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Basic Training - Balancing Correction And Praise

Apr 4, 2008
Many people make the training mistake of affection is the only way to handle your horse. You praise him for good, you give him treats when catching him, you give in when he refuses - and the horse is on a downward spiral of being in charge, not being prepared to be in charge and instead of you relating to him as a horse and getting that back - you're treating him as human and getting horse back. This unbalances the relationship.

Horses are by nature prey. They have two main defenses - fight or flight. For the slower members or more fearful members that can mean becoming food for predators, in the natural order. The horse also has the ability to remember what they've learned - and this is a sword that can cut both ways.

You go out to catch your horse and chase him for a half hour, finally catch him and praise him - and in his mind he's thinking "ok so running for a half hour is what she wants." Instead catch him and simply walk off, allowing him to follow. You've accomplished the goal of catching him and at that moment offering praise can be understood much differently.

Bring him in, calmly and without a fuss, tie him and groom him. AFTER he stands still and behaves for his grooming time *then* praise him, give him a treat if you wish. Then it's "ok so I should come in, stand and be brushed on".

Timing means everything in correction as well as praise. If you watch horses loose in a pen you get a glimpse of IMMEDIATE. If another horse challenges the boss mare she doesn't think "oh now stop"...she usually IMMEDIATELY greets the intrusion with a bite, a kick, or chasing and biting the offender. She's not nice about it - and when the horse gets in your space inappropriately you shouldn't be either. This doesn't mean abuse! It means you get his feet moving back away from you. It means you make him back down. It means he gets the IMMEDIATE thought in his brain that stepping on your toe, crowding your space, pinning his ears (or worse, biting!) is not acceptable. Gauge your correction to the severity of the infraction. A bite in your direction is much more severe than stepping on your foot - but both should be corrected. The latter might be a slap on the shoulder and pushing him over. The former should be much more severe - literally backing him down.

In watching horses notice the dominant horse will either raise the head higher or snake the head threatingly. Use this! If the horse is nippy carry a whip - something you can raise higher than his head! Do this and back him up...if it means a tap to get him moving backwards so be it. But remember - if you back up you have "told" him he's won. Another note - while a solid tap can get through to a horse make sure you don't start a more dangerous game (to the horse) - that of sparring. If you watch two colts they'll fake and jab, bite and dodge. This is a HIGHLY dangerous game to get into with a horse of any age...do not make it a game. Make it crystal clear in his head you are not playing. Back him down then *stop*. When he backs up a step or two *don't* invite or pull him back forward...leave him there. Let him process what happened "hmm that wasn't such a good idea." If he tries it again you repeat it with the same or slightly more asserting your space.

You can bet that boss mare won't hesitate or feel sorry for him or worry about damaging his psyche. She's "this is the boundary, you WILL NOT cross it!" Once this is "installed" in the horse's brain you will have a much happier horse, because he knows where he stands, where you stand and that if he doesn't cross said boundary he is safe being with you. This can make a tremendous difference.

Timing of the correction is important. It needs to be IMMEDIATE - not when you grab the whip and walk down the hall - by then it's too late. There are many opinions and views in the horse world, but a well behaved horse is an asset.

This palomino colt at six months was highly disrespectful - he'd nip, body slam handlers into the wall of the stall, walk on people as they tried to groom him. With boundaries and just a few weeks time it was possible to walk into a paddock and photograph him. It's a pain in a weanling - it's dangerous in an older horse.
About the Author
Ron Petracek was raised in southern Idaho with horses and the great outdoors. With this continued passion He now shares through a a vast equine network. Learn more by clicking the links below. Amazing Equine Network System - Horses for sale or trade anything equine related. Get More Horse Classified coverage and distribution with less cost and work. Award Winning Horse Forum
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