Clinton Answers Training Questions by Clinton Anderson
Q: I recently started working with my horse in the roundpen and have made decent progress. He gives me two eyes and follows me around the roundpen. But now when I first show up, if he even suspects a workout, he runs to the far end of his 2-acre turnout and won’t let me get any closer than 50 feet or so to him. What should be my strategy for catching him? – Ted R.
A: It sounds like you’re off to a great start with your horse, mate. You’re on the right track by working with him in the roundpen to establish the foundation of respect. If your horse will give you two eyes and “catch you” in the roundpen, it’ll be much easier to have the same thing happen in the
pasture. I don’t think your horse’s problem is that he’s hard to catch necessarily. Let me explain. Put yourself in your horse’s position. Let’s say that every time I came over to you, I handed you a shovel and made you dig holes under the hot sun for five hours. It wouldn’t take too many repetitions of me coming over to you, handing you the shovel and making you work hard before you’d start to run the other way when you saw me coming. Your horse is doing the same thing. He sees you coming and figures there’s only hard work waiting for him because so far that’s exactly what you’ve done with him. Change up your routine. Every time you go out in the pasture, don’t always put the halter on him and go work him. Instead, go in the pasture, give him a treat and rub on him. Then walk away. A few times of that and your horse will say to himself, “That’s interesting, she’s not as bad as I thought. Just because she comes out here it doesn’t mean I’m going to have to sweat and work hard.” Give him a positive experience, and then walk away. Keep him guessing so he never knows if you’re coming to the pasture to give him a treat or to work him.
Reacting to other Horses
Q: I consider my 10-year-old Quarter Horse to be bombproof, but she starts acting up when we trail ride and come across horses in pastures. Any thoughts on how to handle this? – Amanda B.
A: It’s common for horses to get excited when they see other horses on the trail. Anytime a horse starts to use the reactive side of his brain and it feels like you’re losing control, redirect his energy in a positive way. You need to put your horse’s feet to work to get her to use the thinking side of her brain. When a horse uses the reactive side of his brain, the only way to get him to use the thinking side and put his focus on you rather than what he’s worried about is by moving his feet forwards, backwards, left and right. Normally, I recommend cantering and trotting the horse, but after reading your question, it sounds like there’s not a whole lot of room where you’re riding to do that. If that’s the case, you may have to work at just the trot or even the walk as opposed to the canter. Use one rein to bend your horse in a circle around your leg. Then bend her the other way. Or, do a series of serpentines. What you do with your horse isn’t important – what is important is that you move her feet forwards, backwards, left and right, constantly changing directions.
You can head off most of your problem by not waiting until your mare reacts to the other horses before putting her feet to work. Most people would not like to go trail riding with me because I’m constantly weaving in and out of trees, jumping over logs, circling around bushes, sidepassing my horse across the trail, etc. I very rarely put my horse on a loose rein and just let him go down the trail looking for something to spook at. Before you even reach the other horses, put your mare to work, bending her in circles, two-tracking her, practicing transitions, etc., anything you can think of to get her feet moving forwards, backwards, left and right. The more you move her feet and change directions, the more she’ll focus on you and not on the other horses.
Can’t Reach Head for Haltering
Q: I just bought a Thoroughbred gelding that is over 16-hands. Every time I go in the stall to put his halter on he lifts his head really high so that I can’t halter him. How do I get him to drop his head for me? – Caleb S.
A: Horses get smart and realize that if they raise their head up really high, you can’t reach them. You can teach your horse to lower his head all the way to the ground whenever you gently press between his ears. Once he has lowered his head, then it’ll be easy for you to put the halter on and eventually the bridle.
Stand on the left side of your horse, facing his head. Hold the cheekpiece of the halter with your left hand. You may have to stand on a mounting block so that you can reach the top of his head. Then put your right hand between his ears and gently touch his poll with your thumb and index finger; your fingers should be on either side of his forelock just behind the hard lump between his ears. Gradually increase the pressure by pressing with your fingers, then pushing harder and finally digging your fingers in until he responds by lowering his head. The instant he drops his head even slightly, immediately release the pressure and rub his poll.
Initially, your horse may dislike the pressure and will react by throwing his head up. If he does, keep your hand on his poll as you maintain the pressure until he finds the answer by dropping his head. The key to this exercise is to reward the slightest try. If he drops his head even slightly then reward him by releasing the pressure and rubbing his poll with the palm of your hand. Through repetition, your horse will gradually lower his head until it eventually touches the ground. Practice these steps to bridle your horse until eventually he no longer tries to escape you by raising his head.
Author note: Clinton Anderson is a clinician, horse trainer and competitor. He’s dedicated his life to helping others realize their horsemanship dreams. Learn more about the Downunder Horsemanship Method at www.downunderhorsemanship.com.
This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 9, Issue 11
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