Thursday, February 16, 2012

Back To Basics I: Why Does My Horse Need a Refresher Course?

If winter weather is making riding impractical, you can still use your barn time to give your horse a refresher course in ground manners. Many people don't realize that every interaction with a horse is a training opportunity, for better or worse. It's tempting to let a little quirk or misbehavior slide until it snowball into a full-blown problem, but you can avoid most groundwork issues all together with just a few simple exercises.

 You've owned your horse for years. You know all of his little quirks like the back of your hand. He does a few things that might annoy other people, but you've learned to deal with his antics and adapted your routine accordingly. Why should you worry about going through a refresher course for ground manners?

Odds are, you are not the only person that handles your horse. Since most horses in the United States are boarded, your horse likely comes into contact with the barn manager and/or stable hands on a daily basis. Every 6-8 weeks, he'll need to be seen by the farrier, and he'll probably need to see the vet a few times each year for a variety of routine procedures. Everyone who comes into contact with your horse will be very grateful to you if he is well-mannered and respectful, particularly because a mannerly horse is also one that is safer to handle.

World renowned trainer and horseman Clinton Anderson says"Whatever a horse practices, he gets good at." If your horse practices crowding or pushing you around as you're leading him in from the pasture, he'll eventually turn that bad behavior into a bad habit. Likewise, the horse that is asked to turn and face you in the stall will eventually turn that good behavior into a good habit (not to mention that the likelihood that you'll be kicked when you come into your horse's space will be greatly reduced).

How do you teach your horse the difference between good and bad behavior? "Make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy," says Anderson. "Correct him the first time [he shows bad behavior], and every time he does it, until he forms the right habit."

Over the next several days, I'll be bringing you a series of articles designed to help you regain your horse's respectfulness or, in the case of young horses, teach him the good manners he should know for the rest of his life. The result will be a horse that is safer, more fun to be around, and more marketable should you ever decide to sell or lease him.

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