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Advice Please! Tail swishing during transitions

Hello everyone! So I recently started a lease on a quarter horse/haflinger. He is a good boy but I’ve noticed that when I ask for a transition from walk to trot and put my leg on for a more forward trot, he swishes his tail most of the time. He has also bucked a few times(small ones) when I put more leg on. But once we are in trot and at a consistent, even pace he does not tail swish. I have not cantered him yet(I’ve only been doing lessons on him so far so I do have my trainer with me) because my barn got him and he was a trail horse and didn’t know much arena work and tends to buck when picking up his canter when lunging. We are planning to canter him in one of my next lessons though. I have jumped him from the trot and he doesn’t swish or show any signs of pain. He shows no signs of pain or lameness, and has put on good weight since he arrived at the barn as well. Could it be a problem with the way I am asking? I don’t use spurs or kick, I only carry a crop but hardly use it. Do you think he could associate these things with pain? He was from a trail place, he didn’t know how to pick his feet up(my trainer thinks they used stocks), had a bit in his mouth all day when he was used, was underweight, and he does have scars in various places on him. Don’t worry he is cared for fully with lots of hay, love, and care now. He does have a good head on his shoulders and is willing for sure. Is there anything I can do to help him/relax him more under saddle? Or anything I should change when asking? Help is very much appreciated!

Since this horse is not yours, your power to help him may be limited. It sounds like he may not have been well cared for in the past, and this can lead to countless issues- bad teeth, gastric ulcers, back pain, and foot pain being some of the more likely ones. Issues in the canter can often be traced to back/SI or stifle/hock pain as well. I know you said he doesn’t show signs of pain, but tail swishing and bucking ARE signs of pain. If this horse were mine, I would want a detailed physical examination and lameness work up done by a good veterinarian.

Aside from that- he may be struggling physically with the transition to arena work, especially if he is older. He is having to use new muscles and carry himself in a new way. He will need time and a reasonable conditioning schedule to adjust to his new workload- remember to be patient and listen to him as he learns.


Hi, thanks for your response! I have a nice cushy pad for him, and my trainer bought him a really nice gel half pad as well. He was seen by the farrier not too long ago I think and his feet look good(but I know not all pain is visible or obvious). I wish I could get him a good vet exam/chiro. He is 12 years old so not an old guy. Sorry, I meant I don’t see any other signs of pain besides those things. I will talk with my trainer though because I want him to be comfortable and happy. His health and happiness are top priority. My trainer did say he didn’t have much muscle(or weight) when he came in so he is definitely still building up strength. I will be patient and keep an eye on him, and I’ll make sure to really watch next time I ride what may be bothering him.

A good equine body worker can be invaluable in pinpointing pain, and fixing it if it’s back or muscle related. Bucking in transitions is almost always a sign of pain, usually in the back or hocks.


Yes, it could. It might tickle, or irritate him. Or it may be a leftover bad habit “If I swish my tail these people will leave me alone” (attitude thing).

Or yes, it could be a pain issue. Start with a good vet exam and work forward from there.


With the saddle pads, you might be introducing too much of a good thing. Someone with some real knowledge about saddle fit should evaluate the fit of his regular saddle to see if it’s pinching him or rubbing him anywhere.

If the saddle fits well without a pad, introducing a thick half pad or saddle pad will make the saddle too narrow for him (think: wearing a thick hiking sock while wearing narrow dress shoes). Alternatively, if the saddle is too narrow to begin with, adding a thick pad will make it pinch badly.

You can read about saddle fit on a number of websites. Smartpak has a video up of a Master Saddler demonstrating saddle fit which might be helpful.
How to tell if your saddle fits


Could be the way the saddle fits. Could be too much padding under the saddle. Could be that he is now just starting to use himself and he has aches and pains just like we would.

I would most definitely get saddle fit checked. Adding strength and muscle just takes time.


If the horse is in no pain then it is called resistance. Yes resistance because of something the rider is doing. Think of losing 2 points every time he swishes his tail.

This is communication between you and the horse.

You need to change your riding.

Eg my horses do not wear nosebands. The moment I tell hubby to halt, Sim opens his mouth. Hubby says he has not done anything yet, however Sim is consistently telling me he is.

The answer is to change your aids, you want the minimal aid you can use to get what you want. He can feel a fly on his side, he does not need a heavier aid than that.

Hubby was thinking about halting with his reins instead of dropping his weight. What is your horse telling you?