There are many ways into a horse's mind and heart, these are some of my ideas ...

Friday, September 21, 2007

Catch me if you can ....

So your horse likes to play hard to catch.

Then you have to ask yourself who is really the dumb animal.

If your horse is off on the back 40 then he is going to be fairly difficult to catch, but not impossible. You will need to work a little to overcome this problem, but if you follow my ideas you will overcome this and reduce the likelihood of it happening again.

First you will need to collect a few things, colourful and interesting things, like coloured buckets, a baby stroller and other interesting things. Take these down near the gate of his paddock. You will have to make a din to get his attention, but once he looks at you , ignore him and pay attention to the goodies you have with you. After a while your horse will come up to investigate. Give him a piece of carrot or apple, gather up your goodies and leave.

Don't do anything else, just go.

The next day bring all your goodies again, and do the same thing. Only this time let him have a smell of at least one or two things, pack up and go.

The day after that, again bring it all and start fiddling with it. When he comes up to you for his carrot/apple, get some patting in first and then a smell of the goodies. Give him his reward and leave.

Leave some gear behind the following day, taking maybe the stroller if you have one or a couple of buckets. You want some pats and even maybe put on the halter, let him have a smell and then the reward and leave.

The next day put on the halter, lead him around a bit, let him have a smell, then the reward and then another pat and go.

By this time he should be coming up by himself. He will tolerate doing things, as long as there is a reward. Now when he comes, pat him, do not use a halter or gear, just a pat and no reward.


The next day, take the halter, lead, gear and a reward. When he comes up to you, go through the patting, halter, leading and smelling, then give him a reward.

Do this routine for about 10 days. It does seem a long time, but we are making a point. You want him to come, but on your terms. Rewarding him each time is him coming on his terms. You have to do this to start with, to get him to come to you.

After 10 days he is curious and coming because there is a strong possibility of reward, but he knows it isn't guaranteed.

When he comes up on day 11 or 12, put the lead on and walk him back to his stable. Handle him and do all the normal things, with occassionally giving a reward to keep his interest. Now he will come whenever you call him, because he may or may not be rewarded. The higher the probability he has of getting a reward, the more likely he will come every time. You need to make some choices here.

If on the other hand you can't catch him in a small space because he runs into a corner and offers to kick you if you get too close, you have a problem, but again it is not insoluble.

The main thing is to never let him get into the corner in the first place. Make things interesting enough that he wants to come to you. Get outside of the yard and get his attention with a yell or a whistle. Have something interesting in your hand, a coloured bucket, a doll or something. Let him come up to you and smell it. When you pique his curiousity he is more likely to be cooperative than boring, boring, boring. Maybe you need to rethink some of your routines as well. Get some toys going, for example a plastic bottle with some dry feed in it. Hang an apple from the ceiling of his stable. Use your imagination. If you make your horse's life more interesting he will be more responsive to you.

You might have to use a reward/not reward system as the horse above on the back forty. But don't you go chase him, let him come to you.

However, these situations come about because you have not shown enough dominance to your horse, which is discussed in the article below. You need to have a good think about your interactions with your horse.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Who is the boss?

There are people who seem to think that horses can be treated as equals or as "friends". This is probably the basis of "Natural Horsemanship" and such like. This is also a formula for problems with your horse. Unless the horse has a clear view of the need to submit to humans, you are asking for problems.

In a herd situation, if a stallion senses danger and alerts his mares, he isn't going to tolerate a mare who is going to stop and argue the point with him. He is going to nip and kick her to submission. An alpha mare is not going to tolerate a junior horse interferring with her decision to move the herd to better grazing. It is not in the interest of the herd. She will kick that other horse or will cast it out to be fair game for predators rather than endanger the herd. So a horse needs a clear line of submission or its life will be in danger.

Like wise under domestication. The horse needs a clear line of submission or it will be in danger and it will put you in danger at the same time. Whether you like it or not, if you do not get full cooperative submission from your horse, it will take the initiative itself. Being an animal in a dangerous situation, it will take the only way it knows - run away! And what will be the result of that?

Using the word "submission" sounds very forceful and intolerant. But being wishywashy about it isn't going to help your horse. He needs a strong line of command or he is left with no choice but to take it himself. If you are weak, a horse will sense it. A good horse will try to protect you at the same time if it senses danger, and particularly if it is a male horse - even a gelding. However, it will have no respect for you and you will have a hard time convincing him it was a one off mistake on your part.

So while it seems a harsh thing to get your horse to submit to you, it really is a safety issue, both from the horse's point of view and your own.

I am not advocating beating the crap out of your horse and getting him to give in to your superior strength. I am advocating putting limits onto him. Learning to say "No" and being prepared to enforce it with a responding action, a slap, for example, or making him back up, anything to make him do what he is supposed to do. And then making him do it. This means teaching him to not be spooky of things and I have talked about bombproofing elsewhere. This means if you ask him to walk through a puddle of water, you let him learn that he wont drown in it and can cross it in one lesson. It means he learns not to attack you when you go to give him his dinner at night. And so on.

With foals, you teach them right from the beginning, that yes, Mum is there, but neither of you are going to die if you can't reach her for a moment because I am holding you. You tie them up at a few days old, so that if they need veterinary care they can be handled, and later farriered and dental work done. It is somewhat harsh to start off with, but with a good start, you have a respectful horse and a safe horse.

This morning, my mare came up to me for a carrot. She let me pat her and scratch her and brush her mane. Then I started stroking her ears. Her head just drooped and sagged. She was so enjoying her attention. But later on today, I thought she had cut herself, and I took hold of her halter and made her stand up so I could check her out. She did not fuss or pull away, she knew I meant business. I did not have to hit her or shout or pull her around. She is happy knowing I am in charge, and I am happy knowing she is doing what I want so I can inspect her quickly. Luckily she just had some mud and petals on her leg and nothing else. She is an ex-racehorse and she still has some issues, but as time goes by, she is becoming the horse she should be and she is quite happy about it.