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horse Behaviour >> OVERVIEW

Before I take advice from someone, I like to know just a little about where they are coming from and what experience they have.  So I’ll just take a minute to discuss that and then you can decide whether I might have something to say that is useful to you.  So, this first part is background information.  If you want to skip that then scroll down behaviour problems overview section.


I’ve been riding on and off since I was 8.  My first horse was an Arabian Welsh cross with tons of spirit and personality and athletic ability.  Although Misty loved attention and affection and was easy to catch she was untrained and difficult to ride and impossible to stop.  I had trouble getting her to cross water, go anywhere within 2 miles of anything that flapped, go over new surfaces, trailer load etc.  Nobody ever told me (or if they did I didn’t listen), that you could train horses to be calmer and willing.  If Misty had been willing, we could have had an amazing partnership.  As it was, I did OK in barrels and pole bending if I could get her into the ring and if there wasn’t too many flappy things in the arena.  We did good in bareback races.. go figure!  I often think back of how much better relationship and how much less frustration I could have had if I knew then what I know now!  Learning has been an evolution for me.

So, as an adult, I studied and have worked hard to learn new methods.  I’ve studied and read books and articles by Parelli (natural horsemanship),  Monty Roberts, Mary Twelveponies, Ray Hunt, Klaus Hempfling, and Clinton Anderson.  I’ve gone to numerous clinics and am a Level III student in Parelli.  Recently, I’ve been experimenting with treat training and clicker training.  I’ve been training horses for about the last 11 years.  I feel that every horse teaches me something new or reminds me of something I should have known and forgot!  You can see a video of the last horse I trained.  I miss this little pony.  He was willing, curious and kind.  This video is after about 60 days of training.  If you don’t want to watch the whole thing fast forward near the end and watch him hold a flag.. ain’t he a cutie pie! What I like best is his lovely willing attitude.  He is engaged and has his ears forward. 

I can ride my older mare in an arena bareback and without a bridal but I haven’t yet made a video.  Hopefully, coming in the summer of 2011.  I’ve had Chinook since she was a baby and we’ve learned a lot together and made some mistakes but we are continually trying to work it out!   I’ve also had to load and work with very difficult horses in veterinary practice and I’ve found methods and techniques that work well.  I use different techniques depending on the horse.  I’ve trained young horses, middle aged horses, tame horses, wild horses, and worked with problem behaviours as well.  I have not worked with stallions though and for safety reasons I’m not willing to at this point.

Most behaviour problems in horses start due to fear, lack of trust and/or lack of respect.  After a horse has reacted in a certain way and had the behaviour work for them in some manner, then the behaviour becomes a learned response or habit.  So, although I often have a specific goal in mind when I work with a problem horse or I am teaching a horse something new, I always try to keep in mind that if a horse trusts, respects and understands you he/she will often try very hard to do what you ask.   So, for example, if a horse won’t go on a trailer I have to decide whether that horse has a trust or respect issue.  If he does trust me he/she likely fears the trailer.  If the horse doesn’t respect me, the horse will refuse to go or even become pushy and aggressive to avoid going in the trailer.  I would manage these two situations very differently.  Now that is likely a big oversimplification but I think it is a good starting place.

Counter conditioning and desensitization exercises can be used in horses just like dogs.  Although dogs are predators and horses are prey, they both have similar capacities to learn.  We can also use rest and relief from annoyances as motivators if done correctly.  In some horses I now use treats.  Specifically I use a cubed alfalfa product.  It works well and is healthier than cookies and less expensive. Now some of you might have controversy with using treats but I’d ask you to read the article ‘Treats and Horses’ before condemning me as I’ve found them very useful in certain horses.  They have to be used carefully and correctly. In any case, I try to use positive methods and not force. 

If there are topics you would like to see articles on, please send me an email, and I’ll put it on my list!  Thanks for your interest and happy trails.