WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #74
YOU MUST EARN RESPECT
Punishing your horse won't make him respect you. What will?
Moving his feet!
BY CLINTON ANDERSON, WITH J. FORSBERG MEYER
"Clinton, my gelding tries to nip me when I'm saddling him. I
swat or scold him, but he still tries it again the next time
around. What am I doing wrong?"
Horses bite and do a lot of other bad things out of a lack of
respect for their handler or rider. But punishing or scolding a
horse won't make him respect you. What you need to do is control
his move the way the lead horse controls the horses in a herd. In
other words make his feet move energetically in response to your
I have a story that illustrates this point beautifully. One of my
first jobs in the U.S. was working with a stallion that had a
nasty reputation for biting. There was an axe handle with a
string through it hanging outside his stall, to be used to defend
yourself against his attacks.
"These aren't just love bites," the head trainer told me on my
first day. "If he gets hold of you, he'll toss you around like a
CHANGING THE GAME
I watched as others worked this horse. They'd whack him with the
axe handle every time he tried to bite, and they always saddled
him in cross-ties to discourage this behavior.
I had some ideas about what would fix him, but this outfit didn't
think too much of natural horsemanship and groundwork. This was a
show barn, and they were focused on competing and winning.
After I'd been there about a month, the trainer left for a show.
My job was to work with this horse every day during the week that
everyone else would be gone.
This was my chance to do something about the stallion's behavior.
First, I put him in the round pen and piled the brushes and
saddle in the center. I had my own halter and lead rope on him.
As I brushed him, every time he tried to bite me, I'd send him
out on a circle and got him really hustling his feet, with
frequent changes of direction, for about five minutes or so. Or
I'd back him up briskly around the pen three or four times. Then,
as if nothing had happened, I'd go back to brushing him again.
Pretty quickly, he realized that as long as he kept his lips to
himself, he got to stand still ... instead of winding up huffing
and puffing for air.
I saddled him the same way, right in the center of the round pen,
hustling his feet any time he tried to bite me. After two days of
this, he was standing still, head held low, hind leg cocked,
docile as a lamb.
Next I started doing extra groundwork with him. It was all my
usual stuff-yielding the hindquarters, sidepassing, longeing for
respect, and so on. As I did this, he just grew more and more
docile, acting less and less like a stallion. By the end of the
week, I was saddling him-untied-in the barn aisle, with mares all
around us. I'd brush him, saddle him, clean his feet. He never
flinched, never tried to bite, seemingly never noticed the mares.
UNDOING THE GOOD
When the trainer and his staff returned, I waited and watched. As
the trainer saddled him, the horse just stood there.
"I guess that axe handle finally worked!" the trainer said,
smiling. "I knew it would if we just kept at it."
I kept my mouth shut, wondering how many days it would take
before the horse would be back to his old behavior.
For two days, he was an angel. On the third day, he turned and
gave a cranky look to the girl saddling him. Seeing that look,
she immediately whacked him with the lead rope. I actually saw
the light come on in the stallion's head. Oh! I remember this
program! In two more days, he was back to being his old,
This taught me an important lesson: You can't demand a horse's
respect. You must earn it. And you do that by moving his feet.
What I'd done to turn this stallion's attitude around had worked
as long as he thought the person handling him was worthy of his
respect. If, when he'd given that girl his cranky look, she'd
moved his feet by backing him up and down, instead of whacking
him on the nose, he'd likely have gone back to being an angel.
Even with a well-trained horse, you must maintain that level of
respect, or else he'll start testing you and backsliding a little
more each day. The respect a horse gives one person won't
necessarily carry over to the next person - unless he or she does
the same types of things to earn and maintain it.
So, your horse's respectfulness is an ongoing project - one
that's completely up to you.
From the August "Horse and Rider" 2010.
Now besides the natural lesson from the writer, what else for a
lesson do you find?
Well, it is: Why did not the people at this stable ASK the guy
who did so well with this horse, how he did it?
It could be plain DUMBNESS on their part or it could be plain
VANITY! Some horse people just believe they have everything to
know about horses, and cannot possibly learn from anyone,
especially if they are on your staff and under you.
To be a real horseman/woman YOU need to be always ready to
LEARN from anyone, and never think you know all there is to know
about horses. Growing in horse knowledge and skill is a life time
endeavor. Never get filled with vanity and proudness, stay
humble. Be willing to read and listen to whomever, you must
always be willing to learn, adapt, try out, ask questions, and
simply grow at anytime in the horse business. Have the attitude
you have nothing to lose but only to gain, what is wrong, or does
not work you can discard, and what works .... well you've just
added to your skill.
Besides the basic lesson from this article, the one I've just
told you about was the second one that hit me between the eyes.
To be continued