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New Horse Blues

My name is lori and I am a new horse owner. My horse is a 16.3 hand, 19 year old thoroughbred gelding named, Doc. He has a few bad habits and I would like to get a handle on them before it gets worse. I have been asking people at the barn where I board him, but as you said in one of your archive letters, I want him to respect and trust me vs. obey out of fear or because there is a consequence of pain.

One of his habits is he paws the ground with his front feat alot when he is in the cross ties being groomed and the other is he realy rushes into the stall and about pulls me off my feet and then when I go to take his halter off he pulls his head up and away so fast and turns for his food that he about runs me over. When he paws I have been slapping his chest because the owner said to do that, but I don't think it is working and I have been trying a low calm voice and saying easy when I bring him into the stall and at times I bring him back out and try it over and over to make him do it right, but I think this just makes it worse as he gets more fussy and lifts his head very high. My daughter ( she is 10 ) and I are sharing and learning together. His behaviors seem to be worse when she handles him and I am worried she may get hurt. Please help!

Thank you for your time.



PS. Another thing Doc does that the owner said was bad is he pushes his head and rubs it against me making it difficult to keep my balance. I thought this was his way of showing affection, but she said no and to get on him for it. How do I correct this?

Thankyou for your website as I have learned so much. Blessings to you.

Hi Lori,

Thank you for your question. Lets see if I can be of assistance. He paws at the cross ties because he is nervous and anxious. Do not use them for a while. Do not 'get after him' for being nervous. That will make him more nervous. Please do not get so hung up in how everybody else there handles their horses. Cross ties are un-natural and confining for a horse. You want your horse to stand with you freely. So what I do with that particular situation is to release the horse right off and not use them. There will be time enough for him to get used to using them. He is 19 and has been the way he is for a while. It will not change overnight and will not change if you do not change what happens for him. His rushing into the stall is dangerous for you. That can be modified relatively easily if you are willing and can do what I am offering to you. You must take this horse back to some basic ground work. I mean more than simple lunging. He needs someone to 'dance' appropriately with him on the ground so he can develop some trust and respect for the 'leader of the dance'. This is easy to do if you understand the concept of 'feel' and the basics of ground training the gentle way. If you do not, you need to hire someone who does. This may not be easy as most folks who just ride and do not do this type of training think they know more than they do. They may know how to sit on a horse reasonably well, but that's about it. This would be hard to teach in an email. It would be my next book. But the horse needs to be brought back to the basic handling techniques that develop trust and respect. There is a way of short line lunging, stopping and change of direction movement that is fluid, gentle and dance- like. The movements are not big, but rather small and very precise. Once the horse does them two steps at a time, then you ask for a few more steps. Itís a little like learning to walk all over again. First small steps then bigger ones. The horse will bond readily to whoever is able to take him into this appropriately. He will immediately show respect and trust to whoever can 'speak his language' appropriately (without discipline or coercion).

Don't slap him for begin nervous, anxious or afraid or anything at this point as you are going for trust and respect, not fear. If you are able to lung the horse, do it. Practice it until you get very good at it. Then, make the line shorter and shorter until you can lung him safely on a short line (lead rope). Get his stops and directional changes, including backing which is very important, really good as well as speed transitions. This is dancing with your horse. Always show up as the leader of the dance. Get the horse backing from you softly and readily upon request. This is very significant for the horse. Yielding ground to the leader is a basic move you want him to learn. If you are unable to do this or do not know how, get some help. But make certain that person really knows what they are doing or they will make things worse. If you lead him to the stall and you can sense he is getting nervous and ready to bolt into the stall, immediately take him outside and have him go around you in small circles, both direction for 3-4 minutes. Then say "Whoa!" and stop all movement and offer the horse a place of peace right by you. If he relaxes and stands there, give him a "Good Boy!". Then try to take him to the stall again. If he tenses up and seems like he is going to rush ahead, take him outside immediately and do the same thing. It may take several times or several days of doing this exercise to get him to relax going into the stall, but he will.

I would not have your 10 year old handle this horse. Horses do not respect vulnerability, unless they are bomb proof. In your horses current state your daughter is very vulnerable and could easily get hurt. Your horse needs confident and appropriate leadership (non-abusive) and consistently by only confident and appropriate leaders (and the fewer the better) and not a child. If your horse pushes his head into you and rubs against you he is not respecting your boundaries. Do not hit him for this. He doesn't seem to respect boundaries at all actually. Here is what to do that will help that; Teach your horse to yield to you and respect your space by teaching him to back away when asked. Hold the lead rope loosely, face the horse in front of him and begin to snake the lead rope under his chin (shake it back and forth) and say "Back". At first do this rather gently and see what the response is. If you do it too hard the horse will turn to leave you. If it is too soft the horse will pretty much ignore you or move at you or try to go around you. You can try gently steadying his head with your left hand and snaking the rope at his feet and saying back. Either way, you will develop a 'feel' for what it takes to get him to yield a bit of ground to you. Once he gets this and so do you, if he moves into your space or tries to rub on you, you back him a couple of steps quickly. It will stop the pushing into you. You can also have him go to work by moving around you in tight circles when he does something you don't want. This way you make what you don't want hard for the horse and what you do want (standing there peacefully) easy.

As you can see by the length and detail of this email, this is hard to try to convey via emails and I don't have anymore time at this moment to put to it. Blessings to you and good luck. How about bringing me to your area for a seminar. I am free to travel. Keep me posted as to your progress.

Sincerely, Franklin

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