Sunday, April 22, 2007

Does Your Horse Know How to Be Trapped? Part 2

Part One

Trying to teach older horses to deal with being trapped is more complicated because of their size. It's not possible to reach around anything but a small foal and hold them in place when they are frightened or stressed. A larger horse will need to respond to some aids to be able to convince the horse to stand and not try to escape or fight.

Usually I will start with a new horse to my herd of Arabian horses by teaching the horse to give to pressure. I believe giving to pressure is the building block upon which all ground work is based. I prefer using a rope halter to begin this lesson because it is designed to put equal pressure on the pole and across the nose of the horse.

I begin by putting constant, even pressure on the lead pulling straight down. The amount of pressure will be determined by the horse. (If the horse pulls up a little, I will increase my pressure to match that move) I will maintain the pressure until the horse looks like it is thinking about dropping it's head or even if the horse looks like it is wondering what to do. Then I will release the pressure and praise the horse. Any release needs to include praising the horse with lots of petting.Normallly the release will cause the horse to drop its head. I will repeat this over and over until the horse gets very light and will drop it's head down very low.

Once I can lower the horse's head to any position straight down, I will work on moving the horse's head around to the side using the same pressure and release system including praise. I will only apply enough pressure to get the horse to turn its head. Gradually I will build up to where I have the horse taking a step and turning around me. If the horse seems confused or fights the pressure on its head, I will add pressure to it's hip, usually just swinging the end of the lead rope in the direction of the horse's hip is enough to accomplish this.

I will work this exercise on both sides until the horse is totally comfortable with dropping its head and moving around me going either direction. I will continue over the span of several days (or even longer if necessary) to repeat both excercises until it has become second nature for the horse to drop it's head upon request and to turn and walk softly (with head dropped) around me to either side.

Once I have reached this point, there are a couple of different ways that I can go to teach the horse to stand when it is frightened. The method I describe here is also used by both Arabian trainers Bill Porcher and Tommy Garland to teach a horse to handle fear or stress. See Tommy Garland on RFD-TV.

Depending on the horse, I may use either the halter and lead rope or a bridle with a snaffle bit. The horse in the picture is green broke and I used a big smooth snaffle bit and a saddle. A horse that is not broke to ride I would use the halter and lead rope only and I might use a surcingle instead of a saddle.

I would begin by tying the horse around slightly to one side or the other securing the rein (or leadrope) directly to the saddle. (the offside reing I tie loosely out of the way) I would then apply slight pressure to the horse's hip to encourage the horse to move. A step or two is plenty as long as the horse drops its head and moves off in a soft manner. If the horse runs off that is ok too. I just wait for it to settle.

I only tie a horse for about five minutes at a time to one side and then the other. Working back and forth between the two sides and gradually decreasing the length of the rein so that the horse is more and more bent to one side or the other. The goal being to build the horse's comfort level to having it's head pointed toward its shoulder. The mare in the picture is close to that point.

Once I have worked on this enough that I feel the horse understands the desired response, I will apply more pressure. What that pressure might be depends on the horse. I want to add pressure that is outside the horse's comfort level.

I had a gelding I had just started under saddle who was goosey when the wind blew. I took the horse to an arena that had noisy metal doors that banged in the wind. I tied the horse around in this manner and two of us on the ground kept the horse pushed up near the clanging doors. When the horse would soften, I would untie him and change sides and go again. In a matter of only 15 minutes this horse was standing quietly as the wind howled around him and the doors banged.

The mare in the picture was taken to a boarding facility away for home for the first time and the noises of the other horses in their stalls scared her when she was in the arena. I tied her around and kept her in the scariest part of the arena until she learned to soften and stand despite the screaming stallions, banging doors and wall kicking.

It is important in this excercise to not untie the horse until it is soft. That teaches the horse the way for it to be free is to be soft and quiet. If when you go to untie the horse, it braces against the rope or rein, apply pressure and release when the horse gives. Sometimes, I'll hold the horse's head when it gives to the pressure to hold the softness in the rein. Some horses need that extra help to understand.

I also use my voice to praise my horses whenever they respond appropriately. Then when they get frightened I can use my voice as reassurance and they will respond. Because petting has been a big part of the reward system of the release, the horse will also respond to touch as comfort and reassurance. Both tools are invaluable with a trapped horse.

In the event a horse wigs out and fights the pressure of being tied around, applying pressure to the hip until the horse moves forward will cause the horse to soften. Remember a horse may kick out so keep a safe distance when applying pressure to the hip. I use a small whip to tap my horses.

For a younger horse, I may use a different excercise, that one I will describe tomorrow. It is built on the same principle of giving to pressure.


  1. Knowing how to react in confinement is certainly a huge plus with our horses! I think you've inspired my next post at the Diaries... Thanks!

  2. Very interesting concept! I have been reading down through your posts and I am also inspired! I have been very fortunate with my 5 guys to have had only one crash and it was on the cross ties and he got stung and went up and then fell and couldn't get up due to his head being held by the cross ties. Thankfully I was able to release one side but the other was tied as it was broken (not a smart move) and I had to cut it with a pair of scissors. He didn't thrash around and was not injured for which I am very thankful. You have a new faithful reader, I am going to go through more of your posts as I am learning a lot from them. Thanks for stopping by my site, come again. I don't always write about my horses as I have some non-horsey people that read my posts but like to as much as I can get away with! Love the pix of you and the twins, just adorable!!!!!

  3. Hi MiKael

    Another great post. This is all so new to me as I have only been involved with horses on this level for the past 6 years. Up until then I had never owned a horse of my own and just rode the riding school horses that belonged to a friend of mine.

    I am learning a lot, thanks.