Before I show you the step by step process I used to cure this buddy sour horse, there’s something you need to keep in mind.
Horses never do anything right or wrong.
Horses do what you make feel good to them.
So if you make one action feel better than the other, they will always follow the path of least resistance.
How do you make one action feel better than the other? You pave that path by showing them which is easier than the other by using pressure and release.
Make one path easy and make everything else more difficult.
Think about deer. They have game trails that they walk on through the woods.
Why? Because walking on the trail is easier than walking off the trail. Animals (and humans too) will always look for the path of least resistance, and once they find it, they will take it.
To be a master horseman is to become a master of paving the path of least resistance. Once we get this down, the horse will almost train himself.
Imagine a horse that rears up when asked to back up. Is it not easier to back up than to rear and flip over backwards? Well of course it is.
But you have to be able to see that, in that horse’s mind, he is convinced that the best thing to do (to alleviate the pressure from the reins) is rear.
If he knew of something better to do, he would do that instead.
So many times we see a horse that is trying his hardest to figure the human out, but with the approach the human has, he simply cannot do it.
And then the horse gets blamed for being disrespectful, lazy, inattentive, etc.
However, the horse has no other choice but to do these things. He’s doing the best thing he knows to do for the situation. Our job is to pave a different, easier path. It’s never the horse that makes the adjustment.
It’s always the human.
Now that I got that out of the way…
I was at a local barrel race just hanging out and visiting with some of my friends. The event was almost over, and Amber walked over to me to see if I’d be willing to spend a few minutes working on her buddy sour (herd bound) horse.
I didn’t have anywhere else to be that day, so I told her I’d be happy to. She explained to me that she had two barrel horses, and whenever she would ride either one of them, they would start acting up and fight her to get back to the other horse.
Let’s pause here for a minute. Why do you think that the horses liked being together? One reason was because whenever those two horses were together, they didn’t have to do any work.
Amber’s horses were worked a lot because they were competing regularly at barrel races. And whenever she finished working the horses, she’d tie them up together, feed them, water them, and let them hang out.
So the horses were associating being together as a better deal than working with Amber. The easier path, at this point, was to stand at the trailer and eat food. Our job, as horsemen, is to pave a different path.
So here’s what I did. I told Amber to stand out in the middle of an open pasture and hold one of her horses. I got on the other one, and I crossed my arms and made the horse start moving.
This horse was so buddy sour that he began doing circles around the other horse. So I ramped up the speed (pressure), started kicking the horse, and made him work and work and work.
Eventually the horse decided he’d had enough of that, turned his nose, and began walking away from the horse Amber was holding (he made a change).
What do you think I did at this point?
I immediately stopped all of the pressure. I let the horse just chill and relax.
That didn’t last long. He decided he wanted to go back for some more. So as he started walking up to the other horse, I dropped my reins and amped up the pressure once again.
Round and round we go! I just kept with it until the horse decided he’d try something else.
As soon as started to cut away (made a change) I let him relax and chill out.
It only took about 14 minutes for this horse to realize that whenever he was around his buddy he had to do a lot of work. It was much easier to stay away on the other side of the pasture and relax.
He didn’t even want to be anywhere near his buddy once we were through. I simply made the right thing (leaving the buddy) easy to do and the wrong thing (staying near the buddy) more difficult to do.
You could do this exact same thing to a barn sour horse. If your horse is always wanting to rush back to the barn, then let him. But when he gets to the barn, don’t take his saddle off and let him relax.
Make him work when he gets back to the barn. Run him in circles, lunge him, or just do something. It really doesn’t matter what you do as long as you’re making the horse work.
Pretty soon he will associate the barn with harder work and he’ll quickly lose that barn sourness. It’s all about making one option easy and making one option difficult.
One of the most common stories I hear goes something like this:
“Well, I was out just riding my horse along on the trail the other day, and a branch fell out of the tree (or a squirrel ran by, or the other horses started going faster, or there was a sudden loud noise, etc., etc.) and my horse just all of the sudden bolted off and started bucking. He’s never done that before, and I just don’t know what could have caused it.”
Although there can be multiple reasons why a horse bucks, there are a FEW that are the MOST common.
#1. The horse has never been taught how to be LOOSE in his feet. If a horse is not loose in his feet, it’s like riding on top of a pressure cooker. The energy builds and builds, until it gets to the point that it explodes. You MUST train your horse to be just confident while he’s walking, trotting or loping. Many of the people I talk with rarely ever get their horse up into a lope. So the horse is just used to walking and trotting, so when something “exciting” happens, and he’s not used to being freed up in his feet, he bolts, bucks, etc.
#2. The horse’s mind has never been trained to handle increased pressure. The reason soldiers are sent to boot camp is to be trained to handle the pressure of an intense situation. Your horse’s mind must be able to do that, too. This also has a lot to do with your horse’s confidence in himself and in you. If he trusts you as the herd leader and as someone who is looking out for him, he can remain relaxed and not freak out in high pressure situations.
#3. The horse is not comfortable with someone being ABOVE him. A horse can perceive a rider on his back as a predator. To the horse, a human being on their back is entirely different than that human being beside them on the ground. Just because you can get on your horse without him bolting or bucking doesn’t mean he likes you being up there. Once you get your horse comfortable with you being above him, he’ll actually LIKE you being on his back instead of just putting up with it. Big difference.
#4. The horse is looking for relief from some kind of pressure and doesn’t know where to find it. Without proper rein management, the horse is getting mixed signals and it is impossible for him to understand HOW to find the way out of the pressure he’s feeling. If you’re pulling (adding pressure) and not releasing at the right time, then you’re sending your horse mixed signals. Proper timing of pressure and relief and proper rein management are essential to making your horse understand what you want them to do.
(Learn how to fix all 4 of these items on the Colt Starting series from Horse.TV. Click here to get a free 7 day trial to Horse.TV and watch the entire series!)
So, in conclusion, can you…
Get and keep your horse’s attention on YOU?
Put your saddled horse in an arena with no one on his back, flag him around to increase the speed and pressure, and he handles it both mentally and physically?
Transition him easily into different speeds – slow walk, fast walk, slow trot, extended trot, slow lope, fast lope?
Roll him up into a lope and maintain a controlled speed on a loose rein?
Sit up on a fence and bring your horse underneath you, and give you his back?
Ask your horse to go, go, go without putting a ‘wall’ in front of him at the same time?
The answers to these questions can reveal the ROOT CAUSE of WHY a horse bucks.
The Groundwork Debate — Is it hype or should I buy my horse some toys?
Groundwork is one of those subjects that horse people have really differing opinions about.
Some believe groundwork is the key to everything.
Others think it’s a bunch of hype and that it serves no purpose at all. I’ve heard all the arguments on both sides of this coin many times.
After riding hundreds of different horses and spending hours and hours (and hours) in the saddle, I guess I fall somewhere in the middle.
I mean, I don’t have a bunch of horse toys and big plastic balls laying around that I use to play fetch with my horses every day (DISCLAIMER!! – Not saying that is BAD, it’s just that I don’t actually do it. I only play fetch with my cat).
BUT there are some groundwork exercise that are absolutely ESSENTIAL and serve a HUGE purpose that will affect everything else you do with your horse down the road.
When I worked for a big cattle outfit in Oregon, they put a horse in my string that had bucked quite a few good cowboys off.
So I knew I had to figure out pretty quick how to get along with this guy.
He’d be okay for a bit, but then would just blow up out of the blue and you never saw it coming.
One day it hit me that maybe doing some fence work with him would help.
So I’d climb up on a fence and work with him until he’d come up underneath my knees and ‘give me his back’.
Turns out that someone being ABOVE him is what was freaking him out.
So after he got okay with that, he ended up being the most reliable and solid horse that I rode there.
Through the years, I have found that there are many horses with the same issue.
They see someone above them more as a predator than a friend.
So doing this ONE groundwork exercise can make all the difference in the world.
(This video is part of the Groundwork Series on Horse.TV. Click here to get a free 7 day trial to Horse.TV and watch the entire series!)
Another vitally important groundwork exercise, and the very first thing I do at all my clinics, is to make sure your horse respects your personal space.
Your horse should only come into your personal space when YOU ask him to.
When you are leading him, and you stop, he should stop.
If he doesn’t, you need to get that fixed right away by shaking the lead, using a flag, raising your arms — something to cause him to understand this concept.
This is one groundwork exercise that definitely translates in a positive way into many other areas of your relationship and communication with your horse.
Also, a groundwork exercise that I would never neglect is roping the feet.
If your horse ever gets his foot tangled up in a rope, a fence, or a vine, and this causes sheer panic, a wreck will surely follow.
If he has learned to be okay with a rope pulling on his foot, and he does get tangled up, chances are that he will calmly either get his foot free or wait for your help without a fight.
Though I am fully convinced that it is confidence, not over-desensitizing, that makes a horse safe to ride, there are a few desensitizing exercises that I include in my essential groundwork.
Basically getting them okay with a blanket, saddle, tarp, clippers, water hose, and anything else that may, at first, seem like a scary monster.
This is always done the same way — through the timing of pressure and release.
It usually doesn’t take very long for that scary monster to become a non-issue.
Hackamores and snaffle bits serve the same purpose.
They are both used for starting horses.
Some people prefer snaffle bits and some people prefer using a hackamore.
My personal preference is to start horses in a hackamore.
(If you want to see why, you can watch this video I made about it).
But every horse should eventually graduate from the snaffle or the hackamore (if you want them to progress).
Both are used at the beginning stages of the horses training.
And over time, they need to be upgraded to the two-rein, and then finally the bit by itself.
Many people (and possibly even you reading this) have problems with bits.
And I get that.
There are some very abusive bits out there (like the shank bit) that I would NEVER use on any horse.
I’ve seen some horses severely abused because the riders didn’t have a clue what they were doing, and their horse was nowhere near ready for the bit they were using.
But when you slowly graduate your horse from one stage to the next, by the time they get to the bit, they are (ideally) already so light to the touch that you barely even have to use much pressure on the reins to get them to do anything.
It can be a common problem for a horse to refuse and even be terrified of crossing water.
The way you would want to help your horse overcome this fear is to break it down into steps. By breaking the process down into steps, you are going to help your horse gain a better understanding of what you are asking him to do.
Part of this process also involves you giving your horse something else to think about instead of looking at what is making him bothered and scared.
You are taking the role of a leader and giving him the confidence that he needs to cross anything.
Building Confidence In A Horse That Won't Cross Water - YouTube