Tim McNamee: Riding home on a loose rein

A technique to add to your bag of tools

Tim McNamee is the owner of McNamee Colt Company. Tim has seasonal  clinics that focus on improving, teaching and nurturing good horsemanship.


Tim McNamee is the owner of McNamee Colt Company. Tim has seasonal clinics that focus on improving, teaching and nurturing good horsemanship.



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If he begins to back on his own, ask him to back some curves or drive him forward to a stop (make sure he does not start on his own).

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The important thing is to acknowledge his efforts with a release and allow him to relax.

Here’s the scenario.

You’ve been out with your horse and you’re heading home. Your horse knows where you’re heading and he can’t wait to get there.

You must hold him back to keep him from grabbing another gear. As you do, he’s learning to push on the bit and drop his belly- the opposite posture you want to practice.

You start trying everything you can think of to disengage him. You make him stop, backup, circle him. You’ve gotten off and kicked him in the belly a couple of times, slapped his neck and told him to “stop it.” You’ve even had a conversation regarding the ingredients of a can of dog food.

Yet, nothing works. As soon as he’s headed for home, he obsesses with the idea of getting there and can’t think of anything else. The more you try to work on him, the hotter and more miserable he gets, which makes home that much sweeter.

You’re loading a spring.

I’ve been in this situation on some pretty spoiled horses. There’s one procedure that seems to work well for me.

I’ll ride him a half mile or so from home. I’ll then turn him around and head back home. When he starts to take over and get pushy, I’ll simply roll his hind quarters around and start backing toward home. Take note of how he is backing. When you feel some improvement of any kind, maybe he backs more freely or improves his posture, and or attitude, release and allow him to stop and stand facing away from home, on a loose rein.

Recognize when he is not waiting for you and put him back to work until you feel improvement (backing a little freer or a little straighter, or just softening at the pole). The important thing is to acknowledge his efforts with a release and allow him to relax. It is equally important for the rider to relax as well.

You may find a few other things when repeating the process.

For instance, he may begin to back on his own. In this case, ask him to back some curves or drive him forward to a stop (make sure he does not start on his own). After a while, he will get to where he stands quiet when you allow him to stop. Let him rest, and ask him to back again. He will get to a point where he will back real nice each time from the start and he will wait on you to ask him to start backing home.

Typically, the horse will get impatient and frustrated the closer you get to home. No matter what, simply stay the course. It often takes a good deal of patience, and some horses will go through a few storms. But, the longer it takes, the more depth the results will have. Usually, with this session, I like to back them all the way home. When you get there, they should be listening good, and you can simply step off.

After a long session of this, whenever a horse gets anxious I just review the exercise with him. Generally, he’ll calm down and then I can implement a mixture of other options to get him listening and respectful.

This is just one procedure of many that I use, but it’s not the answer to all situations. It is one, however, that I’ve had success with. Having a number of procedures and using them appropriately to fit the horse at that particular time will ultimately work best.

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