in a great mood this morning; all was right with the world.
Then I spent twenty minutes trying to get a human on the phone
when I called my bank.
After saying my account number for the 27th time to a computer
I was frothing at the mouth and blood vessels were bulging from
What's this got to do with horses? Simply this: How many times
have we approached our horses smiling – and walked away
Haven't we all wanted to take up a frying pan when our horse
refused something simple like picking up his feet, standing
for mounting or allowing himself to be haltered? I write this
article, then, in the interest of making your horse world a
little less contentious. I'll talk specifically about haltering
problems, but the running theme can be applied to other, similar
Anderson is fond of saying (something akin to) "frustration
begins where knowledge leaves off." Exactly.
But it also kicks in when we simply let something "get
to us." Do you think my banker would have got my goat this
AM had I just won the lottery?
The secret to horse training may be "Get an education,
be consistent and spend the necessary time," but simply
saying that leaves a lot of room for interpretation. So, today,
we'll add this: "...And don't let the sucker get ya down."
that training your horse to properly turn and face you and/or
training your horse to come to you are beyond the scope of this
I will go over a couple of quick fixes – but know that
a horse that disrespects you in such a cavalier fashion has
larger issues that need to be addressed.
That horse is telling you in no uncertain terms "You ain't
the boss, get lost." (And that attitude will surface when
you're out riding.) Do yourself a favor and get some info (from
an article, a book, a video, or a pro) on how to teach your
horse to properly stand when you approach. Better yet, learn
to teach your horse to come to you. There's a huge difference
between the attitude of a horse that walks away from you and
the horse that comes when asked.
breaking a horse begins like this: If your horse is in a stall
and he turns away from you, then you'll want to annoy him until
"something" (an ear, a head, a body) turns toward
you, however briefly.
Be super careful and stand well away from those kicking feet.
A full "horse length" is a good rule of thumb. Standing
back, you'll rap the wall, clap your hands and basically make
a racket till the horse turns and looks at you. Stop and pause,
telling the horse that this is what you were looking for, then
continue to build on that. Noise. Turn. Pause.
If he laughs off your attempts, amp it a notch by rapping him
with a nice long lunge whip. Be careful to pause and praise
anytime he turns a body part toward you. Most likely, he's developed
this sort of behavior because he's been allowed to slight you
in the days preceding. If that's the case, you'll need to be
consistent and let him know that from now on, you'll be a real
pain until he complies. Pitch the lead rope over the horse's
neck when you can.
horse is in a small pen and turns away, then the only control
you have at that point, is "how fast" he moves off.
Remember, a basic tenet of horse training: You can't make a
horse stand still and the horse can't choose to stand still.
Capitalize on that "the horse can't choose to stand still"
part. Use your small pen to keep him moving until he realizes
that looking at you is a whole lot easier than moving his feet.
If you approach and he moves off, send him away briskly, at
a pace faster than he's chosen. Keep the pressure up, waving
and walking, shouting, etc. Keep staring at him to let him know
you mean business. Don't let him slow even for an instant. Keep
him moving and forget about catching diddly for awhile. If you've
got more than one horse in the pen, simply concentrate on the
one horse. They're very good at knowing "you mean them"
if you're careful to keep your focus (read: keep staring at
one horse, ignore the others). Allow the horse to stand only
when he's facing you. Throw the lead around his neck ("catching
him") when possible.
note that babies are a whole different ballgame and should be
worked at a slower pace or in a different manner than described
in that previous paragraph. Their lungs and young bodies haven't
yet developed so you're advised to pick up info dealing specifically
horse is in a large pasture and keeps running away... don't
put your horse in a large pasture.
it'll now take to actually get the halter on your horse has
everything to do with your horse's level of training and/or
which specific "fool trick" he might have picked up
head shy? Does he have a cow when you touch his ears or chin
or block his vision? Then put the halter down and use your hands
to desensitize him to your touch. (Use a dressage whip at first
if you feel he might throw his head about and strike you. This
would be a silly way to lose your front teeth. Stand at the
point of his shoulder if you feel there's any chance he might
try to kick or walk into you.) Begin by finding the spots where
he doesn't like to be touched and do what any bratty older sister
would do: Keep touching him there. If you can't touch his ears,
rub the area you can rub, edging ever closer to the ears as
the horse grows bored, being careful to only remove our rubs
when the horse pauses. There's only one way to screw this up
and that is for you to pause when he moves away. If he moves,
you move with him. Remember, you "sensitize" the horse
(that is, make him more likely to move) when you remove your
pressure as he moves; you "desensitize" the horse
(dull him to something) when you remove your pressure when he
stops doing something.
saying, "Yeah, but he moves his ears the second I touch
them," that's fine. If you can bring your hand up and over
his ears even for a tenth of a second, you would have accomplished
your immediate objective of touching his ears. (Our long term
goal is haltering the horse and we never start with our goal,
right?) All you need to do is repeat this over and over and
over, slowing your hand above his ears as he begins to grow
bored. The horse has either grown sensitive to having his ears
touched because people backed off as he pitched his head ("sensitizing
him") – or no one's ever worked with him period (as
in the case of a youngster). Either way, our response is the
Look for spots where he doesn't want to be touched. If I gave
you $20 for each pocket of resistance, could you find some?
Resistance appears in the form of stiff muscles, four feet that
appear to be "planted," and of course "head jerks."
Keep at this, however long it takes – petting, pausing,
repeating – until the horse is absolutely bored. Look
for classic signs of a horse that has decided to work with you:
They might lick their lips, drop their head, get a lazy look
in their eyes, sigh, cock a back leg, etc. before moving on.
same thing for the horse's neck. You'll never get the horse's
head lowered if it won't move in a relaxed fashion from left
to right. Put your arm straight out in front of you and flex
your muscles. Now, try to lower it in a "relaxed"
manner. You can't do it. Same thing for your horse (now and
when you're riding). Apply pressure to that rope you've got
looped around his neck and ask him to bend his neck, releasing
your pressure only when you see or feel a relaxation (however
slight) in his neck muscles. Count one thousand one to three
before repeating. Try up, down, left and right. Try putting
one head over his forehead, the other one between his ears and
ask him to lower his head by sort of "wobbling" it
back and forth. Use common sense, patience, and anything you
can think of to ask your horse to relax his neck and head. Get
faster with your movements as the horse relaxes, asking him
to stay calm as you increase your pressure. You should be able
to hop up and down, spin around, scream and push your horse's
head about – all with zero resistance – before you
move on. Have fun with this; you're hanging out with your pet
and you're making progress.
there may be another way to mess this up: The second mistake
would be to creep around your horse like Tigger. Remember, you're
dealing with a prey animal and tiptoeing around sends a dangerous
signal. Keep everything in a "business-like" (or "fun")
manner and you'll be miles ahead. Also, always allow your horse
to decide what you're working on – that is, while you
may have had thoughts of riding, maybe your horse won't even
accept being haltered. Your horse has chosen "haltering
lessons," over a trail ride. Maybe I wanted to work on
lead changes, but my horse wants to work on developing more
hip control. Accepting the fact that your horse is the one calling
the shots is key to you having a good time out there. Having
a good time out there is key to you making progress –
which, of course, is what keeps you coming back.
the halter. Now you'll just repeat the desensitizing we've covered
with our hands, but with the halter. You'll tackle this by making
this simple for your horse and by not forcing things. If the
halter itself causes a stir, then begin by removing it from
the lead rope and using just the rope. If he's fine with the
halter two feet away, but not with it draped over him, then
break it down and begin your work at one foot, eleven inches.
You might try using the rope to fashion a makeshift halter of
sorts, looping it around his head, neck and ears. Your goal
throughout the process is to keep the horse relaxed. If things
flare up, back off and find something "less scary."
If you've desensitized the horse to the point of boredom as
previously outlined, if the horse remains relaxed as you drape
the lead rope about his nose, if his head is dropped and his
neck muscles soft, you should have no problem putting the halter
on as you would for any other horse.
article is part of the "Basic Horse Training" series.
To read more, or to find a clinic or Certified John Lyons horse
trainer near you, visit horsemanship101.com.
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
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