH elaborates and makes suggestions about controlling a strong horse that doesn't necessarily include using a harsher bit. "The bridle as stated is only part of the control process, I use a lot of leg, weight and verbal aids more than the actual bit. I teach my horses to turn off of leg cues more than using the reins. Like you said a stronger bit only makes the horse get stronger. But some horses you have to go stronger, but not all. Learn to become more one with your horse and think ahead of him so you can lightly correct him before he actually does it. Your horse needs to think it is his idea to do something even though it is really yours."

Forum member Torsornin offers this advice about controlling strong horses: "You can use the biggest, meanest bit in the world. But it's the horse that grants you control. A horse never has to do what we want. He could kill us and be done with us if he so chooses. but lucky us, most horses are not like that. It's a give and take thing. What part are you having the most trouble with? Halts? Running off? Really fast canter almost like running off just barely controlled? All horses are strong, and each can pull us out of the saddle if they choose. Each problem has a different solution. Even compound or multiple problems are fixable and have an answer." Which is a good reminder to ask 'why' whenever we run into a problem with our horses.

Learn Why Your Horse Is Hard to Control

So, if you don't resort to a more severe bit, what can you do? The most common suggestion of forum members is to find out why the problem is happening in the first place, and then go back to the basics.

"...look closely at what she is being fed.  Does she have a lot of sugar in her diet? This could cause excess energy. Also, I have found that chiropractic adjustment can do wonders for many issues. Maybe she is trying, but something in her body is out of adjustment and that makes it harder for her to be lighter," says myamericanqh.

Other things to consider if your horse is strong and not responding to the bit is poor saddle fit, lack of turn-out time when they can stretch and run on their own, dental problems, fear or lack of confidence, lack of training, a bit that is too severe and causes pain or the rider's heavy hands or poor riding that causes pain.

Fixing the Problem

Once you have discovered why your horse is hard to control, you are on your way to a solution. You won't be able to force a horse to do what you want if it is feeling pain. Look after saddle fit, dental work, chiropractic issues, or hoof issues first. It's not fair or reasonable to expect a horse to be obedient if it is body sore from any of these things.

Keep your horse as 'naturally' as possible. If it can't be turned out all of the time, be sure that it has ample time to be out on pasture, eating in a head down position, and time to roll, run, and buck when it is feeling energetic. If its diet is high in concentrates, cut back while still providing good quality hay or pasture grass.

Sometimes we develop bad habits and inadvertently teach our horses less than desirable behavior. These can range from poor seat position and heavy hands to mistimed cues and other habits that can confuse and frustrate a horse. Consider taking a few lessons to brush up on your riding skills. Another thing to consider as your ride is if you are giving your horse a chance to anticipate what will come next. Do you ride quietly through forest trails and then kick your horse into a gallop when you come to an open field? Or do you jump the same set of jumps over and over? Your horse may become excitable, anticipating what's ahead.

It won't be a mistake to take your horse back to the basics. Even if your goal is to trail ride, a strong, hard to control horse will benefit from schooling. The aim is to develop greater obedience. In the mildest bit, your horse will respond to in an enclosed ring or arena, focus on lots of transition changes, up and down. Ride circles, serpentines, loops and other patterns at varying gaits. Keep your horse's mind busy and focused on what you are asking it to do.

"Don't ride the bit, ride your seat and legs. Try giving a loose rein, or looser anyway, and take it through the paces using only seat and leg. If it starts to get strong gradually rein in, but don't fight. Keep your hands soft, your shoulders and arms relaxed, and your body supple. The horse will return the softness," says luvs2ride79.

You may want to start from the very beginning, lunging for obedience, and teaching voice aids. It's also essential to anticipate where a problem might occur and take steps to avoid it before it happens. If you're not sure how to go about this a coach or trainer can help you out.

What to Do When Things Get out of Hand

Whether your horse is habitually strong or not, at some point you may be faced with a horse that bolts and runs away. A really bad spook can get of control on even the most obedient and quiet horse. In an extreme situation where a bolt could take you into a very dangerous spot, like a busy roadway, over a cliff, through a dutch door, or another extreme hazard, you may have no choice but to protect yourself and do an emergency dismount. Thankfully, situations like this are extremely rare.