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Dealing With The 'Hot' Horse

Updated on March 6, 2013

What is a 'Hot' Horse?

The term 'hot' is generally used for a horse that is prone to becoming over-excited and/or really likes to run.

A hot horse will often go faster than the rider intends, and may bounce in place when restrained. Hot horses are also prone to throwing their heads around. Many 'hot' horses will fidget if asked to stand still for extended periods of time.

Certain breeds, namely Arabians and Thoroughbreds, are notorious for being hot. Other horses may become hot in certain situations. I have seen a perfectly quiet pony turn into a firecracker when he heard a hunting horn - he thought it was time for a good run.

Many hot horses demonstrate an enthusiasm for life that shines through everything they do, although their desire to do everything at ninety miles an hour can be frustrating (especially when it's a hundred in the shade and all you feel like is a quiet walk in the woods...)

Hot or Rushing?

First of all, you need to establish whether you really do have a hot or forward going horse.

Often, a horse that rushes is confused with a hot horse. Rushing is generally caused by anxiety or poor balance. One easy way to separate the two - if you put your leg on a genuinely forward horse, it will go faster. If you use a strong inside leg on a rusher, the horse will often slow down. This may seem to be completely counter-intuitive, but the rushing horse needs assistance with balance and reassurance. Meanwhile, a genuinely forward horse will see this as an excuse to go even faster.

The Half-Halt

Your most important tool with any horse that is inclined to go faster than you like is the half-halt. Learn it, know it, love it.

At the most basic level, a half-halt means to slow the horse almost, but not quite, to the point where it stops or breaks gait and then send it forward again. A half-halt should be performed with the leg and seat, not the rein. Resist with your seat and thighs, and then release once the horse slows down. This will also keep the horse balanced.

Getting It Out Of Their System

If you have a genuinely hot and forward horse, then you need to let them be hot and forward...on your terms.

If the horse tends to buck and leap around when first out of the stable, then for safety's sake, consider lunging for five minutes before getting on...that way if the horse bucks and leaps around, you won't get hurt.

Most important, however, is that a forward horse needs to have clear boundaries set. It really does them good to take them out and let them run, but they need to know when it is acceptable and when it is not. With many of these horses, a good gallop around the field is what they most want - and in their training, you can make use of this by letting it be a reward after the more difficult work.

These horses are often poorly suited to slow work such as dressage, hunter under saddle or western pleasure. They make good jumpers and good gaming horses for more experienced riders (they are often a little much for novices and children).

Stronger Bits?

It's often a great temptation to resort to a stronger bit. Sometimes, a stronger bit is indeed needed for safety's sake.

It is, however, very important not to employ a stronger bit on a horse that is rushing - this will only increase their anxiety and tendency to run through your hands, and will certainly not help their balance.

I have also found that a stronger bit is counterproductive on animals that tend to lean on your hands and just go. These horses will lean even harder on a curb bit than a snaffle, and I have found they often go best in a jointed snaffle and a flash noseband. (Western people probably have their own way of dealing with this).

For sheer enthusiastic running, sometimes a stronger bit is a good idea, just to give some extra brakes. However, it is more effective to use it only in situations when the horse might get away from the rider - for schooling in the arena, it's best to go back to milder hardware.

In the long term, teaching discipline and when it is and is not acceptable to take off at a gallop should allow you to hang up the stronger bit.

For some hot horses, a properly fitted martingale or tie-down is a good idea. I have definitely encountered horses who, when they get excited, will try to feed their ears to their rider - and I know somebody who ended up with a broken nose that way. Again, the martingale or tie-down should only be used in situations where 'hot' behavior is more likely and removed for schooling.

In all cases, the rings of the martingale or the loop of the tie-down should reach to the hollow of the horse's throat when it holds its head in a normal position. Any shorter than this and you are pulling the horse's head down - not a good idea - rather than simply preventing it from going so high it becomes dangerous. Never use a martingale without a neck strap - this is very dangerous. Never jump in a tie-down, as it interferes with the horse's ability to make a proper bascule and will at best cause it to knock more jumps down, at worst this can cause a wreck.

A Quiet Hand

Hot horses require, for the most part, a 'quiet' rider. These horses seldom desensitize to aids and will often listen to everything the rider says - even things the rider didn't intend to say. The slightest touch of leg to side may cause them to leap forward and they often hate people hanging on their mouths, and let that be known, sometimes violently.

Although a hot horse may at times require a stronger bit to keep them in hand, they do not do well with jerking or yanking. Some respond better to being halted from the seat and don't like any use of the rein at all.

In all cases, though, a hot horse needs a rider who stays calm and is not intimidated by his or her behavior and antics.

On Ex Racehorses

Thoroughbreds are notorious for being 'hot'. And one of the best sources of cheap sound horses is the track.

Many Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds end their racing career with many good years left in them. Standardbreds tend to be remarkably calm and laid back, but off the track Thoroughbreds are notorious.

Part of the problem is that racehorses are trained and fed to be very highly wired and want to run. They are also bred for this, which is why Thoroughbreds tend (with exceptions) to be more naturally forward going than many horses. Although steroids are now illegal in racing, racehorses are given supplements to make them go faster and are often given lasix, which in addition to preventing nosebleeds (very bad for horses) is also a mild performance enhancer.

Problems ensue when people take a horse from the track, bring it home and throw a saddle on it. The horse is still 'on' and 'wired' and the likely result is an involuntary dismount. Most Thoroughbred experts recommend that a racehorse be turned away (put out to pasture) for 60 to 90 days before being brought into training. This let down period gets all of the rich food, racing drugs and the like out of the horse's system and gives it a mental break that can help it adjust.

Many Thoroughbreds settle down and become good riding horses. Some will always be hot, forward going and require a rider able to deal with that.


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    • profile image

      Marly 3 years ago

      I ride a hot Ottb and he can be quite hard to handle at time.s he rushes most fences and takes one strides in a bounce, I have tried half halting and nothing works on him but sitting back and pulling hard right before the jump. It really is just one continuous loop of fighting with your hit horse

    • jenniferrpovey profile image

      jenniferrpovey 5 years ago

      Oh, definitely. And some people seem to make every horse they ride 'hot'.

    • equine profile image

      Melissa Kanzelberger 5 years ago from Hillsboro, MO

      I completely agree with you that dealing with "heat" requires a gentle hand, an opportunity to have fun and get their energy out, and NOT to go to an enormous bit as so many people do.

      I would also comment that a good percentage of riders should not be riding hot horses. Get the training you need, get confident, learn to ride fluidly with quiet legs and fluid hands. "Heat" is often intensified by rider fear, which horses sense as danger. This causes the horse to act " spooky," and it becomes a difficult loop to break.

    • SeamlessDestiny03 profile image

      SeamlessDestiny03 6 years ago from Chi-city

      Lasix is a diuretic.. I just thought I should mention that since you never stated what it actually does. :)

    • jenniferrpovey profile image

      jenniferrpovey 6 years ago

      I have always used the word 'hot', OTTB trainer. It's the word I grew up using, it's a word people understand. And I do know it isn't the same thing as the type.

      Furthermore, it's not a lack of training, it is a temperament thing. That doesn't mean training can't help a hot or reactive horse settle down and relax, especially if the horse is also anxious. But some horses will always have that 'go' to them.

    • profile image

      OTTB Trainer 6 years ago

      You talk about "Hot" as an adjective. It's not; many horses are too reactive for consistent performance regardless of breed / type (Hot, Cold, Warm Blood...) I have taken horses straight off the track with automatic stop buttons. And I have worked with stock type (Quarter, Canadian,etc...) horses that have dumped their rider at the first chance. If your intent was "How to handle Reactive Horses" say so... Don't just use the buzz word you found on your Google research to lump a breed type into some adjective to describe a lack of training.

    • jenniferrpovey profile image

      jenniferrpovey 6 years ago

      The only situation I condone a tie-down or martingale is if the horse is throwing its head up so high that it is endangering the rider's face. It doesn't stop rearing or ONLY stops them from hitting you in the face with their neck. (A running martingale also prevents the reins from going over the horse's head in the case of a fall, which is one reason why you see them on field hunters all the time...if a horse steps through English style reins, you can have a bad wreck). Hrm. I may need to do a hub on martingales!

      Hee...that's a good tactic. And honestly, sometimes, with a horse like that, taking them out and letting them run and THEN working is the best solution...and if he hasn't mellowed at 25 he never will ;).

    • chrisnstar profile image

      chrisnstar 6 years ago

      Thank you Susan for speaking up on the tiedown-martingale issue. We almost lost a horse and rider at a Kansas CTR because of that. And let me just say, if anything thinks a tiedown will prevent a horse from rearing or rushing, it's a very wrong notion. I was almost killed by a horse rearing up and fallng over on me when he was wearing a tiedown.

      Hardware doesn't make the horse a good horse citizen. Good riding and handling does.

      Thank you Jennifer for addressng my concerns. BTW, I just took my 25 YO quarab out for a ride today. He was quite forward and fizzy. Rather than punish him or ride with an iron fist, I worked with him. If he wanted to dance sideways, then ok, we did half passes, LOL. Keep the mind and feet engaged.

    • jenniferrpovey profile image

      jenniferrpovey 6 years ago

      Christnstar: I said that Arabians have a reputation for being 'hot'. I don't necessarily agree with this, but would note that I have little experience with the breed.

      The genuinely hottest horse in the barn right now is 13.3 of pure, raw energy and enthusiasm for life...and is a Paint crossed with, oh, something (my theory is Connemara, but papers and history are unknown).'

      I think I have covered part of your concern with my comment about horses rushing...I have known several horses that were thought to be hot. One of them was considered that way by multiple horsepeople with many years of experience between them, but I discovered that he (grade pony) slowed RIGHT down if you kept your legs on gently and dropped the rein contact to almost nothing. As it turned out, it was eventually established that he simply hated metal in his mouth - when he was switched to a rubber covered bit he turned into a different horse completely. He was just insanely sensitive to everything.

      Susan Brehm - thank you for the note on tie-downs on the trail. I genuinely hadn't thought of that one.

    • profile image

      Susan Brehm 6 years ago

      Great article. I'm so happy you distinguished between hot and rushing. I've had Arabians for years & I think the most common issue is that they are so sensitive that they're prone to anxiety without proper handling.

      One note about tie-downs and martingales out on the trail... if you cross water that becomes unexpectedly deep the horse will quickly drown if it can't get it's head up. So before going through water, unhook the tie-down or martingale & then rehook when on dry ground again. A bit of a hassle but worth it. Of course, if you can see the bottom of the water it's not an issue. :)

    • learnlovelive profile image

      learnlovelive 6 years ago from U.S.

      Important tips for the equine enthusiast. Great material. Up and useful!

    • chrisnstar profile image

      chrisnstar 6 years ago

      Gosh I wish people would quit labeling Arabians as "hot." Like any other breed, there are forward ones and lazy ones. The Arabian show world has done much to damage the reputation of the Arabian horse by producing a horse with wild eyed "presence." This is done by inhumane training and showing techniques designed to light up the horse and make it look wild and crazy.

      I have raised Arabians for years. I do have one "hot" Arabian but he has some Quarter Horse in him. My purebreds are much mellower. Yes, Arabians are generally spirited and forward moving animals. They are also extremely sensitive to the rider and very intelligent.

      I agree with you about one thing, a stronger bit is not the way to rein in a hot horse. I came off my Arab-QH cross 11 times the first year I had him and kept going to stronger and stronger bits. Finally, I went to a dressage instructor who also raised Arabians. At the end of 3 months, I was a much better balanced rider and I had a much happier horse. And we were back to riding in a mild snaffle.

      Very often the behaviors we label as "hot" are behaviors that stem from poor riding, from poor saddle and tack fit, and from the horse's pain and discomfort. Eliminate those issues and even the most forward going horse is much more of a joy to ride.

      At 25, my Arab-QH gelding is still a lot of horse and not for beginners. I've had young purebred Arabians that were perfect for beginners and children. I could trust my Arabian stallion to carry my young granddaughter around without hurting her. It's a very individual thing.

      I just watched the NFR barrel racing competition and almost all those horses were QHs and they were way hotter than my Arabians. Training and the horse's job have as much to do with hotness as breed and disposition.

      Arabians by history have been family oriented horses. The favored mares slept in the tent with the Bedoin family. YOu can't allow a hot crazy horse in the tent with your children.

      Arabians are like very bright children. They get bored easily, and a bored horse makes up games and acts out to amuse himself. A horse like this needs to keep his mind and body engaged. He needs a job to do.

      Currently, my horses board at a farm where the owner used to have a riding camp for children. Even though she is a die-hard QH person, she admitted that the best horses in the riding string for taking good care of young riders were the Arabians.

      Yes they have spirit and endurance. They also have brains and are willing to use them.

      thanks for letting me speak up.


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