Expert Trailer-Loading Fix

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Expert Trailer-Loading Fix
Learn how to avoid common trailer-loading mistakes, and load your horse every time you ask, with these steps from top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight.

Have you ever had trouble loading your horse into the trailer — even when he’s loaded successfully in his past? There’s a chance you may unknowingly be contributing to his trailering issues.

“It’s easy to train your horse to resist trailer loading,” notes top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight. “Chances are, you may not even realize how you’re contributing to his behavior. It can take years to train a horse to do the right thing, but only moments to ‘un-train’ him.”

Here, Goodnight will help you examine the innocent mistakes you might be making. Then she’ll show you how to squelch a behavior problem before it escalates. She’ll also give you three things to avoid

Before You Begin
Wear sturdy boots and leather gloves, for safety. Outfit your horse in a rope training halter for control. (Caveat: Switch to a gentler, flat halter for trailering.)

Find a quiet place with good footing. Consider backing up your trailer to the barn, close to the fence, so that your horse’s options are limited and the only way to go seems to be into the trailer.

In any case, avoid wide-open spaces that might encourage your horse to think about freedom instead of stepping forward onto the trailer.

Step 1. Perform Ground Work
Begin with ground work. How well your horse handles from the ground will impact how well you can handle him in a difficult trailer-loading situation.

If your horse suddenly decides he doesn’t want to get into the trailer, you need to know that you have fundamental handling skills intact. If he doesn’t normally have good ground manners (for instance, he pulls back, balks, drags you to the grass, and doesn’t stay in step with you), you need to work on instilling those manners before you work on trailer loading.

Make sure your horse will stand still on command. A horse that will stand still on your authority has decided he must abide by rules of behavior. He’s respectful. If he won’t stand still, work on that skill first.

Step 2. Correct Unacceptable Behavior
Does your horse look away from the path you choose? Do you allow him to look away without correcting him? Does he walk in front of you or look where he wants?

These are all signs that your horse isn’t paying attention to you. He thinks he can look and go wherever he wants.

Address those small acts of disobedience away from the trailer — and before the looking-away behavior leads to a turn-and-bolt. Once he learns he can get away from you, it can’t be unlearned.

If your horse has learned to get away from you or turn his nose to the side to go where he wants, he may display these behaviors when trying to avoid something he doesn’t want to do, such as approaching the trailer.

If your horse displays the turn-and-bolt behavior when you’re trailer loading, examine your leading techniques and his behaviors when you’re working away from the trailer.

The first time your horse ripped the rope out of your hand and got away, it may have been an accident. But then he thinks “wow, I got free.” It’s a terrible thing for a horse to learn, because he’ll forever know that he can overpower you. You can dissuade the behavior and remind him not to do that, but he’ll always remember that it’s possible.

That’s an example of “un-training” a horse that once knew the right thing to do but now has learned a new thing. By not correcting him and allowing him to look away, the behavior escalated to getting away. Once he got away, that was a reward for him. You trained him to pull away and be rewarded.

To fix this behavior, do your homework with your horse and have a solid relationship from the ground. He’ll remember that you’re in charge when you approach the trailer.

Caveat: If your horse has escalated his behavior and knows how to get away, you may need to enlist the help of a knowledgeable horse friend or qualified trainer to work through the trailer-training process.

Step 3. Be Confident and Aware
Your horse will always turn away from what he doesn’t like and toward what he does like. He’s transparent. Just pay attention to his focus. Watch his ears to see what he’s “pointing” at. His long neck makes it easy to see any movement toward what he’d rather be doing.

Horses are also keen on your determination and intention level, so pay attention to your own attitude and body language.

Here’s how to project confidence, and read your horse’s intentions and make corrections early on, so the behavior doesn’t escalate.

Be confident. When you approach the trailer with your horse, there should be no doubt in his mind that he’s going in. That’s the one and only option. Be a confident leader. Conduct yourself in a way that tells your horse you both are walking straight in the trailer. Project confidence and determination so he knows the best thing to do is to follow your lead rather than make choices on his own.

Watch your horse. If you’re having a trailer-loading issue, evaluate your entire approach to the trailer to pinpoint what your horse is thinking and what he’s paying attention to. Determine the exact moment when he sees the trailer and realizes that’s where he’s going.

Catch the look-away. If your horse doesn’t want to load up, he’ll tense and look away long before he’s close to the trailer. Be prepared for this reaction. One of the biggest mistakes made in trailer-loading is allowing a horse to look away from the trailer. After you’ve lined him up and are ready to load him, he should look only straight ahead at the goal.

If you don’t notice that small glance away, your horse may look right and left to plan his evacuation route. Correct your horse the second he looks away, before he escalates his plan and balks, turns, or even bolts.
Keep his nose straight. When you approach the trailer, keep your horse’s nose pointed straight ahead. If he even tips his nose to the side, bump the rope to remind him that he’s only to look straight ahead. Out of the corner of your eye, watch his eyes to see whether he’s even thinking of moving back, not forward.

Step 4. Avoid Circling
If your horse is “experienced” in throwing tantrums before trailer-loading, he may learn that if he does turn his head, balk, or even wind up completely out of position, you’ll circle him and approach the trailer again.

Never circle your horse when trailer-loading. It’s a fatal mistake. If you turn him around and allow him to face the direction he wanted to go, he’s gotten his own way for a few steps.

You may think you need to get a better approach by circling back and starting again. But your horse only associates his behavior with what happens within three seconds after he acts. He wanted to turn away and he got the reward of stepping in the direction he wanted.

You’ve unknowingly trained your horse to throw a tantrum by allowing him to turn away. Horses are more in the moment than we are. In the moment, your horse wanted to turn away, and you allowed it. Turning away reinforced the tantrum, so he’ll certainly do it again.

If your horse throws a tantrum and gets out of position, let him figure out how to straighten up and get his feet in line without circling. Then follow the guidelines in Step 3.

Step 5. Stay Out of the Way
Think about your position as you enter the trailer. Horses are trained not to invade your space, so avoid stepping up into the door of the trailer before asking your horse to step up. If he were to follow your request, he’d have to walk on top of you.

A smart, well-trained, agreeable horse will wait until you walk forward and get out of the way to load up. However, a horse that doesn’t want to load will take your placement as a reason not to move forward and to think of an alternate destination.

You may think you’re out of the way, but your horse sees your position as blocking him. Ideally, you don’t want to step into the trailer with him, but some trailers are designed so that you have to step in and lead him to the right place.

If you’re stepping up into a long slant-load trailer, go in the door well ahead of your horse. Keep walking straight ahead, then step as close to the wall as possible to get out of his way. Show him there’s a path to move forward.

Step 6. Retrain Your Horse
If your horse has been known to balk at entering the trailer, approach, then ask him to stop before he enters. When he stops, praise him for listening and looking forward at the trailer. If he looks away, correct him to remind him he’ll be moving straight ahead. When he looks at the trailer, praise him.

Why stop along the way? When you stop, your hose will show you what he’s thinking about. You’ll have an opportunity to praise him for looking forward and looking at the trailer.

Stopping him also keeps your horse in a compliant mind-set — he’s being praised for moving and stopping on command. It keeps him interested in moving forward and discourages him from thinking about an escape.

Your praise instills confidence in your horse. You’ll have an opportunity to maintain obedience. Plus, you’ll encourage his forward interest and his investigative behavior.
For more trailering videos and tips from Julie Goodnight, visit tv.juliegoodnight.com.
For more information on equine behavior, see Goodnight’s Guide to Great Trail Riding, with bonus DVD, available from HorseBooksEtc.com.

If possible, don’t trailer-load alone. A travel buddy can help snap the butt bar and close the trailer doors, so your horse never learns he can back out before you can secure him.

What Not to Do
Here are three things to avoid when loading your horse into the trailer.
1. Train your horse on the road. Don’t fight with your horse because you need to get on the road right away. If you’re in a hurry, you may be tempted to resort to different and inconsistent tactics to get him loaded.

Instead, schedule plenty of time (days and weeks) for trailer-loading practice sessions. Let your horse know he’s going in the trailer; there’s no time constraint.

Don’t use a rope or whip. Julie Goodnight has seen many different trailer loading techniques and some major wrecks and injuries. Though a lifetime of experience, she understands that it’s a lot better to teach a horse the right response than to try and force him into the trailer.

To do this, your horse has to be thinking about moving forward. Therefore, avoid touching him with anything from behind, including a rope or whip. As soon as you touch him from behind, his attention is immediately transferred to his hindquarters. Using a rope or whip could also scare him; a fearful horse isn’t going to learn what you’re trying to teach him.

Teach your horse that he should move freely forward. Let him know that you want him to think through the problem and learn that the easy answer is to go forward.

If your horse needs extra encouragement to go forward, enlist a helper to snap a training flag. This technique applies mental pressure that tells him backward isn’t the direction to go. The noise helps your horse associate quiet and easy with forward movement and an unpleasant sound with thoughts of backing up. You’re not physically touching him or applying constant pressure.

Don’t trailer-load alone. If possible, ask a traveling buddy to go with you to help you load your horse. After your horse walks into the trailer, your buddy can snap on the butt bar, close the doors, and help you tie your horse, all in the correct order.

You need to close the back door before you tie your horse, for safety. You don’t want your horse to learn that if you’re alone, he has time to back up before the butt bar is snapped and the door closed.

Before you start each trailer-loading session, outfit your horse in a rope training halter for control. Switch to a gentle, flat halter for trailering.

When you approach the trailer, your horse needs to know that you mean business. Point his nose straight ahead. Don’t allow him to look from side to side.

Keep your horse’s nose pointed at the trailer — no matter what.

Avoid circling. When you circle back around, your horse learns that he can get his way — if only for a moment.

Stay out of your horse’s way as you load him. Don’t stand in front of him.
A well-trained horse will wait until you walk forward and get out of the way to load up. However, a horse that doesn’t want to load will take your placement as a reason not to move forward and to think of an alternate destination.

Ride Right With Julie Goodnight: Confidence on the Trail

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It’s easy to lose confidence on the trail if your well-trained horse has defied you or refused to go forward. A threat to bolt or rear can make a confident rider worry and, in turn, contribute to the problem.

In that moment of refusal, you can choose to head for home or to step up and take charge.

If your well-trained trail horse suddenly throws a fit and refuses to ride out alone, chances are, you’ve allowed little acts of disobedience before this blow up.

It’s time to stop putting up with blatant acts of disrespect and confidently ride ahead.

“I’ve seen horses get away with little acts of disobedience and thus start to think they — and not the rider — are in charge,” says top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight.

“Soon, instead of simply turning to look back toward where he wants to go, the horse escalates his threats. He might raise his front end as if to rear, or he may simply balk and refuse to keep moving down the trail.”

When a formerly well-trained horse starts with this type of behavior, Goodnight says riders often lose confidence and fear the worst will happen — that the horse will actually rear or turn and bolt.

If you turn for home, even just momentarily, instead of riding ahead, your horse learns just what to do to manipulate your emotions and “win” a chance to stop working.

“Your horse may just need a reminder that you, the rider, are in charge,” says Goodnight. “He may’ve been testing you, diminishing your confidence and manipulating your ride time. Stop the cycle by showing him you’re calmly in control.”

Here, Goodnight helps you observe your horse’s behavior patterns so that you can identify disobedience at its most subtle level and correct it before your horse has an all-out tantrum.

She’ll help you understand how the behavior escalated, how to fix your focus, and what to do to retrain your horse so he’ll move ahead willingly on the path you choose.

Goodnight will also explain to kids how to watch a horse’s ears to learn what he’s focused on.

Inside the Behavior
Understanding your horse’s motivation and behavior will boost your confidence and help you formulate a plan.

“Horses can threaten a lot of scary behaviors,” Goodnight says. “As much as we love them, horses can be willful and obstinately refuse to move forward. They’re master manipulators if they’ve learned that they can succeed with their antics of turning, stopping, threatening to rear, etc.

“If your horse can get you into an emotional state, he can learn that if he rears or threatens to rear you may turn for home — and he doesn’t have to work. To him, that means he has won points in a game called Let’s Go Home.”

When Goodnight was called in to help a horse-and-rider pair in Tucson, Arizona, she’d planned to observe what happened on the trail. However, she soon realized that the horse wasn’t even willing to leave the barn.

The rider, Liz, reported that she’d ridden her horse on the trail successfully in the past — he was a tried-and-true ranch horse. But lately, his tantrums kept Liz from riding out alone. He wouldn’t step forward; he’d turn his head and circle back to the barn.

“Liz had great riding position and was an experienced rider, but she’d allowed her horse to be disobedient without knowing it,” Goodnight says.

“Every time the horse turned his head to look back at his pen, Liz allowed him to turn in the direction he wanted to go before circling him back to the trail.

“While to Liz it seemed as though she was in control and pointed her horse where she wanted to go, her horse thought he ‘won’ with each step he got to take toward the barn.”

Goodnight explains how your horse keeps score of his steps and your ability to confidently direct his speed and direction.

“Say you want your horse to go right, toward the trail. He refuses, so you circle him around to the left. He has won. To him, his refusal paid off at the moment you turned him the way he wanted to go, to the left.”

In Liz’s case, she’d allowed the turn back to the barn too many times, so her horse thought he was in charge — each time she circled him, he ended up closer to the barn.

When Goodnight took the reins, the horse tried his antics only once. He quickly realized that he wasn’t going to get his way and walked obediently forward.

“This was a trained horse that had learned to test and threatened to throw a fit,” Goodnight says. “He’d learned that the game worked with Liz and that he would get his way when Liz would give up and go home.

“With me, he learned the game wouldn’t work and quickly was reminded of his training. It was time for Liz to break the cycle and teach her horse that his antics wouldn’t control her emotions and confidence any longer.”

If you’re observant, you can tell what a horse is thinking and feeling. Your horse is also very keen on your current emotional status.

Horses are quick to learn how to push your emotional buttons. They learn that when they get a tense, emotional response, they’ll get to turn home in just a few minutes.

Goodnight notes that horses are transparent in their communication. If your horse turns and looks toward the barn, that’s where he wants to go. If he’s whinnying, he’s calling out to find his friends, saying he wants to be back with the herd.

If your horse whinnies, you may be embarrassed, but it’s just horse behavior. It’s an expression of his emotion. He’s saying he feels alone, and he wants to be back with the herd. You can’t punish him for having that emotion, but you [ITAL]can[ITAL] correct the behaviors that follow that emotion.

Here’s how to regain your status as herd leader.

Step 1: Regain Your Confidence
How do you break the cycle and tell your horse that you’re in charge? The key is to put him into action and to make sure you know what to do in advance.

“As soon as Liz knew that she couldn’t allow her horse to turn toward his pen and the barn, she was on a new path,” Goodnight says. “With less than an hour’s practice, she was riding down the trail and away from the barn.”

Horses are great at detecting when your confidence lessens or your determination to move forward down the trail wanes, Goodnight explains.

“When you ride, your body is in close contact with your horse,” she says. “Your horse can feel when you’re tense and when you’re relaxed. If he begins to refuse or starts a temper tantrum, you may tense your body or simply shift your focus down onto him instead of where you want to go. He can feel the difference between when you look ahead. Your posture suggests you’re ready to move ahead on the trail. When you’re tense, you send the opposite message.”

Here’s the fix.

When you start to feel tense, keep looking ahead to where you want to go. Keep your eyes focused — not in a blank stare —and observe what’s in front of you on the trail.

Start to put your horse to work. Turn right, turn left (always turn away from the barn; never circle in the direction your horse wants to go), speed up, slow down, then turn right and left again.

Just changing your horse’s direction will give you more control and therefore more confidence. Any time you change direction, you remind him that you’re in control of where he can go. He’s not in control of the direction he goes.

Step 2. Break the Cycle
Both you and your horse need to make a big change if your horse is going to learn that you’re in charge and that he can no longer throw a fit to get his way.

How long this process will take will depend on how many points your horse has scored in the past. If he has a history of getting his way, it’ll be harder to correct your score.

The moment you step in the stirrup, let your horse know that you expect him to keep his nose in front of him and stand still. Basic obedience and control come first. As the rider, you control his direction and speed.

At first, work close to the barn in an area where you are more confident and feel at ease issuing a command. Chances are you’ll be more worried the farther you are from home. When you’re farther away, your horse will be thinking more about heading home, too.

To make a correction for turning his nose, pick up and bump with the opposite rein, using enough pressure to point his nose back toward the trail and dissuade him from doing it again.

If your horse turns his head toward the right, bump his head back to the left. Don’t allow him to turn to the right, and definitely don’t allow him to circle to the right to get back toward the trail.

If your horse looks back toward the barn (or his friends or the trailer) multiple times, put him to work.

When you ask him to change direction, stop, back up, trot circles one way then the other, etc. He then won’t have time to think about what’s behind him and will start to tune into your cues.

As you ride around the barn, always turn away from the barn each time you change direction. If you feel your horse’s focus shift to the barn and away from you, turn away from the barn and pick up the trot.

“If your horse throws a tantrum, he’ll soon learn that if he’s disobedient, you move him farther from the barn,” says Goodnight. “To expedite the training, I turn a horse toward the barn only when he’s calm and listening. I want to teach him that if he’s obedient and willing, he may get to go home and have a break.”

Gradually work your way farther from the barn. If you consistently insist on obedience, you should be able to work farther and farther away without having a big blow up. You horse will know that you’re now in charge.

Step 3: Get Back on the Trail
If your horse tries his antics on the trail, practice the same skills. Be sure to end your rides when you’re in charge and your horse’s training is on the upswing.

Horses are all different. If your horse has a short fuse or has had much success getting you to turn for home, it may be more of a challenge to ride out on the trail.

If your horse became more obedient when you worked him close to home, quickly changing his attitude, it may be time to push him when you’re farther from home.

If you have a problem away from home, dismount, and perform ground work with a rope halter and lead. Turn him left, turn him right, and make him move his feet.

Keep your horse’s motivation in mind, and don’t reward bad behavior. Even if you have to dismount, if you do that ground work, you’re ending on a good note. You’re letting him know he won’t get a break by pulling his usual antics.

Once you remind your horse that you’re in control, you may even be able to step back up in the stirrup and ride more.

Once your horse is compliant, you can head for home, knowing you’re not losing points.

But be careful — don’t throw in the towel and let your horse get everything he wants. You’re the herd leader. If you feel him (or yourself) getting tense, look confidently where you want to go, and remember that you have a plan.

Once you control your horse’s direction, you’ll boost your confidence and your horsemanship.F


For more on-the-trail skills every rider needs to know, check out  my book, Goodnight’s Guide to Great Trail Riding, with free bonus DVD, It includes:

  • Balance & Posture in Steep Terrain
  • Safety: Emergency Brake, Stand Still for Mounting, & Reprogramming Spooky Behavior
  • Training: Get Your Horse to Go the Speed you Ask—Every Time
  • Jigging: Stop That Forever
  • Sidepassing Skills
  • Gate Opening & Closing
  • Water Crossing
  • Ground Tie
  • Ponying
  • Much More

Behavior Tip: Watch the Ears

Horses point their ears toward what they’re interested in and what they’re looking at. When you’re riding on the trail, watch your horse’s ears to tell whether he’s focused on the trail ahead and listening to you or thinking of heading home.

Practice paying attention to horses’ ears. Make it a game to find out what’s holding their attention. It may be a visiting deer or a horseback rider passing by.

Whenever you pass a field of horses, note what they’re paying attention to. This skill will transfer to your time in the saddle, helping you notice what your horse is paying attention to and thinking about.

When you ride, make sure your horse is looking straight ahead on the path you’ve chosen.

Issues From The Saddle: Works Well Outside And Poorly Inside

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Question Category: Issues from the Saddle

Question: I am an intermediate rider at best who purchased a 10 y/o paint gelding a couple months ago. He is from the south and I honestly think is not familiar with indoor arenas. I rode him outside before I bought him and he had a wonderful little jog and nice working trot. He is very tolerant and doesn’t buck, rear, pin ears while being ridden despite my inconsistencies. He is very sweet on the ground. My problem is in the arena he does not want to stay on the wall well, is difficult to slow down at the trot, and his speed at the trot is very inconsistent. He walks fine except his head is going side to side frequently. He has a good transition from trot to walk without difficulty. He is very sensitive to body position and leg cues. He will be a great horse once we can work through these problems. He has been ridden in a western curb bit prior to my purchasing him. I have a Myler triple barrel bit that has side movement and flexible curb for tongue relief. I understand that this is a step up from a snaffle and fairly mild (of course, in the right hands). He pretty much ignored the snaffle bit although I would like to eventually put him in one. I am not sure what problem to address first, and in what order. Perhaps there is an exercise that could address more than one. I feel that I am as much of the problem as he is. I need some confidence that what I am asking him to do is what’s best for the horse.

Thank you,
Carol AND Dixon

Answer: I admire your attitude and your recognition that horse problems are almost always rider induced. You are probably correct in that your horse is simply not accustomed to indoor arenas; many horses are not. There are lots of horses that work great outdoors and terrible indoors and visa versa.

You need to get the horse accustomed to the indoor arena, but first you need to get comfortable, consistent and confident with him outdoors, where he works better. Until you feel very confident and consistent there, don’t even try indoors. In the meantime, take your horse into the indoor in-hand (unsaddled and unmounted) and let him just spend some time there hanging out and getting confidence with you on the ground. You can longe him in there or do ground work or just hang out. You could, if conditions allowed, even feed him in there so he came to think of it as a “happy” place. When he is comfortable in there with you on the ground and when you are comfortable with riding him outdoors, try riding him indoors.

At first, let him stay in the middle or wherever his comfort zone is, but make him keep circling, constantly changing directions. Gradually expand the area you are working in and when he relaxes take him to the rail. If he gets squirrelly, bring him back to the middle but start circling and changing directions again. When he relaxes, take him to the rail.

Gradually he will learn that the rail is a much better place to be because he doesn’t have to work as hard (circling and changing directions is much harder work for a horse than going straight). It will also help if your horse has a good role model in the arena with him; a calm and older horse will work just fine. In time, your horse will work just as well inside as out.

If your horse is moving his nose from side to side while you are riding, that is an indication that he is not paying attention to you and may well be a precursor to spooking or disobedience. Any horse I ride is expected to keep his nose directly in front of his chest, unless I ask it to move elsewhere. I will consistently and immediately correct his nose anytime it moves away from dead center, by simply lifting up on the opposite rein until the horse’s nose comes back to center, then giving an immediate release. There are several Q&As on my website about nose control.

As for the bit, I have found that many horses that people say totally runs right through the snaffle, work just fine in a snaffle for me. Make sure you are using your weight aid and not just your hands and try to avoid pulling on both reins at the same time. There is information on my website and in my videos about using the aids properly. Realize that putting a horse in a stronger bit will almost always make any problems worse because the horse will have added anxiety about his mouth. Although some finished Western horses work better in a curb because they are used to being ridden one-handed, I’ve yet to find a horse that won’t work in a snaffle.

Julie Goodnight

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

Issues From The Saddle: Meandering On The Trail

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Question Category: Issues from the Saddle

Question: My 6 y/o AQHA gelding is very focused in the arena, on or off cattle, keeping his face directed at our target or direction. On the trail, he likes to look all around and, if I don’t re-direct him, follow his face off toward whatever catches his attention. If I allow that behavior (meandering, I call it), am I creating long term problems for us? As always, I appreciate your expertise.

Doc

Answer: In defense of your horse and in the spirit of “you can’t have everything,” you have to understand that a horse bred to work cattle does not always make the best trail horse. A “cowy” horse’s mind is keyed into movement and wants to follow it; he notices every little thing and tends to stay on alert. While this works out great in the arena and on cattle, it is not ideal for trail riding. Having said that, being cowy is no excuse for disobedience, and yes, if you allow disobedience it will cause bigger problems for you down the road because it erodes your authority and leadership.

An obedient horse will be focused straight ahead and will go in the direction you ask, at the speed you dictate, without constant direction from you. Many riders micro-manage their horses by constantly steering and correcting speed with the reins, so the horse becomes dependent on that. Once you cue a horse to go at a certain speed and in a certain direction, he should continue on that path and at that speed/gait until you ask him to speed up, slow down, turn right or turn left.

To check how obedient your horse is, find a target and give him a cue to walk or trot straight toward your target, then lay your hand down on his neck with a loose rein, and see if he continues. If he changes speed or direction without a cue from you, it means you have a horse that is either disobedient or co-dependent on you and you have some work to do. You need to break your habit of micro-managing, give clear directives, then give your horse the responsibility to obey. Correct him with your reins and legs if he makes a mistake; but leave him alone when he is obedient. Use enough pressure in your corrections that he is motivated to behave.

I have written a lot about having nose control on your horse. He should not be looking around while you are riding him, either in the arena or on the trail. Simply correct the nose with the opposite rein—if he looks right, bump the left rein, and visa-versa. Do not try to hold the nose in place; just correct it when he is wrong. I use the point of shoulder as a guideline; he can move his nose all he wants as long as it stays between the points of his shoulder; as soon as it crosses the line, he gets a correction. In short order, he will keep his nose pointed in the right direction.

Keep in mind, that just because you control the nose, does not mean you control the rest of the horse. He can easily run through his shoulder and go in the opposite direction that his nose is pointed. The most important thing is to control the horse’s shoulder but if you cannot control the nose, you have little chance of controlling the rest of the body.

How strict I am on the horse’s nose and his looking around, depends somewhat on the horse, his level of training and his willingness to be obedient and subordinate. If I am riding a horse that has proven to be well-behaved, responsive and obedient, I may let him look around a little, as long as he does not alter the course I have set in either speed or direction. On the other hand, if I have a horse that has proven to be disobedient, spooky or otherwise fractious, I will have a zero tolerance for looking around.

For your cow-bred horse, you will have to factor in his training, temperament and obedience and decide how strict you will be. Always correct a horse when he changes course without a cue from you, but with a cowy horse, that is bred to be very alert to any movement in his environment, you may have to cut him a little slack as long as he remains obedient. The most important thing for you is that you have a clear and consistent view of what will be corrected and what is expected of your horse. That’s why I use the points of shoulder as a landmark—that way I have clearly defined what I expect and I know exactly when to correct the horse and when not to, so that the horse can clearly understand the rule and that I can give consistent corrections.

You’ll have to use your own judgment with your horse, but as long as it is clear and consistent, your horse will learn quickly. Good luck!

Julie

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