Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Fundamental Ground Training For Horses Often Forgotten

A client was bringing a horse over to work on putting a better handle on the horse. The horse was an older rescue horse that has likely seen many owners over his life. The client had owned it for just a couple years. When the horse showed up, his toes were as long as his heels so I remarked that he looked like he was overdue for a trim. The client told me that the horse had to be sedated for the shoer to handle and trim his back feet. From what I understand from the current owner that this was the last time the feet were trimmed.  I can see sedating a horse once or using Scottish hobbles once to get the feet trimmed, but before the next time the horse is due, he ought to good at having his feet handled if he is to be a riding horse, otherwise you are just putting off the problem. 

There are a few horseshoers that I have either known or heard of that horses, but Texas requires a Veterinarian do the sedating. But the problem wasn't legal in nature or getting an over worked Vet out to sedate and trim the feet, the issue was with people in this horses past trying to pick up the back feet and having the horse pulling his feet away or trying to kick, and learning in the process that he can do just that to get people to leave his back feet alone. How many times have you heard someone say "the horse don't like ____________." Insert, 'being tied', 'wearing a back cinch', 'swinging rope around him', or in this case - 'having his back feet handled'. 

So back to the client,....I said "Let's get a halter and lead on that horse and see if we can't get him good at his back feet being handled." Once we got a halter and lead on, it was apparent in about 3 seconds that this horse, although was rideable, was simply not broke to lead.

I actually think this is common. I've seen many horses who were ridden in competition but who were less than adequate when being handled from the ground.  So you see it in horses that start to walk off without a cue,......you can get them to stop, but then again they want to move off.  Sometimes you ask them to stop and they just gotta move their feet, always appearing distracted.  My client's horse was the same way and when I got a halter and lead line on him then tried to direct him with the lead he would put his shoulder in, swing his butt over the try to kick me.

I explained to my client that the horse needed to be able to walk on a loose lead, keeping pace when you change the tempo of your walk up or down, and stop when you stop. That you should be able to back him up using the lead, direct him towards you or in a different direction, move his shoulder in or over, or disengage his hindquarters all before much else is done. He need not be perfect, as you can work on that, but he should be pretty functional at all those things before you get on his back. This horse wasn't.  You have heard the saying that all new horses should be started over? Well, it's true. I still have one horse that I try to plug holes in because I did not start him over from the beginning.  Apparently I still haven't learned by lesson!  
Anyway, I lunged the client's horse on a 16 foot lead, keeping him at a trot, popping him on the shoulder or rear end with the poppers on the end of the lead rope as I needed to when he tried to either run into me or start to kick me. When he tried to break down (slow down and change gaits), I drove him on and it wasn't more than 5 minutes that his body language softened and he started licking and chewing. Sure, he still looked at me side ways since he previously had gotten away with his shenanigans.

I brought the client, who had never lunged a horse on a line, into the round pen and coached on how to lunge the horse and drawing the horse to a stop, so he disengages his back end and puts both his eyes towards you. Then changing directions and changing directions while moving.  So I sent the client's home with the idea that the ground work needed to be reinforced and done as often as could be during the coming week then to bring that horse back to me where I would show, then have the client, work the horse from the fence, get the horse sacked out to a rope, leading by a roped foot, having a line come across the butt and hocks, then get on with getting his back feet safe to be handled.  This is the best way I know how and when the horse is brought back over we'll work on getting a video of it.    

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