Thursday, December 4, 2008


Ezra, your comment has clued me in a bit. I think we have a bit of a self-confidence issue here...for your mare. Her safety zone when you are handling her is next to you. And she is more than a bit defensive about being forced to leave that safety zone. This is actually a pretty common problem, so we are going to fix it before worrying about other stuff.

Actually, last summer, I had the very same issue with Turk, the paint gelding. He handled fine, but when I started working with him and playing some of the Parelli Games, he freaked on the left side. Either he was trying to run over the top of me or he was trying to leave. It was no fun for a few days-he is a hard-headed bugger.
(In spite of what some may think my take on the Natural Horsemanship movement is, I thought Pat Parelli's original 7 games was very innovative when it came out and I use the methods regularly.)

I like a rope halter, a long lead rope and a short buggy whip. Usually I start working on the good side first, just to get the feel of everything. Take your mare to the center of the arena and move to her right shoulder. Put the leadrope in your right hand, the buggy whip in your left hand and step straight back from your mare. With your body facing your mare's shoulder, move your right hand out to the side and cluck. She should move forward, following the line of the leadrope. If she tried to move her shoulder toward you, poke it with the buggy whip. If she goes so far as to swing her hips away from you and tries to come toward you, you will have to move your feet to follow the shoulder-keep your hand out, showing her the direction you want her to go. Keep clucking to tell her you want movement.

There are two things that horses usually do right about now, if they haven't willingly followed the leadrope and maintained their body distance from you...

1) They may rush past you. That is okay, if you are worried that they may kick out as they rush past, simply drop your hand and pull them around to face you. At least you got forward movement, which is your initial goal. Or they will...

2) Start spinning their hindquarters away from you. This is a bit harder to keep up with, because you will have to keep moving your feet to keep your position even with their shoulder, while maintaining the right arm out to give them a direction to head and tapping them on the hindquarters with the buggy whip. And clucking. We want those front feet to move. Anytime they move the front feet AWAY from you. Stop. Regroup and ask them to move again.

Pretty soon you will have a horse that will walk a circle around you, maintaining the distance you desire. Then you can move up to asking them to trot around you. You should be able to bring them closer to you by shortening the leadrope or push them away by lengthening it. Gradually you can work the circle out to the end of the leadrope.

Now for the bad side...

This mare is already exhibiting dangerous behavior. She has managed to figure out that there is little a person can do to control her movements at the end of a longe line. So the goal is to get control of her movement and make her keep those front feet moving in the direction you want them to move.

Again, take the mare to the middle of the arena. Place the leadrope in the left hand and the buggy whip in the right. Stand at your mare's shoulder, facing it and step back. Lift the left hand to give her the direction you want her to head and cluck. Most likely, she is going to want to turn toward you, keep moving your feet to maintain your position at her shoulder, make sure to keep your left hand out and keep clucking. Poke her in the shoulder with the whip if you have too. The biggest goal is to get her to move those front feet, AWAY from you. At first it might feel like you are the one getting the workout. If at any point you feel like you need to stop and regroup, by all means do so. Maybe lead your mare a step or two, so she moves those front feet. And then ask again.

If she gets excited and starts to back up, go with her, try to maintain your position at her shoulder, but if you can't, just keep backing her until she is controllable again and stops because you ask her too, move immediately back to the shoulder and ask her to move forward again. The secret is to turn the backing into your decision, not hers. If she starts flying backwards, go with her, keep her backing until you feel in control again, back her some more, step to her shoulder and ask her to move forward. As long as she isn't backing into something that could injure her, don't worry if she backs into walls or backs the length of the arena. Pretty soon she is going to get tired of backing up and will try to find another way to get away from the pressure you are applying-hopefully that will be in the direction you want her to go-forward.

Now for the rearing part of it...I'm going to tell you how I handle it, but if you are not comfortable doing that...DON'T DO IT. Your safety is of the utmost importance!!! For a horse that gets angry and starts popping up in the front end or even rears all the way up, I let out some leadrope, step back and off to one side and yank the horse's head toward me. As soon as they get their front feet back on the ground, I make them start backing, as fast as I can make them go! A horse that has all four feet moving has a hard time rearing up.
I have never subscribed to the theory of pulling a rearing horse all the way over. I have seen people do it and there is just too much room for damage to both horse and handler. Besides it doesn't really seem to work. It doesn't teach a horse how to avoid rearing by making them move their feet, it just seems to make them a little more unpredicable when they do rear up again.

The alternative to pulling your mare toward you when she rears up is to just let her and as soon as she gets those front feet on the ground again, get after her to move her feet, either by backing or again trying to get her to move forward.

The turning the butt to you and kicking out...well, that is a horse's natural defense. On a leadrope and in closer quarters it is easier to control. When she gets mad and wants to tip that hindquarter toward you, the goal stops being about moving forward in the direction you want her to and becomes making her move that hip away from you. Bring your leadrope hand back to a normal position and start popping her on the hip with that buggy whip. Use the leadrope to keep her head tipped toward you and keep whacking her in the butt until she moves that hip away. Make it sting too. In this instance, you have to be the lead mare and no lead mare is ever going to tolerate another mare's aggression. Don't stop until she moves that hip away from you. When she does, regroup and ask for forward movement again. Eventually, little miss thang is going to get tired of doing anything but what you want her to do. You are going to turn all of her antics into hard work, not escape routes. She is going to have to start thinking about what you are asking and actually start processing the cues you are giving her.

I'm guessing you know full well how the standing at the shoulder position works, since you do longe your horses. But the nuances are a bit exaggerated when working in these smaller circles. Standing square facing your horse's shoulder is a neutral position. You aren't asking your horse to move. When you step back and lift the hand holding the leadrope out, you are opening up the door as the logical direction for your horse to move. Your leg on the same side that you are holding the leadrope should turn in the same direction you want your horse to go, so that your toe is pointing that direction(as if you were going to step that way). This makes the other side of your body turn toward the horse just a bit. If you were to raise the other arm straight out in front of you, you would be pointing at about the girth area. Effectively, with very little body movement you have pointed out a direction for your horse to go with one hand and applied pressure to his body, implying you want him to move forward. The buggy whip is just an extension of the pressure you are creating with your body position. It can be used to poke the horse in the shoulder or girth area, encouraging him to keep his distance or you can open that arm out and tap him on the hip to encourage forward movement.

She may do fine in close quarters and only start having trouble as she gets toward the end of the leadrope. Just keep building the distance and reinforcing that nasty behavior causes a lot of work for her. As it gets easier to send her out to the end of the leadrope and she maintains forward motion for you then it will be time to reintroduce the longe line and build to even more distance. I highly recommend looking up Parelli's Original 7 Games for other things you can do to build your mare's self-confidence too.


Leah Fry said...

Oh! I'm excited! This is news I can use. My horse always wants to face me. He wheels his hips around on me all the time. And yes, it IS quite a workout. I can't get him to go out from me. What you are saying makes sense and I hope, hope, HOPE I can make it work!

Mrs Mom said...

EXCELLENT two posts here BECG. Totally.

You are a wealth of information! ;)

Andrea said...

I absolutly love ground work. For some reason ground work has always come easy to me. I don't know why, but it's just my thing. My kids can lead my three year old colt around. My Dad always wonders how I can get a 1500 lb animal to listen to me, but I can't get a 7 year old boy to listen and obey. LOL!!

This is a good post. There are a lot of things that this helps with. It's amazing how much can go wrong when a horse just tenses up and won't move that shoulder. And if he won't do it on the ground, imagine how the ride will go.

I am really enjoying these posts. Great information and wonderfully said.

ezra_pandora said...

Thank you again. Yes, my trainer right from the start kept having to push her away to get off of him because she was so nervous. She was always trying to walk under him and he kept telling me to enforce getting her to give me my space, which I thought I had been doing. I just didn't realize it could be different on one side or another. And I thought by now she wouldn't still be nervous and would trust me a little more.

I do have the rope halter and like the 15 foot rope or whatever it was for natural horsemanship. Funny enough, she was actually the example horse for a Frank Bell Clinic. Where we used to board, Frank's brother is 1/2 owner and they had him out for a clinic. At that point in time, everyone was still afraid of her and she lived with her halter on because she would rear up if anyone tried to touch her head. She was a mess. So he said he would use her as his example for the clinic and have her ridable by the end of the clinic. HA! She was a bit crazier than he thought she was going to be, so he only used her for some ground stuff and didn't try to ride her (which would have definitely been a video worthy event). I guess I didn't even really think about using any of that for this. I just keep thinking physical problem first.

Going to the right, no problem. I simple point her in the direction, have the lunge line in my right hand and either twirl the end with my left hand or flap my hand against my leg and she starts. To the left, my mare has stamina. I can turn circles trying to stay at her shoulder all day trying to get her to go FORWARD instead of just keep turning towards me. But I think what I do is just stop her when she's backing and get back to starting to try to get her to go forward instead of making the backing be my idea and keep her going back. I did not think of that or the rearing part. I will be comfortable with it. When she rears and backs, it's never AT me or going forward. It's always pulling back. I don't know what the guy that had her before us did when he was trying to train her, but it did cause some issues. I think when she's kicking out in my direction, I really am going to have to give her a hard wack. Poking doesn't work and makes her kick out more. Maybe the wack will.

Thank you for the awesome ideas and since it's the weekend, I won't have any time constraints to work on this calmly and relaxed and not be in a hurry. I think I too have confidence issues with making her do what I'm asking when she's just being ornery. I'm not commanding enough. I am going to follow your instructions when I go out and see how that goes. I will definitely give you an update. You have been the absolutely best about helping me with this.

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

I'm happy if anything I said helps in any way Ezra. I understand that your mare comes with baggage from previous abuse and that does make a person want to avoid pushing certain buttons. However for her to ever overcome the majority of her insecurities, she is going to have to learn how to think again rather than just react. Once she can do that, her confidence level will start building and she can learn to truly trust you and will start looking to you for guidance.

Melanie said...

Great info for anybody who has this type of trouble, BEC!!!

About that natural horsemanship comment...I don't think that it is all bad either, I just think that some of the big trainers place too much emphasis on groundwork, and that they are heavily biased towards easy going stock-type horses.

I have seen some popular NH trainers pass over Arabs (or other hotter breeds) because they said that they probably wouldn't listen to them or be responsive. Translation- "this horse is probably really difficult and I am not going to be able to make myself look like a god within one hour."

Anywho...there are excellent individuals out there, and I love to regualry see them at clinics, but as a whole, I am kind of soured on the "movement."

Can you tell that I am one of those people who never follows the!!??

I think that it is great that you are so knowledgeable and willing to share that with your fellow bloggers!!! You and Mrs. Mom should start an online advice column/blog...seriously!!!!

Melanie said...

OK...I came back because I feel kind of bad for ranting. It is just that everyone I know is so gung-ho on NH, and I can never properly vent my frustrations, so I just did it to you...nothing personal! :)

I think that you know that, but I just wanted to make sure!!!

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

Melanie-You are welcome to vent or rant all you want too here...about anything. I am so sick of PC this and PC that. Say what you want to say!!

I'm a believer in natural horsemanship and trying to obtain unity with the horses that I work with. Techniques that have been developed are wonderful building block tools that help me reach the ultimate goal of developing a confident, reliable RIDING horse.

cdncowgirl said...

Wow! Excellent posts BECG. You explain things so clearly and yet its not all dry and boring.
I can't be the only one that wants to take some vacation time and come get some riding (and handling) pointers from you! :)

On the lead thing though... its a possibility that the problem is EP.
I have a very difficult time with right leads. Yes I know this is more often the "bad" way for the majority of horses.
But even with a horse that has A+ right leads I have problems.
The sucky thing is I know why. I had a bad car accident where we were t-boned on the highway when I was 16. I was the passenger and we were hit just behind my door.
My right side is buggered to this day. Sometimes more than others.
The good thing is that although this will be a constant problem I am at least aware of it and can try to work with it.
If EP has any stiffness or problems that could be what is causing her mare to have problems with the left lead.
Perhaps her weakness is so slight that it doesn't usually cause problems and her mare is just really sensitive.

BrownEyed Cowgirls said...

Funny you should mention that Cdn-I wrote up a post to start working on the riding issue(that focused on getting Ezra and her mare into the correct body positions), but then EP commented on her troubles of getting her mare to even move away from her going to the left on the ground so I backtracked.

Whether she has actual problems getting her mare into the left lead, I will have to ask her. I realized the I don't actually know if she has trouble getting her mare to pick up that lead or if it is a cadence issue.

Melanie said...

Thanks for your comment on my blog!!! Sometimes you just snap and let it all out(forget about PC)...or at least I!!!

ezra_pandora said...

Yes, I do admit it. I do think quite often it is something I'm doing or not doing, but I think back to when the trainer was still working with us and when I couldn't get the mare to pick up her left lead when she WAS actually loping, the trainer would hop on and it took him quite a few tries to get her on the correct lead as well. We've gone over and over on ways of trying to get her to pick up the correct lead going to the left, but none of it seemed to work. Like at first we were tipping her nose to the inside. That didn't work. Then we tried tipping it to the outside. Didn't work. So he had me try to get her to start loping as we were turning in the corner because I would kind of force her to pick up the right lead. Worked sometimes, not often. I will have to check once I can get her to lope on the lunge line or if we are able to turn her loose (option A seems more likely) to see if she will pick it up on her own without me riding.

I'm trying to think, and I can't really come up with something that would kind of show that I'm off in any way, but I'm not discounting that notion. I could be unbalanced in some way and maybe it's affecting her. I know my saddle ALWAYS is slipping to the left. No matter how much to the right I start it off to, or adjust as I'm riding, it still slips. Could that mean something? Or all of this together could just mean that I don't know what the heck I'm doing and I'm screwing up my horse. That's a possibility. :(

Pony Girl said...

Great post BEC. I could visualize everything you were saying.
My sister's Paint mare had issues crop up in the middle of her training a couple of years ago. She would start popping up (half-rear) when going to the left. At first the trainer worked through it as a behavioral issue, but after a week or so or they had a chiropractor come out and it turns out she was out on the left side. She was an 8 yr. old greenbroke broodmare who had never had any serious training and was obviously sore from 5 day-a-week workouts.
Also, I think some horses do have a "side" they are worse with. When watching a Chuck Kraft clinic last fall, there was a TB mare that had to keep Chuck in her right eye at all times, no matter what he tried with her, she shifted her body and head so that right eye was on him.

Speaking of Chuck Kraft, Melanie, he is a NH trainer that has worked with Arabs, I believe! In fact, he has a Saddlebred that he rides. He worked well with a little Spanish Arab at the clinic I saw. and I think Mikael over at her Arabian blog has posted on him working with difficult Arabs, as well! :)

Rising Rainbow said...

Oh man, I have a horse I am currently working with (well not right this minute current because of my surgery but you know what I mean) that defys all of this. He locks up his shoulder with his head and neck turned away from me as he tries to race past. Blocking him by pulling him towards me is nearly impossible with him braced against his shoulder like that. He has been a tough nut to crack.