Horses Training: Why Horses Rush Through Training Exercises

Do you ever present your horse with a training exercise only to have him rush through it, as if to “get it over with” as soon as possible? Or how about the jumper horse that charges a jump totally out of control? And then there’s the reining horse that spins … but at Mach-1 with no hope of a controlled halt.

So what’s going on with horses rushing through stuff?

Why Horses Rush, Run, or Otherwise Bolt Through Training
As I have worked on and with thousands of horses in my veterinary practice, I have come to see that all kinds of horses rush through training exercises … but for different reasons. The more I delve into horse personality types, the more I realize that different personalities rush for different reasons. Let me break it down by horse personality type. As you read through these, see if you recognize your horse … and why he or she rushes through stuff.

The Fire Horse Personality Type
Fire horses rush through training exercises for one main reason: lack of strength and flexibility. Most Fire horses have beautiful and refined bodies, which often mean that they lack the muscular strength to do what you are asking.

The second part of the equation is that Fire horses are often rigid, both in their thought patterns and their bodies. Both create a lack of ability. However, being very agile, Fire horses can often achieve the intended result by rushing through an exercise.

For instance, my own Fire mare, Cerise, is fairly long-backed and light in the hindquarters. Her build makes her less than ideal for barrel racing, which requires the ability to sit on her hindquarters and bend tightly around the barrel. When we practice running barrels, Cerise makes up for her lack of strength and inflexibility by simply rushing around barrels, with her weight on her front her. She keeps her body straight and simply makes a “triangle” around the barrel.

To counter this, I have had to teach Cerise to bend through her ribcage, starting at the walk. I have also had to focus on building up the strength of her hindquarters by doing groundwork exercises like backing. I ask her to move one foot at a time with her body bent correctly … something she detests because she “thinks” she can get the job done faster and more easily by simply running flat out. To help a Fire horse who rushes through exercise, start slowly and ask them to bend through their entire bodies, moving only one foot at a time while maintaining the correct posture. This not only changes the muscle memory in the body, but also resets many of the Fire horse’s rigid mental thought processes.

The Wood Horse Personality Type
Wood horses just like to go fast and dislike slowing down to understand the finer points of just about any training exercise. A Wood type jumper may charge a fence just because it’s fun. The fact that rails come toppling down is of little matter. Wood horses don’t mind, and in fact sometimes positively enjoy bumping into things. Again, it’s fun.

To slow down a Wood horse who rushes, set up exercises that force him to think. For instance, with the Wood jumper who loves to charge fences, try taking him out on rough terrain that has both uphill and downhill grades. This forces him to think about where he puts his feet, and challenges him enough physically that he can’t just “get it done” by charging. Force him to walk up and down this rough terrain and don’t allow him to lunge up hills or run down hills. Again, this kind of exercise will slow down not only his feet, but also his mind.

The Water Horse Personality Type
Fear is the biggest reason that Water horses rush through exercise. When faced with an exercise that he either doesn’t understand or causes him to be fearful, his response is to “get it over with” so that he can return to safety. To cure a Water horse of rushing, break down exercises into small steps that he can easily understand. Make sure that he feels safe in his training environment.

For instance, suppose you have a Water horse who rushes through a trail course because most of the objects scare him to death. Break down each trail obstacle into itty-bitty steps, and then work through those steps one by one until he feels comfortable.

Take the gate as an example. Most trail courses feature a gate that has to be unlatched, opened, walked through, and then closed. That’s a lot for a Water horse to understand all at once, so break it down. First be sure your Water horse is comfortable simply standing by the gate. Touch the gate, rattle the gate, and praise him each time he stands still. Next, shift your weight in the saddle toward the gate. Again, praise him lavishly each time he stands still, and wait until he gives you a sign (like a lick and chew) that tells you he is ready to move on. Then, lean down and play with the chain on the gate. Again, he should be praised each time he remains calm and still. You get the picture.

Water horses need a lot of support from their riders. They need to be praised each and every time they do something correctly, even it is as simple as just standing still. Finally, Water horses need lessons presented in tiny digestible steps. The good news is that if you take the time to introduce a Water horse to an exercise slowly in the beginning, you will be rewarded with much faster progress on the back end.

The Earth Horse Personality Type
Earth horses, the “pasture potatoes” of the horse world, are usually too lazy to rush through things. However, there are exceptions. The two reasons an Earth horse may rush through an exercise is either because he is too unfit to do said exercise, or the exercise is too far out of his known routine. Both cases are likely to cause an Earth horse to protest.

Although an Earth horse is more likely to buck than rush as a form of complaint, you may see an Earth horse start rushing through something as a buildup toward bucking. For instance, I know of one out-of-shape Earth gelding who was brought in from pasture and asked to simply trot and lope in slow circles. But the rider was not the Earth horse’s owner, and was instead a stranger. Being normally quite calm, no on expected him to run or buck.

However, the horse was so overweight that even trotting was an effort. In addition, he didn’t get his usual treat while being tacked up (Earth horses LOVE food), and he had a strange rider on his back. In a sudden burst of energy, the gelding bolted for about 50 yards before bucking just hard enough to dislodge his rider. Having gotten his message across, he then stopped by the side of the arena to graze. That’s about the only time I’ve seen an Earth horse “rush.”

The Metal Horse Personality Type
Like the Earth horse, the Metal horse isn’t likely to “rush” through an exercise because he prefers to buck. However, Metal horses have to understand their “job” before they are willing to perform. If a Metal horse is presented with an exercise outside of his known “job description,” he may rush through the exercise … and anything else in his way, to get back to the safety of what he knows.

One Metal hunter mare I knew was so unnerved at her first show that she simply ran around the entire course, jumping any jump in her way, before bolting out the gate and heading for the trailer. Once at the safety of her trailer, she was perfectly calm and relaxed. While the mare had been quite happy with her job of jumping at home, she felt the show was too far outside of her known universe, so she opted for the closest familiar object-the trailer. Once the mare became more seasoned, she stopped rushing through her courses. She simply incorporated the show world into her job description, and all was well.

Different Strokes for Different Folks
Horses, like people, are unique in their personality types. One horse rushes through an exercise for completely different reasons than another horse. So you can’t cure the urge to rush the same way for every horse. I hope this breakdown of horse personality types helps you understand why your horse might be rushing … and what you can do to help him avoid that reaction.

Does that make sense or am I full of bull? I’d love to know, so please leave me a comment if you agree, disagree, whatever!

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2 thoughts on “Horses Training: Why Horses Rush Through Training Exercises

  1. Katherine

    While it’s certainly fun and interesting to speculate on a horse’s personality, we can’t forget that there may be several physical factors that contribute to unwanted behaviours. Dental, chiropractic and saddle problems can cause rushing too. It might be an idea to rule out these possibilities, and then work with personality and body type. 🙂

  2. Madalyn Ward, DVM Post author

    I certainly agree and assume these factors have been ruled out. I find that sometimes we can get so focused on looking for a physical explanation that we can overlook temperament. Madalyn

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