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Patience, pressure and release lead to behavior change

“Don’t train around problems -- meet them head on and train through them. This eliminates stagnant plateaus in her training program and presents opportunities…”

By SHERYL LYNDE / Horsetrader columnist - January 21st, 2016 - Trainer Tips, Training

Trainer TipsBella is a 7-year-old Thoroughbred who was abandoned.  All that could be established was that she was severely underweight and extremely fearful. She eventually landed at a rescue owned by Carole Harris, Horse Nation, where she has remained for the past couple of years. Early on, getting close, touching or haltering Bella was difficult. Even after they were able to halter her, she would frequently bolt or strike as she reared. Bella’s potential adopter, Diane, needed reassurance that she would be able to safely handle — and someday ride — the mare. Over the past two years, Carole and Diana sought outside help, and there had been improvement in her handling, as Bella eventually could be haltered and lunged. But her behavioral issues endured, and although Carole and Diana recognized potential in Bella, the mare’s reputation as being dangerous prevented progress – like being saddled, bridled, rode or exposed to different areas and terrain. Instead, she was relegated to her stall and round pen.

These are the horses that you have the opportunity to learn the most from. What you see today in your horse is never written in stone. There is always potential lying within these horses that is up to you to bring out. It’s good to note that sometimes the current program or way of life is not the best match for the horse’s capacity to thrive.  If your horse is not thriving under the current program, change the program.

When Bella arrived to us,  I found her to be extremely reactive. As a result of her fear, she developed defensive behavior such as bolting when approached in addition to rearing and striking if she felt trapped. Striking and bolting were merely symptoms; the cause of the behaviors was her fear. It’s the fear I concentrated on, not the symptoms. I put her in a large pen outside the barn where she was exposed to all the sights and sounds of our facility and where she had room to move, which also kept me safe from her rearing and striking. When I entered her pen and attempted to approach her, she would bolt, so I kept her feet moving in the pen, changing directions and only allowing her to rest when she looked at me. As soon as she faced me I would back off and release the pressure. As long as she stood still, she could rest, but if she chose to bolt, I would keep her feet moving, making it my idea instead of hers.



I wanted to give her the option — bolt and work, or stand still and relax. I continued these steps until she was relaxed, gave me two eyes, and allowed me to approach and halter her. Once haltered, if I tried to rub her neck, body or girth area, she would jump, so I shortened the lead rope, kept her nose tipped towards me, and stayed with her as she jumped, continuing to rub with the same pressure until she stopped and relaxed. As soon as she did, I released my hand. I repeated this until she allowed me to handle her everywhere.

As I led her to the round pen, she bolted. She is almost 16 hands and quick. I’m not going to be able to overpower her, so I had to break this down. I felt a split-second before she bolted that she stopped and pulled back on the lead rope. So, I headed for the round pen again, setting it up to reoccur.  I can’t fix it if I don’t expose it.  As I felt her stop and try to pull back, I turned quickly, faced her and backed her up with a lot of energy until she relaxed. Then, I released the pressure and walked toward the round pen, as if nothing had happened. If her resistance was at a level five, I came back at a level six. As soon as she had the thought of relaxing, I released the pressure and moved on.

With every obstacle Bella presented, I worked on that issue using pressure and release until she relaxed, and then we moved on.  Don’t train around problems — meet them head on and train through them. This eliminates stagnant plateaus in her training program and presents opportunities for Bella to handle her emotions when elevated, instead of checking out and bolting.  Bella has been here six weeks, and in that time we have seen her make great strides. She has allowed me to saddle, bridle, ground drive, and pony her out on the trail where she had to maneuver brush and varied terrain. Carole and Diana have good instincts — Bella does have great potential and continues to prove it every day!



Horsetrader columnist Sheryl Lynde is a John Lyons Certified Trainer who specializes in foundation training, colt-starting and problem-solving. She is based in Temecula. www.sheryllyndeclinics.com

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