Leading A Stubborn Horse
By Keith Hosman, John Lyons Certified Trainer
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Leading A Stubborn Horse
Learn: A quick fix for getting a horse moving again if he freezes up when being led.
How many times have you begun to lead your horse through a gate, only to have him freeze up a few steps before it? Or maybe he stalls out while you're leading him, plants his front feet and refuses to take one more step? Does he do these things? Uh-oh. In the words of John Lyons, "You ride the horse you lead," so stubbornness and attitude in situations like this suggests that you have bigger problems than you might think. Let's fix these things - but let's also begin seeing them for what they are: Warning signs.
If your horse doesn't walk with you smoothly and willingly, if he drags on that lead rope or otherwise thumbs his nose at you, you need to deal with it right then and there. (This goes for young and old, green or experienced.) If you're leading your horse out to the arena, trail or what-have-you to ride - and your horse balks - and you ignore it - then not only have you missed an opportunity to improve your relationship with your horse, you've ignored potential danger. Your horse has just told you "I'll go along with you only so far." Worse, he's told you he's ready to rebel to get his way. It doesn't take a genius to see that such rebellions (whether in the horse's mind or acted out in the real world) can lead to some major doctor bills.
Now, don't get me wrong, balking is part of horse ownership for a variety of reasons and is to be expected. A few examples: Leaving a horse out in the pasture for any length of time is going to dull his manners. Young horses are going to test you repeatedly in new and unfamiliar situations (a new trail course, his first show, etc.). Experienced lesson horses are going to test inexperienced novice riders and so on. Even the well-trained show horse of the most accomplished equestrian is going to test the boundaries occasionally. It's natural in the same way that we drive 36 in a 35 mph zone, (until we see the officer holding the speed gun, of course). Horses, like human teens, will test you daily. What matters is not that they do this; what matters is how you handle the incident and with what consistency.
When horses behave poorly, it's for one of two pretty obvious reasons: They're doing it because such poor manners have worked in the past (to get them out of something) or the opposite is true and "it just came to them." This then leads to one pretty obvious conclusion: Horse owners need to deal with "new bad" behavior as soon as it occurs, before it becomes repeated and practiced. This is not to say that we need to wig out and beat or otherwise scare our horse's into cardiac arrest when he pulls a stunt (such as refusing to enter the gate), but rather the opposite. Dealing with issues immediately, in a consistent and calm manner, will accomplish two things: 1) We tell the horse "Nice try, but that'll get you nowhere" and 2) We prevent the situation from being "bigger" the next time. That is, if you make it a big deal this time, you've guaranteed it to be an even bigger (and perhaps more dangerous) situation the next time. Beat Ol' Dobber today for being afraid - and tomorrow he'll have good reason to be scared.
First a warning: No matter what, do not stand in front of your horse (the horse that won't move) in such a way that he could run into you (or over you), should he lurch forward. Keep to the side, at the horse's shoulder. Also, be careful to place your weight so that you can jump away, should he come at you unexpectedly. Finally, when I work near a horse I don't trust, I keep one hand on the horse, (against his shoulder, for instance) not to stop him, but because it tells my brain faster "the horse has moved."
Okay, so making an issue out of something with your horse now only makes it harder on both of you later. The horse looks at the gate and imagines something bad is going to happen should he walk through it. He balks. You lose your temper and chase him screaming and flailing for twenty minutes. The horse then has proof, "I was right. Bad things do happen at that gate." Your molehill has just become a mountain.
Whether you own a horse that's a proven pill to lead - or you're working with a youngster, begin to see yourself as...
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| Meet the author:
John & Josh Lyons Certified
Clinician and Trainer
Utopia, TX (Hill Country of San Antonio)
Keith Hosman is based in San Antonio, TX and is available for clinics, lessons and training. He frequently travels to Los Angeles, CA and Kansas City, MO where he partners with fellow clinician Patrick Benson for clinics and demonstrations. You can find him on Google+ and Reddit.
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Lyons Training 101: Issue Thirty, Part 1
"Leading a Horse: Leading Stubborn Horses"
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