Monday, April 23, 2007

Does Your Horse Know How to Be Trapped? Part 3

Part One

A totally untrained horse, I will do the giving to pressure exercise using the rope halter just like I described in yesterdays post. Once I have the horse dropping it's head to whatever height I want and also giving to pressure to both sides including taking steps if asked, then I will use a simple sacking out exercise.

I'll tie the horse to an arena wall or a strong post along a fence line using a longer lead usually about 15 foot rope. I will tie the rope high enough that the horse can't get tangled in it when the horse gives to pressure and there is slack in the rope.

If the horse is not comfortable being tied in this location, I will just lope the rope either through a ring (if available) or around the post hanging onto the other end. Whenever the horse puts pressure on the lead, I will apply pressure to the horse's hip (only using enough pressure to get the horse to move, not enough to freak the horse out) to encourage it to go forward so the horse moving forward releases the tension on the rope.

By hanging on to the other end of the rope, I can adjust the rope to avoid a wreck without giving the horse a release. I only want the horse to get a release when it has moved forward. Once the horse begins to move forward, I will remove the pressure at the horse's hip and praise and pet the horse. I am working towards the horse moving off the pressure at its hip but also looking for it reacting to pressure on it's poll by dropping its head always remembering to praise and pet the horse when it gives to either pressure. I will continue working on this process until the horse stands with its head low and soft showing it is comfortable with being tied.

When the horse can be safely tied, I will increase the pressure that I am directing towards the horse's hip by taking a whip with a plastic bag tied to the end or something else the horse might be afraid of. I will only get close enough to the horse with the scary object to put subtle pressure on the horse. Again it is important not to apply too much pressure and freak the horse out. The idea is to gradually build up the horse's confidence in dealing with scary things by giving to pressure and standing quietly.

I will continue just like I did before, increasing the pressure only enough to move the horse forward. If the horse moves off the pressure on it's hip but doesn't soften at the poll (drop its head - even just a little) I will keep the pressure on waiting for the soften as well as moving forward. If the horse gets confused and shows anxiety, I'll back it off a little by just asking for the movement of the horse's feet until it's get comfortable with that and then add the additional request of softening at the poll.

I continue in this manner gradually building up moving closer and closer to the horse as its comfort level allows. My goal is to get to the point I have the horse standing quietly while I run the scary object all over the horse's entire body, legs, face, etc. At any point the horse becomes anxious I back off to where the horse is comfortable and build from there.

I do this exercises on all of my horses as part of my basic ground work before starting them under saddle. The mare pictured had this done before she was started under saddle but when she moved to the new barn, her stress level went up so I redid the "trapped" exercises this time under saddle to re-enforce the original training.

Anytime I see evidence that a horse is outside its comfort zone, I will return to the basics, dropping its head, giving to pressure and softening and standing even though frightened. The end result is horses that are able to listen for instruction when they are frightened and horses that know how to be still when they are trapped.

Currently I have a new gelding with complications from his surgery who is standing quietly for flushing by the vet and while I administer hot packs. Even though the horse is frightened and hurting, he knows to stand quiet. This has not only made treatment easier for us but easier on the horse as well. Repeated doses of tranquilizers are never in the horse's best interest if they can be avoided.


  1. These are two very interesting posts. I need to show my husband.

    Thank you for covering such valuable information in so many of your posts. I am thoroughly enjoying them, and look forward to more.

  2. More valuable info, thanks MiKael. Hope the gelding is doing better now. I am trying to catch up on all of your posts. May not get to them all tonight as I am quite tired but I do enjoy reading what you post.