My Horse Is Distracted and Goes Where It Wants to Go
July 10, 2014
Written by: Keith Hosman
Written by: Keith Hosman
What to do when: Your horse only does what it wants to do, ignoring your requests to turn, to keep its feet still, to keep its head at a respectable level, etcetera. It's totally distracted, bellows to other horses and a real handful. You can't practice what you want to practice or do what you first set out to do.
For example: Here we address a horse that keeps drifting north when the rider wants to go south.
What to do with a distracted horse, one that goes where it wants to go.
Situation: You want to practice something very specific (anything at all - but let's say serpentines, that is, turning left then right, left then right). The problem is, your horse keeps diving to the left, toward its buddies in the next pasture. You find yourself repeatedly turning the horse away from the other horses... using any means necessary. Your arms are flying all over the place; it's a real circus. You fight just to stay in your chosen practice area and your horse is totally in charge.
What you could do: Pick up the reins and continually correct your horse. Over and over and over and over....
What then tends to happen: Both you and your horse lose your temper; your horse learns nothing and tomorrow you've got the same problem: A horse that goes where it wants to go.
What I'd do: Rather than allow the horse to take charge by causing me to react to what it does... I'd gain the upper hand by ignoring completely the garbage he's throwing and never waiver from my practice plan. If the existing "plan" calls for me to turn left then right, left then right, over and over and over, then that's what I'd do. I wouldn't care where the horse travels (within the arena or paddock). I'd ignore completely his desire to travel in one direction or the other and focus on the next step in the sequence.
What if he ends up over there near his buddies? Who cares? Regardless of where on the planet the horse drags us, if safety doesn't become a concern, I keep him moving his feet and sooner or later he begins to associate that spot with work. He also learns that I'm the boss and begins turning when I ask him to turn.
What if - at some point in our practice - a left turn is called for but such a thing isn't possible because I'm next to an electrified fence? Or what if he's threatening to carry us into a stall? Regardless, I do the obvious: I do turn away from the fence (turning to the right a second time in a row) - but - I immediately begin a new sequence with that change factored in: Now, instead of left/right, left/right, I go twice to the right, then once to the left. It was right ONCE, left ONCE - but we got too near the electric fence - so now it's right TWICE, left ONCE. I practice this new sequence unfailingly, over and over and over, until I'm thrown another curve. If ten seconds (or ten minutes) later, a second turn to the right isn't possible, I turn to the left - and immediately begin a new sequence. Perhaps now it's "left twice, right once" - perhaps "left three times, right twice." All that matters is that I keep objective.
Tip: Teach almost anything to your horse with the "Clock Work Exercise." That's a chapter in the basic training book "What I'd Teach Your Horse" - and you can hear the whole section right now for FREE on audio when you click here.
What if the horse learns the sequence I've chosen ("left/right, left/right") and starts to anticipate, to turn left in good form, then dive like a drunken sailor to the right? You don't want the horse to practice sloppy turns - and sometimes when they've begun to guess "what's coming" they'll get messy and hurry through part of the movement. Counter-act this by changing your routine just as you would if your horse carried you to the electric fence: Switch things up and practice "twice to the right, thrice to the left" - or "once to the right, four times to the left." Whatever. It only matters that you pick two numbers and stick with them until your situation calls for you to adapt once again.
Why the numbers? Because it keeps you from "reacting." It gives you a plan and keeps you in charge. No matter what the horse does, you're the one calling the shots. It also improves your mood because our frustration often comes from "not knowing what to do." Finally, it improves your horse's mood because it prevents you from saying "no, no, no, no."
What if my horse is trying - but just not getting it? It keeps turning incorrectly? Answer: The above course of action is a good thing to do regardless of whether your horse is being a pill, as outlined, or simply "isn't getting it."
* The preceding was inspired by the book "Crow Hopper's Big Guide to Buck Stopping," specifically, the chapter entitled "Horses That Don't Wanna Go Where You Wanna Go." It is not an extraction. See contents and read a free sample here.
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Wanna teach your horse to drop its head and stay relaxed? When you're finished with this article, click here to read about the "Classic Serpentine."