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India: Patterns of Behaviour


It’s been such an interesting experience during the last week working with a dozen different horses, each horse receiving five to fifteen minutes twice a day. I keep daily notes on the horses’ lessons as it’s easy to forget how each individual is progressing without this record (you can see some examples below).


Morning Activity

Suggestions/Next session

Afternoon Activity

Suggestions/Next session


Long-rein at walk. Good changes of direction. Did more gtb on lines and flexion. Stood on mounting block and habituated to leg – kicked once at my leg on belly.

Much better and less nappy today – possibly because he went out for a graze early.

Burlap sacks to wear on surcingle and drag

Work early and turn out not stable (I think he gets frustrated because he cannot crib-bite in the stable so it defeats the purpose)

Long-rein at walk, mounting block (no kicking but some ear pinning). Very nice quiet session and very obedient to turn cues.

Increase in hand work and make sure biting has diminished.


Led better to round pen with Nigel but started rubbing on him while waiting. Very orphan foal-ish so needs more shoulder control on the ground. Practised shoulder control on the round pen fence. He did quite well but has trouble concentrating and pushes with shoulder. Short lessons needed. Long reined at walk, not ready for trot.

Saddle to long-rein.

Work shoulder control on fence in hand.

Reverse arc much better this afternoon. Still using the round pen fence but Wonder is not running into me now.

Emma also tried the reverse arc.

Long-reined at walk – not very good and still not ready for trot.

Work on the directional control at walk on the long reins at walk.


Bitless bridle. Worked give to the bit on the ground in hand only. Focused on relaxation and also worked stops. He was much better today. Will need to break it down a lot for him and treat him like a blank canvas as I think the bit must have been very uncomfortable. Working to shape the relaxation and flexion.

Shaping behaviour – give to the bit, stops and relaxation.

Keep him slow and calm for the time being.

Emma practised give to the bit and stops. Noticeable difference in relaxation and focus. Less rushy this afternoon – good progress. Really starting to use his topline. Can now see the muscle in his neck working.

Long-rein at walk – he may find the distance challenging at first. Watch for head tossing/dropping and tension (moving closer if he becomes anxious).


Long-reined and Anita rode. Got some canter on the lines to increase impulsion. Anita did much better and managed to keep him on the outside of the pen. Still on a line, not ready to be removed

Anita will need to be able to get Polo to trot and halt (already good) before I will remove the line.

Emma rode bareback. Reverse arc and got some softness and frame in the trot. Emma felt the difference in Polo’s back when he relaxed and lifted his back.

Reverse arc and long-rein outside round pen.


Shoulder control in the round pen on the ground. She did well and is starting to get to a pivot on the hindquarter.

Ride the shoulder control, with the help of the round pen fence to begin

Kate short ride – favourite part of the day. Lovely girl.

Shoulder control – doing well under saddle with the shoulders

Ride to arena and work there.


Leading and reverse arc in the head collar. Better and much less bitey

Fit bridle (needs holes punched)




Grooming, very quiet, very friendly

Walk out of enclosure

Walking around the house with trotting the long sides. All girls did well.

In season

Walk out of enclosure


Easy to catch, very quiet grooming and feet


Enjoyed her grooming session, excellent



Sought out company, walked up to me in the paddock. Almost enjoyed the grooming, haha.

Lead around enclosure.

Walking around the house.

Much better

In season







We all know that horses are great pattern learners and when you get into a routine, making careful notes and observations, it is easy to see how these patterns of behaviour transfer from simple ground handling to riding.

Aladdin, for example, pulls away by lowering his head and pulling the lead rope out of the handlers grasp when being led. He does the same thing when long-reined but, interestingly, only on the left – the side that the behavioural pattern has developed.

Benito, a two-year-old that had been getting a little difficult to handle, tends to try to bite when practising give to the bit, but only on the right side. He has also bitten when in the paddock, but only when the handler was standing on the right.

Wonder has that common orphan foal behaviour of pushing handlers with his left shoulder and thereby controlling direction and he repeats this behaviour on the long-reins and with other groundwork. Of course, this is precisely what the reverse arc shoulder control work is for and we are overcoming the problem using this technique.


I encourage you to look at your own horse, in the field with others, when being led or handled on the ground and see how many behaviours are also showing up under saddle. For example, a horse that lowers its head and pulls the reins off to the right as soon as you mount, probably also has this behaviour when led and perhaps also when long-reining (or lunging).

When you begin to recognize these patterns, it is easier to address them, and you can start to focus on what your horse is ‘not’ doing rather than the unwanted behaviour. For the horse that pulls the reins out of your hands after you mount, you could set up a new pattern of behaviour by cueing softness before asking for a step to the left. You could also address this behaviour when leading by bridling the horse for a time and practising shoulder control when you lead. Both of these actions will set up new, more useful patterns of behaviour for the horse.

Next time you are with your horse, observe him/her in the field and when you are leading and see if any of the behaviours are repeated under saddle – this gives you a good place to start replacing them with better patterns.