Saturday, July 5, 2008


It occurred to me the other day that this blog might be a good way for me to answer a few horse-related questions. So, if something is on your mind, ask away!


Billie said...

Hello Rick,

I have a colic product. Would it be okay to talk about it on this blog?

Rick said...

Hi Billie,
Thanks for asking. It's not what I had in mind but sure, go ahead.

John said...

Here's one:
Like many horse owners,I have one horse. Good, bad, this is my horse and I'm not the type who can change horses easily. Luckily, I think she is a good horse. You've seen a lot of clinicians. Do you think that a "lay" (for want of a better term) horseperson can follow a dvd training program and get good results? Can a person get experience by training just one horse? And, how much does our "personal relationship" with our horse get in the way of the "it's just business" part of our training? And, do you get confused (a better word might be inconsistent) by hearing the different clinicians?

Hope that made some sense.

Rick said...

Hi John,
All good questions. If you want to be the best horseman you can be, you need experience with many different horses. If you want to develop a relationship with a single horse, you need to spend lots of time with that one horse. So the answer to that one is, it depends on what you want. Training DVDs vary in quality. Some are disorganized, poorly produced, and even present bad information. But even the best give you only an intellectual understanding of the ideas. That only takes you so far. You also need lots of time in the presence of a horse, handling and riding him, putting the ideas into practice, developing some muscle memory, developing a sense of what the horse is saying through his body language, etc. By the same token, hands-on time alone isn't enough. It's the marriage of "classroom" and "field" work that really moves you forward.
Is it best to follow one trainer or look at multiple approaches? When you're just starting out, I recommend picking one system and following it. The major systems are most different in the beginning. When you get farther along in your journey, you understand that they are all saying the same thing in different ways, doing the same thing with different techniques and tools, and spinning it all to make it seem unique and special. At the core, all are using an understanding of the horse's nature to motivate him to do the things we want him to do, in other words natural horsemanship. If you're the type that just has to look at everything, that's fine, but be prepared to be sidetracked with lots of irrelevant concerns, e.g. why does Clinton use a stick and Chris just twirls the end of his rope? Dr. Miller and I wrote about this difficulty in The Revolution in Horsemanship. All the paths take you to the same place. Finally, yes, your personal relationship can interfere with training the horse. Usually this is the result of a distorted idea of what it means to love your horse. I love my horses and my kids, but I wouldn't hesitate to discipline any of them to get across an important point. It's not the easy route. It doesn't feel good to "punish" a horse any more than it feels good to punish a child, but as long as it's not done in anger, as long as it's done with a business-like attitude and your entire demeanor returns to normal immediately, the horse (and child) will not become frightened of you. In fact, it gives both a sense of security, knowing that there are boundaries and that you are there to keep them from drifting outside those boundaries. Final point: don't expect your horse to love you back, at least not in the usual sense of love. He cannot do it and it's unfair to ask that of him. He can become comfortable and relaxed in your presence. He can become "happy" to see you, especially if seeing you always means treats. But the equine species has a very different brain, preoccupied with safety, comfort, and the presence of other equines. This doesn't need to diminish the experience for you. Because having a horse that truly trusts and respects you is still immensely enjoyable.

John said...

Great answer, Rick. As I was reading it I was nodding my head. I am constantly reminding myself where to keep my hands, not to lean, how to use my legs so that I can be consistent enough to give my horse a chance to understand.

About six months ago I self-imposed a moratorium on watching all the different clinicians RFD and dedicated my training to the Clinton Anderson DVD series. Sometimes overwhelming, but workable, I think it will offer me a foundation I can build on.

Thanks for answering my questions and I especially appreciated your insights on our relationships with our horses. If I can implement them I'm sure they will help me become a better horseman.

Rick said...

You bet, John.
I've learned a lot from Clinton. I think he has a well-organized, easy-to-understand, and highly effective program. Best wishes.

J said...

I have a 8yr old mustang, about 14 hands, and no withers. Really. Trying to find a saddle that "fits" has become an adventure. Usually the saddle rides on his shoulder muscles and the saddle sits on an uphill slope when viewed from the side. I can't afford a $1000 saddle or a $200 sadddle pad (yet). Is there anything else I can do?

Rick said...

Hi J,
I'd suggest using a breast collar to keep the saddle from sliding back and a crupper to keep it from sliding forward. A crupper is a short, padded strap that goes under the horse's tail and attaches to the back of the saddle. Many saddles have little dee rings in back for that purpose. Mule riders have a similar problem and the crupper is often used to solve it.

Sharla said...

I am wanting to use "driving" on horses I'm working with before I get in the saddle. I ride western, but the material I've seen says to put the driving lines through the stirrups. Wouldn't that be too low for the correct rein position?

Rick said...

Hi Sharla,
It seems to me that running the long reins through the stirrups is mostly a matter of convenience when the horse is already saddled. As to whether this puts your reins in the correct position, it depends on the height of the horse, the length of the stirrups, and your height. If this is just a little warmup exercise before mounting the horse, I wouldn't worry about the position much; you're really tuning up the horse's mind and reminding him that you can control his feet, thus qualifying you to lead the team. If I were really going to really work on long reining, I'd put him in a surcingle made for that purpose instead of a saddle. A surcingle is a piece of harness that encircles his girth and has several rings on it for running lines through. I could select the rings that put everything in the optimum position.

Traci said...

Rick - I have a 5 year old QH gelding that I have owned since he was 7 months. I have used Clinton Anderson's techniques for training, and the horse is well grounded in longing for respect. He has a nice personality and is very submissive. Lately he has developed separation anxiety when he is out of sight of his buddy. If they are tied on opposite sides of the trailer, my horse will whinny and pace and become frantic, even trying to peek through the crack of the door to try to see his friend. When he locks in on thinking about the other horse, be becomes very high strung and nervous, sweating and chomping on the bit. He is like a Dr Jekyll / Mr Hyde horse. When he is not in anxious mode, he is very calm and laid back. I do not turn the two geldings out together because I dont want the bond to be strengthened. They can see each other across the aisle in the barn when they are stalled. The other horse could care less where my horse is. I have tried feeding him Mare Magic and Easy Boy but neither one seems to lessen his anxiety when it kicks in. What do you recommend?

Rick said...

Hi Traci,
First, there is nothing wrong with your horse. Being bound to other members of the herd is part of the survival mechanism of horse. Some just express it more in their behavior than others. You don't need to change the underlying bond with the herd. What you can change through training is how the horse behaves when you are present. You need to become the focus of his attention, not other horses. Through training, you teach your horse that you are a competent leader who will protect him. Things are better for him when he gives you his attention. He is more comfortable. By the same token, when his focus is on another horse, that will cause him more work. The way you establish this is by taking the horse to where he wants to be - with the other horse - and working him there. Get him moving his feet, either from the ground or from his back. Get him using his energy and his reserves of air. Put some hustle into this! When he gets to huffing and puffing, take him away from the other horse and let him rest. Once he gets his air back and starts focusing again on the other horse, do it again. With repetition, the horse will come to understand that it's easier for him WHEN HE'S WITH YOU to give you his full attention. This plays on the fact that maintaining reserves of air and energy are just as basic to his survival as is the herd.

By the way, this is exactly what Clinton teaches. It is also covered in detail in my book, Human to Horseman.
Good luck!

Victoria said...

hey rick,

i have a six year old paint/thoroughbred mare, and well she's a bit "huffy". she likes things her way, and if they don't go her way, she gets mean. it's not really viciousness. it's more like her being clever. i ride her in a snaffle for training, a tom thumb for trails, and a hackomore or a chain bit when running barrels. which is what she excels in. if she's not working, she's not happy. no leisurely trail rides are allowed. she doesn't like to walk. she'll walk for a little while, until she gets bored. then she has to liven everything up. she never does anything viciously or trying to hurt anyone. if we've been walking for too long, she'll just jump straight into the air. no buck or rear. it's as if she's bored. she's very well trained. she moves off my leg, slides, rollbacks, backs, anything i ask. she just gets excited. alot of people think it's the thoroughbred. she nips at people trying to play, and we play tag in the field. me and her are very close. and because of that, she won't let anyone else on her. if they get on, she just lays down. and horse trailers terrify her. i have to give her Quitex to get her in. and then it's still a fight. and once she's in, she doesn't plan on getting out. she's something else. do you think this it something i can fix? or just her personality?


Rick said...

Hi Victoria,

Several things come to mind. It's difficult on a trail ride to stop and school your horse, but that's exactly what you need to do. If your trail buddies don't like it, get different trail buddies. This is part of having a horse.

Specifically, when she acts up, get your horse to trot circles and figure eights with plenty of hustle. Maybe do some rollbacks. The more changes of direction, the better. Get her tired and then go back to the trail ride and let her walk again. If she starts acting up, repeat everything. You must be consistent for her to learn that there is an unpleasant consequence to her behavior. If she knows you won't let her get away with it, she'll relax and walk quietly. It will probably take several repetitions to convince her.

Nipping is not play. It's an aggressive act that cannot be tolerated. Ever. A horse that bites, even if it's just a nip, must be instantly punished. I recommend a strong swat on the rear end with a training stick. Just one, but make it count, then go back to neutral behavior. Make sure you are always prepared to instantly discipline her if she nips. Again, create consequences for the behavior she chooses and consistently enforce them. If she is a good girl, reward her. If she is a bad girl punish her. EVERY TIME.

The aversion to loading in a trailer is a common issue and there are very effective ways of reprogramming any horse to load willingly and happily. It's all about making the alternative (being outside the trailer) more uncomfortable than being inside. It's the same principle I talked about on the trail ride.

I spent a lot of time with Clinton Anderson and know his approach better than any other, so I tend to direct people to him for help. He has great DVDs on groundwork and problem-solving.


Victoria said...

thanks alot rick.
i've been working her alot, and well after one swat, no more nipping.

and she has started acting better on the trails but the ring is still her favorite place, but i guess that's just her.

and the trailering thing. so work her when she's out but make it where she can rest on the inside, correct? i'm going to buy clinton's loading dvd and his lead changes one too. which is another problem she has. but i don't understand it.

Rick said...

Hi Victoria,
Glad that helped. Lead changes are another matter of setting the horse up so that the right thing (changing to the desired lead) is easy and the wrong thing (staying on the current lead) is difficult. Let me give you an example. If you were on the left lead, your left stirrup would be slightly ahead of the right one and your body would be in rhythm with the horse's left lead. In other words, YOU would be on a left lead, too! Now suppose you wanted to change to the right lead. You start by changing your body to a right lead: moving your right stirrup forward and your left stirrup back, pressing behind the girth with your left heel and tipping the horse's nose slightly to the right. You would also put more of your weight in the left stirrup, which takes weight off the right stirrup, making it easier for the horse to lift that shoulder and extend that leg farther, as he needs to do in a right lead. All that put together would make it easier for the horse to switch to the right lead. It will probably take several strides in the beginning, but eventually the horse will get it more quickly. You also need to THINK right lead as you do this. Horses pick up our intent in ways we don't fully understand. Finally, initially, you might want to drop to a trot before changing leads. Do this enough times and one day a flying change (changing leads while cantering) will simply happen. This last idea is courtesy of Jack Brainard, one of the real experts on teaching lead changes.

Good luck.

bob sanders said...

Rick, a question? My wife has a 6 year old mare that has issues. One, she doesn't seem to like the bit. We've had her wolf teeth pulled and her teeth floated. So we use a side pull. But, on occassion, she gets real grumpy. I think the side pull might be too close to her eyes and that might frightener her. Doesn't happen as often with a rope halter. And she doesn't like real soft sand or mud. Water crossings are another trip all together. Any suggestions on the side pull?
btw, great book.