Tuesday, January 10, 2012

2 - Catch me if you can!

A friend recently called with questions about a horse that was suddenly becoming difficult to catch in the pasture. Why? Most often, we can understand what they are thinking if we consider their instincts. Find food. Stay with herd. Avoid work. Just like we do, they try to avoid unpleasantries, and gravitate towards enjoyable experiences.  So, the woman wanted to bring her horse in, and he wanted nothing to do with her. Apparently, he doesn't like the work.
I was born an animal lover.  When I was little and played 'house', I pretended to be the family dog, or the horse, while my young peers were playing the mom, or the teenager role.  Naturally, having spent some time in their 'shoes', so to speak, I had some conflict about making my horse work.  Is it fair to strap a saddle to their back, put a bit in their mouth, and ride around in circles, over jumps, or through rivers, simply so that I can enjoy myself?

Clinton Anderson once described how lucky a horse is to have us.  We work a typical 40 hour week, just to earn the money to pay for their food, their medical care, their blankets, and their barn.  We clean their stalls, and provide them pasture so they can graze and relax.  Their needs are completely met, all in thanks to our hard work. 

So true!  We aren't asking them to work 40 hours a week to earn their keep...just a couple hours a day.  Perhaps they have to put in some extra hours once or twice a week for a show, but really, you're talking a 20 hour work week during their busy season.  Wouldn't that be nice?

So, what to do about the horse that doesn't want to work?  This is the one instance in which I regularly bribe my horses.   I feed them when I bring them in.  If I am about to ride, and I don't want them to have a full belly, they just get a handful thrown in their feed pan.  Feed the horse in the bucket, not by hand.  Regular feeding by hand will make a pushy, nosy horse, and perhaps even a biter.  While he is licking up every last morsel, I get the tack out, pick their stalls, and give them a few minutes of relaxation prior to grooming and tacking up.  If you want to speed up the training process, bring them in, feed them, and put them back out, with no work in sight.  So, they associate being brought in with food and relaxation, rather than getting tacked up and ridden.  My horses associate me with food and relaxation SO much, that they run to the barn EVERY time they see me.  I go in the yard to play soccer with the kids...they run to the barn.  I go get the mail...they run to the barn.  I want to ride...they run to the barn.  Problem solved!

Apparently, the owner had been rewarding him with treats AFTER a ride.  Even if her intentions were to reward a good ride, there is little chance that your horse is going to make the association between a collected canter and the subsequent carrot.  Plus, those treats after the ride are not on his mind when the owner is trying to catch him in the pasture, so, it does no good there either.  Certainly, they enjoy post ride treats, but realize, their simple enjoyment is all they are good for.


  1. I treat before a ride too; I figure even though I don't mind my own day job, I still expect a paycheck in return (so fair is fair, right?) I give our horses a treat once they have ducked their head through the reins (I just hold them open). It's funny to see how happily cooperative they are (then I just hang on to the headstall part and saddle up while they're chewing).

    Mine also get a treat for dropping their noses in the halter. We've been known to do periodic "halter drills" around here (we're silly ;o) so that in the event of an emergency we can halter everyone up in no time.

  2. The halter training is a good idea! My horses are well mannered, but it sounds like your horses practically halter themselves :-) I hope my kids will get into horses, and if I did this, they might actually be able to halter and bridle themselves...OK...within the next 10 years ;-)


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