Grazing on the Trail, by Clinton Anderson
If you have a horse that’s too busy eyeing up his next meal on the trail rather than paying attention to you, use these easy steps to put yourself back in control.
Put His Feet to Work – A horse can only think about one thing at a time. He’s either got his attention on you or on his next snack. If you’re walking down the trail and your horse grabs a mouthful of grass, he’s obviously not thinking about you. You need to redirect his feet and make him hustle. As soon as he snatches grass, bend him around in a circle and kick his side with your inside leg. Wake him up and get his attention back on you. You’re saying to the horse, “Hey, you don’t have time to be eating grass because you’re too busy listening to me and hustling your feet!” After you make your point, put the horse on a loose rein and dare him to take another bite. It’s important to ride on a loose rein so the horse can commit to the mistake. If he wants to take a mouthful of grass, let him. Then wake him up and get his attention back.
Think of it like this: You can’t arrest somebody for standing outside the bank with a gun. You have to wait until they go into the bank with the gun and then you can arrest them. That doesn’t mean that you let your horse stop and graze for 20 minutes; just wait for him to reach for the grass and then hustle his feet. When I say hustle his feet, I do mean hustle his feet. This doesn’t work if you let the horse graze for five minutes and then barely get him to move. If you let him drag his feet, he’ll be too busy chewing on the grass and dreaming about his next snack to pay any attention to you. If he grabs a mouthful, make him hustle his feet like his life depends on it. Do serpentines, lope him in a circle, gallop him in a straight line, it doesn’t matter what you do, but get some energy to it. Remember, horses are basically lazy creatures and the worst punishment you can give them is hard work.
Squeeze, Cluck, Spank – If your horse stops at a patch of clover and refuses to move even if you’re bumping him on the sides, you need to get more aggressive. Remember to use Squeeze, Cluck and Spank. Squeeze the horse with the calves of your legs to get him to move. If he ignores your squeezing, cluck to him with your tongue, “cluck,” “cluck.” If he still isn’t moving, spank him with the end of your reins or a dressage whip. Squeeze is politely asking the horse to go. Cluck is warning him that the spank is going to come if he continues to ignore you. Spank is doing whatever it takes to get the horse’s feet to move. You may have to really get after him if he’s being disrespectful.
With horses you have to be as easy as possible, but as firm as necessary. Make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy. If making the horse move his feet isn’t working, try popping him in between his ears whenever he tries to snatch a bite. Use the end of your reins or a dressage whip to tap him firm enough so that he says, “Oh man, that wasn’t fun.” It’s almost like a big surprise. Every time he opens his mouth, something quickly smacks him on the top of his head. If every time he takes a bite of grass something whacks him between the ears, he’ll eventually stop going for the grass because he’ll be thinking that he’s making himself feel uncomfortable. Remember, timing is very important, you want your horse to think that he is the one causing the pressure between his ears not you. Also be careful – not all horses can accept this type of training method.
Be Prepared – The best piece of advice I can give you is, if you know your horse has a habit of eating on the trail, don’t go walking down the trail swapping recipes with a buddy. Be prepared for your horse to make the mistake, and then make the correction. You’ll find that if you put the horse’s attention back on you and give him direction, he’ll stop eating on the trail and become an overall better trail partner.
Author’s note: A native Australian, Clinton Anderson began his quest to become the best horseman he could be by apprenticing under nationally acclaimed Australian trainers Gordon McKinlay and Ian Francis. In 1996 Clinton moved to America to continue training horses and apprenticed under Al Dunning, winner of multiple AQHA World Championships, before beginning to train under his own name. Clinton loves training reiners and cow horses and has been successful in both competitive arenas. Clinton is the host of Downunder Horsemanship TV. To find out more about Clinton and how you can transform your horse into the partner you’ve always wanted, log onto www.downunderhorsemanship.com.
[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 3, Issue 3.]
Grass Snatching – Not Ideal – How do you keep your horse moving on the trail?
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