to Make Horse Training (More) Affordable
Flicka seems to be getting more dangerous daily and you're beginning to believe that he lies awake at night thinking of ways to torment you. But, darn it, he's got potential! Things could be so good! Flicka's bred to death; he's "out of Texas by Boxcar." He's a free spirit, gorgeous and happy. Sure, he gets grumpy when asked to do... anything... but if you could just figure out how to unlock all that potential...
And what's really driving you nuts is that everybody at the barn has an opinion. "Use a stronger bit, use a leverage bit, throw the bit away and ride with a hackamore." You'd tell them to stick their advice – but you just got dumped again and you're in no position to argue.
Unfortunately, horses get worse in these situations. They don't grow out of it like human teens (usually) do.
Your horse is
going from bad to worse. If things keep progressing at
this pace, you'll get kicked in the head this time tomorrow. But
what to do? Professionals cost (at least) several hundred per
month. Quick calculations show that it'd take somewhere around
eighty-bazillion dollars to build your baby into the horse of
your dreams, the one who meets you at the gate, leads beautifully
and rides like a Cadillac.
You're horse poor. Folks who own property, let's say several thousand acres in rural Texas, may refer to themselves as "land poor." They have property valued at some high price on paper but they need to farm or ranch that land, to live on it, to raise their family on it. If they sell it, they've got the lump sum (and the taxes, thanks) – but no means to make a living, no acreage to pass to future generations. That property has defined who that family is for ages. How could they sell it? They're sort of "stuck with it."
So, you're horse poor. Ya can't afford to train it and you'd never sell it. Can't go forward, can't go backward.
First, what not to do: Don't send emails to trainers (uh, me, for instance) asking for instructions. That's no different than asking your plumber, surgeon or horse shoer to "walk you through the process" over the phone. To be blunt, it's what they get paid to do; it's how they pay their bills. More than that, people write whole books about training horses, plumbing houses and removing gall bladders. A quickie email's not what you need. Furthermore, how can the plumber, doctor or horse trainer guide a person through a procedure, having never seen the horse, x-ray or sink? There are too many variables and it's unsafe.
What you should do: Diagnose the problem and form a plan. Is your horse simply being a pest as you feed him? Or is he literally trying to kill you when you enter the pen? Do you know the difference? Are you looking to improve his transition into the proper lead – or does he have a bucking fit every time you mount up? To put it succinctly, if the horse is annoying, you've got time to figure things out. If the horse is dangerous, you don't. If the horse is dangerous, you don't get on him, you don't get near him. What about the gray area in between? To decide which end of the spectrum your horse falls into ("dangerous, not dangerous") I would advise listening to that little voice in your head and you may need to do so daily. If you're about to get on your horse and that little voice says something's amiss, get back off. I realize that's no "fix," but that's not what this article's about. This is about diagnosing situations, creating plans to remedy the situations, and moving forward.
1, My Horse is Going to Kill Me Today:
Number 2, I Believe
My Horse Is Going to Hurt Me the Next Time I Ask For (Something):
Again, schedule a consultation or training session. Use that time to decide whether your horse is something you can fix yourself (given proper instruction) and be honest. If it's not something you can work on yourself, you're best advised to divest the horse, pasture the horse, or to pony up the bucks it takes to hire the pro. If it's something you believe you can work through, a simple remedy may be this: Hire the pro to work with you once a month. Work with him for a few hours (or days), ask him for "homework assignments" that you can accomplish yourself, then get to it. Additionally, you'll need to begin educating yourself. If you get nothing from reading this article but one thing, let it be this: Most issues you can name can be remedied by a return to the basics and you need to learn what basics have been skipped or never taught to your horse. If your horse doesn't whoa for two blocks, then he's stiff through the neck or doesn't understand the "hip to rein connection" or not rounding his back – or a combination of these things and many others.
The more of an understanding you gain of "horse training basics," the less you'll have to pay your professional. Borrow or purchase training videos and books that focus on the basics or young horse training, as opposed to being adamant that a particular word ("bucking" or "rearing," for instance) appear in the title. If your horse is rearing, you won't find many videos that specifically mention it on the outside jacket – but you'll find many that address the basics, or foundation training. Why? Because, once again, most issues are fixed by a return to the basics. There's no single magic exercise; there's a series of exercises plural. If you can't afford to buy the videos, many feed stores rent them. I've sold copies of the John Lyons' material to libraries – so I know your local library might also be a resource. (Also, don't be afraid of the older videos, the ones with the faded covers on VHS selling at a bargain. Horse training hasn't changed all that much in the last two thousand years. The first two training series produced by John Lyons twenty years ago, for instance, are absolute classics and highly recommended even today.)
3) My Horse Makes
Me Nervous (When I'm on the Trail and He Sees Something Spooky,
But here's the big difference at this level (#3) and what I'd like you to mentally underscore: When our horses explode only once every few months or we think he "should be okay today because he rarely spooks on this particular trail," then too often we decide to take our chances and blindly push through the situation, in essence, hiding our head in the proverbial sand. We shouldn't be doing that. (Nor should we spend the previous night pouring through back issues of Perfect Horse magazine as if we're cramming for a test and can somehow find a magic solution.) The time to work on your horse is in the weeks and months preceding the show, trail ride or what-have-you. Case in point: You're due to show tomorrow and two out of the last four times he spooked at the announcer's booth. You decide to take your chances and compete anyway. Or, you've got a ride scheduled on the local trail with your friends tomorrow and the last time you crow hopped past the blue garbage cans. But you rationalize: You really want to hang with your friends and tomorrow's not garbage day, so you go out, overriding common sense.
These thoughts and situations are probably at the root of more riding accidents than those maniacs we talked about in #1 above. Why? Because common sense tells us to stay off the crazed beast – but we're too darned quick to rationalize and ride sweet Flicka, figuring she only occasionally tosses us to the dust. "Curiosity" kills cats; "rationalizing" kills people. We figure the horse has come to his senses in the last twenty-four hours. Or that the flock of doves was a freak occurrence. Or maybe you're riding with a different group of horses today and you just don't believe he'll be as tempted to bolt to the front. Wrong-o. In each case we're rationalizing because we want to get out on that trail or make the competition. If you've got a horse that could become too much for you out on the trail (read: bolt or rear), then we shouldn't wait till we're out there to begin fixing things. We know better, but we make excuses.
In the end, it'll be your call, of course. If your horse simply shies and you know you can stay in your seat, hey, maybe you go to the show, rather than lose your entry fee. But if you've got a potential bolting or bucking situation and you're a nervous rider? Ignoring that little voice could get you hurt. Waiting to fix it "when it occurs" is REALLY not the option. Basic training is just that: A re-teaching of the basics that necessarily takes time and therefore happens before the bucking – not during. Tell yourself that it's going to take some time to go back and "patch the leaks," then find a safe place and teach or re-teach your horse the basics in a controlled situation. Forego the trail until you've got firm control of your horse. Live to fight another day, as they say.
4) When I Try
to (Bathe the Horse, Bridle the Horse, etc.) He Gets Really Cranky:
Here's the simplest way I can put this: If the voice in your head says you're getting played, remind yourself that you're paying the bills and develop a zero tolerance policy. The horse has no right to dis you, not for one instant. Use common sense here. It may be a matter of "continuing to do what you're doing till the ears raise." For instance, you pet him and he pins his ears. All you do is keep petting till he relaxes. On the other hand, your fix might come in a different form. For instance, if you're feeding and he pins his ears ("hurry up"), then you might turn abruptly, slap your hands and scream. Let Flicka know in no uncertain way that he's crossed the line. Trust me, they know the line. Every herd animal instinctively knows where those boundaries are. Don't be a chump.
5) I Would Like
to Improve My Horse's (Lead Departure, Spin, etc.) :
So, riding in a clinic is great – but so is attending as an observer. For about the price of a movie (okay, maybe two movies), you can get buckets of information. Are you working with a baby but don't know how far or how long to train? Find a clinic. Are you being pushed around by your horse but don't know where to draw the line or specifically how to discipline? Find a clinic. Have you read everything there is to read on improving your speed transitions but still you're on a plateau? Find a clinic. Books and videos are great – but nothing beats seeing it firsthand. Visit your feed store and check the flyers. Walk the local barn and snoop around for upcoming events, check your local freebie magazines and search online. For my events, I make sure to get the word out via email – so signing up for my training newsletter also gets you word when something local is scheduled. Remember, smaller clinics aren't going to take out big ads so you're best advised to check around as I've described.
And finally, one great way to advance your skills is absolutely free: Get a job with your local riding school where you can trade work for time in the saddle. Sure, you'll get to chat up instructors with your questions – but you'll also learn things you'd never think to ask: how to give meds, how to take temperatures or how to tack up for different riding styles (like English vs. western). The greatest thing you'll take from your time spent comes from the simple fact that you'll be working with horses who spend their days carting around beginners. You'll see more shenanigans in one evening than you'd see in years out of your own horse. You'll learn from other working students exactly how to blanket the recalcitrant mare, how to pick feet up on even the most stubborn horse and (here's the best part) quite often you'll learn exactly what NOT to do. It's time well spent, believe me.
To read more, or
to find a clinic or Certified John Lyons horse trainer near you,
Keith Hosman: If your horse won't speed up, slow down, stop or turn, you missed the latest training methods from Josh and John Lyons. Have you lost your confidence? Want a horse to brag about? Invest one weekend to make big changes with John Lyons Certified Trainer Keith Hosman. Keith is based near San Antonio, TX and is available for clinics, private sessions and training. He frequently conducts clinics and demonstrations — with an event coming soon to a town near you. For more horse training articles, or to attend a clinic or find a John Lyons trainer living in your area, visit horsemanship101.com now.
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