HEY RAY! I own a big 3-year-old Friesian colt that will not trot next to me when asked. He either drags behind me at the walk or when pushed will erupt into a dead-run—kicking, rearing and playing while dragging me. I’d like to show him in halter, but I’m afraid he’ll get away and hurt himself or someone.
–Jacquelyn Anderson, Fresno
HEY JACQUELYN: The challenge that you are up against is very common. Once your horse is clear about what is expected and sees the value in it, it won’t matter whether he’s a big colt or an old pony. The ﬁrst thing we need to do is break your question down into the six individual issues in hand:
1) Your horse is big and lazy.
2) He would prefer to run away from you, than to follow and stay with you.
3) He doesn’t know how to give to the pressure of the line.
4) He doesn’t know how to lead well.
5) He needs to recognize that rearing, kicking and playing—although normal and natural for a horse—is absolutely unacceptable around you.
6) Lastly, your horse needs to focus on committing to the gaits (walk and trot, without breaking).
All of these challenges need to be addressed before we can expect your Friesian to perform at halter safely and correctly at the show. I suggest you start by turning your horse loose into a small pen or arena. The shape is not as important as the size. You should be able to chase him oﬀ and keep moving without exhausting yourself. Use whatever aids you feel appropriate. You won’t want to use scary sounds like rocks in a can or cracking of the whip because he would eventually become desensitized. At the show, the adrenaline produced from those aids will work in your favor, creating a bigger trot. This is a good time to introduce your clucks and kisses to the mix. This will help your horse visualize what’s expected if distracted.
Secondly, as soon as your horse begins to look spent, oﬀer him to stop and face you. If he does, let him catch his breath. If not, move him around some more then try again. Once he begins to face you, move laterally from him and see if he’ll follow you ﬁrst with his head and later with his feet. If he chooses to turn and run, chase him and then try again. Once he begins to follow you around, you can attach a line to your halter.
Thirdly, pull on your line laterally and don’t release until he steps sideways—then immediately release and praise him. It’s important to “keep it tight until it’s right before going light.” If you ﬁ nd that he is being strong with you and not giving to the pressure, getting his hind quarters to move away from you will get his face light.
Next, we test him under pressure. Unsettle him and see if he gives easily. If control is difﬁcult for you, use a tie ring on the fence with a long line—let the fence do the holding! Unsettle him from behind so that he moves side to side (roll-backs) on the fence. Do not tie him solid for this exercise. Pay close attention to the give to the line on the part of your horse before moving on.
Fourth, set up poles and cones around the arena in order to challenge your horse’s accelerator, brakes and steering around and through the props. He should be able to move forward, sideways and backward with ease before working around the obstacles. Previous Hey Ray! columns have touched on these points. Use an insulated wand instead of a sharp whip to help get your point across without insulting your horse and creating resentment. Once he understands, your horse will be more accepting of the whip. If your horse becomes “mulely” when asked to walk or trot while leading, keep the line tight while pulling over to the side and move his hindquarters until he gives his face and moves around the forehand. Practice this until he’s timely and light.
Finally, since your Friesian would rather run, buck and play than trot, it’s important to make a clear impression that it is not a good idea while on the line. This step and the last step, committing to the gait, needs to happen while lunging. Ask your horse to trot, and if he stays in the trot allow him to go at whatever speed he chooses. Make no attempt to speed up or slow down the gate. Allow him to go around until he idles at the trot (trotting as slow as he can without breaking). If he breaks down to the walk, simply jumpstart him back to the trot. If he breaks into a canter, bucks or kicks, reverse him (go back the other way) at the walk. If he trots instead of walks after the reverse, continue to reverse him until he walks. Oﬀer your horse to trot again until he locks into the gate. Now challenge him to lengthen the trot. If he breaks, simply reverse him and try again. You will be surprised how pretty he will move when all of his eﬀorts are willingly applied to the trot. As always, and above all, trust your instincts and think safe,
Horsetrader columnist Ray Ariss, husband to Pippa Ariss and father of six, shares his insight into the relationship of horse-and-human each month, in print and on www.horsetrader.com.