If your horse bites or threatens to bite or even swings his head around in a threatening manner when you tighten his cinch strap, you’ve got a problem. Today you learn a simple fix that requires no equipment and works every time.
How to start. Stand in the usual position, facing the near side of the horse, right hand on the latigo strap, left arm crooked slightly so your elbow is pointing in the direction of the horse’s head. Tighten the cinch a little at a time, always while the horse is exhaling (Parelli style).
What to do. If your swings his head around, the first part of your body he’ll encounter is the point of your elbow, the hardest part of your body. If that alone doesn’t deter him, you can flap your arm like you were having a muscle spasm. Practice this right now. It’s amazing how quickly you can move your elbow, far more quickly than you could jump out of the way or raise your hand to the horse. Before long, you will instinctively flap your arm when you pick up head movement in your peripheral vision.
Your attitude. Other than flapping your elbow, don’t react at all to what your horse has done. Remain relaxed and focused on the cinching as if nothing happened. If he comes around again, flap your arm again. If he’s persistent, you may have to adopt an animated style of cinching where your left arm is flapping almost continually. Once the problem goes away, you can go back to being calm and quiet during cinching, occasionally reassuring your horse with a touch or soft word.
Why it works. Your horse experiences an unpleasant (but not painful) consequence to the action that he chose to take. In a scientific sense this is called punishment, but don’t get hung up on the word. It’s unpleasant to him because 1) it surprises him, 2) if he makes contact with your elbow, it is a bit uncomfortable, and 3) he finds himself moving into commotion or energy. It also gains him nothing because you kept right on with what you were doing as if nothing happened. He will try again but it will be with less enthusiasm. Finally, he’ll just give up.
Where I got it. I saw a video clip once in which Tom Dorrance was demonstrating this technique using a dowel rod tucked under his arm. I found I could accomplishment the same thing with my elbow. However, if you don’t feel safe using your elbow, use a dowel rod or training stick or anything else that’s handy. The important thing is that you have something sturdy between you and the horse’s head.
Why it’s good. The big advantage of this technique is that the horse doesn’t realize that the punishment has come from you. He believes he did it to himself. Some of the best old-time training techniques were like this. I like this sort of technique because it cures a dangerous behavior without putting the relationship at risk.
Before you start. There’s always a chance that the horse has a medical issue that is causing him pain when you tighten the cinch. Examine the girth area and call your vet if you see or feel anything unusual.
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