The Great Escape

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This is the episode that is airing this week on Horse Master—it’s about a horse that learned to run off every time his owner longed him. It is one that stands out in my memories for many reasons. Not the least of which that this was a case of a horse that learned bad behavior, not because he was a bad or even naughty horse, but because he was simply lacking training and leadership.

Cosmo was a youngish (I think he was four) warm blood of some sort—I believe he was an Anglo-Trakehner (that part of my memory is not so keen), What struck me about him right away was that he looked like a very kind, calm and willing horse, but he acted like a total jerk. Generally a horse’s “look” (facial structure and body type) will give a pretty good indication of what he’s like; and although Cosmo was very naughty—terrible ground manners and would jerk the rope out of your hands and run off when he didn’t want to do something—he definitely did not have the look of a “bad” tempered horse.

The other interesting part of this particular horse puzzle was that his owner, Erika, was very experienced, very competent and a seasoned show competitor and fox hunter. This gal knows how to handle horses—she should’ve known better (and did). Why then, had she let Cosmo learn to be such a brat? Erika knew she had spoiled Cosmo and was an incredibly good sport on the show. All she really needed to do was step up to the plate and take control of this horse—set some rules and boundaries, punish him when he is wrong, praise him when he is good and give him consistent leadership.

In Erika’s case, she had raised Cosmo from a baby and although her other adult horses were expected to have good manners and be obedient, somehow she never got in that mode with Cosmo and he learned how to call all the shots. It wasn’t so bad when he was a little baby, but at 4 years old and 1100#, not so cute. Once Erika took control, Cosmo responded beautifully—an ideal candidate for the TV show. A perfect case of the human needing to change, not the horse. Have you ever made a change in yourself or the way you handle a horse that gave you immediate results? I see it in my clinics all the time and love to see it!

It reminds me of all the hundreds of emails I have gotten from people that say they bought a nicely trained horse, only to find out a month later that the horse was seemingly not trained at all, when what has really happened is that the horse had come untrained through poor handling. People are always quick to blame the seller—he must have drugged the horse, he ripped me off, etc. But the truth is, horses thrive off leadership and authority and if you are not the leader, then he is. Few horses will voluntarily lope around the arena with you on their back, unless they have reason to believe in  your authority. The good news is that if you really did go out and buy a nicely trained horse—he’s still trained—you just need to change you.

Do you know someone that is ruining a good horse from lack of authority, control or leadership? Some horses are more easily ruined than others and some require constant maintenance in this department, while others happily look up to your authority. But any horse can be messed up with poor handling. Have you ever taken a horse like this and turned him around? It’s very satisfying work!

Enjoy the ride,

Julie

 

The Great Escape

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This week starts all-new episodes of Horse Master, which were filmed at a beautiful location in the South Carolina “Low Country,” where they filmed Forest Gump. Although we were filming in April, in keeping with all of our shoots so far, it was unseasonably cold and windy, so my illusions of evening walks on the beach unfortunately never became a reality.

This first episode is about a lovely young warmblood—I think he was Anglo-Trakhener—who had learned the dirty habit of ripping his nose away and running off whenever he wanted. Fortunately most horses never figure out that if they can get their body positioned directly away from you that there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop them, but “Cosmo” had figured this out. Have you ever had a horse that did this?

When a horse learns this trick, you’ve got a big problem and there’s absolutely nothing you can do to unlearn it—he’ll know this trick forever. But you can dissuade him by making him very uncomfortable when he attempts to get into position, but sometimes this takes a considerable amount of pressure—more pressure than many people are with able or willing to dish out. Depending on how much he has been rewarded for this bad behavior in the past and how often he has experienced success with this tactic, it may take a little pressure or a lot, but you always have to find the amount of pressure that motivates a horse to change. This is a very fundamental concept in training horses—or any animals (including people) for that matter.

Some of you may remember the trailer loading episode that aired recently. That horse had also learned this dirty trick (unbeknownst to us until we started filming). I had to put a chain on his nose to get better control of him and since this problem wasn’t directly related to trailer loading, I did a little schooling off-camera so that we could go on with the trailer loading. Once he realized he was not going to be able to get away from me, and that it would be very unpleasant for him if he tried, he totally gave it up and in short order he was walking right in the trailer.

In “The Great Escape,” which is airing for the first time this week, Cosmo turned and ran off when the owner longed him, simply because he didn’t want to do that and didn’t think he had to do anything he didn’t want to. As a 4 y/o, he was just being started under saddle and hadn’t really learned a work ethic yet (an important argument for not waiting TOO long to start a horse). On top of that, raised by his owners, he was quite spoiled and thought he pretty much ruled the roost. This is one reason why I probably wouldn’t buy a horse that had been raised by amateurs—chances are, they’ve been spoiled. And while I can certainly un-spoil them (pretty quickly actually), I’d prefer a horse that has been taught good manners from the beginning (or not handled at all) and a horse that has not LEARNED and had success with bad behaviors.

The funny thing is that Erika, Cosmo’s owner, is actually a good and very accomplished rider and her other horses are well-mannered and respectful of her (but she did not raise them). But for some reason, she had abdicated her authority to Cosmo and he was taking full advantage of her. Not because he is a mean or wicked horse—quite the opposite in fact—but because when there is a void of leadership, the horse will always take over.

I think Erika turned a new leaf with Cosmo after our two days together. All she needed to do was step up to the plate and show some leadership to the horse and he instantly responded.

Horses are amazing that way—if we can change the person, the horse almost always responds. Have you ever seen someone (or experienced for yourself) a situation where the human is abdicating authority to the horse? Usually a little assertiveness training is in order, and a better understanding of how horses view leadership and how dominance is created. Sometimes our human brain is our worst enemy. But if you can get the human to act like a leader, there are usually instant results. Some people come by leadership and authority naturally, others have to work it. Where do you fall into that picture?

As for the dirty trick of ripping the nose away and running off, the main prevention is to be proactive and not let him turn his nose to begin with. In fact, I’d make a horse with this habit always carry his nose slightly turned toward me, whether I was leading or longeing or doing anything else. Of course, going back and doing some groundwork with Cosmo and teaching him good ground manners would be a good start. Erika left the shoot with a copy of my video on ground manners, Lead Line Leadership, and I know she and Cosmo are on the right track now.

Enjoy the ride!

Julie