How do I get my herd bound gelding to pay attention when I ride?

Question: I have been around horses all my life. I currently ride in pastures. I team rope and calf rope off horses that I have trained myself. I have read many Bill Dorrance books and all Western Horseman books and feel confident in my understanding of horsemanship. The horse in question is a 5 year old quarter horse gelding which is out of my mare. I have had him in the pasture the first 2 years of his life then in the corral for 1 year. I started this gelding 2 years ago in the pasture, checking cows. I sometimes ride with 2 others on horseback and sometimes on my own. He is currently in another pasture with 3-5 other horses. He is always winnies at everything and nothing at all when I ride him. How do I break him of this habit? How can I discipline him?

Answer from April Reeves: You and your horse have not yet established the connection of “when we ride, we work”. All young horses approach this differently; some get right down to it while others take time, sometimes several years, to establish the difference between working and reacting.

Making the horse’s ‘whinnies’ painful is not my answer. The two of you need to take 1-on-1 time in an arena and establish a working relationship. I own a horse just like yours, and it has taken 2 years to get him to put his head down and work without reacting to external stimulus. Teach him to bend both laterally and longitudinally, rate his speeds, stop, move off legs, all those basic training aids that you might not be getting by working cattle. Keep his mind busy. Mix it up. Add as you go, perfecting each element at a time. Build on it. You will find the horse moves his energy into this and leaves his ‘distraction and calling out’ energy behind.

You don’t need to discipline something out of a horse; you simply change what he is applying his energies to. Many of the habits we don’t like in our horses disappear once they change focus; it’s up to us to put the time and work into that.

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