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A.D.D. Horse

Hi Franklin:

I have been working with a six-year-old Percheron/TB cross for six months and he is making nice progress, but he seems to have a focus or attention problem. I have started calling him the A.D.D. (attention deficit disorder) horse. He has a hard time staying focused on us. When he wants to work and he pays attention he is wonderful, but it is hard to keep his attention. We do a lot of pattern work to try to keep him focused on us.... sometimes it works; sometimes we get very little focus. Any suggestions?

Hi Kristy,

Thank you for your question. Getting your horses attention and keeping it begins on the ground. It takes patience and compassion and the understanding that the horse is not doing anything to you or being stubborn. It is just being a horse. Keeping a horse's attention begins with regular and extensive ground schooling and ground play (exercises). This is more than just lunging in a round pen or on a line for exercise. It is exercises and games (on the ground) that prompt or compel the horse to pay attention to what it is doing, as well as to the leader who is making the requests of the horse.

Sounds like you have not really bonded as yet with this horse. The bonding takes place thru the ground games and exercises when they are done sensitively and skillfully. It is not an overnight process. It takes consistency over time, just like anything worthwhile. Riding patterns is good schooling under saddle, but does not do much for the bond between you two. Please consider that what may be missing from your routine with the horse is regular ground play with the intention of bonding and mutual communication. You know horses are always looking to communicate. What happens with humans a lot is that it is a one-way street. We are giving all the input (making requests or giving directives) and not really paying attention to the input the horse is giving us.

A horse that is not paying attention is giving you input in a slightly different way. He is saying 'I don't need to pay attention here as you have not earned it from me'. We earn the horse's attention the same way we earn its trust and respect. This is done thru time spent on ground games and exercises done specifically to enrich and enhance the bond, communication level, trust and respect. You must have seen horses so hooked on to their handler that they follow and listen attentively without halters or lead ropes and in big open areas. You have seen horses in movies do stunts you know are being cued by a handler who is just off camera. Obviously, these horses are paying attention to their handlers. This is not just for movie horses and ninety day wonder "natural horsemanship" horse trainers (who can get their own backyard horses this hooked on easily). Some of the techniques used are good for all horses and their humans. Perhaps you could consider that this is the element missing from your program? A real bond is what you need and it's not hard to establish. You have to really want it though and be willing to forego some riding time to have it.

I can introduce you to these games and exercises if you like. There are several ways you can work with me: I can come there, you can come here (a lovely guest ranch just outside of Aspen, CO) or I can coach you via the telephone as well. Please consider these alternatives and let me know your thoughts. Thanks again for your question. I look forward to hearing back from you.

Sincerely, Franklin

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