Q: Whenever another horse rides up behind my all-around horse in rail events, he pins his ears, swishes his tail, and turns to look at the other horse. How can I teach him manners?
A: Your horse is focused on the horse behind him because he's not focused on you. Here's how to train his attention on you:
1. Establish a "pay attention!" cue. At home, ask a helper to ride up behind you. Each time your horse so much as flicks an ear backward - indicating his focus has shifted there - bump him in the mouth as you say "hey!" and growl at him in a low tone. With repetition, he'll associate the verbal cue with the bump, so will immediately dial into you when he hears the noise. You'll be able get his attention with the audible alone, so will have an invisible cue at shows.
2. Get your horse off the rail. When you make him work hard in the center of the pen, he'll come to respect the rail as the place he'll be left alone. He'll then be more relaxed and less likely to focus on what's happening behind him. At home, take him off the rail and make him work. When you get on the rail, drop your reins and let him relax. With repetition, that's exactly what he'll learn to do.
This article first appeared in the November, 2000 issue of Horse & Rider magazine.