EQUINE EMPATHYBracebridge Heath, Lincoln, Lincolnshire Tel. 01522 827527
Intelligent Horsemanship Recommended Associate
Picture this, "It's a glorious summer's day, pleasantly warm without a cloud in the sky, just right in fact for a nice hack around the local countryside. Unfortunately your horse doesn't share this view, and as soon as you get a few yards down the road he stops, he may back up, or even rear, if you try to make him walk on. So to save possible injury to you or your horse you turn around and return to the yard, where maybe you will do some work in the school with him, then take his tack off, give him a brush down and turn him out." Not quite what you had planned!
Horses that are unwilling to hack out without another horse for company can cause frustration, which may in turn lead to inappropriate handling of the situation, thus leading to the horse, and rider, becoming more and more unhappy and resentful of each other. Once this happens there is little chance of the problem being resolved, and you are stuck with only being able to hack out when someone is able to come with you, it's an all too familiar story.
Let's look at some of the reasons why a horse may develop a napping problem:
· Lack of confidence (this could be either the horse or the rider)
· Poorly fitting or damaged tack, causing discomfort.
· Undetected physical problem
· Separation from field mates
It is very unlikely that a horse will nap to make us look stupid or to 'take the "mickey" or for any other human related description of this behaviour.
He is looking at things from a horse's point of view, and doing what he feels is right, which isn't that strange really, as he is in fact a horse! Our job as owners/riders is to help the horse understand that it is OK for him to hack out without the company of other horses. To do this we need to show him that we are effective, confident leaders, enabling him to relax, and relinquish the decision making to us.
The very first thing you need to do is:
1. Make sure all the tack fits correctly, and is in good condition.
2. In addition to this, get your vet and a good equine back specialist to check your horse for any physical problems, as if he is in pain or discomfort he certainly will not want to be ridden.
3. Once you are as sure as you can be that everything is OK, you can begin to train your horse to hack out happily.
Ground Rules - Leading
To start with, your horse needs to understand some basic ground rules. These are:
· To have his nose at, or slightly behind, your shoulder when being lead,
· To turn left and right when you do,
· To stop when you stop (without bumping or overtaking) and to back up willingly.
By putting yourself just in front of the horse you are in effect saying 'I am the leader' so taking that leadership role away from the horse. If he tries to overtake, simply ask him back to where you want him, by applying pressure to the lead rope as you are walking, remember to release the pressure and give him a nice stroke when the horse is in the correct position.
· Have a nice loose relaxed lead rope between you and the horse, do not hold the rope close under the horses chin.
· When turning right, simply walk around the horses nose, he should come with you, but if not, just apply some pressure to the lead rope to encourage him.
· As soon as he comes release the pressure. If the horse takes a few extra steps and overtakes you when you stop, simply back him up to where he should be.
If you are calm and consistent in doing this every time that he doesn't stop in the right place, he should get the message, and begin stopping the moment you stop.
To get him backing up willingly,
· Stand on the near side of the horse, and turn to face his tail end.
· Hold the rope about six inches from the horses chin and apply some pressure to encourage him to take a step backwards,
· As soon as he moves a foot release the pressure and give him a stroke.
· Gradually build up until the horse is taking two or three steps with little pressure (this may not happen in the first training session).
So what we are doing with the above exercises, is beginning to show the horse that we are an effective leader, by putting ourselves in a leadership position (slightly in front) and moving him about, a bit like horses in the herd move each other about to show their position.
Once the horse is comfortable with this work you can introduce things such as getting him to walk over tarpaulin, between and over poles etc. as this will all help build his confidence and trust in you.
Remember all this work should be carried out in a calm but confident manner by you. Do praise the horse by giving him a nice stroke when he gets things right.
The next step is to take him for a walk in hand a short distance out of the yard:
· give him a stroke, and maybe let him eat some grass if it's safe to do so, then return to the yard,
· turn around and go straight back out again, and go a little further.
· Gradually build up the distance you go on each occasion.
· For safety do have a helper with you if you need to go along any roads.
· All being well the horse will soon be happily walking out in hand. This will improve not only his confidence, but yours also.
This being the case, you can now tack up and ride him for a short distance out of the yard.
However:-do not turn round and ride back, I would suggest getting off, loosening the girth (big reward!), and leading the horse back to the yard. Then, girth up, get back on, and go a little further, just as in the in hand work.
Do remember though to get off and loosen the girth whilst still out of the yard, and lead the horse back for the last bit of the ride, so that he gets a reward whilst out. By doing this he is not getting all the rewards back at the yard, which could just make him reluctant to leave it in future!
To find a full list of Intelligent Horsemanship Recommended Associates, to help you and your horse overcome almost any problem please visit
One of the most important aspects of horse care is looking after their feet. We all hope that this is an easy part of horse ownership, but alas this is not always the case."
There are many horses that fidget, lean, snatch their feet away or worse still kick when the farrier is attempting to trim their feet or shoe them. This can be frustrating for both the owner and the farrier and could potentially cause a breakdown in the relationship between yourself, the farrier and your horse. Finding a good farrier is a job in itself without him refusing to come back to shoe your horse as it has just taken him hours even to pick your horse's hoof up! (Farriers see many horses during the day and are very busy people.) There is also the possibility that you or the farrier could get hurt by a frightened horse, with the situation deteriorating with you and your horse becoming even more anxious and upset about a visit from a farrier, creating a circle of frustration for all concerned. The answer for a lot of people is to sedate the horse, and in an emergency situation I am not against this. However I do feel that sedating should not be a long-term solution. It is your responsibility as the owner to train the horse to willingly lift his feet and allow the farrier to work on them. This can be accomplished fairly quickly by not asking too much too soon of the horse, this applies to young and older 'remedial' horses.
Where to start:
Firstly we need to look at the reasons why horses can be difficult when handling their feet.
1. Horses first line of defence is to run away, this is difficult if we have hold of a foot! He feels vulnerable.
2. The horse has not been taught properly how to lift his feet.
3. Maybe he has been mishandled in the past when having his feet lifted.
4. There could be a physical problem making it painful for him to, either lift the foot you are working on, or put his weight on the other three feet.
Bearing the above points in mind lets try to see things from the horses point of view, and help him through the problem, rather than blame him for it!
When training a horse to have his feet worked on, we need to break the training down into small 'bite size' chunks. So although ultimately we want the horse to stand quietly whilst having his feet held up and worked on, this is unlikely to happen during the first training session, just as you wouldn't expect a recently started four year old to do a perfect dressage test! We need to look for small improvements and end a training session, in some people's eyes too soon, but on a good note, rather than ask for more than the horse can understand and risk confusing him.
All horses are individuals, so it's difficult to say how long a training session should last, but anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes twice a day. If you don't have time for two sessions a day then once a day will also get results, but it will take a little longer to end up with a calm well-behaved horse.
Initially work with the horse in a safe enclosed area, this can be a small area of field sectioned off with electric fencing (turned off!), a ménage or round pen. This is to ensure that if the horse somehow gets away from you whilst you are working, it cannot get into a dangerous situation and you don't have to walk as far to catch it again! Do not work with the horse tied up at first, this can cause a horse to panic if he feels that he cannot get away from something that he thinks may put him in danger. In addition to a safe area it would be a good idea to have a bamboo cane about 1metre long with some padding on one end, you can even make it into a false arm using an old glove to look like a hand, and a walking stick with the curved handle padded.
Start with the front legs: To begin with stroke the horse on the neck and slowly make your way down to the shoulder, if he is happy and hasn't moved away, stop and take your hand away. Then gradually work your way down the front leg, taking your hand away each time you go a little further, to reward him, giving him a nice stroke is also good. Working like this you will soon be able to touch all the way down the leg to the hoof, with the horse remaining relaxed. If you find that you can only get to the knee during the initial sessions, that's fine, finish on a good note and attempt to get further down the leg in the next session.
When working on the back legs: use the same technique, but with the false arm. If the horse kicks out or steps away, try to keep the arm on, or at least near, the leg. As soon as the horse stops, take the arm away to reward the horse for doing the right thing (in this case stopping kicking or moving away). Whilst doing this work keep yourself calm and relaxed, as this will also help the horse. As with the front legs it will not be long before you are able to touch all the way down the back legs and around the fetlock area with the false arm.
Once you are happy with how the horse is reacting to this you can try to touch down the leg with your own hand. Do alternate between legs during a training session to keep things a little more interesting for the horse (and you). This will also help to get the horse happy having all his feet lifted. There are a lot of horses that are really good having their nearside front leg lifted, and gradually get worse as you work your way round. There is no rule that states what order the horses feet need to be lifted in!
OK so your horse now lets you touch all his legs whilst standing calmly. You now need to be able to pick his feet up. For the front legs, run your hand down to just behind the knee and, whilst standing a little to the side, gently pull forward. As soon as the horse lifts his leg put it down and give him a stroke. Continue like this, holding it up a little longer each time. Once again do not ask for too much too soon, it's best to do too little than risk upsetting the horse and undoing all the previous good work. When you are able to lift and hold the leg up by pulling it forward, gently try getting it into the more usual position by bringing the hoof back and under as if you were about to pick it out. Again reward the horse by putting the foot down, and go to the other side to do the same with that foot. Now try gently picking the front feet up in the normal way. If the horse finds it difficult, go back a step, lift the legs forward again and repeat the above, he will soon get the idea.
With the back legs, using the padded walking stick, stroke down the leg and hook the curved handle around the fetlock. Gently pull forward, when the horse lifts his foot immediately put it down and remove the walking stick. Repeat this several times, gradually increasing the time you have the foot lifted. Again when you are happy with how the horse is coping with this, lift his foot with your hand, but do, at this stage, lift it by pulling forward as you did with the walking stick.
Once the horse is happy having his feet lifted and held up you can start to get him used to having them held as the farrier would hold them. So do take note of the positions that the farrier uses.
Also if your horse is to be shod, get him used to having his feet tapped and the sound of hot metal in water. Maybe have him around when another horse on the yard is being hot shod, to let him see and smell the smoke and experience the noise (obviously ask the owners of the other horses first!).
Finally, do keep practicing, as this will instil in the horse that it is a completely normal part of life to have his feet worked on!
1 Work in a safe enclosed area
2 Keep sessions short (5 -20 mins)
3 Don't ask for too much too soon
4 Stay calm
5 Do praise your horse when he has done something right
To find a full list of Intelligent Horsemanship Recommended Associates, to help you and your horse overcome almost any problem please visit www.intelligenthorsemanship.co.uk