Category Archives: 2008 Articles

The Evergreen horse

I taught a lesson the other day for new clients. They described their horse as being evergreen. It is a term that is fitting for many horses that don’t seem to progress. There is obviously many different factors that are to be considered when judging the progress that a horse is or is not making. The amount of time we spend working the horse, the methods we employ while training, the experience and expectation of the rider, confidence, and so many other things I can’t list them all. Continue reading

Share the responsibility!

I wrote last month about giving the horse the benefit of the doubt when issues develop. There is always a reason when things go wrong, and we have to accept at least half of the responsibility. Remember it is us that is asking for certain acceptable behavior, if we have not defined what is actually acceptable then the horse is right to be wrong.
Once horses are further along in their training problems can take on a different dynamic.
When a horse is inexperienced with no or little understanding of what our expectations are the problems are usually pretty obvious and relatively easy to diagnose if we start working backwards from where things went wrong. In the horse that is generally reliable and predictable starts to misbehave in certain predicaments it is easy to jump the gun and assume that the inappropriate action is situational. This can be the case but there might be more below the surface than you think. Continue reading

The Benefit of The Doubt

I am sitting at the ferry terminal on my way home from teaching a clinic. Reflecting about the events of the weekend a few things came to mind about some of the horses I worked. The horses ranged from old faithful geldings to very inexperienced yearlings to a couple that were exhibiting “problem behavior”. I have long been a believer that problem behavior is only an expression or symptom of a deeper rooted problem. The problem for us is to correctly diagnose what is actually going on so we can truly help the horse overcome their seemingly problem expression. I believe that too many horses are unfairly labeled as problems when really they were just miss understood and miss handled. Continue reading

Affection and discipline; part two

In my last article I wrote about how many horses are developing different behavior patterns because of the affection and lack of effective discipline that they receive. I have been pleasantly surprised at the number of people that I have spoken to that also recognize that their horse fits into the scenario that I presented.
Recognizing the problem is the first step in resolving it.

There are a few things to keep in mind before you attempt to change the behavior of your horse should he behave in a way that is unacceptable. First of all horses are constantly pushing boundaries, and are usually very intelligent. Many of us do not give them credit for their intelligence and their ability to rationalize. Do not take this factor for granted, their intelligence is the only reason that we can change their behavior.

Do not start something you are not prepared to finish, it not about winning or losing but about finding an acceptable resolution to a conflict. That does not mean the problem is fixed. It might only mean that the conflict is less intense. You will not convince a horse in a few lessons to change behavior that has developed and been accepted for a lifetime. It will take time.

Do not take your horses actions personally, he is not behaving the way he is to pick a fight, he is trying to prevent one. Horses are defensive by nature not aggressive. That does not mean that he won’t act defensively aggressive. Even though you may feel you are not threatening him, you are.

Do not be afraid to be physical when correcting your horse. This is the part of all this that causes much of the problem behavior that we now need to change. Many of us as people enjoy horses because they are kind animals. A horse can perceive too much kindness as weakness, and horses do not have much time for weaker horses. Horses are very physical when they correct each other. You are not strong enough to hurt your horse unless you are using a weapon.

Give him responsibilities and let him figure out what his options are. His responsibilities are to pay attention, think about what I have asked of him and come up with a decision about how he should respond. My responsibilities are to keep his attention, give him time to think and let him make up his own mind. He may be wrong most of the time but so what. It is more important for him to know that it is his job to figure things out for himself. Do not punish him for being wrong or he will stop trying, or he will try too hard, either one will lead to the lack of success. You must make sure he is successful, maybe not to the level you would like but incremental success will lead to ultimate success. He will soon learn what his options are, and which ones are ineffective. When he learns what does not work he will start to look for different options and this is where if we are paying attention we can start to encourage him to keep looking. Eventually he will be correct or nearly correct and then it is time to stop asking. Don’t fall into the trap of repeating a correct action over and over and over again. Once he takes responsibility to do it a couple of times give him credit for having learned what you asked.

Like children they need to have consistent boundaries set and enforced. Make up your own boundaries, many people have unclear expectations for the behavior of their horse. If you are not sure what you want, make yourself a list of the things that your horse does, good and bad. And ask yourself do I like it when he behaves that way. If you do not then you should do something about it. If you do like the way he behaves you should let him know that you appreciate what he is doing for you.

If your horse has learned to ignore you and takes offense when you get after him for misbehaving the earlier you address it the easier it will be to change. This does not mean it will be easy. The more established the behavior, the more confident the horse, the harder it can get. This means that he may change his behavior for the worse before anything is resolved. If you are not prepared to see this through to a satisfactory conclusion then do not start. Things are likely to get very intense, so are you prepared to go where he might take you?

It is very important that you are able to remove emotion from any request or correction that you may use to get your horse to perform. Emotion causes unclear thinking. Fear, anger, frustration are all debilitating when trying to teach, or learn. If you can not remove the emotion from the equation it will be difficult to clarify things to your horse, because your horse will feel the same fear, confusion and even anger.

You must always be looking at the things that your horse tries to do for you rather than dwelling on the things that you think that your horse is trying to do to you. I know people that have seen their horse rear up not be able to get the vision of their horse rearing out of their mind. They expect the horse to rear again and they have already set their horse up to fail. Use the power of intention and positive thought to help rather than hinder the process.

Never look to punish your horse for any action however extreme you may think it is. Correct him absolutely but NEVER punish. Perhaps it is just a difference in definition but correction is methodical and deliberate, punishment is emotional and reactive.

Do not be afraid to hurt your horse’s feelings, he will like you more after this is resolved.
When trying to change behavior there are stages I use. The first stage I will call “conflict”. I need to cause enough conflict that I cause the poor behavior to be expressed by the horse. I will do my best through methodical correction and reward to have the horse look for better options in dealing with me. This can sometimes set the horse up to anticipate that the next lessons are going to be as intense as the “conflict” stage.

The next stage I will call “clarify”. In this stage I will not be the cause of the conflict. The horse will anticipate enough conflict that I won’t need to initiate it. I will just make requests quietly and deliberately like I know he will be successful. He will often overreact and I will just quietly let him work himself through the conflict stage and clarify to him that he is doing fine. Correctness is unimportant but encouraging him by asking less of him should help him learn not to overreact.

The third stage I will call “support” From this time on I will expect the horse’s behavior to be much improved. Each and every time the horse reverts back to previous behavior I will support him by resolving the issue that comes up. I do not want to look at this as a lesson rather I look at it as life. In his new life he is expected to behave well and he will realize that if he decides to behave badly that there is a consequence. On the other hand life in general is much more enjoyable because we are not dealing with conflict every day.
© 2008 Will Clinging

Affection and discipline; Part 1

As a trainer and clinician I am fortunate to be able to work with a wide variety of horses. I also get to work with a lot more horse than most people. As a result of this I see different patterns emerge in equine behavior. Not behavior in the sense of studying wild horses but in behavior patterns that are developed due to interaction and handling with people. I am seeing horses behave in ways that wild horses probably wouldn’t understand. I have written articles in the past on horses that develop “princess complex” and I have written about a variety of behavior problems. What I am seeing is problem behavior developing before the horse has had much or any handling and no training.
It is not because the horse has been bad and in many cases has shown no sign of misbehaving to their owner. It is also not just bad manners because unhandled horses have no concept that we expect them to behave in a certain way.

What I am seeing is horses that are apparently gentle and easy to be around have no understanding of what it is to behave like a horse. These horses are behaving like spoiled children that were just told they can’t have a cookie. Horses are learning how to throw temper tantrums that result is extreme behavior being exhibited not out of fear but out of anger. These horses then learn how to milk the system to get their own way. We are not prepared in many cases to effectively discipline the bad behavior being exhibited. We either over do the correction and get mad at the horse or we try to comfort the horse for being scared. Either scenario only confirms the bad behavior.

When I talk about disciplining the horse for behaving this way I am not talking about punishing it. I mean that we can not allow the bad behavior to lead to a reward for the horse. The horse must come to his own conclusion that such tantrums are not effective and therefore look for a better way to behave before they get what they want. A major factor in how we discipline is EMOTION. We get too emotional about what is happening. We then take it as a personal attack and get scared or we fight back with aggression. It is the emotional factor that changes the horse’s perception of the correction. They are also starting to take what should be simple corrections as personal attacks and exhibiting the same fear and aggression that we presented first.
When one horse scolds another horse there is usually no anger attached therefore any fear. Our barn kept horses never learns how to give or take correction without giving or taking offence.

This problem is not strictly caused by over affectionate handling. Many horses have a lack of horse discipline because of the environments we keep them in. They often get little or no turnout with other horses, so they don’t learn how to behave like a horse. They behave the way we expect them to, and too many people treat them like pets, too much affection and not enough unemotional correction.

When we raise a foal it is not often enough in a natural herd environment, some mares do not know how to scold their offspring because they never had enough interaction with a herd to develop the skills of herd discipline. A mare and her foal do not a herd make. If she was never scolded by her Dam she may have no parenting skills when it comes to disciplining her foal for stepping out of line. The foal will learn to do what ever they want with no consequence attached. If the mare does keep her foal in line it needs to be supported by those involved in the daily handling of that foal. Otherwise the foal could learn to work his authority figures against each other. Not unlike children that are told by one parent that they can not have a cookie go and ask their other parent in case they might say yes. Or they learn which parent is more likely to give them a cookie in the first place.

As a trainer dealing with a horse with a temper make the job initially more difficult. I have to be prepared to let the horse work through his fits and reestablish better habits in terms of how he deals with frustration or fear. Once the horse learns that he is not in trouble for behaving the way he does he will realize that it is not effective anymore? At that point he is just another horse.
If the horse has been extreme in his tantrums then I must be able to work the horse through his anger to whatever level he decides to go. These are the horses that know exactly how far to push us before we stop asking him to do what we want. These are generally the smarter horses. He learns that if he keeps resisting just a little more that we will give in before he does. It is then my job to go beyond the level that his owner gave in at however extreme until he gives up. Unfortunately he must find this out the hard way and there will usually be several episodes before he gives it up. His behavior will often become even more extreme and he will do all that he can to not give up. As I see the behavior escalating I know I am getting closer to resolution. It is always darkest before the dawn. It is this knowledge that allows me to work through it because it is this part of the job that is not fun to do or to watch.

I used to see very few horses that behaved with such tempers. Unfortunately I believe it is becoming much more common. I have no intention to offend any horse owner but you are not making it easy on your horse to coddle him. In fact you are making his life in training much more difficult for both him and his rider. A horse with a temper will be unpredictable and less reliable than one that is less emotional. I am not saying that there should be no affection because I believe that there should. It is not about balancing affection with discipline but in supplying plenty of both. I may sound like I am ranting and maybe that is the case, I apologize for digressing. I will conclude with a quote from Buck Brannaman “discipline will keep your horse from becoming abused and discipline will keep you from becoming an abuser”.
© 2008