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By Eric Bravo Gentle Natural Horsemanship
Copyright © 2008 Gentle Natural Horsemanship Video Productions, LLC Gentle Natural Horsemanship Video Productions LLC, Eric Bravo nor David McMahon are not liable for any property damage or damages arising from the personal injury or death of a participant or spectator resulting from following the advice contained in this video and booklet. Each participant in an equine activity expressly assumes the risk and legal responsibility for any property damage or damages arising from personal injury or death that results from the inherent risk of equine activities. It is the duty of each participant to act within the limits of the participant's own ability, to maintain reasonable control of the particular equine at all times while participating in an equine activity, to heed all warnings and to refrain from acting in a manner that may cause or contribute to the injury of any person or damage to property.
Does your horse walk or run away when you enter the pasture with a rope and halter? If so, you aren’t alone-this is a common experience among many horse owners. In this episode of Eric Bravo Gentle Natural Horsemanship, we lead you through the steps you should take if your horse won’t let you catch him. When you apply these techniques you will establish respect, trust and leadership with your horse instead of having to resort to bribing your horse with treats. Any good relationship begins with a solid foundation, and with horses it isn’t any different. By putting quality into the way you approach, catch, and lead your horse, you start to build a foundation which will translate into a successful riding experience. In fact when it comes to catching your horse you can learn a great deal about how horses think and how to react to what they do. The tools you learn here will help you in every aspect of your horsemanship.
Steal a thought from your horse
When a horse doesn’t want to get caught, we have a tendency to either force the issue or to try and bribe him by giving him treats. Neither alternative will establish a successful relationship with your horse. If you try to force your horse into getting caught, he will have a sour attitude when he sees you and won’t enjoy working with you. On the other hand, if you catch your horse by bribing him, he isn’t going to respect you. And, what happens when you run out of treats? You might find yourself in a situation where you just can’t get your horse to do what you want.
So what can you do when your horse is frustrating you by walking away when you approach with the lead and halter? Although it might seem counter intuitive, in a situation like this you should steal a thought from your horse. What we mean by this is take a negative reaction by a horse and turn it into your idea, and get the horse to put work into acting out the undesirable behavior. This is a type of reverse psychology approach if you will. Now imagine that you are approaching your horse with the halter and lead line. The first step is to get your horse to turn and look at you. • • • Try to get in front of the horse so she puts both of her eyes on you, indicating she is giving her full attention on you. If the horse turns away from you-back off from the horse. We call this technique approach and retreat. Take the pressure off the horse by walking straight back away from the horse. When the horse starts to look at you but does not give her full attention, put pressure on the hind quarters. Do this by walking towards her rear and looking at her hip. The goal here is to get her to focus both eyes on you.
When your horse turns away from you or starts moving off when you approach with the halter, steal the thought and put pressure to make the horse move away from you. Do this by swinging your rope at the hindquarters. Now suppose none of this works. Your horse either turns her butt to you ( a sign of disrespect) or starts running off. This is where we steal a thought from the horse. Instead of following your instincts and attempting to corner the horse or force him into a position where you can put the halter on, send him out instead. Let out a good amount of your lead line, say 3-4 feet, and swing your rope in large circles at his hind quarters. Summarizing, we begin our approach to catching the horse with three rules: Rule #1: Try to get two eyes. Approach the horse and get in front of him. If he won’t look at you with both eyes, put pressure on his hind end by walking a little towards it and looking at it to get him to turn and face you. Rule #2: If he runs off, send him out. Put pressure on his hind end with the rope and send him out. We are stealing a thought and making it our idea for him to run off. Rule #3: If he shows you his butt, send him out. Your horse is disrespecting you in this case. So instead of trying to walk around and put the halter on, send him out as in Rule #2.
Approaching your horse
If you send your horse out, she’s going to run around for awhile and then come to a stop (probably hoping you’ll just get tired and go away). At this point, you’re going to approach your horse again-always looking for her to put two eyes on you indicating she’s giving full attention. The way you approach the horse is important. Often, when a horse runs around when you’re trying to catch her she will come to a stop and then turn and look at you. When they do this, stop swinging the rope. This takes the pressure off and rewards the horse for coming to rest. If the horse stops and does not look at you or quickly turns away, start swinging the rope again. If the horse is approachable, the way we walk up to our horse is important. Don’t just walk straight on towards the horse. A predator will approach an animal like a horse with a straight on movement. We don’t want to do that. Instead, approach your horse in a steady zig-zag pattern or arcing circles. Go left in a large arc, then turn around so that now you’re going right. Do this so that you’re getting slightly closer to the horse and then repeat. This is a non-threatening way to walk up to her. If your horse is not facing you, you need to put some pressure to get his attention. We do this by walking toward the hip. When this is done properly, the horse will turn and his face will come towards you. Pretty soon, if the horse is focusing all of his attention on you, he will swing his hip back and forth keeping his eyes on you.
If you’re walking towards your horse and he turns and looks at youstop. This takes the pressure off and allows the horse to take a little psychological break. Just stop for a few seconds, and then resume approaching in a zig-zag pattern. If the horse will not focus his attention on you, you need to push again-which means not allowing him to rest but instead making him run off. Swing your rope at him and send him out. Your horse may not allow you to walk all the way up to her while keeping her attention on you. In this case, you might have to send her out multiple times. Try to approach within a distance of 10 feet the first time. Walk toward her in a zig-zag pattern and when you are 10 feet away, come to a stop. If she looks at you and keeps her attention on you, offer verbal praise (say Good Girl and smile). If she won’t keep her attention on your, send her out.
Do not approach a hard to catch horse straight on. Walk towards her in an arcing or zigzag pattern, gradually getting closer to her. Approach and Retreat When dealing with horses, it’s always a good rule of thumb to use approach and retreat. One way you can do this if he isn’t comfortable with you walking up with the lead and halter is to use the following method. Walk 2 steps toward the horse. Then take a step back. Pause for a few seconds and then walk 2 steps toward the horse again, and stop. When you sense he is about to look away, take a step back again. Try to learn how to read your horse so that you can take that step back before he starts to move
(steal a thought). This takes practice and you will gain the intuition you need with experience. Approach and retreat gradually applies pressure without overwhelming the horse. A key aspect of approach and retreat is taking the pressure off. If the horse starts to back up a little when approaching her, step sideways. Although it’s counter-intuitive, if you are close to the horse and he reaches out with his nose and touches you, turn around and walk away from the horse. You build confidence in the horse by taking the pressure off.
When you get close to your horse, don’t get too quick about putting the halter on. Let her smell you and then walk off. This helps your horse build confidence, trust, and respect. Once you have successfully approached at a distance of ten feet, the next time approach a little closer, say up to 7 feet away. Keep repeating the process until you can get right next to her. Summarizing, the rules you want to apply from this section are: Rule #4: Stop swinging your rope when the horse comes to a stop and looks at you. Rule #5: Approach your horse in a zig-zag or arcing pattern. Don’t walk toward her straight on. Walk in a zig-zag pattern and come to a stop when she turns and looks at you. Rule #6: A horse that isn’t paying attention gets sent out. Don’t try to sneak up to your horse and put the halter on. If he isn’t paying attention to you, there is a leadership issue.
Make him pay attention to you by sending him out if he isn’t listening. Remember-we know if a horse is listening if he’s focusing two eyes on you. Rule #7: Get in front of your horse. When you send your horse out and she is running around, try and arrange things so you end up in front of your horse when she comes to a stop. This helps establish you as a leader. Rule #8: Offer praise at the appropriate times. If the horse stops and looks at you and does not turn away or move off, tell him he is a good boy. Offer verbal praise or pet the horse if you are close enough, but don’t resort to giving him treats. • • As soon as she wants to get away, just stop and back off. Focus on attaining quality in everything you do with your horse. Don’t get greedy. What this means is don’t rush even though you might have an opportunity to put the halter on. Focus on taking your time and getting quality results. So the first time your horse turns in to accept the halter, back off and walk away. This takes pressure off the horse. When the horse gets more comfortable with what you’re doing, start to get quicker and more assertive until you reach the next level of discomfort. If she lets you walk up to her but is reluctant about the halter, walk up to her assertively (but still using the zig-zag approach) and then use approach and retreat when introducing her to the halter. Routinely take deep breaths and breathe out slowly and loudly. This lowers your energy level and communicates a calm, relaxed energy level to the horse.
Putting the halter on
When the horse is in a position where you can put the halter on, you might have a tendency to just rush to get it on, tie it up and go do what we want. This is the wrong approach. Instead, you should continue the same gentle approach and retreat techniques we’ve been discussing. We can do this now by: • Going up to the horse and petting her with the halter and lead line. This allows the horse to see this tool as comfort, not just as a sign of work. In fact, you can apply this technique to anything you do with horses. For instance, instead of just picking your horses feet up to clean them, spend some time each day picking them up and just rubbing the horses legs. When you do this he will start to associate the action of going to pick up his feet with pleasure, instead of just thinking his feet are going to get cleaned or trimmed. If you find out that your horse will let you hold his foot for 8 seconds, set it down and then pick it up again and hold it for 6 seconds. That’s an example of how we can combine approach and retreat with steal a thought. In this case, the horse wants to yank his foot away and put it on the ground. We’re stealing that thought by putting his foot down before he reaches his current tolerance level. That builds comfort and confidence with the horse. The same rule applies with the halter and lead line. Start making him think the
lead line is a soft curry comb that will bring him pleasure, not just a type of leash that he sees when its time to do work. Periodically walk up the horse, rub her down with the lead line, and then turn and walk away. The idea here is to walk off before she gets the idea of doing so. It’s another application of the steal a thought from your horse technique. We steal the idea of running off from the horse and make it our idea.
Take things slow when reaching for your goal, using patience and focusing on quality. Doing this instead of being greedy with what you ask of your horse will build a quality relationship. That leads to safe riding.
Aside: Don’t Reward Negative Behavior
Many horse owners are quick to reward their horses for doing the right thing. This is good. But horses often get rewarded when they are in the negative. A horse might be behaving badly by coming into your space, for example. Many horse owners think this is “cute” and will pet the horse in this situation. The reality is, the horse is showing you disrespect and you should punish, not reward this type of behavior.
Leading a horse
If your horse is in front of you, she is going to be thinking that she is the leader. If you find that your horse is walking in front of you when you aren’t asking her to do so, you have a problem. She thinks she is in charge. To correct this, we can do the following exercise: • Turn around so that you’re facing the horse. Then back up, so that now you’re in front of the horse. Walk backwards for awhile and lead the horse this way. If she is not paying attention to you (by focusing both eyes on you) then bump the rope until she looks at you. Lead her around a bit and then raise both hands to shoulder level. Do this so that your open hands are facing the horse. Let out a deep breath and say “hoe” to stop the horse.
Bumping the horse to get him to focus his attention on you while leading is a good way to establish leadership. Think of it as calling up your horse. You want to dial in to get his attention, and bump to remind him not to hang up on you. After you’re comfortable leading your horse by walking backwards away from him and he is paying attention to you, start leading by walking off to his left side but slightly in front of him. To do this while establishing yourself as “alpha”: • Walk assertively forward without pulling on the rope and periodically stop. Again, do this while leading the horse forward walking at his left side. After a few steps, turn around and face the horse. Raise both open hands in the air to stop her, and assertively say “hoe”. Then turn back around and lead the horse again. Repeat this process multiple times.
A lot of horses frustrate us by pulling back or resisting so that there is tension in the lead rope as we walk forward. We can deal with this problem by stealing their thought. Pulling on the lead line is a process of directing energy backward, in the opposite direction of where you want to go. If you find your horse doing this: • • Turn around and steal the thought from your horse by making him back up. Do this very assertively. When he backs up, take the pressure off and praise him for doing what you ask. Then turn around and proceed forward. An alternative approach is to pull your lead line tight. Hold the tension until your horse releases. Show patience here, don’t release until she does. When she releases the tension, praise her and then proceed walking forward.
Building on your lead
Once you can effectively lead the horse from the front by walking on the left side, try leading from the right. Repeat the same exercises that you used when walking forward from the left side, this time walking on the right side.
Next, move back and start leading your horse from the shoulder. Do this on the left side first, and when your horse seems comfortable here then repeat by leading from the right side. The final step is to lead from the hind quarters. This is a very dominant method of leading. In a herd of horses, the stallions lead the mares around this way. This is a driving position. • • • In each case, lead her around and stop. To lead, open the door with the front of the rope and use the end of your rope to apply pressure (to the withers or hindquarters). Routinely switch sides so that you can lead the horse from the left and from the right. Once your horse is comfortable being led from all three positions, change your leading position periodically. Regularly practice leading from all three positions, and go back to leading by backing up as well.
In this episode of Eric Bravo Gentle Natural Horsemanship, we discussed catching and leading your horse. While there are a lot of details in the video, you should come away with two basic ideas that you can apply to every aspect of your horsemanship: • • Steal a thought: Take a bad idea your horse has and make it your own. This teaches the horse that you are making all the decisions. Approach and Retreat. Take things slow with your horse. Apply some pressure, and then back off. Don’t get greedy or try to nag your horse into doing something.
You can build on the lessons learned in this video with Eric Bravo’s Leading Your Horse and Circling Your Horse videos. Visit www.ericbravo.com or email email@example.com for more information.
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