Author Archives: willclinging

Young Horse Series – Touching and Catching

Many weanlings and yearlings find themselves new families this time of the year. Some of these horses have been handled from birth. Unfortunately that is not the case for all the young horses that are sold after weaning. If you have recently acquired a weanling or yearling that has had very little handling you will have, your work cut out for you. Even the simplest things can soon become very frustrating and time consuming. Catching and touching your young horse can be nearly impossible. I am going to cover a few things that could help your new project overcome the fear that is keeping him from being handled.

There are a few things to consider before you start working with your young animal. These young, freshly weaned horses are very stressed. Everything that was comfortable and routine to him has been lost. He has been weaned from his mother. He is in unfamiliar surroundings with unfamiliar horses and people. He may have had little contact with humans. There is stress from the auction barn and trailering so do not be surprised if he acts wild when you finally get him home. He will need a few days to settle down before you ask him for something that he is not ready to give.

Developing a routine is important. Regular feeding time and an older horse to baby sit, if you are lucky enough to have one, will help him settle in.

Before you start training I cannot stress enough that the less you expect from him the more you will get. As a weanling or yearling, he will have a very short attention span. Try to keep your sessions to less than 20 minutes. You do not need to accomplish what you set out to do before you can quit. It is beneficial if you stop when he is trying, not when he has stopped trying. If he has stopped trying you have gone too long. Put him away and try again later. Do not give yourself a timeline for training. That will only add unnecessary pressure to you and it may be unrealistic for him. Things should happen at a rate that he dictates. If things are going well ask for a little more. If things are not going well ask for less.

Before we can catch him, we must be able to touch him. Getting the halter on him is not our goal. Getting him prepared to be caught is the goal. When he is ready to be caught putting the halter on will be easy.

Touching him can be easier said than done. It could take days of trying before he lets you close enough. When you are finally close enough let him make the final gesture to make contact. Horses are curious, if he is curious about you he is less likely to be afraid of you.

When trying to get close do not try to corner him. Let him run around. The smaller the paddock the better. A stall would be fine also. If he feels cornered, he may try to jump the fence to escape. If he tries to jump it is your fault. You are putting on too much pressure. It may seem like you are doing nothing but it was too much for him to handle. He will not stand still because his instinct to survive tells him to run. Encourage him to stand still. As a very basic rule of thumb, if he is trying to escape he is scared for his safety. If he is standing still he is trying to think about what you want.

Horses have a flight zone. This is an area around him that when things enter the area he feels threatened and will flee. It will take some time to decrease the size of this flight zone as it relates to you. When you approach him, pay attention to how close you can get before he gets that anxious look before he moves. That is the edge of his flight zone. Do not enter this zone. When you get to the edge, stay there for a second or two then turn away and retreat a step or two. Give him a moment to think. Advance again this time try to get a few inches closer. The point is to have him NOT move away. Repeat this process moving a few inches closer each time until you are almost close enough to touch him. It could take days to get to this point.

If he follows you when you retreat keep going. He is looking for a leader. Do not approach him if he is following you, it will push him away. Stop when he stops and then work on approaching him again

Hold out your hand with your fingers down, this way your hand will resemble the nose of another horse. Do not try to touch him. Let him reach for you. If he does, simply hold your hand there until he moves his nose away. Turn away, retreat a few steps and give him a minute to think. Repeat this until you can touch his nose with your fingers. Each time you make progress retreat and repeat the process. When things are going well stop, and put him away. Try again later. You can have several short training sessions in a day.

It could take several days of this before you can touch him without him wanting to leave. You can slowly start touching him farther down his head and body. When he is comfortable with this, then it is time for the halter. You may have to repeat part of the previous process when holding the halter. Let him smell it and reach for it, then touch his body with it so he knows it will not hurt.

When you do try to put it, on hold it in your left hand by the strap that goes through the buckle. Put your right hand over his neck; pet him while you do this. Slowly pass the halter to your right hand and gently slip it over his nose with your left hand. Do not be too quick to buckle it up. Repeat this process a few times and when he is comfortable then do it up. Let him wear it for a few minutes then take it off.

Do not leave the halter on him. Each time you want to catch him is an opportunity to put in on and take it off. The more opportunities you have the faster he will become easy to catch. At any point you may have to go back to a previous step. Do not hesitate to do this. It is an opportunity to improve on what you have already done. You are starting with a clean slate when halter breaking a horse. Take the time to do it right and you will never regret it.
© 2004 Will Clinging

Thinking of Buying a Horse?

Owning a horse means different things to different people. Some buy a horse with plans to train and resell it hoping to make a profit. Others buy a horse hoping for many years of safe enjoyable pleasure riding. Then there are those that buy horses they think they can win on whether it be at a local show or at a reining futurity. It can also be a business, raising foals or keeping a breeding stallion. There are as many reasons for owning a horse, as there are people in the horse industry for fun or for business.
Buying a horse is a decision that could affect your life for many years so it should not be taken lightly. I am often asked if I know of a good horse that is for sale. I respond by asking a few simple questions like, what breed, how tall, what colour, what sex, how old and most importantly how much do you want to spend? People frequently do not have answers to all those questions. There are many things to think about before you buy a horse.

• Cost of keeping a horse

There is a misconception that the purchase of a horse is what will be the largest cash outlay for the privilege of owning a horse. Relatively speaking, horses are cheap. It is everything else that can break the bank. Boarding, vet bills, farrier service, feed bills, lessons, tack, all are costs that never end.

• Buying on emotion

Emotion will always play a part in buying a horse. It is important to judge the horse on its merit before allowing your emotions to come into play. Too often horses are purchased because we ”fell in love with the horse”. Looks are important but are they important enough to risk your life? For example if you want a Palomino the perfect Palomino is out there waiting for you. You will probably need to look at more than one Palomino to find the right one for you. Be patient and your search for a safe, sound, reliable and enjoyable horse is likely to have a satisfying end.

• Buying from an auction

Buying from an auction can be a good opportunity to view many horses at one location before you buy. If you go to a grade auction the horses are usually cheap but you should wonder why they are there. You could be buying someone else’s problem. It is not until you get the horse home that you realize there is a problem. Registered or select auctions will generally have better quality horses. You should be prepared to pay a fair price. The horses are consigned by breeders, trainers, and owners that are proud of their horses. These sales are not full of horses being dumped because they have problems. Auctions often do not allow the opportunity to ride the horse before you bid. Therefor you must take the sellers word about how well trained the horse is.

• Riding experience

What is your riding ability? If you are a green rider, do not buy a green horse. It is nice to think that you can learn together as you progress, but in my experience “Green on Green Means Black and Blue”. Beginner riders do not have the feel, confidence or experience to help a green horse through many scary situations. It is only a matter of time until you have a wreck that could injure you and your horse. The less experience you have as a rider the more experience your horse should have. Older better-trained horses can give you the confidence and skills required for younger greener mounts.

• Horses level of training

How much training do you want to do? Training a horse can be very rewarding if you are interested in improving your horse and your riding. It can also be very frustrating when things do not go well. Training could take up a great deal of your riding time. People buy horses as “green broke” expecting to just get on and ride. These horses are at various stages of training from just barely started to horses ready to continue into advanced training. If you are not interested in training and just want to ride, buy a broke horse. Training is expensive, and you will pay for it whether you buy a well-trained horse or you buy a green or unstarted horse. The broke horse might cost you more initially but you can ride him as soon as you get him home. The green horse could be cheaper to purchase but is not ready to ride and you will spend months and possibly thousands of dollars in training. Horses can take years to become reliable and safe for the whole family to ride

• Personality and temperament of the horse

Personality should not be overlooked in the search for the perfect horse. Horses can be calm and relaxed, honest and reliable, hot and excitable, spooky and nervous, spoiled and sulky, rude and ignorant, curious and mischievous. You should try to buy a horse with a personality and temperament compatible to your ability, and your intended use for your horse.

• Intended use of the horse

Many breeds are raised for a specific uses. Most breeds are versatile enough to be used for numerous activities. There is a large spectrum of size, shape and athletic ability of a horse. If you like a particular breed, do some research into what they are used for? How serious are you about what you do when you ride. Finding a horse that has natural ability in your area of interest will make your riding more enjoyable.

• Age of the horse

Mature horses are valuable teachers. They can help riders of all ages become better, more confident riders. However not all older horses are suitable for the inexperienced horse person? Just because a horse is old does not mean he is a gentle plug. Many competitive timed event horses are too hot for novice riders. Their individual personality and past use will determine the level of rider or competition they are suitable for. Younger horses are generally more trainable than the older horse. You can teach an old horse new tricks it will just take more time. This of course depends on the horse. The old horse makes the new rider and the old rider makes the new horse!

• Rescuing neglected or abused horses
If you are considering rescuing a distressed horse, take the time to think about what you may be in for. Many rescue horses will make fine saddle horses but they can be a lot of work. If you have a reputable horse rescue operation in your area I would highly recommend using their expertise to rescue one that has the potential to work out for you. Rescuing horses can be an affordable way to get riding but do not just rush off to rescue the first neglected horse you see. It can be very emotional and the desire to save the horse can be compelling. Unfortunately, we can not save them all so seriously consider if you are looking at the horse that will suit your personal situation. If you rescue the wrong one it could be difficult to find him a more suitable home and you may be stuck with a horse that you are not able to enjoy as much as you should. Although not all horses are prime candidates for rescue, saving a horse can be a very rewarding experience. Many distressed horses are simply victims of circumstance. A change of environment and some attention could be all that is needed to turn him into a trusting mount.

We all want that perfect horse. All to frequently what we thought was a perfect horse ends up being something less than ideal. There are a many good horses out there to choose from. I can not stress enough how important it is to make an informed decision when buying a horse. You can not judge a book by its cover and this is very true of horses. Be honest with yourself about your own ability to handle and ride your horse. There is a horse out there for every level of rider.
© 2004 Will Clinging

Training with Energy and Feel

As we ride or train our horses, we give our horses mechanical cues so they can perform mechanical maneuvers. In the early stages of training, this is necessary for our horse to comprehend what we are asking. As we progress in our training things should become less mechanical. When our horse is comfortable with what we are asking energy and feel should be more prevalent. How do we feel our horses and how do we direct our energy? Feel is both physical and emotional. We need to be aware of how our horse feels in body and mind. Energy is something that is in us and around us. It flows through us into our horse and back to us. We relay our energy through our hands, legs and seat to our horse. When we ride, our horse feels us. How does he interpret the feel? What does it mean when your legs touch his side? What does it mean when you bump, kick or squeeze? Is there energy in your legs when you bump or is it a mechanical movement? He knows the difference but do we?

Intention and focus are valuable when trying to train with softness. Intention is knowing what we want to do. Focus is concentrating on the intended maneuver. By focusing on what we want we are directing energy. We direct it through our body to his body. If we have focus and intention, we can control our horse with less pressure. This will increase awareness of our horse and awareness in our horse. It should ultimately lead to a more trusting respectful relationship.

Can you feel the energy in your body? Our horses feel our energy so we need to feel theirs. When we can feel it, we can interpret it. Is it nervous energy, scared energy, focused energy, or relaxed energy? Creating a relaxed feel will have a calming effect. Putting more energy into our actions often gets a more energetic response from our horse. Energy and feel can be intangible. We give off energy without focusing or controlling it. Our horses sense it and respond to it. How does your horse act when you are scared, or mad or happy? They often reflect how we feel.

We should be aware of how much energy or life we are putting into how we ride.

How do we feel to our horse? Are we just luggage or are we riding with feel? If we are just luggage, we are probably not that comfortable to our horse. If we feel our horse, he should respond with more confidence. If we do not feel our horse, we are probably not helping him out as much as we could. When we know what position our horse needs to be in to complete a maneuver correctly we can adjust our position so we are riding with our horse. If we do not feel our horse we are in the way and it will be difficult and uncomfortable for our horse to be athletic. Have you ever doubled someone on a bicycle and had them lean the wrong way in a corner? It is not impossible to make the corner but it is uncomfortable and unnatural. If we start to pay closer attention to our horses body and energy, we can help them do what we are asking.

When we start to feel the little things that our horse does, we can start to get in tune with him. When we tune ourselves in to him, he will really appreciate that we are finally aware of what we are doing. When we cue our horse for something our horse probably noticed three or four things that we do every time we cue it for that response. The horse noticed things that we do not even know we do. He probably responded and we did not notice. He needs to know that you noticed that he noticed what you did. To quote Ray Hunt “it is what happens before what happened, happened that is important”

Does your feel have life or is it just mechanical? When you pick up the reins can you feel how much contact you have with your horse’s mouth or are you just pulling? When your feel has life, softness and rhythm, you can expect a softer more willing response from your horse. Having a feel for your horse, he will be more responsive, more respectful and more comfortable.
© 2003 Will Clinging

Why we do groundwork

Groundwork is an important part of the training process. It is an essential component in having a “broke” horse. Groundwork can help to establish good basic manners that our horses need for us to be safe. Groundwork can be to exercise your horse or to teach a specific lesson. Horses young and old will benefit as well as green horses or horses with issues. It is with a solid foundation that our horses learn to trust us. Without trust, we will never have a partnership with our horse.

Groundwork that creates good ground manners does not need to be done in a round pen. Manners can be taught just as effectively with a halter and lead rope. Things like space boundaries, and good leading habits are important for horses to learn. A round pen can be a useful tool when working horses without a halter.

Groundwork in the young horse is very important. At an early age horses can learn to accept us as the leader of their herd. They can learn to respond to different forms of pressure whether it is from leading, picking up their feet or putting them in a trailer. Pressure does not have to mean physical contact. Pressure can come from other horses, equipment, trailers etc . The better a young horse responds to pressure the safer it will be.

Groundwork is just as effective with older horses. We can do groundwork with an older horse to keep them keen. Sometimes when we are working, showing, or enjoying a trail ride we let our horses get away with ignoring a cue. Through groundwork we can remind them of what we still expect from them.

Groundwork is the key to preparing a horse to be saddled and ridden. Though groundwork takes time it should encourage a willing attitude so the horse can accept a saddle and rider. In a willing partnership, most horses never feel threatened enough to feel the need to buck.

Groundwork is the basis of fixing behavior problems. Many behavior issues stem from a lack of respect and trust. Which is best established from the ground. If your horse does not respect you on the ground, it will not respect you on its back.

How much groundwork is necessary? The amount of groundwork will depend entirely on the horse. How fast the horse learns, the number of issues that need worked out and previous training all play a role in

the amount of groundwork that should be done. Horses will get bored if we spend too much time on the ground doing the same exercises. Adding more difficult exercises to your routine will help keep your horse interested.

Groundwork as valuable as it is, is not the only training that we should do. Saddle work is the only way to teach a horse to be a safe mount. Groundwork before you ride is a good way to build on your foundation and tune your horse under saddle.

When doing groundwork think about how it should translate to work under saddle. Many of the concepts that we teach when we ride can be taught or at least introduced on the ground. We can teach our horse to move forward, stop and backup. We can disengage their hindquarters or do a turn on the haunches. We need these basic maneuvers first in order to get consistent results with more difficult responses are cued.

There are many good trainers with different methods designed to make our horses more respectful and more responsive. Round pen work, leading, lunging and ground driving are all valuable when done correctly. Good horsemanship is simply that. Natural or otherwise we should not overlook the benefits of doing groundwork. At the end of the day we are all after the same thing: a safe reliable horse that is willing to do what we ask.
© 2003 Will Clinging

Helping our Horses Deal with Fear

Horses have survived for thousands of years because of their strong survival instincts. Of all their instincts, flight is the strongest. Horses need to be able to move their feet. If they are aware that they can run away at any time, they are more likely to think about what is scaring them. When we restrain a horse by tying them up we take the ability to follow that instinct away from them. Once fleeing from danger is no longer an option they will pull back, bolt, and rear, kick etc. When a horse gets to this point its own safety is not important to them. They will risk injury to themselves to ensure survival. They will also run over you if you happen to be in the way. Horses simply do not think when they get scared and their instincts take over. When they are panicked, they can work themselves into frenzy. At that point, they genuinely fear for their lives. They do not understand that whatever is scaring them is literally not going to eat them. How would you react if you were in a situation where you were restrained and you thought your life was being threatened? Would you not do everything physically possible to escape with your life?

Once we understand why horses react the way they do, we may need to adjust how we handle our horses to keep them from feeling so threatened. When introducing new and scary things to your horse do not tie them up. You can not stop a horse from being afraid but you can help them overcome their fears. Let them move their feet so they feel that they can escape if they need to. They will not feel the need to defend themselves. This allows their brain to remain in control of their body and keeps their instincts in check. They will realize that what was scaring them has not hurt them. When horses spook at things when we are leading them our natural reaction is to hold on and not let them move away. By doing this we only increase the stress level for the horse. They are scared of something AND we are trying to force them to stand still. Instead of bracing against them move with them. If they try to back away walk back with them. It they jump to the side control the direction they go in and let them run around you. Do not let them turn away from the threatening object. Once they get their head turned away from us we have lost control and they will get away. If this happens it is likely to happen again and again. If the horse escapes it has rewarded itself by removing the pressure it was resisting.

Horses unlike dogs will not deal with fear for a treat. Horses in the wild have food all around them. Why would they put themselves in danger to get something they already have? How often have you seen a horse trying to be bribed with grain? How often has it worked? Treats given at a time when the horse is acting poorly will only be rewarding the poor behavior. This behavior will then become a conditioned response.
We often introduce scary things too quickly. The more time the horse has to get used to new things the more quickly they will be accepted. We can not force a horse to accept new things. We must make it comfortable for them to do so. If you have two hours to introduce something new to your horse it will take five minutes. If you only have five minutes, it will take two hours.

How we present things to them is important. We must be slow and smooth when approaching them so it is easier for them to handle the new object or idea. If we are too quick and jerky in our movements, we are more likely to scare them. I always like to leave the horse before he feels the need to leave me. If I feel that he is about to run away I will stop and back off. It is critical to leave before your horse starts to leave. After each time I stop and back off, he should be able to handle just a little bit more the next time I approach.

If you ever feel that your horse is scared and he is about to panic, he probably is. Help him out if you can. Your horse is already afraid that something is going to bite him. If you get after your horse for being afraid then something did bite him. Then he is justified in his fears. Having a scared horse is not fun. Nor is it safe for you or him because a scared horse will eventually turn into a wreck.
© 2003 Will Clinging