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Discipline: LD/Endurance, CMO, Trail Rider, Cartoonist, Writer, Co-Director/ Green Bean Endurance

January 21, 2009

Leadership Anxiety

Browsing the web the other day I happened upon an article about Leadership Anxiety of the horse. Here are a few excerpts:

"horses who fret at being back in the pack usually have the boldness of natural leaders. Whenever riders in larger groups disregard the temperaments of their mounts and put the shrinking violets out front and hold the bold ones in back, the results are frayed nerves, spook after spook, and increasing irritability in group interactions."

"Force is no fix for this problem."

"A frustrated leader held back in the middle of a mass of other horses may become irrational and dangerous.

The article did offer a few suggestions for a solution.

Allowing a horse of that temperment to lead.
Using training strategies such as "leap frog" during training rides with the cooperation of 4-6 other riders. Leap frog being a perpetual changing of placement the entire ride. The rear horse boogies up front. As soon as that horse is in place the now rear horse boogies up front, and so on, and so on the entire ride. Meaning the horses placement is continually changing, but the order is not static long enough for the "frustrated leader" to get upset. At least that is the theory.

I do know that trying to rate Phebes is a huge headache. She rides so nicely alone or with one other horse. The pack situation is a training challenge. I'm trying to find a rational way to either eliminate the problem, or work "with" the horse I have. ~E.G.


  1. Jazz (my husband's horse) has this same issue. Personally, I LOVE horses with this "problem". She is happier and easier to ride when she's leading. BUT she will follow without being "dangerous". Of course, she is older than Phebes.

    A good example of this is when I had a virtual adult beginner (that had only been on a horse a few times) ride her one summer day at the farm. I rode Stormy and had my friend follow behind on Jazz. She was scared to go faster than a walk. So I was careful to keep the horses both at a walk. Jazz was not happy but finally figured I was not going to let her around us. And surrended to just doing the trails that we normally run thru at a walk this time. I was really proud of her and Stormy that day.

    But if you get her in shape, which you are, you and her will be much happier in the front of the pack. You might actually like it to!

  2. Michelle,

    What would be your strategy for settling this horse down. You saw first hand what an awful handful she is in the beginning of a training ride. I hung on, but gee! I wanna ride, not hang on *LOL*

    Should I ride more solo for awhile? Should I keep battling with a group? Should I just let her run (my instincts say no)?

    What would you do to refine your control of her the first few miles until sanity sets in? ~E.G.

  3. I wish I knew!! I think you should keep doing what your doing. Riding solo and riding in a group when you can/want to. You need to do the group thing if you want to do endurance or CTR, because at some point in a ride you might be around a group of horses. I think the leap frogging idea is a good thing. And I think she is in shape enough to let her go in the front for a while and run with the pack.

    I think it's being around horses she doesn't know. Stormy is perfectly fine with Jazz. But when other horses are around that she doesn't know she gets tense and more race brained. But the more I am around other horses with her the more my confidence in her builds, so I know she'll be fine and to just go with it. If I relax and stay confident she will eventually relax and everything is fine.

    But all that said, I really shouldn't say anything without having ever rode her. I think you really just can't tell a horse's personality unless your in the saddle. Well, for me anyway. Some horses are all prancy and racey like that and I feel perfectly safe with them. Other's not so much. I don't know what it is but it's a feeling I just get after about 10 minutes or more on a horse. I've rode probably at least 100 differnt horses. I used to work as a polo groom in Peoria. Which required riding them in down times to get their exercise or riding them a bit before their chucker to get them warmed up. Not only that but it just seems like I'm always riding someone else's horse. I've even rode a stallion a few times. The majority I really liked, but some I never did. Some I felt safer on than others and it didn't have anything to do with how fast we were going or how fast they wanted to go. More so if they were listening to me and if they were somewhat confident in me and themselves.

    That probably doesn't help but that's all I can think of for now.

    Michelle Detmer

  4. When I say this ""And I think she is in shape enough to let her go in the front for a while and run with the pack."" I mean not just turning her loose, but making it your idea. I think it was Parelli that says you have to be comfortable being a "passenger" on your horse, so that your horse knows your not afraid. Or something like that. He did it in a roundpen and it was with a very green horse. Just letting the horse do whatever it wanted to do, the speed and direction that it wanted too. Sometimes people get ultra controlling when riding a horse and try to place every footfall, every step, of everything that they never give the horse peace. I think that's fine in a dressage ring but you can't do that for a long trail ride. Obviously, you can't let your horse be out of control. But you have to put some trust in your horse so that the horse will trust you in return. It's mutual. If you can't trust the horse then, get off for awhile. (this is to a certain degree, because obviously even the best horses can do something stupid, and accidents happen, but for the most part they are pure accidents that the horse didn't intend on either.)Do I think that's what your doing -- I don't really know but I don't think so. Just some more rambeling......

  5. Just letting go and relaxing for the ride is NOT something I have done thus far. I've been so concerned about her running faster than she should at this point, that it has been "battle & hang on" which has not been particularly effective. Because of being thrown so many times this year from this horse, I pretty much lost confidence in her. I'm not a strong rider anyway, having just waded back into riding a horse in my late 40's. I rode some when I was a younger woman, but it was a sedate trail pace or on country roads. I'm still trying to find my balance, build myself up on the stationary bike, etc. I've never just let her go and ride...I wonder what she would do if she ended up way ahead of the pack and found a pocket. Maybe that is the answer to just let her blow off a little steam, find my quiet place in the middle, and then see if she will settle into a working trot? It will take a few prayers to bolster my confidence.... ~E.G.

  6. Also, since I've been reading your blog she hasn't dumped you. That's something! Give her some credit and yourself for that! I think you've done great so far on your own.

    The only other thing I would suggeset would be taking riding lessons on her. I knew it's expensive and boring but it would be extremely beneficial for both of you. I shouldn't talk because I was going to take lessons this winter and still haven't. But I feel comfortable on my horse. Yet I think everyone, even the best rider needs to take lessons. You can always find something that you need to improve or didn't realize you were doing wrong until someone with some kind of knowledge watches you and tells you from the ground.

    But otherwise, I think your doing fabulous. Want to train my filly when she's 4??

  7. Train a horse? Uhhhhhhhh...uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh....*LOL* I think my brain is stuttering. You are going to do a find job of it, I'm sure.