The Buzz

At some stage of horse ownership, you will come across a horse that doesn’t like to be clipped. To us, clipping seems like something very acceptable. We know the clippers aren’t going to hurt but the horse doesn’t. Remember, horses are prey animals; they perceive anything new as potentially life threatening. Until you prove to them otherwise, they are not going to willingly accept anything in the ‘unknown’ category. Clinton Anderson ClippingThe good news is that there is an easy way to teach your horse to accept clipping. Follow these steps and, with practise, you will be able to clip your horse without having to fight him or restrict him in any way. The key is to break the process into steps and teach the horse that the noise and the feel of the vibrating clippers are not going to hurt him. The smaller the steps, the easier it is for him to understand. The name given to this process is ‘desensitising.’ When you’re desensitising your horse, the goal is to maintain the pressure until he stands still, relaxes and pays no attention to what you’re doing, at which point you should retreat. This is the behaviour I’m looking for when I clip my horse – for him to stand relaxed and not worry about the clippers.

STEP 1

Can you rub your hand all over your horse’s face and ears? Can you wave them around his eyes? If your horse has any resistance to your bare hand on his face and head, you can hardly expect him to stand still for clippers. You would be amazed at how many people wonder why their horse won’t be clipped, when the truth is these same people can’t even touch the horse’s ears with their hands. The first step is to get your horse to accept your hands on his face, muzzle, ears and around his eyes and then anywhere else on his body. Once you have accomplished this step completely, move on to Step 2. Don’t move on if there is any resistance from the horse, no matter how long it takes. If you find an ‘Oh no! Don’t touch me there!’ spot on your horse, continue to rub him in that same area until he stands still and relaxes. When that happens, retreat and rub him somewhere else on his face or body that he is comfortable with. Then approach the sensitive area again. Continue using the approach and retreat method until there are no off limit spots around your horse’s body.

STEP 2

Now place the clippers in your hand (turned off) and desensitise the horse to having the clippers around him. Let him smell the clippers. Then rub them over his face and wave them around his eyes and ears. If your horse won’t stand still for the clippers when they are not even turned on, he won’t stand there when you use them properly. Using the approach and retreat method, make sure that he will tolerate the feeling of the clippers on all parts of his face, eyes and ears. Be patient. This may take a few days, but it will save you time in the long run if you take the time now to do this step right. As before, make sure that the horse is showing no resistance to this step before you move on.

STEP 3

Remove the blade and turn the clippers on to let the horse get used to the noise. Without touching him, wave the clippers around the end of his nose, his eyes and his ears. Don’t touch him with the clippers yet. Desensitise him to the sound and movement first. When clippers are close to his ears, he will probably lift his head and act a little frightened. Leave the clippers up there eight inches from the horse’s ear and wait until the horse relaxes his head. Once he relaxes, turn the clippers off and rub him. Remember, you are not trying to touch him right now with the clippers on – all you are doing is getting him to stand still with the clippers on and moving anywhere around his body. Pay particular attention to areas where reaction is high – this is usually around the ears. You may have to spend more time here.

Clipping MuzzleSTEP 4

Once the horse accepts the clippers around his head while they are turned on but not touching him, it is time to rub them all over his face and nose, around his ears and poll and over the rest of his body, with the clippers turned on (but with the guard in place). This will create a new sensation since the clippers will vibrate against his skin. If the horse gets frightened, just keep rubbing the clippers around the area he is uncomfortable in until he begins to relax. As soon as he does, turn the clippers off and rub him. Remember, approach and retreat. In the beginning, work on one area at a time. On his head, start with his muzzle and work your way up to his ears. As he relaxes in each area, you can expand the places you are rubbing until you can do it anywhere.

STEP 5

Once your horse is absolutely perfect with all of the previous steps, you are ready to begin clipping the hair on his body. However, if you are still getting resistance from the horse to any of the steps up to this point, you will only make matters worse by proceeding. Actually clipping the hair is another new feeling, and the horse may react to the sensation. Again, don’t start in a sensitive area. When dealing with the head, start at the muzzle, go under the chin, up the face, around the eyes, then onto the bridle path and poll area. Then you can start to work on the ears.

Continue the approach and retreat method when you are actually clipping, it is a good idea to do a little bit of clipping and then go back and rub the clippers over areas that you have already clipped. Find a starting point, clip a little bit and then rub that spot with the clippers for a few seconds, then clip a tiny bit more, then rub. If he gets suspicious or frightened, going back to rubbing the areas already clipped will help him relax, then turn off the clippers and rub him with your hand to show him you’re not trying to shove it down his throat. If you work on these steps a little bit each day, after a week or so you should be able to clip anywhere on his body with no resistance.

Ears Forward

Don’t be a loner when riding your antisocial horse. Take control and demand some manners. Horses that misbehave towards fellow horses in group situations are a hazard to themselves and others. One ‘pinny eared’ horse can disrupt an entire trail ride or group training session and create a dangerous situation. Clinton Trail RidingA horse being grumpy and pinning his ears is really just as bad as kicking another horse. In a herd situation, what does a horse do after pinning his ears? He backs the threat up with his hind feet. Horses always warn that they’re unhappy by pinning back their ears. If they’re ignored, then they back up and act like they’re going to kick. If they’re still ignored, then they kick. In this case there’s not much difference between a thought and an action. A horse will always give you a warning that he’s about to be disrespectful. It’s your responsibility to read his body language and act accordingly.

While no one wants to be on an antisocial horse, keep in mind that it’s common for horses to get a little cranky when another horse comes near them. This is especially true if the horse is a dominant horse in the herd. As the other horses are coming up on him, your horse is just saying, ‘Hey, you better stay back or else!’ So if your horse pins his ears or gets cranky as another horse comes up close to him, he’s not a particularly bad horse, he’s just being a horse.

Now, that doesn’t mean that I accept this behaviour and neither should you, but before you start to fix a problem, it’s always good to know how and why it developed. Why would a horse pin his ears or kick at others? It may be due to a lack of respect. Maybe you never taught your horse to respect you, or you’re not giving him enough to think about when you’re riding. As a result, he has time to cause trouble and worry about keeping other horses out of his personal space. When it comes to training horses and working with them on a daily basis, I figure the horse has 23 hours a day to do whatever he wants – eat, sleep, play, whatever. I only ask for one hour out of his day and the least he can do is put on a good attitude and respect me. I make no excuses for cranky attitudes in my horses, whether they be a mare in heat or an extremely dominant horse in the herd. When I’m riding them, their attention and focus better be on me.

DON’T MAKE EXCUSES

When it comes to cranky horses, there are two schools of thought on how to deal with the problem. The first group of people avoids riding in group situations and only rides their horses when they’re sure they’ll be alone. The second group of people makes excuses for their horses and tries to take the responsibility off their shoulders and put it on someone else’s.

If your horse is kicking or pinning his ears when he’s around others, he’s telling you that you’re not keeping him busy enough and he doesn’t respect your leadership. A lot of groundwork, moving the horse’s feet forwards, backwards, left and right and always rewarding the slightest try, will teach him to respect you and keep his attention focused on you. Although this probably won’t cure the problem, it will certainly help by laying a foundation of respect.

The best way to get a horse over pinning his ears or kicking other horses is to expose him to it, let him commit to the mistake and then correct him. Protecting him by keeping him away from other horses is not going to make his cranky attitude go away. In fact, it will only make it worse. A lot of people who have horses that misbehave in group situations mistakenly think that keeping their horse in the barn while the others are riding and only sneaking in rides when the arena is clear will fix the problem. That’s like putting a band aid on a sore – it fixes nothing. Instead, I’m going to share with you two different strategies that will shape up your horse’s attitude.

STRATEGY 1: REDIRECTION

First, you need to set the situation up so that you can correct your horse. It’s best to practice this at home in an arena or in a pasture. You wouldn’t want to take your horse on a trail ride with twelve other horses and try to address the problem. Find a starting point and then build from there. Ask a friend to help you. It’s important that the other horse is quiet and doesn’t have a problem with another horse being close to him. You’ll have your hands full enough fixing your horse, let alone trying to deal with two cranky horses at the same time!

When you’re set to go, have your friend ride his horse away from you while you follow close behind. You want to dare your horse to pin his ears back and act snarly, and if he truly has a problem, this shouldn’t be hard to do. Point his nose toward the other horse’s hindquarters and, if he pins his ears back or gets cranky, immediately bend him in a circle and put him to work. Really make him hustle his feet. You want him to clearly understand that his behaviour is unacceptable and if he even acts like he’s going to get cranky, there are going to be consequences. Those consequences are moving his feet and working hard.

This not only keeps the horse from kicking out or biting the other horse, but it also teaches him why he should avoid kicking in the first place. If he kicks, he has to work hard. Bend the horse in a circle until you feel that he’s got his attention back on you, and then go back to following the other horse and dare him to misbehave again. If he does, no big deal, just bend him around in a circle again. You may have to repeat the process several times before the horse finally understands that when he acts cranky, you’ll make him work hard. When he remains pleasant and relaxed, you’ll leave him alone.

STRATEGY 2: SURPRISE TAP

If you have an extremely dominant horse, you may find that the first strategy isn’t enough to make him want to change his attitude. If that’s the case, try this. Like in the first situation, you’re still going to dare the horse to act cranky by riding him close to the other horse. However, instead of bending him around in a circle when he misbehaves, you’ll tap him between the ears with a dressage whip to make him feel uncomfortable. This sounds aggressive, but keep something in mind, when a horse is misbehaving you need to get in and get out. Be black and white with no shades of grey. You’re not whacking the horse so hard that he drops to his knees with brain damage. You’re more or less surprising him. You want him to think that every time he flattens his ears back to his neck, they hit him on the head. Your timing is really important here – you have to time the tap with the exact instant the horse pins his ears back. That way, the horse will think he’s making himself feel uncomfortable.

As you’re following the other horse, keep your whip in the middle of your chest or over your shoulder so that the horse can’t see it and know it might be coming. You want him to honestly think that he’s whacking himself with his ears, and when it comes, you want it to shock him. So, as you’re following the horse along, keep the stick in the middle of your chest and as soon as the horse even acts likes he’s going to get snarly, use it between the ears. This’ll surprise him and make him throw his head up. Then pretend like nothing $happened. Think of it like an electric fence. When you get zapped by an electric fence it doesn’t really hurt; it takes you by surprise.

Don't Leave Me

If your horse suffers from separation anxiety try Pat Parelli’s methods for weaning both the young and the adult horse.

Horses are herd animals. They are socially dependent on each other. Why? Because for prey animals, there is safety in numbers – and horses are prey animals. Hanging out in groups is how they survive in the wild and understanding your horse’s instinctive behaviour is a foundational element of natural horsemanship.

SeparationThere are two occasions in a horse’s life when he has to go through the ‘weaning’ process - firstly from his mother when he is a foal and secondly at any time he is removed from his best buddy or buddies in later life. The approach to shifting a horse’s separation anxiety is similar in both cases. Start by getting your horses used to being tied for long periods of time. This means hours. They learn patience quickly and soon stand quietly. Horses that are not used to separation or being tied need to be tied more often. Start with shorter amounts of time and build up to several hours. You can tie the horse where he can still see his buddy. Next, begin some short separations.

Cold turkey is not the way to do it. That is how horses and riders get hurt. Take one horse away for just a moment and return. Then do it again and again until the other horse sees that he’s really not gone. Be prepared for this to take many repetitions. Once they are both calm, increase the time that one horse is out of sight. With each session push the distance a little further but always start with a short one. Begin with the horses tied near each other, and then each day increase this gap until by day seven they can’t see each other at all. By doing this task in stages you’re helping increase the horse’s confidence.

Weaning a Youngster Instant separation (especially for a herd bound horse) without preparation can traumatise a horse, and this is especially so when weaning a youngster away from his mother. We recommend that the process be done in stages and only a little at a time. Over the space of a week or two, move the foal into another corral that is right next door to his mother’s. A fence that has gaps through which a foal can still suckle is ideal. After a few days, move him one corral away, then two. Do the separations for longer and longer until mother and foal can go a whole day without getting too upset. The mare and the foal don’t go through any trauma, no one gets hurt or sick and pretty soon you can take them their separate ways.

Weaning Heard Bound Adults When weaning your adult horses from each other, it’s important to keep the same perspective as when weaning foals. If horses spend a lot of time together in the pasture and get closely bonded, removing one drastically affects the other’s emotional security. A herd bound horse scenario is more common for occasional riders, because their horses tend to spend more time as part of that herd and so become more attached and less comfortable with separation. A slow and steady approach to acclimatising them to separation from their best friend or group of friends will solve this problem comfortably. It does, however, take a little time. But if you love horses, and are committed to a natural horsemanship approach based on putting your relationship with your horse first, then the Parelli natural horse training approach is right for you.

It’s also important to think about how to become as important to your horse as another horse. It’s easy to do this with dogs because we are both predator species. With horses, you need to understand their prey animal psychology and how to prove yourself a worthy leader. Horses are very attached to their dominant counterpart. If you were to put on a horse suit what would it take to become the ‘boss hoss?’ You have to learn to think like a horse and use the same communication and dominance strategies that horses do within the herd. This is the key to natural horsemanship - 50% is about equine relationship skills.

Blabbermouth

Blabbermouth voice commands should be used with care warns Clinton Anderson.

I don’t encourage people to use a lot of voice commands, especially when they first start working with horses. It’s far more important to develop an awareness of your body language and learn how to communicate with your horse though this.

Blabbermouth

As a general rule, people who use a lot of verbal cues with horses have a tendency to have pretty poor body language and tend to nag their horses. Let me give you an example. Often I’ll see people at a horse show trying to get their horses to canter on a lunge line. They’ll point and say, ‘Canter, canter now.’ The horse ignores them so they repeat the cue to him, ‘Come on, canter. Why won’t you canter? Canter, canter, canter!’ They say the word canter so many times that it means absolutely nothing to the horse. They basically wear the word out so much that it has no meaning.

It’s like the little boy who cried wolf. He cried wolf so many times that when a wolf finally did show up, nobody believed him. Well, that’s the same problem people have with voice commands. They use the command and water it down so that it has no effect.

If I were going to teach a horse to canter off a verbal command, I would say canter once in a very firm, clear voice. If he didn’t canter, I’d pick up my stick and string and spank the ground behind him. If he still didn’t canter, I’d flick his hindquarters with the stick and string. If he still didn’t canter, I’d continue to flick his hindquarters harder until I made him feel so uncomfortable that he decided to canter. I’d use the voice command as plan A, spanking the ground as plan B, flicking him as plan C and flicking him harder as plan D, E, F, etc. I would make it easy for the horse to do the right thing and then I would make it harder and harder for him to ignore me until he chose to respond.

It’s the same thing that a broodmare does out in the pasture. She doesn’t immediately start kicking the other horse as hard as she possibly can. She goes in with a plan and gradually makes it more uncomfortable for the other horse to ignore her. Most people who use voice commands have the same plan A, but they don’t have a plan B, C or D. Every time you say a voice command and you don’t get a reaction, but you continue to use it, you’re teaching the horse to ignore that command.

The only voice commands I use are ‘whoa’ to stop and ‘cluck’ to speed up. Clucking means whatever you’re doing, do it faster. If I’m backing the horse up and I start clucking, it means back up faster. If the horse is side passing and I start clucking, it means side pass faster. Clucking doesn’t necessarily mean go forward, it means whatever you’re doing now, do it a lot faster. Those are the only two voice commands I encourage people to use. That doesn’t mean that I have a problem with people wanting to talk to their horses to soothe them when they’re rubbing them as a reward. But I do have a problem with people talking to their horses constantly to try to get the horse to do something. I want you to effectively communicate with your horse so that you can accomplish your goals and stay safe while doing it.

Arena Monsters

Horses can be very suspicious animals and when something has frightened them they tend to remember it. You have probably experienced a horse that every time they get to the place where they were first scared they expect something to happen. Arena Monsters

Horses are very location specific in the way they behave and are quick to associate a certain place with their behaviour. Almost every arena has a ‘scary’ place in it and typically it is as far away from the gate or barn as you can get. This is no coincidence - the further away from the barn (which represents the safety of the herd to your horse) it gets, the more unsure the horse becomes and the stronger its urge to run back to safety. In some cases it may be good to avoid a trouble spot, like when you are first warming up a fresh (or volatile) horse or if you have questions about your ability to control the horse if he spooks.

However, at some point, in order for you to have total control over your horse, you must be able to take him into places where he may not want to go, maintaining his obedience. If a horse comes to believe it has a say so in where you try to take it, your authority will gradually erode to the point that you can’t leave the yard or take a circuit around the arena.

When a horse is spooky or frightened, the best thing to do is turn him toward the scary object and ask him to stand, take a deep breath and relax. You should reassure your horse by using a soothing voice and by rubbing his neck. Make sure to take a deep breath yourself as this will show him that you think everything is OK and that you have it all under control and he need not be afraid. Try to avoid turning your horse away from a scary object while he is still frightened because that will almost certainly trigger his flight response.

With an emotional or volatile horse, I would begin working in the ‘safest’ part of the arena, using small circles and lots of changes of direction to build confidence and obedience in the horse. The more you change directions and cause the horse to swing his neck from side to side, the calmer and more compliant he will become. With this in mind you will find ‘S’ shaped turns more productive than circles. As the horse relaxes and gets more comfortable, start expanding the area by venturing toward the scary place gradually and always returning back to the safe place to build confidence. Eventually I would be working closer and closer to the scary spot until I could ride the horse into that area without a reaction.

There is a very effective technique to use when working with spooky horses. First, keep in mind that you will always have more control over a horse when his neck is bent; when it is straight out in front of him he can get away from you easily. So as you approach the scary area, you’ll want to keep his neck slightly bent to one side or the other. An easy way to accomplish this is to ride in a serpentine pattern doing constant changes of direction.

Make sure that each and every time you turn you turn towards the scary place and not away from it. Weaving back and forth and turning him toward the scary spot will accomplish several things. It will keep his neck bent for greater control, it will keep him in an obedient frame of mind because he is responding to your directives and going where you said, and it will put him a little closer to the object every time you turn while preventing him from bolting.

When a horse is frightened or spooky, he needs the rider’s calmness and reassurance to let him know he will be OK. I would put my hands down on a horse’s neck to steady him any time he became tense or unsure - it is not really a reward, just a reassurance that I’ve got everything under control. I also give copious praise to my horse by petting him on the withers or neck when he is obedient and brave in the face of a scary thing.

The rule of thumb with horses is that you have a three second window of opportunity to reward, release or punish, in order for him to make an association between his actions and your actions. It follows that the sooner in the three seconds the better. If a horse is rewarded in a timely fashion he will remember it for a very long time. The important part is not whether or not he remembers the reward, it’s whether he made an association between his actions and the reward. If the association is made he will remember it for some time - horses have exceptional memories.

 

Once Bitten

Not to be confused with the behavioural problems surrounding playful nipping, a horse that really bites requires careful treatment, writes Linda Parelli. BitingBecause Parelli Natural Horsemanship always begins the process of solving a horse problem by first seeking to understand the horse’s behaviour I like to ask, ‘Why is the horse biting?’ Usually a horse bites for one of three reasons – fear, an attempt to dominate or as an indication that he wants to play.

The latter shouldn’t be thought of as true biting although steps need to be taken to prevent this playful behaviour turning into a painful problem (see Little Nipper).

A biting horse is not a bad horse and it shouldn’t be thought of as a bad habit. It is usually a very real response to something that is really worrying the horse. Either he’s reacting to something that is scaring or hurting him, or he’s telling you that you should move out of the way because he is the boss! Biting is a symptom, not a problem in itself. It’s feedback, really. The horse cannot speak to let you know that something is troubling him, so he kicks or bites or bucks.  Often people react to a biting horse by slapping the horse on the muzzle. This is not the least bit helpful. A horse is a prey animal and prey animals do not understand punishment. What is helpful when confronted with this problem is to figure out your horse’s personality. This will help you figure out which motivation is prompting the horse’s biting behaviour. Once you’ve determined whether your horse has a Right-Brain or Left-Brain

‘Horsenality’ (see Parelli’s Horsenality profiling technique at www.parelli.comor WHUK Jan/Feb 2011) you will understand why he is biting. Right-Brain horses bite in defence when they are afraid or hurt. Left- Brain horses use biting to dominate. Each of these Horsenalities and reasons requires a different horse training approach to arrive at a humane, effective and lasting solution. In order to cure the problem, you have to first know where your horse is coming from. You can then be appropriate in your response and preventative measures.

Keep your distance The number one rule with a horse that’s been known to bite is to keep him at a distance! Just because we love horses and seek to understand them doesn’t mean we don’t recognise the danger a biting horse presents. Until you’ve learned your horse’s Horsenality and what training method will get you the best and most lasting solution, keeping your horse at a distance – and out of biting range – is a good interim solution This, however, means that you need to know how to skilfully back your horse up from a distance. For this, we recommend wiggling your rope using the one of the Parelli Seven Games called the Yo-Yo Game. Backing up your horse just a step or two may not be enough. You need to back him up until the look on his face changes. The Liberty and Horse Behaviour home study programme at www.parelli.com explains this in more detail.

Once you’ve gotten out of the way, the next step is to work with your horse so that he doesn’t feel the need to bite you. If he’s biting, he’s reacting to you as if you’re threatening him, as if you’re the predator and he’s the prey. Depending on his Horsenality, he’s either scared by this or takes it as a challenge to try to dominate you in turn, but either way, he’s seeing you as predator. The cure for this – which in turn cures bucking, biting, and most other horse problems – is to break through the prey-predator barrier by becoming your horse’s partner.

You’re still in charge – because you’re the alpha/leader – but you’re no longer a threat. The cure for a biting horse is to teach the horse that you’re a good guy, that you’re nothing and no one he needs to be afraid of or try to dominate. The Seven Games is the best way we know of to do just that. It’s why we recommend them so often.   Establishing a new relationship by learning to play with your horse changes the predator-prey relationship, and that changes  everything!  We also have a brand new natural horse training starter kit that addresses horse biting problems specifically along with kicking and bucking and other reactive horse behaviours.

Little Nipper

There's nothing more annoying than a mouthy horse.  Use Clinton Anderson's exercises to help a horse overcome his urge to nibble! NippingMouthy horses are like little kids; they’ve got nothing to do and all day to do it in. If you don’t give a kid something to do, he’ll stick things in his mouth, climb on the furniture, draw on the walls or do a number of things that’ll drive you crazy. Horses need both mental and physical stimulation to be happy and content. If you don’t give your horse a job and keep his mind busy he’ll find an outlet for his pent up energy. In a lot of cases this will result in the some sort of vice including being ‘mouthy’ – constantly playing with your shirt sleeve, nibbling on the lead rope etc.

Very athletic horses and young horses tend to develop this habit. The bad news is that mouthy behaviour often turns into biting, which can be very dangerous. The good news is if you give your horse a job, as simple as making him move his feet forwards, backwards, left and right, his mouthiness will disappear.

If you know your horse tends to get mouthy and nibbles on you, protect your space and take the temptation away from him to begin with. Don’t let him get close enough to mouth on you. Any time you’re with him, keep him out of your personal ‘hula hoop space’ – a four foot circle that surrounds you and serves as your safety zone. When you are working with a horse, always imagine that there’s a four foot circle drawn around you, almost like an invisible electric fence. Unless you invite the horse into your personal hula hoop space he should keep a respectful, safe distance from you.

Move those feet When a horse gets mouthy, put his feet to work. The most effective punishment you can give a horse is making him move his feet. Horses are basically lazy creatures and would rather stand around with their legs cocked daydreaming about their next meal than moving their feet and working up a sweat. They’ll always choose the option with the least amount of work involved.

So, if you’re standing next to your horse and he starts nibbling on your shirt, turn around and put his feet to work and turn a negative into a positive. Practise some backing up, side passing or circling. The horse can’t mouth on you and move his feet at the same time, especially if you make him hustle with energy and do lots of changes of direction. If you’re consistent, it won’t take long for the horse to connect the two together; when he gets mouthy, you’ll make his feet move.

One of the best ways to stop a mouthy horse, and especially a horse that bites, is to back them up. Backing up is a very humbling exercise for a horse to do. When a horse gets mouthy or tries to bite you, it’s a very forward action; he’s coming forward to get you.  When you back him up, it’s the complete opposite; he’s being submissive to you by moving out of your space.

Return the favour There are some horses that just like to put things in their mouth. Most people’s first reaction when the horse grabs a hold of the lead rope or halter is to try and tug the object out of his mouth. However, the more you try to pull something away from them, the mouthier they will get. It’s like a puppy with a toy. The more you try to yank it away, the more he grits his teeth and hangs onto it.

Instead of getting into a tug of war, use reverse psychology and ‘mouth’ him back. Use both of your hands to vigorously rub the horse’s muzzle for a good twenty seconds. While you’re not hurting the horse, you’re rubbing him firmly enough to make him feel uncomfortable. It’s like when your uncle would scuff your head at a family get together. Every kid in the world hates that. It didn’t hurt when he tousled your hair but it was annoying and you didn’t like it, and you soon learned how to avoid him.  It’s the same philosophy with your horse. If he wants to get mouthy, take all the fun out of it for him by roughing up his muzzle with your hands.

Dare him Let’s say that your horse grabs the halter in his mouth as you go to put it on. As soon as he grabs it, instead of trying to pull it out of his mouth, stand beside him and tug one end of the halter up in his mouth and then the other end to make him feel uncomfortable. When you do that, the horse might throw his head up in the air but you’ll continue to tug up on the halter. You’re not really hurting him but you are making him feel uncomfortable. Do that for 10 seconds and then let the horse lower his head and spit the halter out of his mouth. Then dare him again by waving the halter in front of his nose. If he grabs it, repeat the process. You’ll only have to do that two or three times and pretty soon those horses wise up and want no part of grabbing a hold of the halter.

You might be thinking, ‘Well Clinton, isn’t that going to make the horse head shy or not want to accept the bit?’ No, because you’re only making him feel uncomfortable when he gets mouthy. You’re not physically putting the halter in his mouth and then roughing him up. He’s choosing to take the bait and be mouthy. As long as you use common sense and only make him feel uncomfortable when he grabs a hold of the object, you don’t have to worry about him getting head shy or not accepting the bit.

Stop bitingPunish thyself Another tactic is to make the horse think that he’s punishing himself. If your horse walks up to you and starts playing with your sleeve, flap your elbow out to the side without even looking at him so that he runs into it with his nose and feels uncomfortable. You have to time it just right so that at the same time he leans forward to play with your shirt, he runs into your elbow.

The secret is not to look at him or act like you’re moving your arm on purpose. It’s like your elbow just developed a nervous twitch. If you look at the horse, it’s like you’re acknowledging that you’re the one making him feel uncomfortable. You want the horse to think that he’s doing it to himself. Every time he leans in to nibble on you, he runs into your elbow. Horses always learn faster when they teach themselves the lesson. It won’t be long before your horse is like ‘Man, I really need to keep my lips to myself because I seem to be running into his elbow.

Meet and Lead

Drawing on her experiences as an NLP practitioner Laira Gold explains how horses are no different to humans in their need to be understood before being asked to try a new behaviour. Meet and LeadHorses are always asking ‘who is leading now?’ From the horse’s point of view we are unable to lead unless our sensory channels are fully open, aware of every little rustle in the bush and movement in the shadows. Within the herd this is a matter of survival. It is the lead mare’s job to take the herd away from danger to safety.

If we were to ask a horse to do something unfamiliar, such as putting on the first saddle of their life, before acknowledging their natural flight instincts, we are much less likely to have a willing partner that is happy to stand still while we carry out our work. By creating a training environment where the horse can be encouraged to explore their flight instincts safely, the trainer (or therapist) can stand back and feel at ease no matter what the horse does.

Most training is made up of this delicate art of accepting what ‘is’ and then stretching the horse’s ability sufficiently. It is when we get this balance right that we create an optimum learning environment. Too much accepting of what ‘is’ can create boredom and a stagnation in learning for the horse and us. On the other hand too much leading, pushing or stretching on our part can create stress not only for the horse but for the trainer too.

In Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) we explore the relationships between how we think and how we communicate. The therapist monitors patterns of behaviour and emotion and works with their client to transform the way they think and act. It is said that an NLP practitioner cannot lead before they have paced. This means that we first need to acknowledge the client’s current experience (pace), do it again (pace), and then lead with a thought or suggestion of our own. Hypnotherapists use this all the time. It’s what is sometimes called a hypnotic suggestion.

Part of my job as a psychotherapist is to meet and work with the client’s experience in the current moment. In the psychotherapy culture I come from, great emphasis in placed on working with the client’s ever-changing somatic (body) experience, perhaps more so than on past analysis or etiology (the cause of the problem). This only really happens if we are truly present, gaining rapport through observing and responding to all the non-verbal information happening within the client in that moment.

When I break rapport with a client, it is often because I have mismatched that client or tried to lead them without acknowledging their current experience of reality first. I recently worked with a high achieving professional from the advertising world. She came to me in a state of distress because her marriage was in ruins. She had been rewarded for most of her life by thinking analytically, even around extremely painful issues such as death. She presented well thought through arguments to each possible pathway that she felt she had available to her. She was operating at a cognitive level. I knew that the type of thinking required to solve this kind of problem was very different to the one she had been used to  throughout the rest of her working life.

Part of our work together was to enable her to access intelligence of a more somatic nature (the ability to sense and appreciate one’s own body and to relate to the needs of others). However I needed to lead her into this way of thinking gently. It was only once I was able to acknowledge and respect her existing way of coping that I was able to lead with any suggestions of my own.  Studying the parallels between successfully working with humans and horses is an area I find fascinating. Once we can understand the psychology of the horse and work with his energy rather than against it, we soon realise there is very little reason to get upset. It’s the same for psychotherapy work. Maintaining an attitude where there is no such thing as a resistant client, only a resistant therapist, can be a very helpful and humbling.

CASE STUDY In these series of images you can see me working with young Icelandic that, until this point, had very little leading experience. In the still you can see her going through a dilemma stay true to her natural instincts and stay away away from predators, or should she take a chance on me? The reason she goes against her instincts and accepts my invitation to ‘join-up’ with me is because I first acknowledged (or paced) her natural flight instinct. In other words, I met her in the moment and then I led with a suggestion of my own. Case Study