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Have a horse training or equine behavior question? Ask Lori Hall-McNary a Trainer with thirty years experience at

Dear Trainer:

I’ve ridden for a few years, taken lessons and own my own horse. My friend’s new mare kicks at her when she round pens her. She thinks it’s cute and says the horse is just playing (the horse is 7 or 8). I want to help, but I think the horse is being disrespectful and it’s not safe. Suggestions?


Dear Carrie:

Thank you for your question. You are right to be concerned about your friend’s safety.  A horse that kicks out toward the person while round penning is dangerous.  You mention the mare is new to your friend. Horses and especially dominant mares will try to establish hierarchy over their human handlers. They are looking for a leader.  Sounds like your friend may be new to horses or horse behavior. All horses should respect the person on the ground first before the person climbs in the saddle.

I had a spirited mare (11 or 12 years old) that came in for training. She would also kick out plus would try to climb over the top of you if given the chance. The owner first thought the mare was just being overly friendly and playing, until she almost got knocked down trying to round pen her and barely escaped getting kicked. The owner felt the situation was now unsafe and asked for my professional help.

The first day I took the mare into the round pen she kicked out toward me, I put pressure on her by changing her gaits (if she was walking then she was asked to trot, if she was cantering, she was asked to reverse directions several times).  The idea is to put pressure on the horse for 15-20 seconds then go back to what you were doing, like nothing happen. Horses live in the moment. This beautiful sorrel mare was smart, took one or two corrections from me and she was in sync. Her owner needed more ground work in terms of learning horse’s body language and how to use the long arm (lunge whip or “stick” with a rope attached). The owner needed to learn when to put pressure on the horse when to release.  The owner also needed to learn how to look for signs of submission in the mare, not just the common licking and chewing, but the subtle signs of lowering of the head, the softening of the eye all good signs the horse was ready to follow her lead.  I brought out one of my older “been there done that” mares for the client to practice her new skills on so she would be confident in working with her mare.

Carrie, you may want to show your friend what correct round penning looks like with your horse. Maybe have her try working with your horse so she sees and feels what respect and safe behavior looks like. If your friend is open to training videos Julie Goodnight’s DVD Round Pen Reasoning is educational. I also like the documentary on Buck Brannaman’s life called BUCK.  The movie BUCK offers insight into horse behavior and how humans cause certain horse behaviors.

The sorrel mare I worked with and her owner now have mutual respect for each other and always play safe.

Good luck.

Lori Hall-McNary, Champion Gymkhana Trainer and Owner Rockin’ L&D Ranch

Stay safe. Ride sane. Wear your helmet. or 760-741-1179

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