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Handling the charging horse

By RAY ARISS - Horsetrader columnist - October 20th, 2011 - Q&A Hey Ray!

HEY RAY: While riding in an arena, another rider came in with a horse that had past difficulties standing still for mounting. She was being assisted by a groom, and despite precautions the horse put her on the ground and went free. Her horse began to panic and run around the arena. My horse held his ground despite being charged by the loose horse. I flexed his neck strongly when he started to react to the excitement. The other horse was caught and no one was hurt. This made me wonder two things: How best to handle that situation if my new stallion got loose? Is there a safe way to prepare my horse for facing a charging, loose horse?
Theo Tang

HEY THEO: I love your question because this is a situation that happens from time to time at breed shows. People do wonder what they would do if the charging horse coming at them was a stallion. I remember a few years back being in an Andalusian Stallion Halter class in Ventura, where one of the handlers in the competition lost his horse in the ring because he slipped out of his halter. You can imagine the excitement that overcame the show at that particular moment. It was at that point that I realized that we should expect “best possible scenario” as much as possible, but we have a responsibility to prepare for the worst as well. A situation like this may have nothing to do with being our fault, but instantly becomes our serious problem. This is why it is important to prepare all horses (mares, geldings and stallions alike) for both ends of this equation, which happen to be your two questions.

I propose you evaluate your stallion to see if he will be safe to be put into these two situations.

1. Turn your stallion loose in an arena or round pen that is at least six feet tall. Make sure it is easy for you to chase him off when you cluck or kiss at him. You may use the end of your rope or lunge whip on his hindquarters if he doesn’t move off easily.

2. Next, have someone stand a horse on the outside of the arena wall. This will give you a pretty good idea how much work will need to be done before you take any chances with simulating the real situation. If you can’t easily move your stallion off as in step 1, you may want to reconsider riding your horse around other horses until this is not an issue. Don’t hesitate to get professional help if you get in over your head.

3. If you are able to chase your horse off easily and repeatedly, have your stallion reverse places with the horse standing outside the arena. This will help to get an idea how well your stallion will listen to you when another horse is loose around him. If your stallion begins to get antsy or call, simply turn him on the forehand then stand until you get all of his focus back. You will do the same when under saddle.

4. Repeat steps 1, 2, and 3 inside the arena. If you have an ounce of doubt that you may not be able to handle, control or stay with your stallion while being in the arena with a loose horse running around, do not enter the pen.

Instead, have your stallion visit from outside, a horse in a stall. Allow them to interact a bit. You should be able to easily pull your stallion away from that situation without confrontation. If your stallion shows any undesirable behavioral traits, work on this until they disappear.

5. Now that your stallion has experienced both sides of the coin, (being the loose horse, and being the horse that was charged by another), you will have to attempt this entire process under saddle individually with both horses.

6. Whenever I work a horse at this stage of the game, I need to make sure I can motivate the loose horse to move away easily as in step 1, without exciting the horse I’m on. I first attempt to desensitize each horse individually to the lunge or buggy whip by swinging it around the horse from the ground until there is no reaction. Next, I attempt the same under saddle. I should be able to handle my horse in all three gaits while using the long whip all around him. All should go according to plan because, by now, both horses should and must be well-trained, if you made it this far. If all your ducks are not in order, do not attempt any of this. I have seen this entire process work easily and uneventfully, and I have seen it gone south in no time flat. It’s all about your experience and judgment as a horseman that will make or break this deal.

Theo, I do this exercise at my clinics all the time, and it is a favorite to watch. I hope you clearly understand that this is very do-able, but also very dangerous if you are not on top of your horsemanship skills. So if not, find someone who is.

Please remember to trust your instincts and think safe, Ray

Horsetrader columnist Ray Ariss, husband to Pippa Ariss and father of six, shares his insight into the relationship of horse-and-human twice each month, in print and on www.horsetrader.com. He lives and trains in “Horsetown USA”, Norco CA, at his bustling StarBrite Riding Academy. Does your “horse-human” relationship leave you with a question for Ray? Just go to www.horsetrader.com and click on the “Hey Ray!” section, then submit it!

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