Understanding Horses Part 4: An Epic Day

People are shocked that I give my horses treats. I tell them there's a big difference in giving your horse treats, and him demanding treats. My horses don't demand treats. I don't show them treats before I catch them. Consider my horse Epic. I give a treat after I catch him and halter him. Good boy.

I also want a horse that you can clamber on without the horse moving a foot, and ride with just that halter and lead rope. I don't want him to move off until I tell him. A horse that walks off when you mount is dangerous (more on correcting this in a moment).

It's not the cowboy way to get off and open a gate. So train your horses to open gates. For that they need to move sideways from your leg pressure, stand when you tell them to be still, and move forward off your leg. Our three basics come into play here (see the February and March issues that cover the "three things that all horses need to know to make their owners happy"). You might need to block the gate so another horse (Harry in this case) can't get out while you open and close the gate. That requires teamwork between you and the horse--with a halter and lead rope.

Then, he shouldn't head right to the barn once the gate is closed. I might want to sit there and swat flies with the end of the lead rope. My horse needs to stand and wait until I tell him to do something. Whoa. Park it.

Get on and off the "wrong" side. There really isn't a wrong side. I've seen too many "one-sided" horses, so I work my horses regularly from both sides doing everything.

Tie your horse up high. It's safer. Then, I have my horses trained to stand there while I use my "power groomer." You need to start slow, but even my babies will stand, and they enjoy it. (It's an electric buffer for a car with a round curry on the end.) It does a great job, but it's noisy. They need to just learn to deal with the noise. Be patient.

Always use fly spray before you ride. I don't think it's fair for a horse to have the distraction of flies. I use a solution that consists of a one part Pine-Sol and two parts water. It doesn't last long, but long enough to get him ridden. It never blisters, and I've put it on every color horse.

Saddle up, but don't tighten the girth up all the way the first time. Walk them out a little bit away from the barn to where you're going to ride, make sure it's good footing, then get your saddle ready.

When you get on your horse, he should stand like a rock. As I said before, a horse that walks off when you mount is dangerous. You don't have to take the slack out of the reins and "make" him stand still. I allow them to stand still. If they move, I step off, back them twice as far as they went forward, then get on again. If they move forward, I back them again. That's a quiet, nonthreatening thing to do.

Once I make them walk off, I get off the fence (not ride right next to it) so I'm the one guiding them and not the fence, then I start testing Basics #1, #2, and #3. I want to fix anything that's wrong, or it isn't going to be a good day.

I don't want to feel a horse on the end of the rein. I open my hands and just pick them up and the horse's face should come back. The horse should be soft. There are many dressage horses that don't have that kind of soft feel and response. Work on Basic #2 for this feel.

I don't like that "on the bit" term. I call it "in the bridle." The face is vertical, there's maximal collection, he's moving sideways if you ask, and stepping over himself, but no horse should be lying in my hands. I don't think on the bit means you have a big hold on them.

If you have a young horse that knows nothing about Basic #3, ride up to a fence, put a foot back (behind the girth) in the same place I taught the baby to move away from the pressure of my hand when I was working on the ground, and the fence keeps him from going forward. So he moves sideways away from the pressure. Good boy. Don't do this too long. A few steps is rewarded by letting him walk on.

Check to see how he is with his leads. You should do a counter canter, switch leads, whatever, and never change cadence.

For horses that are in training for reining, remember that when you want the horse to go forward, you run your big circle by chasing him with your body, not by kicking on him. I do this, then I allow him to slow down. He should go from a lope to a trot, then if I don't tell him to keep moving forward, he should go to a walk, then stop. Again, I allow him to slow down and stop, then make him go forward.

When we're done, I step off the right side, throw the reins over the saddle horn, and he follows me out of the arena. It's time to get unsaddled and give him a bath. Good boy. We both had a good time.

Editor's Note: After this article was written, Epic went to live with a family in Texas. He will be show horse, trail horse, and therapy horse the whole family will enjoy.

By Andy Anderson, DVM, with Kimberly S. Brown

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