WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #91
BUILD GOOD HABITS FROM THE START
Don't let minor faults become ingrained in your horse's mind -
correct them from the get-go.
BY CLINTON ANDERSON, COURTESY OF DOWNUNDER HORSEMANSHIP
"Clinton, how important are the little things horses do that
might not be perfectly right? For example, my horse turns away
from me in his pen when I go to halter him. It doesn't bother me,
but a friend says I shouldn't let my horse continue doing this or
it will become a habit. Which one of us is right?"
Your friend is correct. Whatever a horse practices, he gets good
at. If he practices turning his rear end toward you, he gets good
at that. If he practices being respectful and always turning to
face you, he gets good at that.
HORSE and RIDER JANUARY 2011
Here's a little saying I have on the matter: "When a horse does
something once, it plants a seed in his mind. When he does it
again, it starts to grow as a habit. When he does it a third
time, the behavior starts to mature into an ingrained response."
So, if it's a good behavior, it becomes a good habit. If it's a
bad behavior, it becomes a bad habit.
Here's another way to think of it: Picture an old LP record going
around and around. Now imagine that the horse's mind is the
needle - the kind old record players have - with a really sdharp
Each revolution of the record represents an action of the horse.
As the record turns, the needle wears a groove into the record.
With the first revolution, the groove is started. With the
second, the groove is deepened - the action is becoming a habit.
With the third revolution, you have a pretty deep groove, an in-
grained habit. Now, the more times the record goes around (the
horse repeats the action), the deeper the groove gets (the
horse's mind is invariably drawn back to it).
You can see the effect of this especially in older horses. If a
horse is 10 and has had a habit all his life, that record
could've gone around thousands and thousands of times. By now,
the habit has made a great big groove in the record.
Obviously, you don't want a bad habit to become ingrained like
that, so you must get after the behavior immediately. It's also
why it's so important to get to foals as soon as they're born, to
begin imprinting them with good experiences that can lead to good
(That depends on what you mean by "inprinting" which was covered
in an earlier article before - Keith Hunt)
So - a horse that turns his rump to you when you enter his pen?
Correct him the first time he does it, and every time it happens,
until he forms the right habit.
Accomplish this by making the wrong behavior (facing away from
you) difficult, and the desired behavior (turning and facing you)
In other words, when your horse shows you his rump, swing the
lead rope toward his hindquarters to create pressure that makes
him feel uneasy.
The moment he turns and faces you, giving you two eyes, step back
and stop swinging the rope. This removes the pressure - and the
Over time, his mind will create a groove that makes the correct,
respectful response a well-ingrained habit.
To see a Click'n Learn sequence of Clinton teaching a horse to
lead properly, enter lead-right training 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 DownunderHorsemanship.com. Catch his
"Downunder Horsemanship" program (filmed at the ranch in
Stephenville, Texas) on Fox Sports Net.
TRAIN ALL THE TIME
To keep good habits developing in your horse, require some sort
of obedience from him every time you're together. When you're
cleaning his stall, for example, have him move around you, rather
than vice versa.
As you're leading him, insist that he follow obediently, without
hanging back or dragging you forward.
If he puts his head up when you're putting his blanket on or
taking it off, pause a moment to desensitize him to the blanket
and remind him to remain still.
Your horse is constantly reading you in an effort to determine,
"is he/she serious, or not?" He'll test you in small ways - push
into your space, wait a heartbeat before responding to your
request, attempt to "get an inch" here and there - then observe
how you respond. If you don't correct him on these small cheats,
he'll eventually pull a much larger one.
At that point, you might feel he's acting out of the blue. But,
in reality, he's been telling you for some time, via those little
cheats, that he's losing respect for you. Problem is, you haven't
been listening - or correcting him.
The old horseman's adage is true: You're either training or
unentraining, your horse every moment you're with him.
To be continued from time to time