How to Handle a Buddy Sour or Spooky Horse, by Monty Bruce
Have you ever had a buddy sour horse before”¦ a horse that won’t leave its buddy or the barn? When you to try to walk away they worry, toss their head, refuse to leave.
What is the best way to handle this problem? I was teaching a cow horse clinic where there was a horse with this problem and a pretty strong case of it; with most of the symptoms I described above. She was a six-year old mare that had been raised and kept with her full sister everyday of her life. To put it mildly, she felt very strongly about being near her. The rider was doing a good job trying to contain her, but when she got just-so-far away from her buddy, she would bolt back to her buddy (sister) uncontrollably. Her total focus and attention was on her sister, which makes it impossible to communicate with her, let alone, train on her. After struggling with her, the frustrated rider decided to get off of her and forfeit his spot in the clinic because he got tired of fighting her with every step. I asked if I could climb on to try to get her to come around and relax. I knew this was going to be a challenge because she had never been separated from her sister and was very much out of her comfort zone when she wasn’t with her, even to the point of panic.
As a child, can you remember losing site or getting separated from your parents? Maybe at the grocery store, fair, or some other public place you weren’t familiar with? Remember the instant feeling of panic or fear you felt! At that very point in time you couldn’t think clearly, reason through things, or for sure concentrate on anything to rational to do. Only one thought consumed your mind and that was getting your parents back in your site no matter what it takes; running, screaming, crying, until you get back to the comfort and security or your parents. That is what this mare was feeling every time the rider would make her leave her sisters side.
We were in a facility she had never seen, we were asking her to do things that she had never done before, and we were taking her away from her security, her sister. It’s no wonder she was panicky. When I got on her, I knew I didn’t want to make her leave her sister, because she would panic. I would also never want to make a horse do anything. Just as a child, if you make them do something it probably won’t get done very willingly, and you are likely to see fits and moves like you have never seen before. I don’t want to force her to leave the security of her sister’s side. I want to somehow set it up to where she thinks it’s a good idea to be away from her sister.
When I got on the horse, I had the rider on the sister stand at the end of the arena and relax. I started loping circles on the mare trying to figure out the best way to handle this situation; I decided to use the approach I try to use in all aspects of my training. I saw she didn’t want to leave her sister, that was fine, but I would give her something harder to do if we were going to be near her sister. I kept loping circles around her sister, then I would trot her, then put her into a series of rigorous flexing and bending exercises, all the while keeping her very close to her sister and her comfort zone.
I was accomplishing two things at once here: 1) I was getting her softened up by the rigorous exercise which she needed anyway. To the horse it was like I was telling her “if you feel you need to be by your sister for security, that’s fine. I won’t make you leave, but it’s going to be tougher on you with all the work that I’m going to ask you to do”. 2) By doing this I’m also taking her focus off her sister and focusing it more on me. This is a major part of our job in training, to hold their attention and focus on what we are asking.
After about 5 minutes of the loping and exercises, she was starting to get out of air and pretty much focused on me. I slowly walked her away to the other end of the arena, stopped her, and started petting her (to relax her and make her feel comfortable). Comfort is the key word, I think we are showing her a new place she can be in a comfort zone, yet away from her sisters security. I let her rest for about three minutes continually rubbing and petting her. Then I turned her and started walking back to the other end of the arena towards her sister, who is standing in the same place. I put her on loose rein not holding her back. She walked quietly for about 25 feet then bolted off in a run back to her sister. I let her go without even so much as picking up a rein to try to stop her (to let her know it is OK if you want to go back, I won’t stop you, as soon as we got up to her sister we repeated the process all over again). After about three times of repeating this process she finally would walk back slowly. It finally became her idea that leaving her sister was a good idea. She found a new comfort zone. We never made her do anything. We made her want to do it, willingly.
The rider got back on her, she was like a different horse; willing, focused, and her whole attitude changed because of our approach. If we were going to make her do something she was going to fight back, if we would show her and convince her she would accept it and be willing. She went on and improved in all of the areas of her training over the weekend clinic, and never gave anymore trouble about being buddy sour.
Have you ever had a spooky horse before? Some horses seem to be scared of everything while others may seem solid in most areas but then suddenly become flighty and resistant unexpectedly. This is common to all horses because of their instinct to flee from situations or objects that may seem dangerous or harmful in their eyes. How is the best way to handle this problem? Many people will try to force the horse to deal with the scary object or situation. But I like to take a different approach.
The exercise I use is very similar to the exercise I use to handle a buddy sour horse”¦ with one minor change. With the buddy sour horse, we will have them work NEAR the horse that they want to be with. But, with a spooky horse, we will have them work AWAY from the object that they are afraid of. For the spooky horse, the place of rest will be near the object that they are worried about. Remember that this is a process. At first, you may have to let them rest in a place that might seem far from the object. But as you continue with the exercise, the horse will gradually let you get closer to the object as they begin to focus more on you as the rider and less on the object. Eventually, you can try approaching the object again. If the horse wants to leave, let him. But after he leaves, put him to work again, away from that object, and continue the process again. Pretty soon being near that object seems like a pretty good idea.
Remember to set it up, in both situations, so that it is the horse’s idea to do what we would like them to do. Make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy. Good Luck and God Bless, Monty Bruce Visit our website at www.montybruce.com
p style=”text-align: justify;”>[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 4, Issue 6.]
Make the right thing easy! Good Luck!
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