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Think outside the box

"It’s important to keep in mind that aggression does not resolve aggression."

By Sheryl Lynde / Horsetrader columnist - April 1st, 2018 - Trainer Tips, Training

Trainer TipsA 3-year-old gelding was brought to me to get started — a stud colt until a couple months prior to his arrival. He’d been shown in halter and had prodigious breeding, but he had begun to display deliberately aggressive behavior like biting, striking and kicking.

Temperament of stallions varies because of factors such as genetics and training, but because of their instincts as herd animals they require knowledgeable management by experienced handlers. Even though this colt had been gelded prior to coming to me, he was still exhibiting “stallion behavior.” It takes about 60 days for hormonal levels of testosterone to become insignificant for breeding; however, the behavior is brain-related, not merely hormonal, and it can become habitual. Stallion-like behavior can linger well after the hormonal effects of testosterone have diminished, that was the case with this gelding.

I first worked on the cause of his behavior and established a leadership role. For this little colt, I asked for outside turns, which are turns into the rail, away from me. Outside turns teach him to respect my space by stepping away from me and turning on his hindquarters. With aggressive colts, if I start with inside turns (turning toward me as I stand in the center of the round pen), I run the risk of him charging me as he turns to face me. I worked on outside turns until he no longer challenged my leadership with his attempts to run through me or grudgingly making the outside turn that included kicking out in protest with his ears pinned. With every step in my training toward riding this colt, I got a big reaction. But I just stayed with each phase of training, such as turns, saddling, etc., until he was willing and relaxed before introducing the next step. It’s important to keep in mind that aggression does not resolve aggression. Throughout all of his reactions, I remained even-tempered, yet resolute in not allowing any unwanted response. I was as firm as necessary to correct the unwanted reaction; however, the corrections remained corrections, not punishments. I wanted to be the leader he trusted, not feared.

When the time for the first ride arrived, my leadership role had been established — and accepted. He looked to me for guidance. This is the point where you need to think outside the box. I’ve gone through my checklist and feel confident that I have prepared him for this next step through my round-pen work, ground-driving and ponying efforts. His demeanor supported my decision to move on. And, even though my plan may have been to put on the first ride that day, I was alert to signs that might tell me he still wasn’t ready. I went with my gut instincts.

Safety is key, and there is no rush in building a strong foundation. Conversely, I may start the lesson without the thought of climbing on his back yet, but as the lesson progresses, if my instincts tell me he is ready – I go for it. Have a plan, but be flexible to change that plan and follow your instincts.

After approximately five rides on this colt, another issue began to unfold. It was difficult to get him moving forward freely. With escalation of leg pressure or a spank on his hip from my rein, his refusals became more animated as he began to toss his head and threaten to rear. The colts that refuse to move forward are usually the ones that will resort to rearing and bucking if not handled properly. I needed to get his feet unstuck, so again, think outside the box. Just off our property is a wide-open space with soft footing, rolling hills and brush. It was time to get out of the round pen and hit the trail. The change of environment enticed him to move forward willingly. Under saddle, I was able to guide him around brush, trot him up hills and get him loping safely in nice sandy areas. You require energy to train. The new setting provided the opportunity to get the forward energy I needed. Now he was moving off my legs and increasing his speed freely without any more refusals. I took him out to this area each day for a couple of weeks and upon our return to the ranch, I entered the arena in order to test his forward energy level and attitude in different surroundings. When he responded to all my requests for a walk, trot and canter, I dismounted and we walked out of the arena. It’s a good start.

Challenges give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Think outside the box.

“Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.”


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