Whenever you and your horse face a dangerous or unusual situation, you realize how important it is for your horse to lead super respectfully. In a crazy ice storm trying to get loaded up and out of Oklahoma, I was very thankful my horse respected and trusted me. We walked out of the barn onto a sheer sheet of ice, and to add to the difficulty of handling him on this slippery surface, he had slick slider horseshoes on his back feet. I asked him to walk as slow as he could, and he listened each time I said, “OK. You’ve got to slow up and go with me.” When we got to the trailer, I asked him to stand still. I needed time to put down shavings so he wouldn’t lose his footing as he jumped up into the trailer. He did exactly what I told him to do, and he made it into the trailer without a misstep. So when you ask why I’m so “picky” about teaching my horse to lead well, this is why. On that morning in Oklahoma, my horse didn’t take one single step except for what I asked him to take, and it saved him from hurting himself.
Hobbling a horse is a very useful training technique. When used properly it can help produce a quieter horse that stands easily and calmly when you want him to do so. However, you do want to be sure your horse can do two things before you try to use this method. First, you want to be sure your horse knows how to yield to pressure. Hobbling limits the movement of the front legs and you want your horse to recognize this limitation and accept it rather than fight against it. Second, you want to be sure your horse is comfortable with the motion of disengaging his hind end from his front. Again, you do not want your horse to strongly or violently resist the limitation of the hobble. If that happens, you need to apply further training without the hobble. I also highly recommend only using this technique with the help of someone who has done it before and who knows what she is doing. This will minimize the possibility of injury to you or your horse. Here are several more tips for successful hobble training.
1. Once the hobble is applied, ask your horse to move his hind end while basically pivoting on his front legs. Make the motion as small as possible at first. Your horse will want to reposition his front legs as he swings around, but he will sense the limit of the hobble and he will have to move his front legs in smaller steps than he would without the hobble. You want your horse to become comfortable with these small steps. Your horse will begin to understand that even with the limit of the hobble, he can still move his hind end in a normal way and he will feel less trapped. It will also show your horse that he can indeed move around fairly well with hobbles, although not in his normal way of walking.
2. I personally prefer the motion I just described as the only motion for my horse when hobbled. Just have your horse shift his hind end slightly to the right. You can continue in the same direction perhaps for a quarter turn or so. Then be sure to stop that motion and then have your horse shift to the left. Introduce slight variations as your horse becomes more comfortable with the limit of the hobble.
2. Be sure to position yourself to the side of your horse. You don’t want to be in front of your horse where he could try to strike you with both front feet. Not only could you be injured, but, after several attempts to hit you, your horse will quickly learn the behavior mentioned in the next tip!
3. Do not let your horse learn that he can hop on his front legs even though in hobbles. Anytime my horse attempts forward motion, I bump with my lead rope to discourage the behavior. Near the 00:00:32 mark of this video, you can see where I had to discourage his attempt at moving his front feet.
4. Do not spend more than 5/10 minutes with your first attempt at hobble training. Quit when your horse finds the correct answer.
In this video you see a horse that did extremely well for his first time in hobbles. Remember, the whole point of this technique is to teach your horse to stand quietly. Applying this behavior will reduce or eliminate the possibility of injury to your horse or your property in many common situations such as trailering. (Don’t hobble in the trailer) It’s also a great tool for discouraging certain specific behaviors such as pawing.
I certainly agree there are many horses that have trailering issues, but the problems usually start before the trailer. I made a list of some things that might really help others with trailering, and I hope some of these daily tips will make trailering a non-issue for you and your horse.
Here’s the number one thing your horse doesn’t know well enough: basic daily manners!
1. Take the time to back your horse everywhere on the ground before you even think about trying to get him into a trailer. Horses are much more comfortable moving forward. You have to raise their comfort level when it comes to moving in reverse. You don’t have to do it for long periods of time, but try to do it frequently throughout the day and in a variety of circumstances. Back him into his stall; back him into the wash bay; back him into the barn, and back him out of the barn; back him into the arena. Seriously, back him up like crazy.
2. Good. Now your horse is backing up nicely. Can you back him, stop him, and then pull him forward toward you? Can you back him just a half step and then catch that foot and step it forward? You need your horse to move just like that when the slack draws out of the lead rope. Why? Picture yourself in the trailer ready to get your horse out. He’s so well trained that he knows what you want him to do so he starts to back up too soon. Shoot! He’s still tied and now the lead rope is stretched as tight as it can be. One of two things is likely to happen. You hope he respects the pressure of the lead rope and steps back forward toward you so you can untie him. But if he doesn’t, then he will probably panic, risking serious injury to you or him and damage to the trailer. Which option sounds better? I prefer my horse knows how to react to the pressure of the lead rope because we practiced the same motion a hundred times before.
3. Will your horse yield to your pressure? If I step into the left or right side of my horse, I can move him over laterally. With a slight adjustment to the pressure, I can get him to just swing his hip around. In the trailer, this is very important because you need to be able to either push your horse out of your space or get him to step over so you can close the trailer door.
4. What is your horse’s “feel?” I talked about this earlier and you know how important it is to understand how your horse will respond to pressure. Does your horse regularly pull on the lead rope or invade your space? Horses are very sensitive animals, but we humans sometimes teach them they don’t have to be. With the loss of that natural sensitivity, your horse can pick up some very bad habits. Always teach your horse to follow the pressure of a lead rope. If you draw the slack out of the rope, your horse should instinctively follow the lead so the rope hangs almost weightlessly.
5. Today I told my client the same thing I’m telling you. Think about how you want your horse to behave when you’re trapped in a little tiny space with him. I think most of you want him to be calm, quiet, and really respectful. So encourage those behaviors all the time you are working with your horse whether inside a trailer or not. I see too many people who fail to make their horse respect their space whenever they are together. Invariably, those are the people who want help when they have to trailer their horse. When a horse is not used to respecting your space, you can’t really expect him to be “respectful” just because you want him to get into a trailer. And your frustration or fear, combined with the horse’s resistance, is likely to get you slammed into a wall and pinned there! Trailering becomes so much easier if you teach your horse basic daily manners.