Good Horses Do Bad Things
2008 Cherry Hill ©
are nomads. This wandering tendency is the precipitating factor for confinement
behaviors such as pawing, weaving, and pacing. These vices result from boredom,
lack of exercise, over-feeding, and insufficient handling. Regular exercise is
necessary for the horse's physical and mental well-being. Any horse, and especially
an energetic, inquisitive horse, should have active, sustained exercise at least
five times a week. Active, sustained exercise would be longeing, driving, or riding.
Turn-out usually does not yield sustained exercise - after a few leaps and bucks,
the horse rolls and begins grazing or might stand at the gate, ready to come back
into the barn.
A horse's ration should
be tailored to meet his energy needs. Too often a horse's ration is set when he
is being regularly ridden but is not adjusted when the riding program is interrupted
by an injury, poor weather, or the owner's schedule. An overfed, under-exercised
horse is a prime candidate for developing any of a number of stable vices.
that are kept in box stalls or small pens need to be turned out and allowed to
"be horses". Otherwise they may become bored, tuned out, lazy, and unresponsive
OR irritable, anticipatory, nervous, and explosive.
though the modern horse is relatively safe from predators, its historically long
struggle for survival has resulted in a deeply imbedded suspicion of anything
unfamiliar. Keen senses plus the flight reflex can turn into panic. Few horses,
on their own, stick around to ask questions of something spooky. A horse can be
taught to trust his trainer's good sense, however. A trail horse, left to his
own devices avoids the "black hole" which is really just a ten inch deep puddle.
When his fair and competent trainer asks him to consider stepping into the water,
the trusting animal tries. As long as a trainer makes wise decisions and never
asks the horse to negotiate something unsafe, the horse's natural instinct of
fear can be over-ridden by its confidence in his trainer.
a horse lacks confidence or has received poor handling he can behave very irresponsibly
and spook with the slightest provocation. Because a horse has an excellent memory,
he can remember quite remote experiences especially if they relate to his imagined
safety. It is thought that horses never quite forget these fears. All you can
hope for is to encapsulate the bad experiences with layers upon layers of good
Horses are capable of assuming
thundering speeds from a standstill, of rising from a lateral recumbent sleeping
position and instantly running, and of striking or kicking in the blink of an
eye. These lightning-quick reflexes helped the horse survive for over sixty million
years. The same automatic responses allow today's horse to perform in a vast array
of spectacular performance events but they also can prove to be potentially dangerous.
Much of training is designed to work
with and/or systematically over-ride the horse's natural reflexes. For example,
it is a natural response for a young horse to raise (flex) his leg when it is
touched. This reflex is beneficial in teaching the horse to pick the hoof up for
farrier care, yet there are times (bandaging, clipping) when you need to handle
the horse's legs without him lifting them. It is important to make the two requests
as different as possible so that the horse can differentiate and will not be confused
as to what you want.
example, when asking the horse to pick up a hoof for cleaning, pinch the tendon
area just above the fetlock between the thumb and middle finger. At the same time,
use a verbal command with a high tone and rising inflection such as "Foot!" which
will encourage motion. Be ready to catch the hoof in its upward flight with the
other hand, because the total reflex chain includes the horse putting its foot
right back down! If you let the horse put its foot down several times, you have
inadvertently taught him the wrong lesson!
horses often stamp their legs when introduced to electric clippers as if they
were trying to ward off a huge buzzing insect. For this lesson, you want to over-ride
the horse's natural reflex to pick up his foot. During the first few lessons,
it might be best to hold the horse's leg in the air while you are clipping so
the horse can get used to the sound and feel of the clippers without moving its
leg. Then you can move on to teaching the horse to stand with his weight on the
leg for clipping. Press back on the knee or forward on the point of the hock to
remind the horse you do not want him to flex those joints. Then use a low-toned,
falling inflection command such as "Stand". Most horses will soon differentiate
when to pick up the foot and when to keep it on the ground.
vices and bad habits can be prevented by a thorough understanding of horse behavior
and the use of logical, progressive training methods.
here to see a chart on horse VICES
here to see a chart on horse BAD HABITS