Monday, July 31, 2017

On a New Horse - Correct all Bad Habits at Once?

Kelsey wrote to say that she was just given a new horse, a 15 year old QH gelding who was used for team roping the past 8 years as her friend bought a new horse. She asked ".....Sam is a great horse, but he has only been in arenas and used for team roping for the past 8 years and he has several bad habits. Would you suggest correcting all bad habits at once or try to, or to address them one at a time?"

Kelsey did not elaborate on your horse's bad habits, but that's okay, even if she sent a list my answer would likely be the same. Come to think on it, it would be nice for our horses to give us a list of our bad habits now wouldn't it? But your question is a really good one as many horses change hands several times through their lifetime and are a compendium of all the handler/rider's traits, good and bad, that they have learned. I know you are thinking that if I am always correcting my horse then what can I expect out of him if I am always nagging him to change? Will I take away his confidence and make him a hesitant horse? If you were to prioritize the necessary corrections then the most dangerous habits would be the first to fix, but I'm of the mind that you can correct all bad habits as they present themselves. Not every bad habit is going to be a federal offense nor does your correction is going to cause him anxiety. You are just asking him to do something different. You should simply be asking him to change and you'll likely be doing it several times over many days to get that set in his mind.

An example would be leading. If he is crowding you when you lead him, then you use as little pressure as required increasing to as much as necessary to get him to maintain adequate spacing - walking to your rear and offset some - whatever you are comfortable with. While my horses normally lead up just fine, occasionally one of more of my horses will crowd me, I'll just simply apply a little drag or reward pressure on his lead rope to remind him of where I need him to be. They will respond in kind, almost like they are thinking "Oh yeah, I forgot for a moment." If a horse continued to creep up on me when leading, I would continue to correct him in the same manner. If he didn't respond I'd stop and back him with enough energy so that I was directing his feet backwards - so it was my idea for him to go backwards - then I would lead off again.

I have pulled a border's horse to lead him to turn out and taken 15 minutes to get there because of correcting little things, but not correcting them with a mad on. For instance, if I halter a horse and lead him out of his pen and he runs out, I'll bend him and send him back into the pen and ask him to try again to exit the pen at a walk. If he crowds me when leading, we'll correct that. If he spooks at something like a new feed bucket or coat on the rail, we'll spend some time getting him sacked out on that. Eventually we'll get to the turnout gate and I'll wait until he stands quiet and drops his head when I ask to get the halter off. If I didn't do all this calmly and in a matter of fact manner then I can see how the horse may get troubled. So I'd say much of your question can be answered by saying you can correct all you want, when you want, just go about it in a manner that's going to cause the least trouble with your horse.

Now let's take backing as an example. We all want a horse that backs soft, head down and vertical, feet moving on cue and backing in a straight line if that's what we are asking. But if your horse doesn't back well, then my priorities would be first getting his feet to move, making sure he gets a release with each step, then getting him soft in the face as we back, and thirdly backing in a straight line. This is the sequence I try for when I teach a horse to back. Once he can back in that manner well, but at some point gets sloppy at backing, I have no issue with correcting everything at once. And as sure as the world is round, my wife sure has no problems in trying to correct my bad habits all at once either, but sometimes she goes about it with a mad on.

Hope this helps, Kelsey. Good luck and Safe Journey.

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