Why Difficulties In Horse Training A Good Thing
I'll never forget one of the first horses I trained by myself. I could not have picked a better horse to give me problems.
This horse was slow to motivate. He was very much his own "person" so to speak and was going to do what he pleased...at least...that's how it seemed.
There are plenty of horses in this world that will move when you want them to move. In fact, some horses can be so nervous it takes little effort to get them moving in the round pen. In a way, they almost train themselves.
When I was first training this horse he moved slowly and not very deliberately. Teaching him to drive was very difficult because he just wasn't going to move for me.
The first time I put a surcingle on him and attached the lines he had no more intention on moving forward than an elephant with no legs.
The lesson I was teaching was to move forward. When you want your horse to move then, obviously, you want him to move...not stand there.
A typical way to teach moving forward and associating the action with a command is to get behind your horse and to the left a little. Then give a slight pull on the left rein, then say "step" or "get up" and tap him on his rear end with the whip.
Most every horse I worked with, this technique worked well. But the technique failed with this horse.
Whenever I tapped him on the butt he would either stand there and blink his eyes or he would turn around and just look at me.
To the trained trainer it may seem he was balking. In fact, that's what I feared was happening.
The next thing I tried to get him moving was a hog slapper. A hog slapper is a small pole like aid with a handle on one end and two pieces of leather on the other end. When you slap the leather end against your boots it makes a loud slapping sound.
It was the loud slapping sound I was hoping would motivate the horse to move. Here's what happened.
The horse didn't take any steps forward to get away from it. It scared him a little the first two or three times I slapped it on my boot, but that's all it did.
Frustrated and bewildered I wasn't sure what to do next.
I began to analyze the situation. I knew the tap with the whip wasn't working so I didn't need to repeat trying it. I knew the hog slapper didn't work so I didn't need to repeat that either.
So I asked myself, "What can I use to motivate this horse to move?"
I got the answer from Jesse Beery.
Jesse Beery, a famous horse trainer from the 1800's, taught training a horse to drive in much the same way I do it. Even the tap on the rear end with the whip is the same.
In teaching a horse to overcome fears and desensitizing him to sounds, Beery prescribes using metal bowls strung together like a wind chime on rope. These bowls make quite a racket when you shake them. Used as Beery describes, they are extremely effective in horse training.
So I thought these noise makers would motivate my horse to move. After all, they are loud and obnoxious when they clank together and make noise.
So I tacked up the horse, grabbed my noise maker, and tried again.
As I was fumbling with the lines and the noise maker trying to get situated, I nearly dropped the noise maker and it made a pretty good racket. Almost the second it rattled, the horse moved away from it.
Immediately I had a glimmer of hope that this was my answer.
So I tried it all again. I gave a slight pull on the left line, I then said "get up", and then I rattled the bowls.
Nothing except the horse raising his head and looking behind him a little. But I knew that meant I was getting his attention.
So I tried it again.
This time, he took about 3 steps forward and stopped. I was thrilled. I walked up to him and rewarded him with a caress.
Then I stepped back and did it again.
It wasn't long before I didn't have to use my noise maker anymore. All I had to do was say "get up" and he'd move. Not only did he move, he moved with energy.
Although this horse was very frustrating I must admit I am grateful to him. Why? Because he taught me valuable lessons.
The first lesson I relearned was patience.
The second lesson was that not everything will work on the same way on every horse. This was a lesson I already knew but it was reinforced.
The third lesson learned was to reexamine what I knew about horses and use that knowledge to get him doing what I needed him to do. That's why I tried the noise maker.
I knew certain noises frighten horses so I decided to manipulate his fear with the noise maker. I also knew to be careful not to terrorize him. After all, you want to use as little of that kind of motivation as possible. Only use what is just enough.
Fourth, he taught me to keep looking for an answer because one exists even though I didn't know it at the time.
Fifth, if I ever run across another horse that's hard to motivate to move, then I will pull out my noise makers because it worked before.
As I patted myself on the back for coming up with the noise maker idea I was actually feeling grateful for having such a difficult horse. I realized having a difficult horse was a great teacher to me - and I have absolutely loved having difficult horses since.
About the Author
Andy Curry is a nationally known horse trainer and author
of several best selling horse training and horse care books.
For information visit his website at www.horsetrainingandtips.com.
He is also the leading expert on Jesse Beery's horse training
methods which can be seen at www.horsetrainingandtips.com/Jesse_Beerya.htm