Basics on the ground -
Make it easy for your horse to choose to do the right thing, and
make it difficult for him to misbehave. Make this your mindset - and
always be thinking of ways to apply this as you handle your horse. YOU
ARE A TRAINER if you handle a horse. For better or worse, you are training
him to react to you.
If you don’t have the time to handle him
correctly - leave him in the pasture. Rushing a young or new horse and
pushing them beyond what they are prepared for calls for an expert -
if you are an expert go ahead. An expert can read the horse and solve
the problem or avoid it before it happens in many cases. If you push
to square 3 and get in trouble back up to square 2 and let him complete
a task for you and do it well.
The horse is bigger and stronger
than you are. So don’t plan on getting into a physical battle - you’ll
probably loose and if you win, you’ll hurt so bad you’ll regret the
whole encounter, plus you get angry and make mistakes that may cause
a bigger problem in the future. In most cases you need to figure out
what the behavior problem is, why the horse is doing it, and the easiest
way to change his mind. He has the muscle - you have the brain, use
your strong point. Also, ask someone who works horses often and whose
horses behave well and you admire, they will have some answers for you.
Occasionally you may end up in a physical struggle. If possible end
it as quietly as possible. Remember it’s better to loose and take the
problem on another day than to get injured.
Use common sense
working around a horse. A kick can kill - never walk behind, or near
the rear of a horse you are not familiar with. Never surprise a horse
even if it is gentle and used to you- a surprise can bring a kick. If
you are working on him, when you move to the rear, start with your hand
on his neck and run it softly to his hind quarters speaking to him as
you do. If you are not real familiar with the horse, you need to watch
his eyes, ears , and body as you do this to see if he is comfortable
with you. Remember a horse can kick forward towards his shoulders as
well as backward. He can also swing toward you as he kicks forward,
so you can be in range of a kick before you know it. When handling your
horse around other horses, be aware that a horse may kick at another
horse and you might be in the middle. Sometimes a horse that would never
kick when ridden will do so when you are of their back.
you stand in front of your horse, be aware that he can strike out with
his front foot. Some horses do this because they are mean, some because
they are anxious, some because they have been fed treats and they are
begging. If your horse shows any thoughts of pawing at you, keep a short
crop in hand, and as soon as he just starts to paw, crack him on his
leg. In all cases, start with as little force as necessary and ratchet
it up until the horse respond properly. To start with too much force
is to create a whole new problem. Some horses are very soft to deal
with and some are very pushy and bracey. Read your horse and let him
decide what is necessary.
If you stall your horse - always make
him back away and allow you entry and exit. A horse that tries to rush
and push through a gait or door is a danger. Again a crop works good
- or a quick kick to the chest will work. I try to never smack a horse
in the face or head.
Do not feed treats as a habit - most horses
become obnoxious and few people are good enough and consistent enough
with their horses to hand feed treats and maintain a well behaved horse.
If you must give a treat - feed it from a bucket as a rule. The rare
hand fed treat to a horse is not a big deal - it’s a horse that expects
and demands his treat that becomes the problem. Do not allow your horse
to come up and steal food from a bucket uninvited, nor allow them to
grab hay you are carrying. These are all signs of disrespect, and a
horse that doesn’t respect you on the ground will not trust your leadership
in the moment of trouble. He knows that he can push you around, so if
something scares him, he figures you aren’t capable of dealing with
If you have a problem behavior you need to correct
- set aside an entire afternoon and do the job right. If your horse
won’t load, or cross water, whatever, most people just say it’s a problem
and fight the battle each time they need to accomplish the task. Each
fight that becomes a battle strengthens the horses resistance. Most
horses will accept anything given the time and proper training. So set
aside the time - go into it with a GOOD plan, and tell yourself that
when you get upset, you will take a break. The average horse will usually
give in and voluntarily accomplish the ask in about 45 minutes the first
time and then you need to repeat it until it becomes simple. The more
aggressive and pushy you become, the more bracey the horse will become.
Problems on the ground or in the saddle - think on it. Analyze when
and why it happens. Try to think with a horse type mindset. There is
always a smarter, safer easier way to work on the behavior, just try
to figure it out. And never hesitate to ask for help and ideas. We’ve
gotten some great ideas over the years that are so simple.
1. Horse paws when tied to the trailer? After riding tie him, get your
lawn chair and a tall cool drink, also get a big cup of small rocks.
Every time he starts to paw, throw a small rock at his rear. It won’t
hurt, it is just irritating. Most horses soon decide they would rather
2. Horse is a jerk to load? Put him in a small
dry lot or pen and back the trailer up with the doors open. A small
stock type trailer works best. Place hay, water, and grain inside. Let
him get over his fear while you take care of all your other duties.
In a case where a horse has long standing problems, you will want to
make sure he is drinking enough water, and place the feed where is can
see it and know what he must do to get it. Time is on your side. Most
horses soon see you coming with the vittles and will climb on in anticipation,
some even end up thinking it’s their private home.
is hard to get a halter on? When you handle him make sure he is at ease
with having his head and ears handled. But if he is just being difficult
about getting caught. Bring a bucket with feed to him daily and invite
him to come and eat. But have your halter in your hand atop the bucket.
Do not allow him to eat from the bucket until he puts his head into
the halter. You don’t need to snap it and catch him at first - let him
learn to accept the halter over his nose and your hand towards his ears.
Work from there. Some horses are always easy to catch no matter how
often you work them, but others will get a little sour when worked real
hard regularly. Make a point to go to your horse, take them some feed
(not a treat from your hand) and pet them, put the halter on scratch
their favorite itchy spot and then turn them loose. We ourselves get
sour towards those who always approach us with more hard work and never
a reward. Teach your horse that sometimes you mean good things with
no strings attached and that when the halter goes on it does not always
mean work - it might mean reward!These are just a few ideas to get you
into a horse thinking mindset.
Bill & Deb Dietz