WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #159
by Peter Campbell
No doubt you've seen it happen: a horse is tied hard and
fast to the trailer, and as the handler jerks the cinch tight to
secure the saddle, the startled horse sets back, hits the end of
the lead rope and-finding no relief from the pressure-continues
to pull back or rear until something snaps: the halter, the lead
rope or the welded tie ring on the trailer. Now, there's a loose,
panic-stricken horse to deal with, which is often enough to spoil
an otherwiserelaxing afternoon.
For Peter Campbell, a horse trainer and clinician from
Wheatland, Wyoming, this scenario is all too common, and he can
often spot a problem brewing from a mile away. A tight horse -
one that's stiff and unyielding in body and mind, and who doesn't
understand moving his feet to find relief from pressure - is a
common catalyst for rearing and setting back while tied, he says.
The key to eliminating the behavior is teaching the horse to
respond to pressure by moving his feet.
"In everything you do with your horse, you're just trying to
get him to understand that your halter or your reins hook to his
feet and he shouldn't leave you mentally or physically," Peter
said. "If there was a loud bang, would your horse stay with you
or would he jump around and get upset? Would your horse leave you
"If your horse learns that you're not going to direct him,
he will take care of himself-he'll do what he needs to survive
when the chips are down. Mentally and physically, the horse
leaves you. You have to get the physical part to hang around and
do something for you to give the mental part time to understand
At a clinic in Texas, Peter illustrated his technique with a
white solid gelding who was rearing in response to halter
pressure. Before the clinic's activities began, the gelding had
panicked while being saddled at the trailer.
"This little horse pulled back at the trailer. He didn't
break loose; he didn't break the halter or the trailer; and he
did find out there was an end to that rope," Peter said. "But
even though nothing bad came of that, something bad could have
happened. Instead of moving away from pressure, he comes into it.
When he runs into pressure, he panics because he doesn't know
what to do."
Though horses are inherently more powerful than their
handlers, Peter says it's important to not allow the horse to
know he is stronger.
"I keep that a secret from my horse as long as I can," he
said. "If you take a hold of the lead rope and he runs backwards
while you're pulling on it, guess what he figured out? To run
backward. Don't take a hold of him unless you can get him to come
back across that line. Let him get stopped and then ask again."
While working with the rearing gelding, Peter's method was put
"When I draw on this rope to ask him to back, he reared. I
couldn't stop him, so I didn't try. I let him come back to earth,
and then I asked him again," Peter explained. "In the process of
getting him over being afraid, I'm getting control of his feet.
Whenever I ask a horse to do something, there's always a place to
go with his feet."
Another point Peter emphasized is the importance of
providing direction to your horse at all times.
"The horse never moves without permission or suggestion," he
said. "Permission is when he comes up with the idea-you can
encourage it, discourage it or rearrange the horse's body. If
it's something you want, encourage it. If it's something you
don't want, discourage it and rearrange him. Suggestion is when
you say 'Do this.'"
ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER
Another horse at Peter's clinic, a bay tobiano gelding, also
reared back while being saddled by his owner prior to the
clinic's first session-in his case, the halter broke and the
horse flipped over. Though the horse was unharmed, Peter
seized the opportunity to fix the problem by connecting the
gelding's mind to his physical movement.
"When I get behind his eye, his body needs to shift forward,
but instead his hindquarters hop around instead of stepping over
smoothly," Peter said. "He's disunited through his loin and his
hindquarters-he needs to go forward."
Peter shared a few groundwork exercises designed to help get
control of your horse's body and mind.
Stand on your horse's right side about 2-4 feet away, facing
his shoulder. Hold the lead rope in your left hand with your
thumb pointing down, toward his barrel-your left hand will cue
the horse to back. Your right hand holds the excess lead rope and
is charged with keeping your horse's body and head straight.
"Raise your right hand up by his eye-don't hit him in the
eye, but keep him from turning his head and body toward you,"
Peter said. "Use your left hand to take the slack out of the
rope. As soon as steps back, stop cue ing. Your horse should back
The exercise is harder than it sounds, Peter says, and it
reveals how dull a horse is to the cues from the halter. With
practice, you can use lighter, more subtle signals to elicit the
correct response from your horse.
"First, you get his foot to move," Peter said. "Then you try
to get him to move with his head and neck level. The third part
is to have his nose and chin go down and in when you cue him to
back. Pretty soon, you'll feel his head and neck lower a little
For another variation, stand in front of your halted horse,
about five feet in front of his nose. Make sure you have his full
attention-if you don't, make a noise or wiggle the tail of your
lead rope in front of his face so his eyes and ears focus on you.
"Lead your horse forward three steps and stop him," Peter said.
"Move your hand and the excess lead rope to rotate the halter's
noseband from side to side. He should shift his weight back or
take a step back.
"I want his head and neck to stay level with his ears
forward. If something were to happen outside of the arena behind
your horse, you should be able to override whatever is bothering
him out there and keep his attention."
Think about the feel, timing and balance each time you cue
your horse-you want the horse to respond to the smallest possible
"A lot of people have good timing, but poor feel," Peter
said. "Work on the feel-good feel will bring you good timing. If
you ask your horse to take a step back and he throws his head in
the air, you did too much."
(2) Yielding the Hindquarters
Next, work on gaining control of your horse's hindquarters.
Your body position remains the same, with your bellybutton facing
his right side. Hold the lead rope in your right hand with about
four feet of length from hand to halter; your left hand holds the
"Step his hindquarters a quarter turn away from you-to do
that, he has to shift his weight forward," Peter said. "Tip his
nose a little and raise your right hand so he stays straight and
doesn't try to walk over you. Take the tail end of your rope
gently tap him in the belly or swing it whatever it takes to
encourage him to go forward."
During the exercise, it's important to reinforce the exact
reaction you want from your horse.
"Have a picture in your mind of exactly what you want him to
do, and don't settle for anything less," he said. "If he turns
too far, step to the other side of him and send him back."
(3)Yielding the Forehand
To move his front end, your horse needs to shift his weight
to the hindquarters. Begin on the left side of your horse, with
the lead rope in your right hand-holding it with the thumb down,
like in the backing exercise-and the excess in your left hand,
which is positioned near his eye.
"With your right hand, shift his weight back. When he shifts
it back, step toward him-his front end should move away from you.
Your right hand says shift your weight, and your left hand says
move away from me," Peter said. "Give your horse enough rope on
the head to move away from you. If it's too short, he'll go to
move away, feel the rope and come back to you."
If your Paint Horse is a solid citizen who is respectful of
his handler, these exercises will help improve his sensitivity to
your cues and keep him on the right track. When working with a
horse that has already learned to rear or pull back in response
to pressure, however, it is critical to incorporate these
principles into your daily training to reinforce the correct
responses, Peter says.
"Every time he's troubled, you have to do it right 500
times," he said. "Pretty soon, there's his mind, and there are
The horses at Peter's clinic - especially those who had
tendencies to rear and pull back - were proof of the method's
success of using a physical response to create an open and
willing mind in your horse.
"Before when he hit the end of the rope and felt his own
pressure, he went straight up. Now, if that rope tips his nose,
he can step his hindquarters to find relief," Peter said. "If
he's soft, he can move his feet and his body can get united and
he can relax."
Meet Peter Campbell
For more than 25 years, Peter Campbell has used his horsemanship
knowledge to help people develop a willing partnership with their
horses. Raised in Alberta, Canada, Peter worked as a cowboy on
several large ranches, where he became a student of the horses'
he worked with. In the 1980s, he met legendary natural
horsemanship trainers Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance, both of whom
became Peter's friends and mentors.
Based in Wheatland, Wyoming, Peter travels around the United
States and Canada conducting clinics focusing on respect and
parternship between horse and rider. Learn more about Peter at