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Clinic case: break progress into steps

By Sheryl Lynde / Horsetrader columnist - November 1st, 2017 - Trainer Tips, Training

Trainer TipsDuring the three-day Norco Horse Affair last month, I gave a demonstration on Dude, a 9-year old Mustang that lacked confidence. His current owner has owned him for two years, and prior to that he had been owned by four others.

Because of an injury to the current owner (unrelated to Dude), the horse had not been ridden, saddled, or even removed from the property for a year. Just entering his pen, he was apprehensive and reactive. Prior to her injury, the owner had been riding Dude with no issues under saddle other than the occasional crow-hopping. The biggest issue was saddling – she had never really been able to saddle him while quietly standing tied. She would lunge him, and if she managed to land the saddle on his back without him making a dash, that would be a successful session.

Meeting Dude, I saw he was nervous, but not as reactive as I thought he would be. I asked him to move out, and he gave me an immediate effort to my request. He has a good mind. He just lacks confidence.
Even though the owner has ridden him, it does not necessarily mean that he is broke. I could see he has holes in his training, probably due to the number of owners, which can translate to inconsistent handling. I know my goal was to get him saddled while standing quietly, but I chose not to start with that goal; I don’t know if he had exhibited bucking behavior prior to his current owner, but for the last two years, it has prevailed. His bucking is a symptom, much like a kid acting out in class. Is it a habit that he has developed? Is he “cold-backed?” What was the cause?

I know I need to change the recipe if I want a different outcome, so I have planned a different course of action.

I worked Dude off a rope halter and lead rope, changing directions frequently. I focused on moving his hindquarters and shoulders, while keeping him moving at a motivated trot. When I exhaled and lowered my shoulders, I expected him to change his speed, and if he didn’t respond, I changed direction. As I asked him to change direction, I put pressure on his shoulder to initiate the change. I used whatever amount of pressure was needed with the end of my lead rope in order for him to move his shoulder in the direction I wanted him to go. If his resistance was at a level 6, the amount of pressure I used was a 6 ½. When I had his attention, I rewarded his effort with a rest as a reward.

As soon as he had made a visible change, it was time to saddle up. I placed the pad and saddle on his back. His head went up and his eyes widened, but his feet stood still. I rubbed his girth area to let him know I was coming, grabbed the cinch and began tightening and releasing with big movements. I finally tightened it enough to keep the saddle on — had he began bucking — and fastened the back cinch. He stood still. There was a big change. I backed up and asked for a step forward. It was a big one – he began bucking.

I still had him on a lead rope, so I applied enough pressure to bring him out of the buck. As long as the horse is with me — either in a round pen or on the other end of a lead rope – bucking is not an option, and I will stop it. If he is loose in the round pen, I will make him change direction until he stops and moves out smoothly.

The first day, he did stand still for saddling; however, the first step was a big reaction. I worked him until he walked out calm, and then called it a day. I wanted him to understand that saddling was a good deal. The second day, he stood still for saddling and his reaction was considerably less. Since I was seeing improvement and he was calmer at the end of each lesson, I knew I was on the right path. By the third day, he stood still and had no reaction. Again, good training takes time, but you should see an improvement each day. The amount of improvement will vary, but even if it’s one percent, there should be improvement. If you do not see improvement with the steps you are taking, change the steps until you do.


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