The World of Living with Horses

Training Challenge: Turn Brood Mare Into Diva

By Stephanie von Bidder

ARIANA COAXED INTO A CANTER PHOTO BY SUZY MATTINGLY

The beginning of training for any horse centers on management. I choose to address mental and physical health before expecting results under saddle.

During our first evaluation ride, Ariana strongly signaled she wasn’t comfortable with me taking the lead. That first wild ride convinced me that her program had to begin with my feet firmly planted on the ground.

Ariana had given me loads of information, loud and clear: She was anxious, insecure and angry. Acting like a spindle-top rodeo bronc and trying to exit the arena with another horse, which is how our ride ended, is naughty behavior – naughty, but entirely normal.

In nature, horses rely on their herd for safety. She had spent the previous year in foal turned out in a herd and handled infrequently by humans. Her life was natural. She had her foal, raised him and was weaned. Not only had she bonded and found security with horses, now it was spring and her hormones told her she was ready to breed.

Ariana’s life in training would be entirely different from life in her herd. It was my responsibility to ease her difficult transition. My first priority was her physical health.

Horses under stress are highly prone to stomach ulcers that can be responsible for bad behavior. I treated her with Omeprazole, an oral medication that would coat her stomach and act as a preventative. Next, I broke the breeding cycle by administering a hormone called Altrenogest that kept her in a state of anestrous with no urge to breed.

My second priority was to change Ariana’s daily routine and manage her like a competition horse. Overnight she lived outside in a private field beside other horses; there she could rest, eat and play.

She came into the barn every morning on a schedule. Her stall offered luxuries she quickly came to enjoy – unlimited piles of hay, a fan and a fly control system that gave her relief from the relentless heat, humidity and swarming bugs of the South.

I spent many hours grooming, bathing and hand-grazing her. Very gradually she bonded  with me. Becoming accustomed to life as a diva didn’t seem to be as much of a stretch.

It was no surprise that one day I found Ariana waiting at the gate nickering to be brought in. Her mindset had changed and her training in the ring could now begin. She had accepted me, as she would another horse. Now it was time to see if I could take the lead from my boss mare.

Training Challenge: Gaining trust and creating a partnership under saddle. Working through herd-bound behavior and separation anxiety.

NEXT TIME Ariana learns that troting me around isn’t so bad. 

Stephanie von Bidder

Stephanie von Bidder grew up in New York’s Westchester County, where she had the opportunity to learn from Patricia Neff, Jerry Carollo, Joe Fargis and Darren Graziano. She now lives in Aiken, South Carolina at her own Daybreak Farm, a full-service hunter and equitation show stable. She trains riders of all ages and abilities in addition to their four-legged counterparts. Von Bidder holds her SCHJA judge’s card and is applying for her USEF license. In 2010, she completed her USHJA Trainer’s Certification.

Share your horse training stories or ask Stephanie about your horse training challenges by commenting on her articles.

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