Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Horse Training – Patience, Pressure and Release

A couple nights ago a friend, we’ll call him Ben, called me just madder than a wet hen about not being able to get one of his horses into the trailer to take him to an overnight stay to get shod the next morning.

Ben spent about an hour trying to get the horse into the trailer without success. He tried a long whip, tapping on his hocks and rear end; he tried a butt rope – all efforts did not work. He put the horse back into the stall and called me.

I made the 35 mile drive and got to his place about 30 minutes before sunset.

I told Ben, don’t start nothing with a horse unless you have time to finish it. For all your yelling and pressuring him, he might be thinking you are teaching him that the trailer is a dangerous place to go.

Another issue is that every time you put him in the trailer, you take him some place that is not comfortable for him and make him work. He’s no dummy, he’s figured it out. Every time you loss your patience with him, you are causing him to have anxiety and therefore justifying his fear of whatever it is you are trying to make him do.

I told Ben this is what I’m going to do: do alittle bit of ground work to get the horse listening to me and establishing that I’m the herd boss right now; only ask him to do things that he will be able to do in short order; use pressure and release where he gets a release from pressure when he even tries to do what I ask him to do. And above all use patience,…be firm,….but be patient.

This horse is a big Throughbred, about 16.3 hands tall, and is a decent trail horse but has not received a lot of ground training. I ask the horse to walk off, stop then back, doing that several times. You could tell by the horse’s demeanor that he’s doesn’t get ask to do this much. I asked him to disengage his front end, stepping one foot over the other and within a minute or so, he was doing this well. I then asked him to do the same to the back end, telling Ben all the time that the horse is learning that when he does what I am asking him to, he gets release from the pressure – he learns on the release. Horses may learn something from punishment, but it is much better off for the horse and rider to teach with patience and learn from release.

I told Ben these easy ground exercises are good to get the horse listening and focused on you. I also told Ben he needs to handle his horses for 5 to 10 minutes every night, when he isn’t riding them, to re-enforce these lessons. If you have to feed your horse, then you have enough time to handle them for a few minutes if you don’t have the time for a full blown training session.

Anyway, after getting the horse to move his front end and his hind end over. I ask the horse to travel in a tight circle at a jog while on the lead line. When the horse would slow to a walk I would pressure him to go back to a jog. I did this in both directions a couple of times, for about 3 or 4 minutes, then walked the horse into the trailer.

I told Ben to put him in the trailer every night for a month so that each and every time he gets in the trailer he’s not getting taken some place and made to work.

I left Ben with a final word – don’t lose your temper, be patient and give the horse a fair deal with the release of pressure.

I don’t know how many times I have had people asking me to get their horse in a trailer, usually only after these people were unsuccessful for hours if not days. A bad habit is harder to change than to teach a good habit starting out, but there is the ingredient patience – can’t get there from here without it


  1. And Ben was very grateful for the help and training. Keep up the good work.

  2. I don't think I've ever heard anyone put things into the correct perspective. What an awesome explanation of seeing how the horse views loading into a metal, scary, contrapment. How would you feel being put into a jail cell, moving--not knowing where you're going???

    Terri--Kansas City

  3. You make a very good point. I really like that you help us understand what is going on inside the horse's head. I wonder can you recommend any hoof supplements? I don't like shoeing if I don't have to.

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