Issues From The Ground: Ground Manners For Draft Horse

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Question Category: Issues from the Ground

Question: I would like to ask your opinion on how to handle a very big Percheron Paint gelding. He is a PMU foal that I adopted. He is halter broke and learning to lead. He has a terrible tendency to try to run me over when I am leading him. I was wondering if you could give me some advice seeing he is very big now about 16 hands and very bold. I have tried making him as uncomfortable as he makes me by pushing into him with my body but he is just so big that it doesn’t seem to matter. I would like to ask you a second question regarding my PMU foal Percheron Paint. He is a very laid back horse and when working in the round pen I find that he just doesn’t want to move forward. I use a lunge whip not to hit him but to encourage him to move forward but he will just refuse to move forward. I can’t tell if it is lazy or just not understanding what I am asking for. If you have a chance please help.

Thanks, Erin

Answer: Big horses seem to learn to throw their weight around very early on. The worst thing you can do is to lean into them or try to hold them back. Instead, anytime the horse moves into your space in the slightest, you need to turn around to face him and vigorously back him up. Whatever pressure you need to apply to get him to fly backwards, use it.

In my experience, with a big heavy horse, they work better off indirect pressure than direct pressure. Using a flag (a stout stick with a plastic bag or piece of tarp attached to the end) and waving it vigorously in his face as you stomp your feet and hiss and spit at him will probably work better than actually trying to physically push him back. You never want to get into a war or brute strength with a horse of any size, especially not a draft cross. You are destined to lose in a tug-of-war. I would also try to flag technique in the round pen. Do not over use the flag, save it as an aversive stimuli for the horse and when you ask him to move away from you (whether in the round pen or on the lead line), shake it at him but put it down and back behind you as soon as he moves off.

Once your horse is more respectful of your space and your authority, you should not need the flag anymore. At that point, you can begin to desensitize him to the flag until you can rub it all over his body. The issues you are having with your horse are all related and simply indicate that he does not respect your space or your authority and doe snot view you as his leader. You need to do lots of groundwork with the horse to build the kind of relationship that you want. There are numerous articles and Q&As on my website on this subject so I’ll let you read more about it there. Put the time in on the ground; it is like putting money in the bank.

Remember, ANY time the horse moves into your space uninvited, back him up vigorously. Do not let little erosions occur in your relationship with the horse by letting him be too close to you or move slightly into your space.

Julie Goodnight, Clinician and Trainer

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