Category Archives: 2004 Articles

Young Horse Series – Teaching to Tie

If you have an older horse that ties, tie him up first. Then tie your young horse near by. The rope should be tied short and high. If the rope is too long and/or too low he could get a foot over the lead rope and get hurt.
When you first tie him up do not leave him alone. Many horses will pull initially when they realize that they are tied up. The degree to which they pull varies greatly. If he does pull you need to be prepared to untie him if he gets into a wreck or falls down but do not untie him until he is in danger. He needs to learn that pulling is futile. If you release him when he is pulling he will learn that when he pulls you will untie him. This is what he wants so he will quickly put two and two together. If you wait until he stops pulling on his own then untie him he will also figure out that he was rewarded for not pulling.

Do not tie him for long periods. A few minutes at a time is enough. Try to make the time he is tied enjoyable for him. It is a good time for grooming or to be fed a little grain. Increase the time he spends tied as he becomes comfortable with it.
Do not always tie another horse beside him. He needs to know he is still ok to stand even though he may be alone. If he paws or paces initially do not worry about it. He is just trying to deal with a stressful situation. If you scold him for this it could be enough to push him into a scared tantrum. Over time most horses will just learn to stand quietly. Especially if you tie him up after a training session rather than before.

It is important not to introduce scary new things to your horse when it is standing tied. This could be overwhelming to him and you may be teaching him that when he is tied he gets scared. He is much more likely to start pulling when he is scared. Things should be introduced when he is free to move around. You can then re introduce things that he is comfortable with when he is tied.

Learning to stand tied is fundamental training that all horses should be comfortable with. The success you have teaching you horse this lesson will depend on the preparation you do. At some point you will need to tie your horse up, whether for the vet or farrier or there is no one around to hold him for you if you need to leave him. Do not take this lesson lightly as you are establishing now whether your horse will be safe to tie. If your horse is not safe to tie he could be a threat to himself and those around him.
© 2004 Will Clinging

Young Horse Series – Picking up Feet

Since we have covered touching, catching and leading we are now ready to move on to preparing your young horse to have his feet picked up. The earlier we can prepare a horse to have his feet handled the better. Your horse and your farrier will both appreciate this lesson. If you take the time to teach your horse to be well mannered with his feet, it will stand by him later in life (bad pun). Your horse will be much less stressed at trimming/shoeing time and it will save the shoer potential injury. If you are not comfortable handling his feet for the first time call a farrier and be up front about how much handling your young horse has had. Some farriers are not interested in training your horse to pick up his feet but many are willing to help. Do not spring it on the shoer after he has arrived. This will earn you no favours. Expect to pay your farrier for the extra work he will have to do.

Some horses are very uncomfortable having their feet handled. Even the gentlest horse can kick, rear up or bolt when we try to touch their legs and feet. This exercise can be traumatic to horse and handler if things go wrong. If you get off on the wrong foot (another bad pun) stop and put him away. Do not try to force this lesson on him. Handling his feet should never be a bad experience. This is when a horse is taught to be good to shoe or become the farrier’s nightmare. Always try to quit on a positive note. It is always better to stop when things are going well. If you only get to his elbow on day one that is ok. Each time you will get a little farther. If you keep at it until he gets frustrated and starts to get worse, you have gone too long.

It is important for your horse to understand earlier lesson of touching and leading before he is ready to have his feet picked up. For equipment you will need a halter and lead, a short whip 4’ or 5’ long. Having someone to hold the horse is optional. Do not tie the horse when you are working on his feet for the first time.
Face the rear of the horse so it is easier to see what the horse is doing. You are in a better position to get out of the way if needed and you have more control once you are holding the foot. When working on touching a horse’s foot use the hand that is closest to the horse when you are facing the rear of the horse (inside hand). If you use your outside hand your body is facing his. If you need to get away from him for any reason you have to turn before you can escape. If you are using the wrong hand, you are more likely to get hit should he try to kick at you.

If you have a handler holding the horse, they should be on the same side as you when you are touching his legs or feet. That way if your horse jumps or moves forward the handler can turn him in a circle away from you and you are less likely to be knocked down. If they are on the opposite side and he jumps they will pull him into a circle around them and you will be in danger of being knocked over or kicked as the horses hind quarters come around. If you are alone hold the lead rope in the hand you are not using to touch your horse. Let the lead rope come behind your back to your hand so a pull forward with your hand will pull his head toward you and his body away from you.

To get started find a safe place away from other horses with good footing. If you have an older horse, it will help to tie it near by. Face the horse’s hind quarters with a relatively loose hold on the horse. If you have a handler they are facing the same direction. Using your inside hand start rubbing the horse from the neck to the shoulder. As you continue to do this, your hand will travel farther each time down the leg. If he picks up his foot when you are touching any part of his leg stop and pet him. Every time he picks it up on his own he should be rewarded. Do not try yet to pick up the foot. We want him to pick it up for us. When your hand gets below the knee, run your thumb along the tendon squeezing gently. At this point, if you want to add a verbal cue it would be a good time. If he picks his foot up you should immediately stop and pet him. If he does not pick it up continue to rub and handle the foot. This will only increase his comfort level having his feet touched. Repeat the process repeatedly until he consistently picks his foot up. You have not yet tried to hold the foot.

When you are ready to try to hold the foot it is extremely important to give it back to him BEFORE he takes it back. If he gets it away from you he will continue to try and take it from you and it will get harder and harder to hang on. If he never gets away from you, in the first place he will learn that it is ok for you to hold his foot because he knows you will give it back and he will not get hurt. If he gets away from you do not panic. You will need to be prepared the next time because he will try again. Do not get in a pulling match with him; hold on only as hard as you need to. Any excess pressure from you will cause him to resist even more. This needs to be a comfortable exercise for him or he will anticipate a fight every time you try to work with his feet.

If he does try to pull it from you or he tries to slam it down where you are holding the foot may make the difference in your favour. Hold to toe of the foot with your fingers on the front of the hoof wall and your palm on the sole of his foot. Keep his fetlock joint bent and he will not have as much power to take it from you. If he tries to move off on three feet just walk with him and keep him in a small circle around you. The instant he stops moving and relaxes his leg give it back and pet him. Do not expect to hold the foot for more than a couple of seconds before letting him have it back.

Repeat the process on the hind foot on the same side. If he is prone to kick, use the short whip instead of your hand to rub his leg as you work closer to his hind foot. When he is comfortable with the flag or whip replace it with your hand.

An alternative to using a flag to touch his hind feet is to hold his front foot with your inside hand while you work your way down his hind leg with your outside hand. He can not kick unless he pulls his front foot away from you. This in itself is warning that he may kick. So be ready to escape at all times. Otherwise, the process is the same for the back feet as it was for the front.

The first time you handle his feet, do not try to put his foot between your legs the way the farrier will when his feet get trimmed. The squeezing pressure on his leg is almost always too much for them to handle and he will try to get away. Rather you can kneel down and rest his foot on your knee.
Go through this process on all four feet; always remember to use caution as even little horses can kick hard. It may take several sessions before he accepts you picking up his feet. Do not rush it. It is fundamental training that should not be taken lightly.
© 2004 Will Clinging

Young Horse Series – Leading

Last month I gave a few pointers on how to touch and catch your weanling or yearling. Now that he is caught, he needs to learn to lead.
There are a couple of things to consider before you start.
It is not natural for a horse to be pulled on. The halter rope is simply to guide him not to pull on him. Pulling on the halter too hard may cause him to resist by pulling against you. This can cause your horse to rear up or to bolt and try to pull away from you. If this happens you may be simply applying too much pressure.
Leading, like touching and catching will take time to learn. Do not expect him to lead very well for the first few days. Remember to keep your training sessions short. You should always try to stop before he wants you to stop.
For the sake of this article, I will concentrate on basic leading. Only when your young horse will lead confidently is he ready for more advanced leading techniques. Things like stopping, backing and leading past you on a loose lead will be covered in future articles.
For equipment, I use a halter, lead rope and a second, longer lead rope. The second lead rope is not so two people can pull harder. It will be used as a bum rope. Snap the lead back onto itself to form a loop. The loop should be large enough to drop over your horse’s bum. The rope should not hang below his hocks and it should not be directly under his tail. The snap should be over the middle of his back. Run the tail end of the bum rope through the halter.
This rope is used to urge him to walk forward while you guide him with the rope attached to his halter.
Do not be too particular where you go initially. Any forward movement should be rewarded. Simply stop pulling on the bum rope to do this. Try not to pull on the halter rope. This will often upset them and cause him to become confused. Confusion could make him want to escape from you. If he does try to get away keep the halter rope short so he is traveling around you. If he gets turned away from you, it is much more difficult to stop him from getting away.
Keep him pointed where you want him to go. If he turns away from you softly pull his head back. If his head is where you want it, soften your feel so his head does not feel too restrained. When asking him to move keep a gentle contact with the halter ropes. If you lead him slightly to the side, it will put him off balance and he will have to move his feet. Pulling straight could cause him to brace and simply start a tug of war.
With his head where you want it, pull on the bum rope. It is better to maintain a gentle pressure and give him time to respond. Start slowly and expect him to move only a step forward. If he does this release to reward. If you continue to pull after he responded by moving forward, he will learn to ignore your pull. Remember he does not have a clue what you want him to do. There needs to be release at some point or he will learn nothing. Releasing at the wrong time will teach him the wrong thing. Your timing is very important.
If you reward one small step, he will know that his effort is in the right direction. He will continue to improve because he is constantly finding a consistent reward.
If he backs up when you pull on the bum rope just maintain your pull until he stops and leans forward. It could take some time until he is comfortable moving away from pressure like a bum rope.
When he is moving fairly well, start asking with the halter rope, now the bum rope can be used only as a backup to the feel you are offering. You will still not pull his head to lead him but there can been more of a feel in the direction you want to go. If he braces then reinforce with the bum rope.
Keep the bum rope employed for a few days until you do not need it for added incentive for him to lead. Never get into a pulling match. Do not be afraid to go back to the bum rope if he decides not to lead.

If you have another horse, it will help to have someone help you. If they lead the older horse beside you, your youngster will want to follow. He will get some confidence and comfort by knowing he is not alone. At the same time, he is following the older horse; you will be leading him. Occasionally turn him in a small circle to help him learn to follow the halter rope. Then catch up to the older horse. See if he will lead in front of another horse. If he stalls just let the other horse catch up and start again.
A few days of this and another horse shouldn’t be needed. You can then start to take him on walks farther from the other horses so he will learn that he does not always need equine company to be lead.

Teaching your young horse to lead properly is essential to a solid foundation. Without good leading habits you, horse will be a handful to take anywhere. If your horse leads well, he will have a better chance of learning to stand tied; he will load in a trailer with less effort and eventually be easier to direct when you start to ride him. Take the time at an early age and it will pay off during future training.

Future articles on training the young horse will include : picking up and handling feet : teaching to tie : advanced leading and trailer loading.
© 2004 Will Clinging

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