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Doorway Fear; Proper Head Carriage
Put an end to doorway anxiety. Help your horse achieve a natural, relaxed headset.
PRODUCED BY JENNIFER PAULSON
My 12-year-old gelding gets very frantic and pushy when I walk him in and out of doorways, such as the garage door in the barn or the doorway into the indoor arena. He rushes no matter what. Why does he do this, and can you offer any tips to remedy the behavior? It's dangerous, and I don't want his actions to harm someone else, another horse, or myself.
JANE CORREY, Michigan
There are three common reasons why your horse might react this way to doorways.
Typically, a horse that responds this way in pass-throughs has been led through the door while saddled, and the door's frame caught one or both of the stirrups, startling the horse. When a stirrup gets held up on the doorframe or whacks the horse in the side, it causes his flight instinct to take over, so he rushes through to get to the other side as fast as possible. If this happens a number of times, the horse develops a conditioned response and almost always pushes his way through a door.
Or, the horse might get a regular bump in the hindquarters from a door that doesn't stay open until he's all the way through. The same conditioned-response situation holds true here.
Alternately, the horse simply might not be comfortable in a confined space. If the door's frame is relatively small, your horse could feel claustrophobic, which would, again, fire his flight instinct.
In any case, you're right, a horse pushing his way through an entry or exit can create a dangerous situation. But it's a problem that's fairly easy to resolve. Begin by assessing the cause, and then work through the following steps to ease your horse's doorway anxiety. If the issue is a door that hits his rear each time he walks through, devise a permanent fix for the door, so that it doesn't undo all the correction you're about to perform.
Step 1. Begin work away from the doorway, without a saddle: Ensure that you can easily lead, stop, and back your horse from the ground. If any of these tasks is problematic, focus on those issues before moving on.
Step 2. Progress to work in the doorway. Begin by leading only your horse's head through the door's frame. Say "whoa," and back out the door. Work only this far, with the horse's head peeking out the door, until he's comfortable with that situation. If he's quiet in the doorway, offer praise to reinforce that he's doing the right thing and to make it a safe, nice place for him to stand.
Step 3. Now lead the horse farther through the door, maybe to his withers. Use the same lead-stop-praise-back process. Continue with this distance until the horse is quiet and comfortable with it, and then lead him farther through the door, working until you lead him all the way out.
Step 4. Saddle your horse—with the stirrups up over the saddle's seat, so they can't catch on anything—and begin the process again, building your horse's confidence each step of the way.
Step 5. Repeat the process again, this time with the stirrups down at yqur horse's sides.
CHAD EVANS, Parker, Colorado. Chad trains Western all-around horses for open, amateur, and youth competition at Evans Performance Horses. He's an American Quarter Horse Association judge and a member of the registry's Professional Horsemen's Association.
What worked for me was backing my horse through a doorway that was straight and flat, as she backs up very well. Then someone just gave her a slight tap on the rump [standing to one side] as I was leading and she came through; I praised her a lot. The second doorway was a little more .... not straight on, so step 2 and 3 above worked for me - Keith Hunt