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Cindy's Uncommon Horse Sense

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Most people I know love their horses and that's a good thing. They love the grooming, the care and feeding, the riding, the training, everything associated with horses. These people have established a relationship with their horse that is a delicate balance between loving owner and taskmaster. That is, they have developed a bond with their horse that clearly defines who's the boss and who's not.

This horse is a pleasure to be around. Always mindful of your whereabouts and alway alert and ready to please. He is easy to catch and will stand tied quietly. He will remain quiet during grooming and saddling and he will be a willing participant in whatever task he is assigned. He clearly understands his role in the human/horse relationship.

Some people love their horses too much and that's not a good thing. They, too, love the care and feeding, the riding, the training and everything associated with horses. But there is a big difference. Having never established a clear human/horse relationship, the scenario changes. The horse becomes the boss and considering that in most cases the horse outweighs the owner by as much as eight to ten times, that becomes a potentially dangerous situation for the owner and anyone who might be around them.

This owner must always be mindful of where the horse is and has to worry about getting stepped on, being kicked or bitten, or just losing control. When the horse is in control, everything revoles around what the horse might decide to do next and not what the owner expects the horse to do next. Even simple tasks like picking this horses hooves becomes a battle. I guarantee you that if your horse doesn't respect you and WANT to pick up his foot, you can't phyically make him. He's much too strong.

So how do you go from being the person who owns a disrespectful horse to being the person who owns a well-disciplined horse? First, you've got to change your mindset. That's the hardest part. You have got to decide that you are going to establish and maintain the upper hand. This does not have to be a battle or a power struggle. The key word here is consistency.

Here are some examples of what I mean by consistency. If you have trouble catching your horse, don't feed him a carrot once you catch him, tie him to a tree for an hour. Don't reward his bad behavior. Soon he will relate running from you to being tied to a tree for an hour and decide that if he doesn't run, he'll get a carrot. If he does run, he gets tied to a tree. Horses aren't rocket scientists, but they can relate certain behaviors to certain consequences. But, again, the key word is consistency. You have to do it everytime until the unwanted behavior stops. With time, this horse will probably start coming to you to get his carrot. Much better than chasing him around the pasture.

Here's another example. Let's say your horse doesn't easily let you pick up his feet. Everytime you ask him to pick up his foot and he resists, lightly step on the back of his heel. This doesn't hurt the horse, but it will surprise him. He will quickly pick up his foot to "get away" from whatever is on his heel. Once you've got his foot, lavish on the praise and give him a treat. Soon he will associate picking up his foot with praise and getting a treat. In time, he will be happy with just the praise. Another goal accomplished.

What if your horse is hard to lead? He's always turning and calling the other horses and has no idea of your whereabouts and could care less. Every time he acts like that, if he'll longe, longe him like crazy. If you have access to a round pen, run him. Soon he will associate his ill behavior with hard work, and believe me, most horses will do whatever it takes to get out of hard work.

Whatever the unwanted behavior, you've got to figure out the consequence you want your horse to experience. This consequence does not have to be harsh, but it does have to be swift and immediate. Just like training a dog, you don't spank the dog two hours after he's chewed up your shoe, you've got to catch him in the act. It's the same with horses.

You've got to outsmart your horse. If you can't come up with consequences on your own, I hope you have had or can have a chance to watch a broodmare with her baby. No matter what the unwanted action on the part of the baby, mom lets that baby know in no uncertain terms that she is not going to tolerate it. You will see pinned ears, a nip here or there, bared teeth or just "the stare." Rarely will she kick or really bite the baby, but baby gets the message.

In other words, you've got to establish yourself as the alfa mare in your little herd. Once your horse knows who's boss and who's not, he will develope into a horse that is a pleasure to be around. Don't love your horse too much. It's an accident waiting to happen.

2005, Cindy Staudenmaier

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