chris with foal

WELCOME TO OUR QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION FOR THE HORSE-ADDICTED WHERE YOU CAN SEND ME YOUR HORSE QUESTIONS. ONCE A MONTH I'LL PICK ONE (MORE IF THEY'RE EASY AND I DON'T HAVE TO TYPE TOO MUCH!) AND POST MY ANSWER ON THIS PAGE. YOU CAN EVEN REMAIN ANONYMOUS.


*Disclaimer: Working with horses can be dangerous. The methods and practices I describe here work for me but I cannot know how they'll work for you. Use them at your own risk!


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Cantering

Hi Cat!

I've had my horse for 1-1/2 years now and have yet to canter!!! Was told she had a "rocking horse" canter. So far it's not happened. Her walk and trot are great but I haven't gotten her to canter - help!

Frustrated in Buffalo

Dear Frustrated,

There are many possible reasons you two have yet to canter, any one or more of which may apply to your situation. Before I hit some of they basics however, it helps to have a clear picture of what is actually going on when your horse is cantering. That way we can give our horses a clearer picture of what we are asking them to do.

First off there are two possible footfall patterns or sequences a horse can choose from when picking up a lope (just another word for canter). These constitute the dreaded "leads" that get so many folks crossed up. These sequences are mirror images of each other. A horse (or rider) chooses one or the other for balance by deciding which hind leg will start the sequence. Thus we have a left lead and a right lead. For the most part if you and your horse are traveling to the left you'd want to be on the left lead and if you were going right you'd want to be on the right lead. The footfall sequences for a lope are three beats. On the right lead a horse begins with his left hind foot, then his right hind and left front move together. The right front is actually the last beat in the sequence. On the left lead a horse begins with his right hind, then the right diagonal (right front and left hind together) and ends with the left front. You can use this diagonal to your advantage especially when picking up the canter from a trot. If you'd like your mare to pick up her right lead let her keep her left trotting diagonal when she's loping by asking for your change when she's about to take off on the right diagonal. You will also find that a horse may not always travel exactly straight when in a lope. Her hind quarters usually tip towards whatever lead she is on i.e.hindquarters are usually slightly towards the left when she is on her left lead and visa versa. This is because the opposite hind has a very important job to do. As it is the first foot to land it must provide support and balance to the whole horse. It must land on the centerline of travel. This is why she may feel as if she's a little "offset" when she's in a lope. Don't try and fight it as a rider, especially on the start. She is only trying to stay upright!

This opposite hind foot has two other essential functions at the lope. One is to push off, or provide the impulsion for each stride so once again this hind foot must be near the centerline of travel in order to push the whole horse forward. You'll learn to step her hindquarters a little to the left when you want her to pick up her left lead or to the right if want the right lead before asking her to take off. The other function of the opposite hind is to be in charge of slowing the horse down. This means we shouldn't interfere with our horse when that foot is striking the ground. It's a very busy foot right then. I'm not trying to snow you under or make loping seem more difficult than it really is. Those are just some things to keep in mind for later, after you get more comfortable with cantering. Mostly a horse will compensate for you anyway it just won't be as pretty. This is typically how unstressed, loose horses travel so it is the most natural thing.

To start with though, I'd recommend these few steps.
1) Be able to step your horse's hindquarters over, both directions, on the ground and under saddle
2) Be able to control your horse's speed up and down within a gait at both a walk and a trot
3) Be able to ride a trot at any speed, through a sharp change of direction, with contact or none at all without using your reins for balance.

If I were going to lope your horse for the first time I would probably start her from a trot. If I were in an arena or ring of some sort I'd probably try to pick it up coming out of a corner. Because most horses are naturally left-leaded I'd most likely start with that lead, travelling in that direction. Half-way through the round end of the arena I'd start picking up speed at my trot and just as I was coming out of the corner and your mare saw all of the daylight of the straight away open up in front of her I'd drop my right leg back and position her hind quarters slightly to the left. At the same time I'd raise my left hand just a little higher and place it slightly in front of my right. This will position my shoulders; when I dropped my right leg back to step the hindqaurters over it automatically positioned my hips for the left lead. Just when she's stepping off with her left diagonal I might nudge her just a little with my right calf. If she picks up her lope then great! I'll let her come right back down to a trot, walk, sometimes even a stop, whatever makes her happy. All the while I'll be rubbing her neck and acting like that's the single most amazing thing I've ever seen a horse do. At this point I wouldn't try to keep her loping for more than a few strides. We aren't learning to lope - we are learning how to pick up a lope. This is a critical distinction to keep in mind. While there are times when we must ride through something bad to get to something good it's much better to start off on the right foot. The first stride or two in any upwards transition sets the tone for the rest of the time we spend in a gait. If we can roll up into a canter smoothly there will be a greater chance that it will stay smooth. I'd probably practice going from the trot to the lope for a few strides then back to the trot then back to the lope etc. until her transistions began to get reliable and smooth. I'd keep the loping down to a few strides at a time but on the upwards transistion... I'd probably hang in there a little longer at the trot, not asking for the canter until I felt like she was going to make it. Once your mare is picking up her canter every time with no more than a little nudge I might start holding her in it for longer periods.

Or I could do it the easy way. Have you ever watched a bunch of horses traveling together? Generally speaking they all end up moving in the same gait; they are herd animals after all. Here at the ranch we quite often use this trait to our advantage by following an older broke horse when loping one of our colts for the first time. With the older horse in front, we'll start off at an easy trot. Once the colt has sort of settled in, the rider on the older horse picks up the pace for a few strides then rolls up into a lope. When the colt sees the lead horse getting a little farther away and he will usually follow him up into the lope just to keep pace. This is typically how unstressed, loose horses travel so it is the most natural, low-key way I can think of to start a colt loping. If the rider is fairly confident and can stay out of the colt's way, he can be cantering along without ever having to undergo "training." So, if you have a trusted friend with a really trusty steed you might be able to work something out. Good luck!

Cat

Clipping

Hi Cat!

How can I get my mare used to clippers? She is kind of scary to be around when the clippers come out and we have our first show in June.

Nita,
Thomasboro, Illinois

Dear Nita,

When I was a young lad I had a summer job as a groom for a string of show horses. All the horses had their ears, muzzles and lower legs clipped before each show. I lived and traveled with those horses 24/7, which seemed like quite an adventure to a kid of twelve. I even slept in a stall next to them. One night I heard a commotion and the sound of a horse in trouble. I ran to investigate and found a bay gelding named Senator with a water bucket literally hanging from his nose. The bent over end of the bale was stuck through his right nostril like a fishhook. With no whiskers left on his well-clipped muzzle to warn him, he had swung his nose right into that bucket and the wreck was on. I don't want this to sound wrong or hurt anyone's feelings but I'm on your mare's side here. She's got every right to defend her hair. Senator's nose taught me a lesson I'll never forget. Sometimes we humans don't consider that clipping takes away an essential tactile sense, weakens a horse's natural defense against insects, and removes a layer of protection from his lower legs. In short, those hairs and whiskers are there for a reason and I'm not going to help anyone steal them from their horse. The hair in your mare's ears is her primary line of defense against insects that would bite her or fly down into her ear canal and you shouldn't take that away from her. The same goes for her lower legs - if you take that extra hair away you are leaving her with only leg stamping to keep flies off and she can only stomp one foot at a time. Yeah, yeah, bug spray - well, fly spray isn't 100% effective, it only keeps flies from biting , not landing and annoying and besides, it will work better when combined with natural-length hair. You should also consider that the hair on a horse's lower leg has evolved to be longer and thicker as an extra layer of protection against interfering and for traveling through brush and tall grass etc. One last thing to think about before you grab your clippers and get her ready for the next show; those whiskers you're about to buzz off are your mare's up-close eyesight. Her eyes are built to catch predators at a distance not to see if her nose is clean. She needs those whiskers to sense where that next blade of grass or whisp of hay is and to warn her of oncoming buckets so have a heart and let her keep them. If you have some other hair problem such as a horse with scratches and you can't manage it with a scissors or a fist trimmers, you can email me with a contact number and I'll call you personally. Otherwise feel free to stand up to peer pressure. I'll have your back on this one. By the way, I ride horses with their winter hair (and it seems like all year long here in northern Wyoming) and never clip a bridle path either and I've been getting by for years. Perhaps if we super-glued really dark glasses to show judges every evening and maybe if we shaved the heads of show committee members and stood them in the sun and bugs for awhile they might get over this notion that the natural horse isn't beautiful enough just the way he is.

Cat, with his hair all frizzed up

Trotting

Dear Cat,

I have a 4 year old Anglo-Arab mare who wants to rush around the arena when we trot. How can I get her to slow down and stay steadier without constantly pulling on her mouth?

Anonymous, Urbana, IL

Dear Anonymous,

There are many "things" you can do. None of them will be easy, none of them will be quick, and none of them will be without a certain amount of frustration.

The first thing you must do is ask yourself if this is a problem that happens in isolation; in other words does this only happen while you are riding and only at the trot? If this is the case it's a rare one and I can think of two possibilities right off the top of my head: one is something is physically bothering your horse but only at this gait i.e. saddle fit, mouth pain, back pain etc. or you are inadvertently cuing her to speed up but only at the trot. If one these things is the sole cause of your mare's troubles then do a little detective work. If it's pain do the bars of your saddle dig into her when she extends diagonally? Is she one of those mares you occasionally run across that develops a wolf tooth and the bit has started to bother her mouth when she trots?Maybe there is some other type of pain that is causing her to hollow her back and speed up. If you're the cause maybe it's just your form at the trot. A lot of riders get "happy feet" at the trot and unknowingly kick their horse with every step. Could you be tensing up and maybe sitting or posting faster and faster because subconsciously you just know your horse is going to speed up anyway?

Most likely though, some or all of these symptoms are part of a larger problem. In that case you might have to rephrase your question. Maybe a better question would be, "How can I help my mare want to get with me and stay with me whenever we are together?" That will at least give you a clearer understanding of what your end-goal really is.

Give yourselves this simple test: lead her around the barn. If she leads quietly and sort of follows you like a calm puppy you get to go on to the next question. If she gets out in front of you or, shudder, you need a lead rope with a chain on it, you've already figured out it's the larger version of the problem. If you did make it to question number two, take her some place completely unfamiliar. Start adding in distractions such as strange noises, a herd of loose horses, or a windstorm, etc. If at any point the calm puppy heads for the hills you'll know there is more about your relationship that needs fixing than just the trot. By the way, you can do this test in your imagination if you'd feel safer but if you need to, well, you probably already know the answer.

So what can you do to start fixing? Start small, start where you can have success. If you're on the ground leading her and she starts to pass you up change directions, stop, back up, do whatever it takes to keep her mind on you. Better yet, take her head around and step her hind quarters over. Get this good because you'll be using it when you're doing your fixing in the saddle. (I know where you can get a good video on this subject!) When you're in the saddle try this: at a walk match the movement of your legs to hers. Don't worry about how fast she is walking and don't hold her in. At some point she will probably find a reason to slow down. She'll came to a corner, she'll get bored but whatever it is you'll let your breath out and slow your legs down with hers. She may find this surprising and speed back up. Just go with her and wait for the next opportunity to practice slowing down. Maybe she'll go all the way down to a stop. Great! Go with her, try to roll back onto your pockets at the exact same time as she stops on her own. Just keep matching what your legs do to what hers do. When you can get a little consistency with it try slowing your legs down first and see if she'll follow you. Remember to keep the reins out of the picture for this exercise (unless you need them for safety).

Now try asking her to speed up with your legs. See how gradually you can increase the pace. If she naturally has some get up and go you'll probably find it takes far less than you thought to get her going. Keep working at this until you can go from a standstill to walking right out and back to a standstill. Wait 'til you can get it consistently before you try it at a trot. It may take you many, many rides to get and it may be an even bigger struggle to get it at the trot but once you have that kind of feel going with your horse you'll wonder how you ever lived without it. What if that just won't work? Try asking her to just stand on a loose rein, loose as in no contact. If she takes off bend her head to one side and step her hind quarters over. Hold her head around until her feet stop and then release her. You only use one rein for this - don't get into a pulling contest with her. Remember that thing you should have practiced on the ground first? This is why, so she can understand what you're asking when you're in the saddle. Sooner or later she should get the idea that she can stand there just fine with the reins hanging loose until you ask her to go. When she does you can try it from a walk. Ask her to walk off on a loose rein. Again, I mean loose, not less tight. If she'll hold her gait that's wonderful but try it several times to make sure. If, however, she breaks into a trot take her head around and step her hind quarters over. Hold her head around until her feet stop and then release her. Wait a little bit to settle her then have her walk off and corner her (take her head around and step her hinds over to stop her) if she breaks into a trot. When she'll hold her walk for as long as you want then you can move on to the trot.

Working this exercise at the trot is basically the same as at the walk but you'll have even less reaction time. This is one reason why it's critical to get yourself good at cornering your horse from the ground, from a stop, and from a walk before trying it at a faster gait. When you've got that start her off at a trot. If and when you feel her grab herself and start to speed up, corner her. Settle her for a bit then resume trotting on a loose rein. Bend her the instant she starts getting out of control. Mix it up by bending her right one time and left the next. Remember, this exercise only uses one rein at a time and you mustn't put any rein pressure on her unless and until she begins to rush off. You are trying to show her how to stay in whatever gait you ask for without the constant reminder of reins pulling on her mouth. When she'll do that you can go back and start polishing up on the first exercise.

Another thing that helps is circling. A lot of us use circles in our training but mostly we miss out on the chance they give us to let our horses figure things out for themselves. We try to "shape" or fix on our horses too much right from the start. Here are a couple of ways I might use circles in a situation like yours. First, I'd put her in a circle and just let her trot right out. So long as she stays in a trot she can go as fast as she wants. Eventually she'll want to go slower and I'll go with her - all the way down to a stop. Then, after a rest, I'll change directions and do it again. When she starts slowing down right away I might ask her to speed up in hopes that she'll really get to thinking that a nice, relaxed trot is better than a wild, fast one. Sometimes a horse has just never had enough time in a circle before somebody started pulling on her face to realize she's not getting anywhere special so there's no sense in hurrying. I'll throw out a caveat here; this method takes a little more skill than one might think as you must be able to recognize exactly when your horse is wanting to slow down. Also, while it's alright to make your horse work you wouldn't want to make her lame so use some judgement. Another way to use circles is to go into a tightening spiral whenever she gets to going too fast. It's simple physics, at some point in the spiral she'll have to slow down. When she does, the instant she does, let her straighten out and go on like nothing ever happened. If she speeds up again go back into your spiral. Pretty soon you'll be able to pick up on one rein just a little and she'll know the jig is up.

One more thing to consider, Anonymous, is that your horse may be hard-wired to be a little hot. She may need a lot of extra time to reach a similar result when compared to one of a calmer disposition, especially if your personality isn't geared to handle her. Don't blame her, it's just how she is and anyhow, you're the one who bought her. I'll be straight up with you, this is not likely to be a quick or an easy fix. We are actually talking about renegotiating an entire relationship here. The talks are likely to be protracted and at times stormy. Whether you want to take them up or not is your choice but your horse doesn't get a vote. It's up to you to be fair. If, after a period of time, you are unable to reach an understanding with her you should at least consider trading her for a horse with a temperament more closely matched to yours. You both might have more fun.

Cat

Water Crossing

Hi Cat!

Help - I have a ten year old mare with a problem. She is very willing to do what you ask under saddle, except for one thing. When we come to a puddle (not a stream, lake, etc.) she becomes very tense and refuses to go through it. She will sidestep, whorl away, or just become frozen in place. When she is out in pasture I've watched her go through any water without hesitating. I've spent much time leading her to a puddle and she still won't go through it. Is she too old to learn?

Ellen in Minnesota

Dear Ellen,

If she's too old then we're all doomed. Start a little smaller in your thinking. You've probably felt that invisible wall that horses seem to be able to put up when they come to an obstacle they don't like the look of. Instead of thinking, "I've got to get across that puddle," think of chipping away at that wall. To do this you'll be riding an imaginary diamond around the puddle. Say you're out for a trail ride one day and you encounter a puddle. Ride straight at the middle of it until you start to feel your mare tense up. Just before she stops and you have a big struggle on your hands, angle off like that was your plan anyway and go by the puddle. Try to find the distance that's about as close as she can stay to it without falling apart. Act like that puddle is no big deal. When you're almost past it, angle back towards it so that you end up back on the center line of the puddle but on the opposite side. You've made the first half of your diamond and knocked a couple of corners off your mare's wall while you were at it.

Now straighten up and ride on, away from the puddle. Continue riding away until you feel her relax. That's her reward, a little break from the stress. Now turn around and ride back at the puddle and complete your diamond. Knock another corner off. Keep chipping away like this until she gets a little more comfortable working near the puddle and you can get closer to it. When she does, mix it up by changing directions or working more on one side or the other but don't try to cross it yet. The idea is to keep her feet and mind busy so she'll worry less about the work site and more about the work. That way when it's time to get her feet wet the odds will be better that she'll listen to you and take direction as opposed to succumbing to instant panic.

When she'll stand still next to the water for a little petting you can go on to the next step. Approach the puddle and ask her to step in. It'll be your call whether you come at it straight on or obliquely, every situation and every horse is unique. Either way you'll probably have to change directions, maybe many times, before she'll actually put a foot in the water. One foot in one little corner of the puddle is plenty for now. Rub her neck and ride off. What you don't want to do is get her to think that leaping clear across is a good way to get this over with. That'll get her over the water but maybe not you.

Keep working at this. Maybe after a couple of tries she'll put two feet in before she has to leave. Just let her get comfortable walking in wet shoes and sooner or later she'll point her ears at the far side and walk right on across. Make a big deal out of that, then cross it over and over again in both directions. Then for the next month or so drop everything and cross every puddle you see. If you run out of puddles get your garden hose and make some. Just keep after it until your mare thinks she's got webbed hooves.

Or, if you've got a bunch of trusty friends with a bunch of willing horses, you can put your mare in the middle of a cavalcade of good water-crossers and let them do the teaching. Good luck!

Cat

Groundwork Exercises

Hey Cat,

What do you consider the most important groundwork exercises that should be mastered before working under saddle, and how do they translate to mounted work? And what's the difference between getting him to move his feet vs. really having his focused attention looking for the next signal? Once mounted, how does the rider use that attention to deflect situations (freshness, spooking) as they arise?

S.

Dear S.,

I'm going to answer the first part of your question by re-interpreting it to suit me. The short answer is I send the horse in a circle around me on the lead rope, stop him by getting his hind quarters to move 90 degrees away from me, then changing his direction by getting the front quarters to move the other 90 degrees. This one exercise contains all the basics you will need to start building a riding relationship with a horse, forward and backward movement, yielding, respecting your space, responding to a signal, front and hind quarter control and even controlling the flight response can all be achieved through this circle.

Here are a few things that may help you when learning this exercise:

1) The horse should stay on the circle, no cutting across the middle to push you out of the way. Whichever direction your horse is headed that hand should be holding the lead rope and pointing the way (left hand, left circle/right hand, right circle). Draw a circle in the dirt if that will help you visually to keep things on track.

2) Change hands on the lead rope, tip his head to the inside and step towards the hind quarters to get them to step over (then step back when he makes it). If the hinds aren't stepping laterally and crossing over themselves you haven't got it yet. Your horse should end up facing you.

3) Pause when your horse has yielded his hind quarters, and then ask the front quarters to step over. He should step away from you. You've already changed hands on the lead rope so you are in position to send him off in the other direction.

Here are the most common mistakes folks make when learning this exercise:

1) Stepping backwards. This pulls the horse towards you and has him cut across the circle-in effect teaching him to push you out of his way. Remember this is a forward exercise; don't confuse your horse by backing up. You are sending him around you, not dragging him to you.

2) Continuing to ask the horse for forward motion when he is already moving. This is one reason I don't have new students swing the tail of their lead ropes until we are pretty much out of other options. There are a lot of things to remember when first learning this one and people often end up forgetting to turn off their driving hand. This is no different than pedaling a horse that's already doing what you want when riding. Don't blame him for tuning you out or getting frustrated with you.

3) Not stepping back into position after yielding the hind quarters. How is he supposed to end up facing you if you're always somewhere else?

The long answer, I would call it a lifetime answer because if you're like me that's about the length of time you'll be working to find it, is whatever helps you understand what your horse thinks of you at a given moment and how to control both of your responses to his opinion. I don't necessarily like to speak in terms of exercises for horses because that assumes the human part of the equation is always the same when in fact it never is. It may not be the horse who needs to work on his circle. Just as you should work with your horse where he really is and not where you wish he was, so you should work with yourself where you really are. Try telling your horse you're the second coming of Tom Dorrance. He won't believe you. And when he gives you his unvarnished opinion of your attempt at that little circle thingy that looked so easy on the video tape you may start doubting yourself. Or maybe you'll get pretty frustrated.This is where some horsemen start beating up their horses. It's where some other horsemen start beating up themselves but really it's nothing more than a sign that the human part of the relationship needs more polishing than the equine part. Don't give up-polish. If you can't control the speed of your horse with your own foot movements, change his direction with your eyes and if it feels like you're holding three and a half lead ropes when you circle him then by all means work on getting control of his hind quarters from a standstill or a straight line. Practice changing hands on the lead rope. Work on understanding one little part without the distraction of trying to pull off the full speed ahead, bronc-fixin' circle. Then work on another part. You need to build a foundation in yourself every bit as much as your horse needs one. There are plenty of burned-out, broken-down horses who'd tell you they wish their humans hadn't skipped the basics and more than a few inwardly tense and frustrated students who wish their riding instructors hadn't done the same thing to them.

It is key to remember that horse/human relationships are dynamic, living things; what is needed in the infancy of a relationship is much different than what is needed as it grows and matures. How I get that circle and where I go with it once I do changes with each horse, each time I'm around him. Hey, I don't need to sing the ABC song every time I send an email, I got enough of that in grammar school (plus, I now have "spell checker" on my computer!). Likewise on a particular horse the thing I start with may not even resemble a circle, it may simply be moving forward without kicking Chris in the head but eventually we'll get to the point where we don't even need the circle. It could even be considered sort of disrespectful to a horse that has been controlling recalcitrant cows for six years for a rider to drill him on his lead rope circle for twelve minutes before every ride.

As for myself I'm evolving all the time, as will you. I can do things now that I couldn't earlier in my career. I'm continually learning and refining so as to better match up with my horses. When I first started to learn this exercise getting the front end used to just drive me crazy but now I'm getting colts to leg yield before I ever get on their back. I've been having great luck with this particular trick but had I tried it at an earlier point on my horsemanship journey either me or a horse would have ended up a simpering puddle of jelly (probably both of us).

This trail has taken us to something left unasked but I think is there anyways; that "if I don't do this just right I'll ruin this poor horse" feeling that a lot of folks have after getting enlightened about the horse's point of view. In my humble opinion as long as your horse doesn't think you're launching an attack I wouldn't lose any sleep over it. Most horses will forgive your not being perfect just yet. It's a process and sometimes it's as much about the next horse as the one you're working with today. So just work with yourself where you are, improve and don't worry about anything else. And ride your horse if he's safe. You'll never totally master anything in this life-there's always room for refinement-and if you wait for perfection on the ground you'll never get a leg over your pony.

Groundwork shouldn't really be an end in and of itself; rather it is a means to an end. This goes to the second part of your question. Everything you do on the ground should translate to riding. The way you hold your lead rope-and the way you use it-should look exactly the same to your horse as the way you hold and use your bridle rein. The way you position yourself on the ground and the amount of feel and pressure you use to cause your horse to move a particular part of his body should seem immediately familiar to him when you crawl into your saddle. Here's a practical tip; most folks when they are first learning this will look as if they are shouting at their horses in body language. Be patient and be relative, in other words if you're asking your horse to step his hind quarters over give him a second to figure it out. If he needs a little help don't snatch his head with the lead rope and then lunge at his back end to get him to move. If you were on his back this would be akin to an ambush- suddenly yanking on a rein and giving him all you've got with your heels. It'd be a good enough reason for him to act out. Don't give him the excuse. Keep yourself smooth so your horse can be smooth too. Try and figure out how much it takes to move him without scaring him.

So...about getting him to move his feet vs. being really focused and looking for the next signal. Boy. That is a huge and elemental question fraught with pitfalls. The difference is attitude and attitude is everything...BUT...just like groundwork attitude isn't static and it isn't just the horse's either. It doesn't matter who the sourness comes from, it'll still wreck the stew. Preserving and enhancing a good attitude is your number one job as a rider. If your horse is trying it is your responsibility to encourage him whether he is physically doing something right or not. If you want to sour a horse's attitude get after him for failing when he's giving it his best shot. Drilling him on something until he hates doing it is another good way to sour him. If he's not trying you may have to offer a different kind of encouragement, maybe firming up but maybe you need to try an entirely different approach. Just remember that if he's trying he will eventually figure it out, if he's not he never will. So don't kill his "try".

Here is a practical tip for working with a horse that is already a little grumpy about something; stick with whatever it is you are doing until you get a change in your horse's ears. When you get that little flick forward release immediately. You are in effect rewarding the ears not the feet, the attitude not the action. I'll use a horse I'm currently working with as an example: this particular horse would just spew hate on upwards transitions. After ruling out back pain etc. that horse and I got down to work. Starting on the ground where, if you paid attention you would have noticed this horse usually hung back and raised his head for an instant when asked to move, I got this horse to move forward freely. I did this through a series of sharp turns and releases because any use of a flag or spinning lead rope instantly put him on the fight (which caused me to think he'd maybe had some unhelpful experiences with these sorts of things). Under saddle we began by focusing on an object at a standstill and then when he happened to look at it too I'd make a big deal out of pushing the reins ahead and letting him walk off. Soon he was walking off with happy ears and no leg pressure from me. The next step was picking an object at a walk and heading towards it. The instant he'd put his ears on it and get straight I just let everything go, making a big deal of his genius. Next came the trot. This horse was actually able to pick a little jog using the same technique but I wanted to be able to get a trot in a hurry using my legs. That's when the fountain of hate erupted again. I had to ride that ugly trot until he put his ears forward, releasing and letting him wind down the instant he did so. We had to work at this quite a lot. It even got worse for a time because he got frustrated that his favorite trick to get out of trotting wasn't working. However, since he had previously figured out putting on his happy face got him out of trouble he eventually concluded that looking happy was not such a terrible thing. The next step was to let him learn to carry that happiness for a few strides before letting him stop. This was not a one day project and we still have occasional small "ventings" but this horse has come a long, long way and just seems generally happier.

Let me say a cautionary word about focus since we humans have a tendency to confuse focus in our horses with fear; if your horse loses the ability to take in the world around him chances are he's more afraid than focused. Horses are binocular prey animals and it's perfectly normal for them to see the whole panorama. I prefer a horse to have one ear on his rider and the other swiveling around to check on what else is out there. That way he's paying attention to you but the outside world is not so apt to surprise him. If he's changing ears a lot that might even be better. Think about your horse out on pasture. His ears are pretty mobile. You often won't see them both zoomed in on something unless he suspects a threat, is intensely curious, or on the fight. Obviously there will be many times when your horse will and should check you out with both ears but the first and last examples aren't necessarily how you like to be perceived as a rider and even the middle option might not always be the best. A lot of times a horse is intensely curious just before he spooks! So as a horseman don't be so intense that your demands push your horse's focus into the realm of fear.

I like your choice of the word "deflect" in reference to freshness and spooking however I'm going to decouple them in my answer. Freshness is easy: do however many warm-up exercises as you need to get your horse listening and responding. This amount will change depending on the day and even the weather so be ready to adjust as needed. Sometimes an experienced horse will be having one of those days and require a little extra but generally the better broke a horse gets the less groundwork he'll need. In fact I try not to fall into a long, elaborate routine, instead I do what I feel is necessary to get safely started but not much more so as not to turn warm-ups into a crutch for both horse and rider. I don't want to get into a situation where my horse demands an hour an twenty minutes in the round pen before he'll let me put a shaking boot in the stirrup. But that's me; figure out how much is right for you and your horse to get him responding consistently.

Spooking is a little different because you're dealing with a horse's survival instinct; If you don't give him a better option he might just choose to get far, far away from his troubles-whether you're still with him or not! It's been my experience that the better options usually involve controlling one side of the horse at a time. Your primary tool for this would be the one-rein stop. To do a one rein stop take your horse's head to one side and drop your leg back on that side to step his hind quarters over. This is definitely not just a tight little circle; the hind quarters must step over. Hold his head around until his feet stop before releasing. It's called a one-rein stop for a reason; your outside rein needs to stay out of the way or you'll just give your horse something to brace against. Practice this often in non-threatening situations. It should feel a lot getting the hind quarters to yield when you're doing the circle exercise on the ground. You tip his head in preparation for getting his back end to step over in both events; the main difference is on the ground you step towards the hips to apply pressure while on his back you replace that with leg pressure behind the cinch. See-we've come full circle all the way back to our circle!

Here is a practical way to prepare your horse to "break over" like this in a panic situation. This is done from the ground and can be done with a halter and a long lead rope or a hackamore. I prefer to do this with my horse saddled. A horse must be able to give his head and yield his hind quarters as in the circle exercise before attempting this one.

1) Get your horse desensitized so that he will tolerate your lead rope along his ribs and across his hocks. This will be critical to your safety and success.

2) Standing on one side of your horse, drape the lead rope along the length of his opposite side and across his hocks.

3) Put a gentle pull on the lead rope. You will be turning his head away from you. Hold that slight tension until he turns clear around until he ends up facing you. If you are standing on his right side he should make a 360 degree turn around to the left. The goal here is to get your horse to follow the feel of the lead rope or rein no matter where it comes from.

4) In the beginning this can be a tense situation for your horse. You're going to be putting him in a bind with the lead rope and asking him to turn away at the same time (which is the opposite of following you like he's been doing his whole life). Be patient. Allow him time to think his way out of it and by all means don't put yourself in a position where you can get kicked or run over. You'll probably have to adjust where you're standing when you ask your horse to do this maneuver, the more confused he is the further away from his head and towards his rear you'll have to start. On a really bothered horse you may even have to start behind him (but out of kicking range!) so that he's only turning slightly more than 180 degrees. Regardless, you'll want to work your way up until he can make a complete turnaround with you standing by his head when you ask for it. Some horses may get stuck feet at first and need a gentle nudge near the throatlatch before they'll take that initial step.

5) Since I like to do this saddled up I have it to the point where I can turn him around with my hackamore rein or lead rope behind the cantle of my saddle but whatever, when your horse can do this exercise with casual ease it's time to turn up the heat. What you'll be trying to do is simulate a mild panic situation. Start the exercise as normal but as your horse reaches the point where you're behind him swing the tail of your rein or lead rope to chouse him a little. He'll probably lurch forward and it'll take the slack out of up your lead rope. When he hits the end of it he should swing his hind quarters around and face you. The object is not to see how badly you can scare him but to teach him to "break over" even when he's bothered. You may have to stay at this a little while to make it consistent but it's nice to have this little agreement worked out before you climb on his back. You'll know you're getting it right when he gives his head and swings around as soon as the slack comes out of the lead. If he just keeps going and you end up face first in the dirt with rope burns on your hands...dust yourself off 'cause you're not done yet.

Now that you've done all that work I have some bad news for you; there may be times when geography or sudden circumstance will make the one-rein stop a very bad idea. I've ridden on trails and side hills where a one-rein stop would have my horse and I tipped over. I've also been jammed up in a deadfall, with a rope, or in amongst other livestock where I was tangled up enough as it was. What's a poor cowboy to do then? Well, here's another weapon for your arsenal. Take one rein and lift it straight up, not out and up, but straight up in line with the side of his neck. You'll be tipping your horse's jaw up and to one side which will cause him to break over at the loin so you can get him stopped without folding him in half. This is called the cavalry stop or sometimes the bronc rider stop. Again, practice this when you don't need it so you'll have it when you do.

If your problem is a horse that consistently shies at a particular thing or type of thing there are many ways you can work on it. Here is one that's been effective for me. You'll have to be able to step your horse's hind quarters over from his back for this to work but you should be able to do this before you start riding at scary things anyway...

1) Approach the scary thing head on. At some point your horse will begin to slow down because he fears the object ahead of him. You aren't going to make him go any closer but you aren't going to let him stop either. This will cause a buildup of energy.

2) Keep the horse's face pointed at the scary thing but divert him around it in a circle. Keep stepping his hind quarters over towards the outside of the circle as you go. You will be going around what's bothering him in what is essentially an exaggerated two-track. Use the extra energy he's built up to keep him hustling.

3) While you won't necessarily try to move in closer to the object it's going to happen anyway. This is hard work for your horse (I usually do this one at a trot) and he will naturally drift in towards what has become the lesser of two evils in search of a shorter, less strenuous circle. This is especially true once he gets a little tired and discovers the thing won't bite him.

4) Let him stop and rest when you've gotten as close as you think you'll get for one go round. Sometimes you'll be able to circle all the way in on the first try, sometimes not, but don't make him get so close that he can't maintain his composure or you'll defeat the purpose of this exercise which is to convince him the scary thing is actually his happy place. Repeat as necessary, maybe more.

5) Sometimes you'll think you're done but as you turn away from the spook inducer your horse will grab himself. No problem. Just get ahold of him and start going around it the other way. In fact it's a good idea to two-track around it every time you see it for a while. Your horse might just decide to pretend he doesn't see it anymore.

The quickest way I know to prevent freshness and spooking isn't quick; it's long-term, consistent work. Sorry, there aren't any shortcuts and anyway these things, especially freshness, are really only issues to us, not to our horses. Why would your horse consider feeling good a bad thing? And horses tend to consider fleeing from monsters a generally good idea. That's what I meant about your attitude mattering too. When we humans can handle horses being horses these things won't bother us when they occur. And by the time we've put in enough work to reach that point these things don't happen that often anyways.

Good Luck,

Cat

Tough Colt

Hay Cat!!

I recently bought one of those government wild horses. She's about three years old. Nice looks and nice temperament most of the time. She leads well, likes to be brushed and generally is calm. She also does fine when lounging. My problem....when tied to a rail or post and I put a saddle on her she stands calm and fine, that is until I until I untie the lead from the post or rail. Soon as she steps back she starts bucking like a rodeo bucking horse and I can't do a thing until she wears herself out. Help me out here.

-Old Dad in Buffalo

Dear Old Dad,

This is a serious and very dangerous problem. Not only will bad and painful things happen after you untie her, these unhappy events will start happening sooner, before she's untied. Right now she is only waiting to blow up because she doesn't think she can move with the fence blocking her. Wait until she figures out she can go backwards, upwards, sideways, or on top of you. And she'll figure it out, too, just as soon as the right catalyst comes along to show her the way. Your horse is telling you, make that screaming at you, she is not prepared for your saddle. Keep in mind that she is only three. She's still green, still a colt and you must handle her as such. It is quite likely that a few steps got skipped early on in her training. You are now paying for that.

Here is what I'd do if I were in your boots. First off I would work with that mare until I had absolute control of her hindquarters. I mean that if I so much as looked at her hindquarters they would yield. I'd need that for what comes next. Having instant control of her back end might save both our lives later. And I would eliminate the post. That mare wouldn't be saddled while tied up until she had more gray hairs than Methuselah. To begin taking the cinchiness out of your mare I'd start with something a little less overwhelming than my saddle, a length of soft rope for instance. I'd put it around her girth about where the cinch would normally be placed and give it a gentle tug. My eventual goal would be to get her to lead by this rope around her belly. When things got good, and I mean REALLY good, I'd move the rope back towards her flank a few inches and start anew. I'd repeat this process until I could lead her all around with my rope placed anywhere from her girth to her flanks. I'd teach her to lead by the belly just like I would by the halter, by releasing the pressure on the rope every time she gave the least little bit. A word of caution here: remember what I said about getting the hindquarters to yield? Here is part of the reason why. If that mare showed any inclination whatsoever to jump past me I would tip her head towards me and yield those hindquarters away. A horse can shoot past you and kick out, maybe sending your spleen for a ride out past your aorta. Wild horses are especially good at this. DON'T LET IT HAPPEN! Be ready to bend your horse in a nanosecond.

With this in mind it is time to move on to the next step, the saddle blanket. Put it on and off from both sides, rub her with it, flop it around a little, whatever, but in your place I would get that mare so she would yawn whenever she saw one coming. In the beginning it's okay if she has to move her feet as long as I can still direct them. Speaking of moving, once she accepted my saddle blanket I would lead her around with it until I was certain she could handle it. Now it's time for the saddle. I'd put it on her just like I'd put it on any other horse, politely but like I own it. I wouldn't cinch it up yet, though. I might wiggle it a little first or softly shake the stirrups to give the mare a chance to consider things. If she had to move that would be fine but again, I'd bend her away. I would try to keep the saddle in place (although if it fell and she spooked I would just look at it as another chance to get her over something new). When she could handle an uncinched saddle I'd lead her around with it, trying to keep it on her back and staying ready to keep myself safe if things fell apart.

Now it's time to take the big plunge and cinch her up. I'd like to mention something very important here: KEEP CONTROL OF THE LEAD ROPE! I'd use my left hand to reach underneath her and pick up the cinch. I'd bring it against her belly and once it touched her I wouldn't let it come off. Then I would thread the latigo and begin to draw it up. I'll use my instincts and better judgment to decide how much and how fast to do this. Every horse is different but let me repeat something very important here: KEEP CONTROL OF THE LEAD ROPE! Once I've cinched her up, snug enough to keep my saddle where it belongs but still allowing for the fact that the mare will need to breathe at some point, I have some options. One is, I can simply unsaddle her. Look at it from her point of view, here. She just survived a saddling wreck-free! Do this a few times and her tension level might decrease to the point where she'll be ready to skip the blow-up phase and go right on to the next step. If this starts to seem like a lot of wasted time to me I'll remind myself how much time I might have to waste while recovering from getting freight-trained by a mustang. If I've done that and I feel she is ready I can then lead her off. Using my instincts again, I may go for quite a little walk or maybe only a few steps. I'll just try and read her and stay on the good side of trouble. I'll lead her straight off until she lets down a bit and then maybe send her in a few circles when I'm confident she can handle it. If I've misjudged her and she blows up I'll either bend her or get the heck out of the way as there is an interesting phenomenon where a horse bucking on a lead rope tends to follow that rope until she meets the person on the other end.

Assuming we've survived so far the next step in the process is to take the tail of the latigo and give it a gentle tug just like I did with the rope earlier. I'm going to get her to give to the cinch by leading her with it. The work we did before gives her something to go on. "Hey," she thinks, "I know this one." Soon the pressure and release, pressure and release, rhythm will get her feeling a lot better about the cinch than just having it clamped on and left on. When she's really licking and chewing and all let down I can go on about my business for the day. I'll make a plan to go through this whole process again tomorrow and the day after tomorrow etc. until she's more bored with it than I am.

There are other things you could try if this doesn't work but if you don't already know them learning these more drastic methods from a couple of paragraphs in a q & a column might lead you to spectacular results, way more spectacular than you might want. Contact me again if you're not getting anywhere.

Good Luck,

Cat

Handling Hind Feet

Hello Cat,

I have been having a bit of trouble getting my horse's hind feet safe to handle. This is a four year old QH gelding who is sort of the busy type. He is doing well with his fronts and you can pick up the hinds. The problem is when I try to take the hind foot out behind him like my poor farrier needs to do; it really seems to bother him for some reason. I run into resistance and his leg will be very tense, he doesn't seem too kicky, but he will sure take his foot away in a hurry when I try to move it behind him. I have worked with a rope around all of his feet and can use it to lead him by the front feet or stop him when it's on his hinds (which he is getting pretty good at), he will also unweight the hoof for me when he stops....But that happens to be everything in my bag of tricks and I can't quite determine what is bothering him, any suggestions?

-Puzzled

Dear Puzzled,

Sounds like you are doing a lot of good work with your gelding! There are a couple of areas you might be missing though. First off, and this is most likely the cause of your horse’s distress, the front of his cannon bone may not be okay with touch. Trimming and shoeing will require your poor farrier to use maximum contact on this part of the hind leg. Get your busy horse okay with touch here ahead of time by running your hand down the front of his leg until he doesn't react to it (uh, but do try to keep your teeth out of the way….) We humans are often guilty of going right to our primary focus, which in this case is the pastern and hoof capsule. Your gelding may be plenty good here but not yet ready to have the front part of his leg handled. By the way, I like to make a habit of taking my own horse’s hind legs into shoeing position when I clean his hooves because sometimes I am my own “poor farrier.” The second thing that could possibly be happening concerns using a rope on his hind feet. This is a great method, one I use all the time, but you must be very careful to not accidentally teach your horse to put tension against the rope and draw his foot back under his body. This often happens when teaching the stop because we instinctively fight that foot to a halt rather than blending down to the ground with it. With each stride you may unwittingly be showing your horse how to pull his foot back under himself, something you can get away with when holding it at a distance with your lass rope. However, it’s not quite so easy pull that foot out behind him when you’re all hunched over and only have your fingertips to use. Try using a little more give with each step as he’s coming down to his stop and see if that helps. Over the years I have much refined my own technique in this area and things sure seem to work out better.

Cat

Sharing Your Horse

Dear Cat,

Is it a bad idea to let other people ride your horse?

-Allison in CA

Hi Allison,

Your question is a good one; unfortunately it is one for which there is no hard and fast answer. If the question were instead, “Can a horse tolerate multiple riders?” the answer would be a simple, “Yes, of course. It happens all the time.” The real question, and the one I think you are actually asking, is, “What effect does it have on my relationship with my horse?” This is a much more complicated answer, one that depends on both the horse and the riders. The ultimate effect on your relationship will depend greatly on the horse’s temperament and the ability of the riders to communicate on the horse’s terms.

To understand how different humans can affect a single horse we must first understand how a horse perceives us. Because a horse relies mostly on non-verbal cues to communicate—body language—and because we humans all move and act differently, The horse must in effect learn a new language for each person he deals with. This is what I meant when I mentioned the importance of the rider’s ability to communicate on the horse’s terms. It helps a lot if all the humans involved can speak to the horse in a language that is a little closer to equine. Like us, horses can be bilingual or even multilingual. Some horses, like some people, are quite gifted in this respect while for others it is a struggle to learn a simple phrase in another language let alone comprehend its structure and nuances. (This is why I am in awe of good lesson horses; they are immersed in a world that must seem like the Tower of Babel.)

Much depends on the horse’s level of self-confidence. A horse that is strongly self-assured can probably cope with more babel than one who isn't as certain of his job and/or place in the world. A less confident horse may not need the extra tension and distraction of another language. Since you asked the question I will assume that your horse is currently being leased or shared in some way and I will further assume that your real concern is for your relationship with him. In that case I would say there is a cost involved; you may pay for it in the finer points of your ride. The analogy I would use would be that of a book which has been translated from another language. I've read many fine translations and always manage to get the story line but the writing tends to come off a little stilted, less fluid. You've heard the old saying, “It loses something in the translation…” This is what often happens to horses who share riders concurrently. There are a lot of good reasons to share a horse; it may get him out of his stall more often—that is a great reason! Or it may be the only way to afford a horse. There is nothing wrong with that. Perhaps “getting the story line” is enough for you with where you are in your riding right now. Only you can decide if the cost in finer points is worth it. It will be easier to bear if you keep in mind that your horse is being asked to speak in two languages; in fact it might make you kind of proud of him.

Good Luck,

Cat

Trailer Loading Setbacks-The New Trailer

Hello!

Last Saturday was my first opportunity to get Harry in my new trailer. It was a DISASTER. Initially he did load then turned around and stood there and eventually hopped out. After that, it was two hours before I got him back in with the mail lady's help. Ugh.

Here's what's different:

  • It smells like rubber - not a horse
  • Its more enclosed vs. my logan
  • Its a step-up vs. slant

When I got him in the second time, I let him just "be" in there with the hay bag and he was content. After a little bit, I closed the divider and then a bit later closed the doors and drove around the block. I could hear him kicking and when I got back to unload him, he was DRIPPING in sweat and the whites of his eyes were red. COMPLETE DISTRESS. The interesting thing is, when we went on the Livermore winery ride and my friend drove, Harry hopped right onto her step up when her mare was in the first compartment.

During the two hours of him not loading, I did try the (name redacted to protect the innocent) method of lunging him. Other parts of the two hours, he just stood at the opening of the trailer looking like he was falling asleep. Its the perfect situation to put the trailer in the pasture and feed him out of it for a week except that Pascal is completely destructive so that ain't gonna happen.

I was SO frustrated.

Dear Frustrated,

I would guess that you have a couple of different issues going on. The trailer may be the smaller of the two. Harry showed you he was willing to go in your new trailer—then he added a few conditions to his contract. It’s quite possible once he got in there he found something he did not like. I’ll get to that in a bit. However, it is at least as likely that he found out something he DID like was not in there.You alluded to it already; Harry loaded and rode well with another horse. Maybe he even loaded well in your previous trailer. But being alone is not natural to a horse. When you closed the divider and shut the doors, that’s about as alone as a horse can get. Even his human companion (you) deserted him. To him, the fact that you were in the cab of your pickup probably meant you were even more gone. Add in a strange new trailer and a little separation anxiety—even COMPLETE DISTRESS—is understandable. Horses learn well from other horses. Often, due to necessity, we put the maximum stress on our horse friends when they are least able to handle it. That is, we give them a major worry (suddenly putting them in solitary) at the same time we try to make them learn something new. What we see as eliminating distractions our horses may see as the removal of their support network. Would it be possible to find a seasoned hauler to go on a little trip with Harry in his new trailer, someone he could take his cues from? At least he would have one successful ride under his belt.

Here are a few practical things that may help make loading Harry a little easier:

1) Make sure you can send Harry past you on your lead rope. By that I mean you should be able to stand in one place (like the back of a trailer for instance), hold your lead rope out to one side and Harry should walk past you in the direction you’re pointing. He shouldn’t shoulder you out of his way as he’s doing it, either. If he won’t do this you can use the tail of your lead rope or a flag etc. to help him figure it out.

2) Once he can do this well, move to the back of your trailer or as close to it as you can get. Think of your horse’s halter as being able to move in an arc, the end of which is the inside of the trailer. Any time your horse is moving forward in that arc it constitutes a try. Give him a little reward by relaxing the pressure on him whenever he tries. When his attention is on the trailer or, even better, in it, he is trying. When you mentioned him standing at the back of the trailer but half asleep, that was probably not a try. He must be thinking about the trailer for it to count as a try and earn a little reward.

3) Start by creating a little disturbance behind him (don’t get yourself kicked) but this trouble is only to get him to start thinking about moving to a happier place. It’s about as far away as you can make it and IT IS NOT DIRECTED AT HIM PERSONALLY. The trailer should eventually become his happy place; it won’t be if he associates it with a butt whooping but it will be if he goes there because it’s a better place than what’s behind him.

4) The trick is to keep this happy place moving toward the trailer. When he moves a little closer to it, make a big deal out of his try. You will often find that a horse learns to move a little closer then he draws the line and says, “Nope. This is close enough right here.” That’s when you add pressure until he moves forward again, or even looks forward. If you time your releases with his tries he will figure this out. When you get him right up to the back of it he may stop and paw or sniff the floor boards, the dividers or the walls. These are all tries. Looking away or calling to Pascal, not so much. The timing of your pressure and your releases is critical. If you get a foot in or even two feet, let him come back out, go for a walk, and take a fresh start. It is important for him to know he’ll get to come back out. Taking a break can defuse things.

5) Things will get better—then they’ll get worse. This is normal. Trailer loading a troubled horse is not a linear process. Expect this and don’t let it shake you. Things’ll get better again. Give him time to get accustomed to the idea. He might be thinking he’s going to die in there. It’s not a stupid fear either. Lots of horses have been hauled to the vet and never come back…

6) Once you get him in, let him stand until he wants to come out, ten minutes is okay (be praising the hell out of him) so is a tenth of a second. If he backs out you just get another chance to practice. Keep loading him in and out until he can’t wait to get back inside and relax in his happy place. Your hay bag is a good thing btw. DO NOT DRIVE ANYWHERE WITH YOUR HORSE UNTIL YOU HAVE COMPLETELY AND THOROUGHLY CONVINCED HIM THAT IN A TRAILER IS HAPPIER THAN NOT IN.

7) Before you drive off he should be able to move his feet and shift his weight inside the compartment. This will really help him haul better. When you’re sure he’s calm in there and able to handle it, gently rock his withers from side to side in order to get him to shif this weight around, or shift him a little forward and back with your halter rope.

8) Trailer loading is not a one-off; plan on practicing even after he seems to have gotten good at it. Also, schedule some periodic refreshers. That way you’ll be ready if something comes up.

Here are a few things that will make Harry like trailers even less:

1) Banging his head on the roof. Anything that can cause him to throw his head up such as jerking the lead rope or an inappropriate whack, a spooky thing introduced too quickly, trying to force his head down etc., can start a vicious cycle of head knocking. Horses are reactors—they are prey animals after all—and their instinct is to move before figuring out why. I can’t prove this scientifically but I have long believed that horses who smack their heads in the trailer truly cannot help it. It is akin to when you or I pull our hand off a hot stove before we actually feel the heat. I think once this behavior gets started in a horse his body begins to react before his mind can signal it not to. I have seen horses strike their heads multiple times before they can get themselves to stop. Obviously it would be far better to avoid this particular problem in the first place because it’s really hard to overcome once it gets going (there are even “horse helmets” for equines with this trouble). If it is already an issue, slow down your pace when working with your horse. Don’t push past the edge of his comfort zone; stretch that zone out slowly. Harry, being a drafty, will probably be less inclined to making this a permanent problem but there is no sense in taking a chance. And, some trailers are simply too short and/or narrow for a really big horse to get comfortable in. See your dealer for the answer to that one…

2) Pushing your horse (continuing to put pressure to move) when he is already trying. That would fall under the category of, “No good deed shall go unpunished.”

3) Bad driving. Pretend you are a little old lady on your way to church in your 1959 Edsel. That’s how you should drive. I once rode in a two-horse over a rutted, dusty gravel road towed by a fast driver. Quite the reality check.

4) Too long in the trailer. In my experience 400 miles in a day is about the most you should do and that’s with several breaks along the way. You don’t want to convince your horse it’s never going to end.

And my favorite; the truck and trailer parked outside the bar or restaurant…Come on! Even movie star cowboys know to take care of their horse before themselves. I know some horses learn to tolerate this nonsense but that doesn’t make it right.

Good luck!

Cat

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