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Breaking halters? Start with some slack

By RAY ARISS / Horsetrader columnist - September 2nd, 2010 - Q&A Hey Ray!

HEY RAY: How do I stop my horse from pulling back and breaking halters?
–Laura Lane, Yuba City, Calif.

HEY LAURA: The good news is that there’s a simple way to handle this. The quick fix? Just stop tying your horse — and I guarantee he’ll never break another lead line or halter again. I know this sounds like a joke, but I’m completely sincere – let me explain a little further.

What I really mean is you need to stop tying your horse “solid”, (tied to anything fixed) until he understands and learns a few things first. Begin by holding your haltered horse in one hand and with your other hand try to unsettle him so that he startles and moves. You can accomplish this by waving your hand in front of his face, twirling the end of your lead line or even waving your hat or cap in front of him. It’s important that you keep a connection (continuous pressure) the whole time that your horse is moving. Continue to do whatever you were doing with your other hand until your horse actually stops and gives to the rope.

This is teaching your horse that neither pulling or evading the unsettling experience will make the pressure or the experience go away — until he stops and gives. Remember, all the horse is trying to do by running away from his fears is put distance between the threat and him in order to break away and be free. Next, and for those horses that choose to be aggressive and or threatening toward what scares them, I suggest the following:

1. Create a clutch-type system with a long rope (longer the better) that will give when your horse pulls back. You can achieve this by draping the rope over the top rail of a 6-foot panel in a big stall or arena and wrapping the end of the rope around the post a couple of times. You should pull on the clip end of your rope, and test the drag to make sure you have the desired resistance. You want to make it okay for your horse to pull back, but he should have to work for it. You can also purchase clutch-type ties that will work well.

2. The rope-type halters are great as long as they’re not tied solidly. For this exercise, I prefer a wide-web nylon halter. Not only will this halter distribute the pressure more evenly, but the motivator will not be pain (or avoidance of pain). The motivator will be the realization that there is no value in pulling back, even though it may be an option. This is a great opportunity to take anxiety out of the mix.

3. Experiment with anything and everything you can think of that may unsettle your horse. If you think that your horse may attack any of these props and put you in danger, attach them to a stick or a wand (the longer the better).

4. Continue to desensitize your horse from each of the individual challenges far beyond tolerance. Don’t just focus on your horse not pulling back, but more importantly on any or all of the following:

a ) Lowering the head
b) Soft eye
c) Licking and chewing
d) Sighing
e) Cocking of the hind leg
f) Floppy relaxed ears

5. By now, your horse will have achieved overall acceptance to the scary objects. More importantly, your horse will have developed the trust necessary to be courageous enough to hold his ground, because you’ve proven to him that he will be okay regardless of how bad it may seem. It may be a good idea to postpone or avoid tying your horse solid, even after successfully going through this exercise, whenever possible. TO THIS HORSE, pulling back has become a phobia. Because the horse doesn’t realize that the pain he is feeling is self-inflicted, the whole tying-up thing is unpredictable to him. When he forgets what the correct response is, when tied, you will need to dilute those un-giving experiences with many more giving experiences ( like this exercise) until he is convinced that his safety lies in holding his ground.

Laura, this will be a great foundation not just on tying your horse safely, but also on establishing blind faith between you and your horse.

Remember to always 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 horseand human twice each month, in print and on www.horsetrader.com. He lives and trains in “Horsetown USA”, Norco, Calif., at his bustling Starbrite Riding Academy, where he currently has 50 horses in various stages of training, including Andalusians, Friesians, Quarter Horses, Paints, Thoroughbreds, Arabs, Mustangs and more. Ray attributes his training success to the support of his wife and partner, Pippa, and a system he calls S.W.A.P., to which he credits his multiple championships in several disciplines. His passionate understanding of the “human-horse” relationship was evident when he took on the challenge of training a wild Mustang and — in just 100 days — produced the highest-priced adopted Mustang ever — $50,000. Does your “horse-human relationship” leave you with a question for Ray? Click here to submit one!

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