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Alpha Natural Horsemanship

‘Ask with lightness, encourage without forcing, correct with softness’
30 60 90 Days Training
Abuse NeglectRehab Part 1
Abuse NeglectRehab Part 2
Aids & Cues What are they
Assess Diagnose beforeFix
Are all horses trainable
Be safer use a Dummy
Behavior Retraining Tips
Behavior Solving Issues
Buying first Horse Guide
Buying Training Older Hor
Buying a Horse Part 2
Buying a Horse Mismatched
Buying a Horse Selecting
CalmingTrg 1 sided horses
How to Communicate Horses
How horses Communicate
Cycles and Pyramid Trg
Establishing Leadership
Exercises Warm Up
Flexion Lateral
Flexion Proper Training
Flexion Vertical
Foundation GroundTraining
Foundation Mounted
How Horses Learn
Liability Release
Motivating HorsesandMules
Natural Survival Instinct
OTTB Re Education
Overcoming riding fear
Saddle Fitting
Selecting A Trainer
Soft Inside Light Outside
Spurs How to Use them
Teaching Strategy
TRAINING Ask Properly
TrainingGreenRarely Handl
Training Guidelines
Train Outside the Box
Training Principals
Training Pyramid Natural
Transfer GroundworkSaddle
Turning and Neck Reining
Winter Training Workouts

Assess, Diagnose before Trying to Fix

Bad Habits or Bad Behavior

Handling, training and/or riding equine should all begin with an evaluation!  Who the horse is, what the horse knows and what the horse needs?  Really the evaluation consists of the identification, analysis, recording of our horse’s behavior patterns and best learning style will advance our relationship with our horse.  


There are many people looking for answers for their horses' problems. I've been talking to more and more people and they all think they have different problems, but generally, horse problems boil down to one of four things: Foundation of Ground Training problems, Foundation of Mounted Training problems, medical problems and problems stemming from accidently learning the wrong behavior.  We've discussed some of these things and it's important for horse owners to understand what their horses are trying to tell them.  Before you decide how to fix a "problem," make sure you know what the problem is that the equine as:

·         Does it refuse or does it not understand?

·         Is it a health issue?

·         Is it an equipment issue?

·         Is it an emotional, mental or physical problem?

·         Is he resistant or scared?

Each of these is a totally different scenario and requires a different remedy.  You can't fix a lame horse with bad habits or behavior training and you can't make a horse with misbehavior sound with shoeing. Start with an assessment of the basics of Foundation of Ground Training and make sure you reward your horse for doing the right things and give it a chance to be a good horse by managing it properly

By gaining a better understanding of how horses think, communicate and learn, can we train them more effectively and ethically!

Foundation of Ground Training

Generally horses with what owners call bad ground manners fall into one of five categories: too much energy, too little exercise, too much horse for the intended purpose, a lack of respect for people and a refusal to accept restraint.


Too much energy 

This often means too much concentrate feed in the diet. A horse needs forage as his diet foundation. If he can't maintain his weight on good- quality hay and pasture, then he might need supplemental grain. But, he only needs as much as his body requires.


Not enough exercise

 Most horses don't get enough. Think about this scenario: a horse is shut up in the stall with nothing to do and the only time he gets out is when he interacts with his person. It's too much to ask for him to have good ground manners if that's the way he's managed.  Horses need regular exercise, and they need time outside with other horses just to let off steam and be horses.

Too much horse for the intended purpose [High spirited]

Learn and have a strategy for handling, working with your high-spirited horse using Foundation of Ground Training exercises and mimic them in the saddle using riding patterns to help you and the horse stay calm.   We don't want a horse that was a barrel racer for our kid's first horse. If we just want to trail ride, then we should buy a horse suitable for that. Don't buy a pretty horse, don't buy a horse you "fall in love with." Buy a suitable horse.


Lack of respect, trust and Leadership 

That means a horse that pushes us around, gets in our space, steps on our feet and turns its butt to us. It's rude. You often see this.  I refer the owners of these horses to start with the basic Foundation of Ground Training and the horse learning to accept restraint.  For this work you need to have a training strategy, basic understanding of how horses think, how they learn, how they communicate, patience, time, commitment and the right mindset.

A refusal to accept restraint 

This is not the same as lack of respect for people. Horses need to stand still when you tell them to and they need to stand tied. You should be able to tie every horse you own and he should stand there like a good citizen until you come back for him. Most people don't leave horses tied up enough. Tie them with a rope halter and let them learn that if they pull back it isn't nice, and when they give to the pressure it is nice.  The horse that won't stand for the Ferrier does so because he won't stand tied. He doesn't have the patience to accept restraint. He hasn't been restrained long enough to know to accept that he has to stand there until he's allowed to leave, not until he decides to leave.


Foundation of Mounted Training Problems

There are three main reasons you see horses with problems under saddle: too much energy and too little exercise (as discussed before), and a lack of basics.  Sometimes a horse is not far enough along in his training/schooling/education to do what is being asked of him. We're asking the kindergartner to do graduate work.  In other words, if every time you lay your leg on him for a canter departure he takes off in whatever lead too fast, he doesn't have the basics.  If a horse will not transition to a canter he as not been trained to do so or the rider is not using the proper aids and cues.  You can't expect horses to read your mind. You have to teach them what you want them to do.


Medical Problems

Is the horse misbehaving, lame, or does he have some medical problem? Sometimes it is hard to tell. The key to knowing the difference is to find a veterinarian with experience in your discipline. If your veterinarian doesn't know what your horse does for a living, that's a problem. Veterinarians don't have trouble referring an eye problem to an ophthalmologist, so we shouldn't have a problem with sending a horse with a complicated lameness or medical problem to a vet with a specialty in that discipline.  Is this horse lame or does he have a behavior problem? You must realize that your veterinarian might have to refer you to another person who is more familiar with the movements and problems associated with your discipline. It doesn't make him or her a bad vet; in fact, it means they have your horse's best interest at heart.

Horses Learn by Accident

We as horse owners need to remember we're training our horses at all times, every time we interact with them.  Horses learn by accident. This means horses react. They don't think about it or contemplate. A situation arises and they react. If that reaction works for them, they will continue to react that way every time they are in that same situation.  It's important that horse owners realize the horse didn't react that way because he stayed up all night and thought of this--he just reacted.  I see this when I make farm calls. I go to do something to a horse and the horse flinches a little, and the owner leaps back. That scares the horse worse, and the horse confirms that "something bad is fixing to happen because my person is scared." These owners don't realize they are reinforcing this horse's fear.  A horse will keep trying things that are wrong--he likes to try out options to see what works for him. But when he does the right thing, reward him.  One of the biggest problems is when the horse is making baby efforts  and people don't recognize that and don't reward him. If he's not rewarded, he doesn't know that's what he's supposed to do.  Before you decide how to fix a "problem," make sure you know what the problem is. Does he refuse, or does he not understand? Are you working with a medical or mental problem? Is he resistant, or scared? Each of these is a totally different scenario and requires a different remedy.

You can't fix a lame horse with behavior training, and you can't make a horse with misbehavior sound with shoeing. Start back at the basics and make sure you reward your horse for doing the right things, and give him a chance to be a good horse by managing him properly,  By gaining a better understanding of how horses communicate and learn, can we train them more effectively and ethically?

Prepare the horse to Learn

A little mental ground exercising warm-up to prepare your horse for learning in the saddle can go a long way toward effective, ethical training.   “Increasing the arousal level of horses prior to a training session could improve learning performance and safeguard equine welfare by reducing stress reactions during the training session.  So before you dive into mounted training, consider helping your horse prepare mentally by taking steps to bring him into the engagement zone.

Suggested Reading:


Understanding Equine Course