Catching A Difficult Horse
A newly acquired horse or a horse that may be herd bound needs a
little assurance from us. They want to know that you are not
going to hurt them or abuse them in any way. You as the owner/
trainer must create a friendly, but "I' am the boss" relationship
with your horse, if you want a long and rewarding partnership
with him. Horses, no matter what age, are constantly learning
from their interactions with us.
Whether or not you think your interaction with your horse is a
"formal training session" or not, your horse is always learning.
This is the case whether you are riding, longing, feeding, playing,
bathing, or just walking through your horse's pasture or in his stall.
Your horse will come to trust you as you work, play and
interact with him. To start this process you must make every
experience with your horse an enjoyable, learning experience.
For instance, if you are having problems catching your horse in
the pasture then you probably don't have a working relationship
with him but this can be handled with a little patience and persistence from you.
First you must reassure your horse you mean him no harm and that
it is a pleasant experience when he is with you. When you go out
into the pasture don't just go with the intention of "grabbing"
your horse for a quick ride, workout or training session.
Instead, walk up to him with a treat in hand; a carrot or apple
will do. He may be stand-offish at first but his natural
curiosity will eventually win out and he will accept the treat.
As he reaches for the treat try to pat him gently on his head and
neck. Maybe you won't be able to pat him today or tomorrow but
the next day you will. Persistence is the key to remember! Do
this every day, several times a day until he realizes you aren't
there just to catch him and put him to work. Eventually he will
learn to enjoy these "little get togethers" and these "little get
togethers" will build his confidence in you. Before you know it
he will be coming to you whether you have a treat for him or not.
Horses are by nature very curious creatures and are always
interested in someone or something in their space. Take advantage
of this! Maybe you need to work on your fencing, or round pen and
chances are that if he sees you in his space he will come to see
what you are doing. Seize this opportunity to just talk to him
and give him a gentle pat. I don't know about you but when I am
in the pasture working and my horses come to see what I am doing
I always take a few minutes to ask them how their day is going,
and give them a gently pat or two.
You must be persistent and patient in your efforts. Rome wasn't
built in a day and your horse will not let you catch him in a
day. This will take a few days or possibly weeks but he will come
to trust you and as the trust begins so does your partnership
Written by, Michele D. Anderson
Publisher/editor of Horse Tales and Clips an informative FREE
newsletter on the care and business of horses. If you would like
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Bad Behavior - Prevent it in the First Place
You've been working a new horse, or your horse is developing some disturbing behavior, such as charging you, ignoring your cues, kicking, biting, head tossing, twitchiness when being touched, etc. You want to prevent it before it goes any further.
Ask yourself – is my horse attempting to dominate me, or is he merely being defensive? These are two different things, and some trainers like to treat each differently, but I think both deal with the same elements – trust and respect.
You may get respect from severely whipping your horse each time he raises his head when you want him to lower it, but you will not gain his trust. And without trust, new defensive behaviors crop up and the downward spiral starts again.
To avoid development of bad behavior in the first place:
• Open and close each training session by using obvious signals. One way to begin is by going to the round pen as your opener. You can end with a treat or a rubdown or some other form of clear communication that ‘we’re done now.’ This helps the horse recognize they need to concentrate entirely on you during your session, but that when it’s over they can relax. Note – the session ends when YOU say it ends and not before.
• When you’re doing your groundwork, focus all your attention on your horse. You can’t be chatting on your cell phone or talking to people outside the pen. You’re asking for his full attention; you must give the same.
• Make sure your asking is clear. Often, our signals are unclear and this leads to confusion and loss of respect. This leads directly to the next hint:
• Don’t blame the horse! There is always a cause to the symptom. Find the cause to his shying or head tossing rather than treating the symptom by tying down his head or failing to desensitize the horse to all sorts of stimuli. Are you being ambiguous in what you are asking? Are you remaining non-threatening in your body language?
• Continually reinforce that you are not a predator through your body language. Don’t stare him in the eye and keep your body turned so that it is at an angle. If aggression is the problem, reverse this advice. Once he's calm (head lowered, respecting your space, inside ear to you), resume the non-aggressive stance.
• Mental overload: We have it; horses have it. Schedule short training sessions (15-30 minutes) and always end with a final reward - something he can do easily and receive a positive reward.
• Accept that you will always be in training.
• Accept that progress will be in baby steps. When frustrated, try to remember the little things you have accomplished, and reinforce those before proceeding.
• Fear is contagious. If you are afraid, your horse will pick it up and be afraid also. You are the lead horse. Form a mental picture of your calm, assertive leadership and the goals you wish to accomplish every day.
• Don’t put up fences between you, build bridges. Do this by being consistent in what you ask and never losing your temper and taking out your frustration on the horse. Most horses would prefer to surrender leadership to another horse (you); then they can relax and take cues from their leader.
• Do work on desensitizing your horse to all form of stimuli before you go out hacking. As leader, never show fear to the sudden and unexpected, but proceed calmly and he will follow.
For a list of discipline tactics that work, see Disciplining a Horse the Natural Way.
One final note – don’t ever be afraid to seek help for a truly problem horse with a more experienced trainer. It is not failure to continue to seek knowledge. The more we know, the more we realize we need to know and learn about these beautiful animals who have consented to sharing their lives with us.