When is it ok to use more force?

This is one of those grey areas for horse owners. What do you do when your horse threatens to kick or pins his ears and nips at you? What if, during training, you feel that you are already using too much pressure, but he isn’t even moving! Or what if he becomes scared of you or won’t like you if you get more aggressive?

The answer to this question is not a simple one, as every horse and every person is different. How much pressure you think you are using is very subjective; what seems like a lot to one person may not to another. The same is true with horses. To an untrained thoroughbred who is hot and flighty, even a small movement or a little pressure will put him into action to get away. But a large draft horse may just stand there, hardly noticing that you are swinging your rope feverishly at him, or pressing on his side to move him over. So to begin to examine this question, let’s start by working through an example.

You are training your horse to walk forward as you point where you want him to go with the lead rope and tap his haunches with the stick. You start out by moving your hand forward to point and send him out. Since you got no response you begin tapping him lightly with your stick. Now he raises his head slightly and his ears go back–he is telling you, “I don’t like this, please stop.” You respond by keeping the same tapping pressure and rythym. You are telling him, “I will stop when you do what I want, when you move forward.” Next, your horse begins to back up and swing his hips to the side. He is moving and looking for the right answer, so you respond by maintaining the same pressure to tell him “keep trying, that’s not the answer I am looking for.” He finally happens to take one step forward. Stop tapping immediately and praise him–he got the “right answer.”

Next scenario: you are still training your horse to walk forward, but today he is in a lazy mood. You ask him to move forward by pointing. He does nothing, so you start tapping. He ignores the tapping and appears to be dozing off. This time you need to increase the pressure until the point where he begins moving and searching for the right answer again, then maintain that same pressure until he does what you want. Then, of course, release immediately.

Last scenario: still training to walk forward, as you begin your tapping, your horse raises his head, pins his ears, and cow kicks in your direction. Now what? Your horse has just threatened you and said, “I refuse to move out of your way or do what you want, stop bothering me or I will kick you.” Any time that your horse threatens you with biting, kicking, or running into your space, he needs to know that you do not allow this behavior and there will be consequences. In this case, abruptly pull his head towards you and make him back, spin in a circle, take his haunches away, anything to tell him, “I am the leader, you will move away from ME.” After a few seconds of aggressive correction, relax and go right back to what you were working on. Correcting your horse for this type of behavior needs to be aggressive and fast. If you back off, do not respond, or just yell at him, your horse will have learned that kicking makes you leave him alone. If you drag out the correction, he will forget what happened that he is being corrected for and will become scared.

In conclusion, always start off asking your horse softly with little to no pressure. If he ignores your request, increase the pressure until he is searching for what you want. If he becomes threatening or aggressive, correct the behavior quickly and aggressively then move on. Remember that a spoiled horse is a dangerous horse.

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