CONTROLLING THROUGH A SPOOK
Six basics of "broke" added to a willing attitude, can help this mustang—and your own horse—become
desensitized and controllable through a spook.
BY AL DUNNING
In many people's minds, desensitizing a horse equals restraining him in some fashion (with hobbles, for instance), then "sacking , him out"—presenting and touching him with various objects until he no longer fears them. This is something I do myself, as part of the initial breaking process.
(Personally I do not believe in throwing all this stuff at a horse you are breaking, they have enough on their mind for you riding and breaking in to basics like stop, go, turn, neck-reining or English. Once they have all this down and you as their friend and trust in you, then you can slowly introduce them to "objects." And the truth is a horse is never 100 per cent de-spooked, as being a prey animal they are always looking out for the "unexpected" and can spook; you as a riding must always bear this in mind, especially when the horse is in a very unfamiliar place. An example; my horse Goldie can go in a parade with every noise and bands and colors and flags and floats and never bat an eye. We've been in many over the years. The other day (June 2013) I was riding in a new area, when across the road by a ranch fence, out of the trees, a Llama runs up - Goldie had never seen one before; she jumped, turned around and was wanting to be in flight mode, away from the Llama. I calmed her down, spoke softly to her, gave her a rub on the neck, and turned her back; she was willing to go passed with eyes fully on that Llama and me encouraging her with a clam reassuring voice. Break the horse to ride first and then slowly introduce strange objects - Keith Hunt)
Familiarity is one of the greatest means by which to desensitize a horse and make him less likely to spook.
(YES AND DO ALL THAT STUFF AFTER THE HORSE IS FULLY BROKE AND HAS TRUST IN YOU......GO SLOW WITH STRANGE OBJECTS; SOMETIMES PUT THEM FAR AWAY AND GRADUALLY BRING THEM CLOSER. IT'S LIKE TRAINING A HORSE FOR A "GUN SHOT" - YOU SHOOT A GUN FAR WAY AND SLOWLY CLOSER AND CLOSER, UNTIL YOU CAN SHOOT THE GUN ON HORSE FROM THE SADDLE. IT IS SILLY TO THINK YOU CAN JUST GET UP ON YOUR HORSE LIKE ROY ROGERS AND START SHOOTING RIGHT AWAY. IF YOU DO YOUR HORSE IS GOING TO FREAK OUT....CAN YOU BLAME IT? Keith Hunt)
But that's not all there is to it.
Next to familiarity is a good, solid foundation, coupled with a willing attitude from your horse. With these, you have the tools to be in charge of your horse's ongoing education in how to be a cooperative, spook-free partner. A solid foundation includes these six basics of broke: moving forward, particularly in collection; standing still; turning left and right; stopping; and backing. As with a car or any other vehicle we drive or ride in, a horse, to be safe, must have a forward gear, a neutral position, a left and right turn, and reverse.
When a horse has those essentials, he has a better shot at being obedient. In
turn, that obedience causes desensitization. If the horse doesn't get away from you, then he'll usually go where you want him to go and do what you want him to do.
(MOST OF THE TIME YES. BUT SOMETIMES YOU MAY HAVE TO GET OFF AND LEAD YOUR HORSE PASSED WHATEVER. THE HORSE HAS TRUST IN YOU, AND WILL USUALLY FOLLOW YOU. I'VE HAD TO DO THIS A FEW TIMES WITH GOLDIE, TALKING SOFLY AND COMFORTING TO HER. NEXT TIME SHE'LL GO BY IT WITH ME STILL IN THE SADDLE - Keith Hunt)
To demonstrate the basics of broke, I called one contestant, Tate Weber, I worked with at a mustang makeover event held earlier this year. Tate is on Boggle, a horse with no more than 100 days of any training—probably far, far less time than the horse you're working with right now. I'll go over the what-why-how of each fundamental, so you can put it to use to get better obedience, hence less spooky behavior, from your horse.
What it does: It makes your horse safer to ride. A horse rushing backward or sideways can trip and fall, but a horse going forward, even at a run, is square on all four feet, balanced, and easier to control.
Why it works: By moving forward (and on past the scary object), the horse gets the chance to realize there's nothing to be afraid of. It's like overcoming fear of a dark, scary closet—you can't get anywhere with that by standing back and avoiding the closet
How to teach it: I use a three-cue system to teach forward movement. First, I use a cluck or smooch—some sort of verbal cue. Then, I use a leg cue, bumping the horse's sides with my legs. If he doesn't go forward after that series of (cues, I take the end of one rein and swat him behind my leg. Horses are smart and will respond if you do this in a systematic way. You don't have to point your horse straight at the scary object or force it on him. Just keep his feet going forward.
(MAYBE IT WILL WORK MOST OF THE TIME, BUT THE FACT IS FOR SOME "NOT SO STRONG MINDED" PEOPLE AND A VERY SCARED HORSE, THEY MAY GET INTO A BIG TUG OF WAR. SO GET OFF AND LEAD YOUR HORSE PASSED THE OBJECT.....IT DOES NOT MEAN YOU HAVE FAILED AS A HORSE PERSON, IT JUST MEANS THAT YOU USED ONE MORE WAY TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM. I KNOW I'VE DONE IT AND IT WORKS - Keith Hunt)
What it does: When your horse stays collected, he stays balanced and more; focused. He should be flexed at the poll, which will make him easier to keep between your reins and legs (not bulging or pushing against you on one side or the other).
Why it works: When your horse is flexed at the poll and collected, he's focused on you rather than on outside influences. He doesn't have his head up, isn't looking around, isn't getting out of the bridle (resisting or ignoring bit pressure), and isn't spooking or running off, because he's staying in your hands.
How to teach it: Begin by asking your horse to yield his head to the side, both left and right. Once he's accustomed to leg pressure, push him forward into the bit, using your hands in a soft and rocking manner. This pushes the horse's rear closer to his head, causing him to be more compact and rounded, and is the precursor to collection.
(YES BUT ALL THIS MEANS TO KNOW HOW TO RIDE REAL WELL....IF NOT YOU'LL NEED SOMEONE SKILLED TO TRAIN YOUR HORSE - Keith Hunt)
What it does: This has a tendency to relax you and your horse. It's also the optimal place to be when your horse is worried about anything. Forward motion has to be first; it's important to have motion with direction. But once your horse settles, let him stand. It'll allow him to calm down and slow, his reactive mind. He'll realize the "big bear" isn't going to come and get him. Plus, it lets you balance, regroup, and get centered.
Why it works: The key to this basic of broke is that it slows down any cues or miscues you might give. It allows your horse to learn that if he stands still rather than flees, he's still safe. Many times when a horse spooks, it spooks the rider as well. This is a way for you to be centered in the saddle, quiet, balanced, and sensible about why your horse is spooking.
How to teach it: Hobbling your horse is a great way to teach him to stand still. Also, mounting and dismounting will help him learn this basic. If you find that your horse still doesn't want to stand quietly, keep him busy and moving. Eventually, he'll want to stand still, because it's easier than working. This is a case of making the wrong thing difficult and the proper thing easy.
(YES, WHEN GOLDIE SPUN AROUND AT THE SIGHT OF THE LLAMA, I TURNED HER BACK TO FACE THE WAY WE WERE GOING AND HAD HER STAND STILL FOR EX NUMBER OF SECONDS, WHILE TALKING GENTLY TO HER AND STROKING HER NECK, THEN I MOVED HER FORWARD....IT WORKED, SHE TRUSTED ME , IF IT HAD NOT WORKED I WOULD HAVE DISMOUNTED AND LED HER PASSED THE LLAMA THAT WAS ACROSS THE ROAD FROM US - Keith Hunt)
What it does: When your horse spooks, turning right and left—almost making a figure 8—can settle him down. He'll be so busy moving his feet that he'll stop worrying about outside influences. With deliberate turning, you're accomplishing multiple tasks at once: relaxing your horse, getting him flexed, and getting him softer.
Why it works: Turning keeps a horse busy. He has to stop thinking about the spook factors and think instead about what you're doing. Make turning into work for your horse. He'll breath hard, he'll sweat, and pretty soon he'll quit worrying.
How to teach it: It's a process that's started by moving the hip and shoulders-—causing roundness. Start by bending to the right. Use the right rein to move the front end to the right, and use right-leg pressure to move his left hip out—essentially creating a "C."
As you continue to do this, it will cause the horse's left hip to move outward and the front end to bend in— bending the horse around your inside leg. Do this on the opposite side as well for overall balance.
(YES THIS CAN OFTEN BE THE ANSWER TO THE PROBLEM - Keith Hunt)
What it does: A willing stop, on command, is your emergency brake and very important to your safety. It's also a control factor. If your horse starts to flee or gets in a dangerous position, it's reassuring to know you can say "whoa," pick up your reins, and your horse will stop. Period.
Why it works: It goes back to your horse being broke and obedient. If he listens to you and stops, he's thinking about you— not the outside influences.
How to teach it: In the early stages of training, starting with halter breaking, use the word "whoa"—and mean it, expecting and insisting on a complete stop. If your horse doesnt stop after you ask when under saddle, pick up the reins, then turn or double back—something that's work, so that obeying the next "whoa" command becomes the horse's solution. Don't just pick up both reins and get in a pulling contest with your horse.
What it does: It gives you the ability to control your horse in any circumstance. (Just imagine having to drive a car with no reverse!)
Why it works: There'll be times when you'll want to back into the problem
area or back away from it. ! How to teach it: First, teach your horse to back from the ground by applying pressure to the halter and lead. Next, stand next to him with one rein over the saddle, one in your hand, and back him that way.
Later, you can use drive lines and a round pen to teach both going forward and backing up. Finally, ride your horse into a corner and teach him to back away. If he hesitates, pull him around and make him move his feet. That's the major factor. Your horse needs to know that when you pick up on the reins, he needs to move his feet.
(REMEMBER IT IS PRESSURE AND RELEASE. WHEN YOUR HORSE BACKS ON PRESSURE, IMMEDIATELY REWARD WITH A RELEASE OF PRESSURE - I personally have taught Goldie to back up on my voice command "back" - she will back a couple of hundred feet if I so wanted. Now that is real trust she has in me, built over the 8 years I've had her now . A horse cannot see directly behind when their head is straight forward. Goldie has that much trust in me, makes me feel real good; but she knows I've never hurt her by asking her to back up such a long way - Keith Hunt)
Use in Combination
All these fundamentals help to create a better-broke horse. I can't stress enough that the better a horse is broke, the more he'll focus on what you want him to do rather than any outside influences or obstacles. When your horse has good
training basics, he'll rely on you for his security rather than on his own instinct.
(THAT IS FOR SURE - Keith Hunt)
This is what's meant by "a good foundation." Just remember too much pressure
can cause a foundation to crack. Never pressure your horse into advanced maneuvers, such as reining spins or sliding stops, until all six basics of broke are deeply imbedded. ■
NOVEMBER 2011 HORSE&RIDER