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Wrangling on the Range #106

Train away bad Habits



Horses don't know "right" or "wrong"; they just know what you've
allowed them to get away with.



"Clinton, my horse moves when I'm trying to mount. Usually I just
ignore it and carry on. How might I break him of this habit?"

Ignoring it sure won't do it. To get rid of a bad habit, you have
to build a new one to take its place. This takes time, effort,
and consistency, and people often don't want to invest all that.
A perfect example is a woman who came to one of my clinics a few
years back. On the first day, her 10-year-old gelding was about
as disrespectful and pushy as a horse can be. He refused to do
the ground exercises, instead trying to bite, kick, and push into
her almost continually.

After watching for a few minutes, I took the horse from her and
started working him to give her an example to follow. Every time
he tried to bite or kick me, I made his feet move with energy.
The owner watched without a word, then said, "I don't know why he
acts this way."


I was determined to help her find out. "What do you do at home
when he tries to bite you?" I asked, still working the horse.
"I ignore it."
"What do you do when he tries to kick?"
"I get away from him so he can't hurt me - then I leave him
"And when he pins his ears at you?" "I get out of his way." She
looked a little sheepish, then tried to justify her approach: "I
figure he'll stop it if I give him a little space and positive
attention." What this woman was actually doing was teaching her
horse to behave this way, and I told her so.

"Every time he does something bad and you ignore it or leave him
alone, you're telling him it's OK to be that way," I explained.
"So what should I do?" she asked. "Every time he does something
you don't want him to do, make his feet move - just as I'm doing
right now. Pretty soon, he'll get the idea that if he's nice, he
gets to stand there and relax. But if he's disrespectful, he's
going to be moving those feet and needing some air."


The more consistent you are, and the more structured, the easier
it is to replace an old bad habit with a new good one. This means
that if you work with your horse just once a week or once every
two weeks, it's going to be more difficult to get the new habit
established. Plus, the longer your horse has had the bad habit,
the harder it is to correct and replace it, and the more
disciplined and consistent you have to be.

But if you're willing to put in the necessary effort, you can do
it. In the case of a horse that won't stand for mounting, you
must resolve to make that your first lesson every time you ride.
In other words, no more letting him get away with it. When you
put your foot in the stirrup and he begins to move, take your
foot out, go immediately to his head, and direct his energy
backward with a lot of hustle.

Using your hand on the reins, assertive body language, and a whip
or end of the mecate if need be, make him move back quickly. Keep
him going for several steps, so he can feel the effort. Then say
"Whoa" and put your foot back in the stirrup, repeating the
sequence as necessary until he's flat-out tired enough to stand.
Then, repeat the entire process every time you attempt to mount
him. Each time you do, you're chipping away at the old habit and
reinforcing the new one.

Over time, and with enough practice, the new habit (standing
still at mounting) will become as ingrained as the old one
(walking off) was.

To see a video of how Clinton  backs up a horse from the ground,
enter lead-line lightness in the search box at

This series is adapted with permission from Clinton's latest
book, "Lessons Well Learned: Why My Method Works for Any Horse."
For more information on the book, or to learn about Clinton's
clinics, appearances, educational materials, training gear, and
horses for sale, go to DownunderHorse Catch his
"Downunder Horsemanship" program (filmed at the ranch in
Stephenville, Texas) on Fox Sports Net.


To be continued from time to time

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