Riding the Problem Rental Horse


Most of my time in the saddle is on long distance rides in various parts of Canada, US and Europe using rental horses. These rides are always on different horses. These  rides usually cover 25 miles a day for 5 to 8 days at at time.

My question deals with how to handle problems with horses that you may only be on for a week or so. And the next time I ride I will be on a different horse. As well, they are usually different breeds. Most of the books I read on training and forums I look up cover training over long periods of time and assumes the rider is always on the same horse. Can you give me some guidance on how to deal with typical horse problems when always riding a different horse and only for a short period of time (5-8 days)?



That is a very difficult situation. My advice is to not to try to actually school or try to train one of these horses in so short a time. It will only frustrate you and is not fair to the horse, who will have neither the time or consistancy with you that it should have in order to learn something. However, you do need to be able to control it and deal with the horse while you are riding it for that week or so. While I’ve not spent a great deal of time with rental horses, I have rode a few. What I find is most common is that they have a tendancy towards being sneaky, or stubborn, or being a little bit of a bully. Most of them are very well trained, but they are rode by so many people that either don’t care or don’t know enough to correct them that they get away with quite a lot at times.

I suggest that when you ride these horses, that first of all you develop a flexible riding technique, understanding that all horses have different temperaments and different levels of responsiveness. Especially remember that what might be an ignorable cue by one horse may totally cause hysterics in another. With that in mind, you should first always “ask” your cues.

A rental horse takes a lot of abuse, though most of it is caused by ignorance, and many will respond quite willingly to a gentle cue applied in a confident, competent manner. Horses that deal with the general public, like rental horses and lesson horses, understand very quickly the difference between a novice and an experienced rider, simply by how the rider sits in the saddle and by how they apply their cues. Quite commonly, all that is needed to prevent misbehavior is a confident, experienced, secure seat and attitude. Generally, if the horse decides to test things a little further immediately firming the aids and maintaining focus on what you intend the horse to do will be enough.

Maintaining focus is a very important part of riding these horses. One of the most common mistakes even some experienced riders make is to let the horse’s behavior distract them from what they are wanting the horse to do. They allow themselves to be distracted from insisting that “this” be done,  and allow themselves to be drawn into an argument about some detail. Think of it as akin to arguing with an 8-year-old child over why, when, and how they should be cleaning their room. It’s fruitless and pointless. What happens is you stand there and argue about why or how, and the whole time the child is NOT cleaning the room! You want to have the mindset of “there is no discussing this–It will be done.” This is actually harder than you would think, a rental or lesson horse is a master at drawing you into the argument before you know what has happened, they know it works, because most of the people that ride them fall for it.

For dealing with specific misbehaviors, the most important thing that you need to develop is the ability to quickly read the temperament and personality of the horse you are on, and to gauge how strongly to correct it. My rule of thumb in these situations is to start with the mildest possible correction, but without hesitation, move up a notch every time I have to repeat myself. As I said before, these horses are generally extremely well trained, they just know all the tricks. If they realize you are onto them, won’t be distracted and can remain focused, and you mean business when you cue for something, it doesn’t take them long to acquiesce. The biggest difference I feel between your situation and someone working on a horse they ride all the time, is that you won’t have the luxury to go slow and carefully, as one would when trying to actually retrain the behavior out of this horse. You will need to use less sophisticated methods. You will need to be concerned for your safety, first and foremost. Since you will not have time to be able to retrain a horse in this situation, you will only have enough time to show the horse that you will not fall for it’s tricks or allow gross misbehavior.

I will go over a couple of the more dangerous behaviors, and what has worked for me for short-term situations.

For a horse that bucks, pay close attention to how he is moving. If you study your horse enough, you will realize that he WILL give you a signal of when a buck is coming. It really won’t be just out of nowhere, though it may seem like that at first. However subtle, he will give some warning, you just need to look for it. What you are looking for is a hesitation in his rythm or way of moving. He will need to drop his head and forehand and he will most likely slow down or at least hesitate in his movement.

There are two things you can do at that point.

You can yell at him, swat him and really move him forward BEFORE he actually bucks. This will often work and gets them out of the habit. Move him into a circle if you need to, but make him really move out and work.

You can also wait for him to actually buck and therefore give a sharper correction. What I do is get prepared when I feel the subtle signals that he is thinking of bucking, and then let him get one buck in. When his head is down low, I set one hand on the wither bone and with the other hand I give a sharp, sudden, hard jerk straight upwards with the rein. This hurts, so the horse will throw his head up, when his head is up, he can’t buck, and at that instant I really swat him on the butt and yell like a crazy person, so he is startled into going forward. Then I work him in a circle really hard, changing the direction often so he can’t really get set for another buck. After a moment, I let him slow down, then we will go on with whatever and see if it happens again.

Rearing is not likely to be encountered on these horses, but if it happens, leaning to the side, and bringing that same rein out to the side as far as possible will usually cause the horse to drop down into that direction. Continue moving the horse into the circle and keep him working and moving till you regain his attention.

The more common problem encountered with your situation, though, will be a lack of steering and/or brakes. Quite often, horses in these situations have learned to ignore the rider’s steering rein aids. They’ve learned to “rubber-neck” when you try to turn them and will continue on in the direction they feel they should be going. If you are going to be following another horse for the most part, this will not generally be a problem, since your horse will most likely simply want to follow the others. If, however, you need to go off in a different direction for some reason, your horse may argue about it. For the horse that won’t steer, it’s helpful to remember one very important thing. The horse must MOVE in order steer. The horse must go forward, before you can have any control.

Once you have the horse going forward, frame the horse between two wide leading reins, maintaining contact with both reins. Aim for making a wide turn, keep contact with the outside rein and lead him through the turn with the inside rein. If he still does not turn, do not pull harder on the inside rein. This will just allow him to rubberneck again. First, make sure you are using YOURSELF correctly. Make sure you are looking in the direction of where you want to be going, not down at the horse. Remember to sit heavier on the seat bone that is towards the direction you want to be going to and to keep yourself in a deep, effective seat. Leaning forward makes your seat and legs ineffective. Check that you are twisting from the waist so your shoulders are opened into the direction you want to go. Always use your inside leg to create the correct bend and your outside leg to push the horse in the direction you want. Maintain a firm, steady contact with the outside rein and without giving up that contact, use the inside rein to ask for the bend in the direction you want to go.  Bring the outside rein into the outside shoulder (not high up on the neck, but right at the top of the shoulder blade) and “block” the horse from pushing that shoulder towards the incorrect direction and “push” the shoulders into the correct direction.

The first few times, you may need to be satisfied with simply drifting in the general area that you want. After a couple of times, though, generally, your horse will learn that he cannot trick you into pulling one rein overly hard while dropping contact with the outside rein, therefore allowing him to “rubberneck” his way out of your control.

For a horse that doesn’t want to stop, you will want to use every aid at your disposal, and, most importantly, that they are all in agreement.

First, sit deep in the saddle and hold your spine still. By this I mean to NOT follow the motion of the horse. When a person rides a lot, it becomes instinctive to move with the horse at all times. While this is critical in most situations, you need to understand what it tells the horse. Allowing your spine to flex and follow the horse’s motion is, in essence, telling the horse that it is okay for him to be moving the way he is. Because you ARE following him, he assumes that this movement is acceptable. You want to hold your spine still, as if your horse was standing still. Do not follow the canter/trot/walk motion, hold the horse still with your spine. At each gait, there is a moment in the cycle of the gait where you feel “deep” and “pushed down” into the saddle. Take that moment and tense your back and seat muscles AGAINST the motion of the horse, not allowing yourself to move with him. Each time you are at that moment of the gait cycle, “stop” the horse with your spine. Keep your shoulders slightly behind the verticle to maintain a deep seat and to use your weight to encourage the horse to slow down. Next, close your fingers on the reins, and do your best not to pull back on them. Finally, close your legs around the horse, to push him and keep him framed into your closed hand, so that he cannot get away from it. Do not kick or squeeze rythmically, simply close your legs around him. The instant the horse gets to the gait you want, or stops altogether, then relax your spine and your rein.

When your aids all agree, your horse will have less of a chance to argue. If you allow your back to follow the horse while you close the reins, your are really giving the horse a choice to keep moving or stop. If you give him a choice, he will pick the one he wants to listen to.