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A horse who crow hops, bucks and rears and how to get a nice canter?

Hi Franklin,

I was reading one of your articles and I came across this excerpt:

"I met my Colorado horse, 'Sweet Pete', when his name was 'Pistol Pete'. I was told the horse was uncatchable, couldn’t be ridden safely without rearing, unloadable, dangerous, vicious, not to be trusted and, as one person who saw the horse hurt another person put it, "was a candidate for the firing squad". When I heard that, I couldn't wait to meet him. What I saw was one of the most fearful animals I had ever seen. He was 9 years old, beautiful, but so full of fear of humans he couldn't get far enough away, fast enough. Someone must have really hurt him badly over time."

I am seriously considering buying a horse like him. This horse is 7 years old, uncatchable (except by one gentle woman who has earned his trust) and until he was 5 he had no interactions with other horses (he was kept in a paddock by himself), was untrained for riding, and was a stallion. The only thing he had was a little girl who would pet him and groom him everyday. He was sold to new owners, and broken by cowboys about a year and half ago (when he was 5; he was also gelded at this time) and since then no one has ridden him, until yesterday when I did. He also has been turned out in a huge herd of horses (50+) on about 500 acres with his new owner. He is a sweet, gentle, yet distrustful horse. He was great under saddle until I asked him to canter- he would crow hop and rear and finally bucked, but still no canter. It was not malicious, just stubborn. I tried to think of another way to ask him under saddle but could not. I (attempted to) lunge him in a round pen where he finally gave me a few strides in canter and I then retreated which was the best reward I could think of at the time.

I know how my team roping cowboy friends would solve this, but I don't believe laying a horse down and whipping it teaches it anything good. In your opinion, what is the best way to get this little gelding to canter? Thank you for all your time and writing such good articles.

Sincerely, Christina

Hi Christina,

I am glad my story about Petie struck a 'chord' within you as familiar to this horse you are speaking of. Here is what worked so well with Petie. At first I did nothing but stay quietly with him in a round pen until he began to get used to my presence. He had to be sort of herded into it. I was the one who brought him his hay for a couple of days. I would then simply move to occupy the spot where he was standing and he would walk off it, and then I would do it again, and again. Nothing was rushed and it was all sort of slow motion. Pretty soon he would walk off and then turn and face me. I praised him a lot for facing me without trying to touch him. Next was to begin to gently haze him forward a few yards and allow him to stop. Soon he was facing me everytime he stopped. We began to change directions more at that point. I also began to put a verbal stop on him. Soon after he began to approach me and I could scratch him on his neck, shoulders and whithers. He was extremely head shy, so I stayed away from his head. Pretty soon he was trotting, cantering and walking forward easily and changing directions. He would come to me in the center for some praise and a short break in the action (his reward for compliance) when I allowed/offered it. Then I saddled the horse and repeated everything with him saddled w/o a rider on him. Another week or so and I was on his back with a rope halter and lead, moving calmly, peacefully, softly, etc. around a small arena. When I finally asked him to lope off after a couple of weeks he did so softly, quietly, calmly and had one of the smoothest, rocking chair canters I had experienced in quite a while. No pressure on the lead and he had great natural collection. He stopped very well naturally on a verbal and body cue. He still seems to do better in a bosal (hackamore) than with a bit dispite extensive dental care. Fine with me. There was a time when he would crow hop occasionally when asked to lope off, and when he did I simmediately slowed down to a trot and kept him trotting for a long way. That sort of provided a consequence for his unwanted behavior. Eventually, the crowhopping stopped and he always trotted, loped and moved off smoothly and easily. What I am describing is sort of re-starting the horse. This is what I suggest to you for your horse. It is basic and easy (if you understand the process). You have to be willing to give up riding for a week or so and do extensive ground schooling, playing and dancing. This takes a bit of time. Then begin to gently and slowly ride the horse in short sessions at first. 'Re-sacking' the horse out extensively will help a lot also. I did this with Pete and it transformed him greatly as far as his trust in me went. Being quiet while on your horse is important. Usually humans are a bit too active on the horse and not allow the animal to be really at peace with a rider on it's back. So, after I lope around a bit I allow a good period of rest and do not move off again until the animal give s a big 'sigh.' That gives me a horse that moves off chrisply and smoothly when I ask and one that immediately relaxes when I ask for a stop. If you have ever seen high level reining horses perform they are a lot like this (even stallions). They boogie when asked and immediately go calm when allowed. I want a horse that has great energy, but in a sort of relaxed-focused way (not kenetic) when I ask for it. Many rope horses I ahve seen are absolutly bonkers when ridden. Some aren't, but ropers think they need a horse like that to win. I disagree. The best ones I have seen are more like the high level reining horses. I also want him easy going and relaxed when he is not asked to perform. Fast canter or gallop when needed, easy and calm when allowed. To me thats just about perfect. Check for saddle fit as well. If you horse is in any pain (back, feet and legs or mouth) that will promote resistance (not wanting to move forward and bucking or crow-hopping). So, if there is any doubt about that, have a vet check him out completely. If he is in any pain, nothing will help. Make certain your saddle fits well and the horse does not have a sore back. That could really be at the core of the situation. If there is pain, there will be no gain.

Assuming there is no pain and your saddle fits perfectly, I have found that the vast majority of perceived problems with horses will 'go away' on their own, if humans focus on the relationship they have with their horses as opposed to trying to sort out a specific problem. It is like focusing on your partner not putting the cap on the toothpaste, when the problem is actually a deeper one of not having enough respect for you or acknowledgement from your partner. Its always deeper than the perceived symptom. Once the relationship is really on track, symptoms of problems go away on their own.

Thanks a lot for your question and please do keep me posted......

Sincerely yours, Franklin

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