Stupid Human Tricks

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Relationship Rescue with Julie Goodnight
Stupid Human Tricks: Unsafe Mistakes We Make Around Horses

If you get too comfortable around a horse (even one that you have a great relationship with), you may put yourself in an unsafe zone. The result? What I like to call “Stupid Human Tricks.” These are the moves and injuries that could end up on America’s Funniest Videos, but really didn’t need to happen at all. While you’re more likely to be safe around a horse that you know well, it’s also easy to forget your manners and do things you would never do around a horse that was new to you.

If you operate with awareness and with safety in mind, you’re less likely to be hurt. Keep in mind that there’s no such thing as a horse without a flight response. Something can spook a horse that you may have no control of.

If you ever have the voice of consciousness in your head asking “Should I do this?” you probably shouldn’t do it. It only takes a few added seconds to do things the right way—and if you choose the safe way you’ll have an overall and longer relationship with your best buddy.

I’m not naïve enough to think that you will never again do anything on this list. However, it’s important to know that these moves are risky. It’s up to you to know the possibilities and choose how much risk to take. Here are my top “Stupid Human Tricks” and details about why you really shouldn’t perform them….

Ducking Under: Don’t duck under a lead rope when a horse is tied and never lead another horse under the cross ties beside a horse that’s tied. If you duck under the horse and the horse spooks or pulls back, it’s easy to get trapped between your horse and a wall. Why do we do it? It’s just an instance of being lazy. You’re in his blind spot when you are under his neck. Even a horse who usually minds his step might not know where you are. Plus, if the horse is tied loosely, he could drop his head quickly and bat into you when he moves. You don’t want to be so close to a horse’s head and in a compromising position.

Not Taking Time to Halter: Just because your horse will stand still while you put on or take off a blanket, it doesn’t mean that it’s good to do. If at any time the horse is startled while you’re in the middle of a task, you have no way to control him. What happens? He gets caught up in the blanket, tears the blanket, or just learns that he can get away whenever he wants to. If what you’re doing could remotely be uncomfortable to the horse, he may learn that he can run away when he wants. That is a hard lesson to un-learn. Personally, I’d rather spend time riding and doing fun events with my horses instead of working through a behavior issue that I caused. Take the extra time to confine your horse with a halter before you pick his feet, put on or take off a blanket or before you get to work.

Sitting or Kneeling: It’s easy to put a knee down when you bandage a horse or if you’re just waiting. Don’t do it. This one is near to my heart. When I was 14, my friend sat down in the pasture after our ride—just to watch the horses eat. My horse came up and tried to take the grain away. The horses picked a fight and she was in the way—and sitting with her legs crisscrossed. She couldn’t get out of the way in time and was kicked in the abdomen. She bled to death. There is a tried and true rule for this—you should be at least two horse lengths away from a horse before putting a knee down. The average horse is 8 feet long—so that means no sitting within 16 feet. It’s all about how fast you can get up. If you can’t get to your feet, you can’t get out of the way. It’s just a lazy move and it’s not worth it. I might be guilty of ducking under a lead rope now and then when I trust the horse, but this isn’t one that I ever put up with.

Holding the Halter: If you’re leading a horse with a halter on, there should be a lead rope attached. A horse can toss his head quickly—think of how quickly he can reach back to bite at a fly. If your hand is in the halter and he shakes his head, you may not have time to let go and you’ll injure your fingers. Your arm is up and in an awkward position when you grab a tall horse’s halter—it’s too easy to dislocate a shoulder or get pulled on and cause a severe shoulder injury. Worse, your arm could be pushed through the halter and then you’ll be attached to a horse that will likely spook at having you move with him. People lose fingers when the strap or dee-ring on the halter suddenly is tight (as a related safety note, when you do use a lead line, make sure that it never wraps around your hand). Plus, if you could let go of the horse when he jerks away, you have no way to confine him and you’ll teach the horse that it’s easy to pull away from you. This move can mean losing a digit or facing a long re-training session for your horse.

Dropping the Reins: Single loop rope reins may not break if the horse steps on them. You should never allow your rope reins to hang down from your horse’s bridle. If you’re saddling up, lay the reins over your arm. If you’re planning to ground tie in the middle of a ride, leave the loop reins over your horse’s neck; use a halter and lead if you need a line on the ground. You can ground tie your horse in split reins with the reins hanging down, but never with loop reins. If the horse steps through the loop, he’ll get tangled and hurt his mouth. You hurt your horse’s mouth and you’ll probably break your bridle. With a loop rein, keep the reins over your horse’s head and secure around the saddle horn (in a Western saddle) or through a stirrup leather (in an English saddle).

Flip Flops at the Barn: When I see people leading a horse in flip flops, I think “clearly that person has never had their foot mashed by a horse before.” In the best circumstances with the best horses, it’s just too easy to get your feet close to the horse’s feet. It’s not hard to fix—go put on shoes. Tennis shoes are OK if you’re on the ground around a horse but I choose a smoother and more protective covering like leather. And when you’re riding, there’s no choice except boots and a smooth sole and ½ or 1” heel. How many of these “Stupid Human Tricks” have you done in the past? Now that you know the risks, take a moment and do things the right way. You’ll spare yourself and your horse pain and you’ll be ready to go have fun!

Julie Goodnight shares her easy-to-understand lessons on her Monday night RFD-TV show, Horse Master (also online at http://tv.juliegoodnight.com), and through clinics and horse expos.
Heidi Melocco (www.whole-picture.com) is a lifelong horsewoman, equine journalist, and photographer.

Issues From The Ground: Rearing Fit When Saddled

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Question Category: Issues from the Ground

Question: Hello Julie,

I was on the Internet searching for info on rearing and found your web site. I have a question I hope you can help with. I have a 6 Yr. old TB. He came off the track at 4yrs old and has had on ground training and started jumping. I noticed some lameness issues with him after a long move. He has been sent to the Washington State University and diagnosed with slight arthritis in the right hock. He was injected and released. The University also did a bone scan of the hip and stifles just for my piece of mind. Since his return he has performed beautifully.

Here comes the question…. I was away on vacation and my trainer was saddling him in the cross ties (never a problem) and he pulled back a few times. She then went to working him in hand. This is when he threw a tantrum and not just reared, but was jumping up and throwing himself on the ground. Apparently he did this about 8 times before he realized it was causing him discomfort. I completely trust my trainer. She starts many horses, and specializes in recovery cases. She said she had never encountered a horse throwing himself down like that before. She continued working with him and he eventually came around. I know he has had some “going forward” trials before…but that seemed to be alleviated after his treatment at the Vet Hospital.

Knowing his health is fine, teeth fine, feet fine, can you give any advice as to why he would go to such lengths of avoidance? And to what we can do to eliminate this rearing. Obviously we will not be riding him until he is back to his old “good boy” self in hand. We aren’t even going to trust him in the cross ties for a while. I don’t understand how he could go from being a great, well-behaved boy, to a raving lunatic? I have had the local vet check him, and my equine chiropractor is coming at the end of the month. If he has no signs of pain, I’m afraid I will have to give him up. I want to be able to trust him not to injure himself or ME! Just last week my 5-year-old daughter sat on him while I walked him around. WHAT’S HAPPENED TO MY GOOD BOY?

If you can respond I would greatly appreciate any advice.

Thank you,
Kelly Sundquist

Answer: Kelly,

As I read your email, many thoughts come to mind, the first of which is that it is difficult to pass judgment on a horse’s behavior without actually seeing the horse in action. I have learned through experience that there is generally more to the story than the person relaying the incident sees, and in this case, it is being relayed third-hand. Usually if I am there in person and able to step back and observe, I can find a cause or a reason that the person handling the horse may be unable to see.

That said, there are a few other thoughts that come to mind. I am not a big fan of cross ties and I think they can be highly dangerous, as in the case of your horse. If a horse panics in the cross ties, the chances of him getting in a big wreck and getting seriously hurt are very high. If your horse were pulling back at all, I would not put him in cross ties. You may try tying him to a solid object or hitching rail in a rope halter to see if that would discourage him from pulling, but sometimes a rope halter can make a puller worse because of the additional pressure on his face. There are several Q&As on my website about horses that pull back and also the use of cross ties, so read more about it there.

The other thought that comes to mind is that this is a cold-backed horse. I am not totally clear on whether or not the horse was saddled when this incident occurred, but it sounds like he was. A cold backed horse will sometimes react violently to the saddle, but typically not until it has been put on, the girth tightened and then the horse moves. When he moves, he suddenly feels the constriction and pressure on his back and blows up, often throwing himself on the ground. I have found this to be especially common in TBs. It is possible that she inadvertently got the girth too tight too soon and when the horse reacted and was cross-tied, a full-blown panic set in. This would also be consistent with a reluctance to move forward.

Horses rear either in a refusal to move forward or when forward movement is inhibited. Pain can certainly instigate rearing in a horse; however, it does not really sound like the previous lameness issue is a factor here. It is possible that when he first blew up in the cross ties; he tweaked his back and then was in pain. Hopefully your chiropractor has made a determination on that. There are also several articles on my website about rearing and the causes and solutions.

Going on the assumption that your horse is cold-backed (which is my best guess), all you need to do is make sure he is not tied in any way when you saddle, massage the girth area before tightening and tighten the girth very slowly, walking him between each tightening. Often cold backed horses will crow-hop a little when you first ask them to canter and you need to just work them through that by continuing to move them forward. These measures will alleviate the problems.

I hope your horse is doing better now. Good luck and be careful!

Julie Goodnight, Clinician and Trainer

Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.

Issues From The Ground: Danger In The Cross Ties

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Question Category: Issues from the Ground

Question: I have a 7 year old quarter horse mare that as a rule is very easy going. About 1 month ago the barn she is boarded at had lice so I powdered her. When I was putting the powder on her neck she reared up in the cross ties. Luckily she settled down. Last week my daughter took out a powder to put on her cut and she went ballistic in the cross ties, reared up twice, broke the two by four in the roof of the barn, took the skin off the top of her head. Two days ago I was grooming her and she reared up again when a butterfly landed between her front hoofs and was just frantic. Can you offer me any advice as to why all of a sudden she’s obviously very upset in the cross ties.

Laurie

Answer: Laurie,

Cross ties can be one of the most dangerous ways to tie a horse and there is an article about the risks and how you train a horse to cross ties, which you definitely need to read. According to the dictionary as written by the horse, cross ties are a gymnastic apparatus.

NEVER medicate, treat, fly spray or any thing else that might cause a horse discomfort or alarm when he is tied hard and fast. ESPECIALLY not in cross ties, which are after all, an apparatus for doing back flips. That would be dangerous and could initiate a catastrophic chain of events leading to injury to horse and human and/or a horse that pulls back in panic when he is tied. In cross ties, it is much easier for a horse to get tangled up and turn upside down in the cross ties (which is why they should ALWAYS have breakaways). A horse single tied in front to a safe tie wall won’t get in trouble as quickly as it can in cross ties.

Once a horse is trained to cross ties, they are reasonably safe there, as long as you don’t do something to provoke an incident. Read the article about cross tying in the Q&A section of my website for more information on training a horse to the cross ties. Of course, it is much easier to train them from scratch than to train over established behavior. Your mare has every reason to be afraid of the cross ties and this behavior has become engrained, so you’ll have to take it slowly with her.

If you must continue to cross tie rather than single tie, attach one side and use a long training lead to just loop through the tie ring on the other side. Hold the end of the long lead as you work around the horse. A 12-15 foot lead will work fine (you can order a training lead from my website if you don’t have one). Your mare will think she is cross tied but she is not tied hard and fast so you can manipulate the rope as needed to give her a release if she panics but control her movement as much as possible and teach her to stand and tolerate the confinement of her head. Take it slowly, training her from scratch.

These are the type of things you learn in the school of hard knocks horsemanship. The more time goes by and the more wrecks with horses you see, the more cautious and preventative you become. Horses don’t have to be nearly as risky as it seems; when people always operate with safety as the first priority, and they know enough to be able to foresee potential problems, it’s a pretty safe activity. But when they don’t, the wrecks can be huge. With horses, always plan for the worst case scenario, because sooner or later it will happen. Chalk this one up to experience and be grateful that no human was hurt, and only your horse’s psyche is a bit damaged. As Mark Twain said, “good judgment comes from experience, and a whole lot of that comes from bad judgment.” You know better now and hopefully that type of wreck won’t happen to you again.

Good luck and be safe,

JG

Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.