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‘Work-outs’ can change horse buddies

By RAY ARISS - Horsetrader columnist - April 19th, 2012 - Q&A Hey Ray!

HEY RAY: Tucker is a 7-year-old Quarter Horse gelding. I’ve spent many years since childhood on the back of a horse, and I am still stumped on a barn-sour/herd-bound horse. I’ve worked through most of the issues on Tucker, but he’s gotten attached at the hip to his barnmate, Dono. Tucker goes from a quiet, sensible easy-goer into an 8-second rodeo bronco. I’m now in my mid-70’s and need this lousy behavior of his to disappear.
Roger Sherman, Big Bear

HEY ROGER: Obviously Tucker must feel that Dono is a real special guy. I think the best way to approach this situation is to let your horse Tucker feel that his buddy is not all that and maybe not even worth all the trouble. This is what I propose:

1. Make a date to get this other horse and his rider to meet for a ride at a controlled environment, like an arena.

2. Ride side-by-side with your buddy all the way around the arena just to make sure the negative behavior is related to his buddy and nothing else.

3. Have your friend and his horse work up and down the short side of the arena doing roll backs or something while you and Tucker stand close by.
If your horse begins to act up because his buddy is running up and down the fence line while you’re standing there, simply ask your friend to stop at the corner. Then, begin to move your horse — it doesn’t matter where, as long as he just keeps moving. I prefer the canter or lope at a pretty good pace. Don’t guide him; just move him wherever he wants. If you try to tell him where to go, he might resist and fight and become that bronc nobody wants.

Do that until he shows signs of wanting to stop, and then let him. When Tucker stands, Dono should move up-and-down the fence. If Tucker acts up or moves, Dono should stop and Tucker should lope as before.

When your horse recognizes this pattern, he will begin to ignore his friend. Now it’s time to take this game to the next level.

Simply begin to venture at a walk to the other end of the arena without your friends. At this point, your friend and his horse are welcome to stand quietly at one of the corners of the arena. There is a good chance that, as you begin to walk away, your horse Tucker may begin to throw his tantrum. If he doesn’t, simply make it to the corner on the opposite end of the arena and have him stand and rest as you praise him.

I expect you won’t be that lucky. If you are, though, have your friend rollback up-and-down the fence like he did when you were closer to him. If Tucker acts up, try to persuade him to reconsider holding his ground. If he tries to overpower you, allow him to move toward his buddy, but keep him moving at a good pace while your friend stands at the corner as before. Once you feel you can begin to steer and guide him back to the corner on the other side of the arena, this can be done in any gait the horse may prefer. Chances are, Tucker will refuse to leave his buddy from the get-go, in which case he will soon recognize that hanging out with his buddy means that he now has a workout partner at the gym. If Tucker is anything like most of us, it won’t be long before he will cancel his membership and stop calling on his buddy.

The approach that you are taking is one that allows you’re horse to recognize when a choice adds to the quality of his life, and when it doesn’t without taking the right-of-choice away. You don’t have to force him to do anything. A subtle or humble suggestion on your part will be all you need to have him reconsider. It’s almost like a tug-of-war — you give into as you watch the aggressor fall down again and again. You will be surprised how quickly this process will be accepted and the behavior will disappear. It should also be fun because this will be an exercise that happens without resistance and plenty of riding.

Roger, just remember the one thing we don’t want to do is fight with your horse. We want him to want to walk away. He will see that the choice he is making out of being insecure is one we are okay with, but one he will soon regret. Let him know you are willing to race back to his friend and run circles around him, or we can walk away to rest. This approach works well with many horse challenges and exercises in all disciplines because it takes nothing away from the horse. It only enlightens them.

Trusting your instincts and thinking safe will work in your favor,

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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