Horses Pawing In The Trailer Logo

Q: I have a 19-year-old Quarter Horse gelding that paws in the trailer. I travel with him quite and bit and have no problems loading him in the trailer, but he paws when we come to a stop. I recently purchased a 7-year-old Quarter Horse gelding, and when I put him in the trailer to bring him home, he also started pawing. I’d like to solve this problem before I put them together in the trailer and exacerbate the problem. Any suggestions? —Marcy Luttrell, Indiana

A: It’s important to understand where pawing behavior stems from. It signals frustration in a horse and his desire to move. Sometimes that frustration can morph into anger, which is expressed when a horse stomps his foot.

Fixing a pawing problem is a complicated matter, especially in a horse of an advanced age or one with a nervous and impatient temperament. My best advice for you and your aged horse is to wait to load him until absolutely necessary—right before you head down the driveway. Some horses get anxious in the trailer, so keeping time spent standing in a it to a minimum will help ease that anxiety. While you’re moving, the horse will usually stand on all four feet for better balance, so minimizing time spent standing in a stopped trailer is best.If your horse paws when you stop, you can lightly bump your brakes to get him standing on all four feet. But remember, if you tap your brakes to jar one horse, it jars any other horses in the trailer, too.

Groundwork outside the trailer might also help a pawing horse get over his frustration and develop more patience. I work with my young horses to get them to stand still like statues in all situations. Horses can be impulsive about moving, and this exercise helps teach them to control their movements.

I start by tying my young horses, yearlings and older, to a “patience post” (a hitching post or rail situated in a shady area). It’s a good idea to put down rubber mats at the rail or post; that way, if a horse does paw, he won’t be able to dig a big hole. Let him experience other horses coming and going, and only untie him when he’s relaxed and not pawing. Your horse’s temperament will really come out in this situation. Depending on how fidgety a horse is, he might spend several hours a day tied until he figures out that he’ll be there a while, so he needs to be patient.

Also work on ground tying. It’s another skill that requires your horse to be patient. Outfit your horse in a rope halter with a 12- to 15-foot lead. Stand facing your horse, a little to the left side, with your toes pointing at his shoulder. Tell your horse “whoa.” Correct him every time he moves, using enough pressure with the rope to motivate him to think before he moves again. Increase the distance between you and your horse, until you’re holding the very end of the lead and laying it on the ground. Practice at times when your horse wouldn’t want to stand still—when horses are coming and going from the barn or working in the nearby arena, for example.

When you work on ground tying, remember that your goal is to be in control of your horse’s feet, even when he’s not moving. It’s a skill that you have to reinforce and practice over and over. Most important: Be patient. Don’t mirror your horse’s impatience, or you’ll limit your chance of success.

Stand Statue Still Logo

Stand Statue Still
Lots of people “do” ground work but like with any type of training, it can be done well or not. Groundwork done poorly is training the horse the wrong thing and I have seen many cases where horses have been damaged in the process of “groundwork.” To be an effective trainer, you have to know what you are doing and why you are doing it, what is the desired response and how to get it, and most importantly, you must have the ability to reward (release) the horse with perfect timing (the optimum timing is within one-half second of the desired response of the horse).

If your horse is not adequately trained and you expect the veterinarian, farrier or anyone else to work on your horse or pick up his to feet, then you also have to accept someone else’s fast training instead of your own work with your horse. Don’t wait for someone else to train your horse in a hurry. It’s your job to train the horse.
You need to train your horses to stand still on your request. This can be accomplished in about five minutes with the fussiest of horses if the handler is consistent and has good timing and is adequately outfitted with gear. To teach the stand-still skill, I prefer to use a rope halter with a training lead attached with a knot (and not a harsh buckle). A trained, obedient and subordinate horse will willingly and calmly stand ground tied, with or without a halter and lead.
As you do ground work teaching the horse to stand, work from a looser and looser lead, getting farther and farther away from the horse like he is ground tied. When he is standing reliably (because you have consistently corrected his mistakes or the slightest look away from you—where his attention should be), start lifting his feet and messing with them while he is ground tied. You horse will learn to stand quietly and relaxed while his feet are being handled and manipulated. Be sure to pet and praise the horse for his efforts and make sure that he learns that when he does the right thing, life can be quite good and quite easy.
Once you’ve taught your horse to be mannerly and obedient, you need to get him accustomed to what the farrier or veterinarian will require him to do: hold the foot up high and long, place it between your legs and pound and scrape the foot. As you work with young horses to teach them about foot handling, it is critical that you only put the foot down when the horse is standing still and relaxed. If you release the foot while the horse is fidgeting or fighting, you have trained the horse to fidget and fight. When you let go of the foot, make sure you let it down gently, slowly giving back control to the horse, never dropping his foot out from under him. It is best to place the foot in a specific location when you set it down, but never try to force the foot down.
This technique is explained thoroughly and demonstrated on my video, Lead Line Leadership. You can also find out more about collection and many other riding skills at my Training Library:
–Julie Goodnight

Boot And Foot Position Logo

Make sure you ride with your boot far enough into the stirrup so that the ball of your foot is weighted. If you just place your toes into the stirrup, you’ll bend your foot and lift your heel. With your boot far enough in the stirrup so that the ball of your foot is weighted, it will be easy to ride correctly with heel lower than your toe.
–Julie Goodnight with Kestar Boots (