The Right Question to Ask
When attempting to solve any horse problem always begin by asking ‘why’. Why is this problem happening? Understanding the problem will help you understand how to solve it.
Why does my horse not want to be caught? Is it because every time you catch your horse it means he has to go to work? Does he know he is going to be separated from his pasture buddies and would rather stay with them? Does he have a wound that needs care and when you catch him, he knows discomfort will follow?
Why does my horse buck when I ride? Is it because the saddle is pinching or the girth is too tight? Are you heavy and unbalanced in the saddle? Has he learned that he can unload his rider and go back to his stable where he doesn’t have to work?
Why won’t my horse pick up the correct lead? Is it because you aren’t being clear with your cues?
Some problems are caused by health or physiological issues. Most horse problems are caused by people. So when you have a problem with your horse ask yourself honestly how you might be causing it. Understanding why a problem may be occurring allows you to change your behavior so that you can better influence your horse’s. The first question to ask is not how do I solve this problem, but why is this happening.
Two Things That Never Work
Getting angry or frustrated will only compound your problems. Anger has no place in horse training or handling. Yelling, hitting or kicking will only teach your horse to fear you. Your horse won’t stop faster because you shout whoa! And you won’t catch a cagey horse by stomping up to it in anger.
If you feel yourself becoming angry or frustrated find a way to end the session with your horse on a good note and take a break. Frustration sometimes sets in because we are unclear about how to solve a problem or what we are doing doesn’t seem to be working. That’s when it’s time to ask for some help from an experienced trainer or coach.
‘Horse Time’ is not ‘People Time’
Horse training or retraining is not a lock-step procedure. Training videos can make things look deceptively easy and smooth. Horses learn at different rates and some may catch on quickly, while some take much longer. Don’t set a deadline.
Horses are very sensitive to body language and mood. If you are in a rush, your horse will feel he must rush too. But he won’t know why you are rushing. You might be rushing because your favorite TV show is about to come on. But he might read your sense of urgency as impending danger and his behavior will reflect that.
If you have only 15 minutes to work with your horse do something you know will lead to success in 15 minutes. In the case of teaching your horse to be caught that means you may only go out and walk around and check the fences, hay feeder and water trough so you can be a non-threatening presence in your horse’s pasture. Don’t use those 15 minutes to try to catch a hard to catch horse as you might end up spending those minutes re-enforcing that he can out-run you.
If your horse is hard to lead spend 15 minutes walking and halting. Don’t ask for anything more. If you have only 30 minutes to ride choose an exercise you can do in only 30 minutes. Save the bigger lessons for when your time is more flexible. Most training can be accomplished in a short time anyway.
Know How to Plan
Before you begin plan what you are going to do with your horse. Have all the equipment you’ll need handy. Plan your time so you can work uninterrupted. You will have a difficult time teaching if you give your horse only part of your attention. You’ll confuse him if you try to teach him while telling the dog to go lie down, talking to another person or running off to fetch a piece of tack.
Know To Be Satisfied with Small Successes
If your horse moves away when you get on, feel successful if you can make him stand quietly saddled while you stand beside him. If your horse doesn’t like the sound of clippers praise him if he can stand quietly when the clippers run five feet away from him if this is all he can tolerate right now. Don’t try and solve the whole problem the first time out. Only by re-enforcing good behavior will you eventually replace the unwanted behavior. Let every training session end with a success, no matter how small.