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Issue with stallion calling out, not moving forward


Hello Franklin

I actually have a comment and a question.

I was reading one of your responses to "my calm horse has become become aggressively dangerous" among others. What came to my mind was perhaps the horse has developed ulcers, or perhaps they changed the feed to a high carb hay like alfalfa. Anyhoo, in California a lot of people feed alfafa with disastrous results, and too often the horse gets blamed for being crazy and unmanageable. Same goes for a horse suffering from ulcers can behave in some pretty crazy ways, from going nuts when you try to tighten the girth to running off bucking, etc. We feed lots of soaked beet pulp which is very low carb and timothy hay. That diet has turned some real head cases into completely different animals.

As far as ulcers, Omeprazole is golden!!! LOL

My actual question is regarding working with young stallions and keeping their behavior manageable. I just imported a very well bred 4 yr old Dutch colt. He spent 30 days in quarantine. He was required to "live-cover" 2 mares while there as well be tested for a number of infectious diseases. He is my 2nd stallion that I have owned and 1 of 30+ horses I have had over the past 35 years in the jumper world. The 1st stallion had great ground manners but was a bit tough riding as he could buck like nothing I have ever seen before. We ended up gelding him as a 6 yr old as his attitude was such that he did not focus on his job. The rearing stopped and eventually he seemed to grow out of the bucking. I was comfortable hacking and jumping him at home no more than 4 ft. He went on to jump all the way to the Grand Prix level but we used a professional rider. I felt it would be a mistake for me to compete on him as I didn't think I would be strong enough to jump him accurately at the Grand Prix level. I considered him more of a man's ride.

The new colt is much lighter in the mouth and for now has very nice manners. The stable he came from in Holland did a nice job with his very early training. He's had maybe 45 days under saddle. I hacked him in Holland and and a couple times at the quarantine facility. One thing he does which is annoying is scream. I have taken your suggestions in other posts to heart and basically ignore the noisy young man and keep leading him forward. On a couple occasions when first starting out riding he does not immediately go forward. Once he's going he's seems to be all business. What can I do to insure that his work ethic remains solid? We have a solid wall round pen I can start him out in before getting on. How many minutes of round pen work would you suggest and then how long would you ride the horse for? Is it advisable to have 2 short sessions per day? or one session and perhaps a hand-walk later in the day. He is kept in a box stall. Turn-out is not an option other than the round pen.

Kind Regards, Anne

Hi Anne.

Your suggestion of diet change and possible ulcer for the horse that had the abrupt behavioral change was very good. I am familiar with beet pulp in the diet as assisting this issue and no alfalfa (cutting back on carbohydrates). Diet is so relevant to many behavioral issues along with the general good health of any horse (or human).

In regards to the young stallion I want to suggest more in hand work/PLAY before he is ridden. Iíll bet heís a smart one and would do quite well with some handy ground games that spark his interest. Going beyond simple lungeing is required to do this. You would be amazed at how much of a difference interesting ground games, especially liberty training can make in the life of a young horse and especially a smart stallion. You have a terrific round pen to do this in. Getting as much of his attention on you as possible is the key. You gain a higher level of relationship with him by doing this. Also, appropriate liberty training will establish very good ground manners. Its great you understand that for most unwanted behaviors that are more annoying (like his calling out) than dangerous or risky, best to ignore as much as possible and simply keep him moving forward. Avoiding punishment is always a good idea. I donít even like reprimands much. My training style is to make what I want the animal to do the easier path and making what I do not want difficult simply means setting some sort of block to the behavior rather than putting reprimand forward. This way the animal teaches himself. This requires patience, consciousness, knowledge, creativity and skill. If he does not want to go forward, see if he will go backward, or bend in small circles, do leg yields, some other movement. What you would be doing is making him not moving calmly forward to be more of a chore actually, as he would be asked to of some sort of movement that was not as easy. You would also be providing a consequence which also sets up a teaching/learning situation. Another option is to simply stand still. Allow the behavior. I promise you that he will move forward at some point and it will not take as long as you thought. By doing nothing, you will be doing a lot and actually giving him a response that he has never dealt with.

My wife, also a professional trainer.rider, told me a story of a riding master in her native Hungary who was on a young stallion and the horse would not go down a particular hill. Rather than go to force, reprimand or punishment, this masterful and very accomplished and respected trainer, simply sat there on the horse. He would not allow the horse to turn or go backwards. The horse had to stand and face the direction the trainer wanted him to go. The horse stood there for maybe 20 minutes or so and then calmly went down the hill. There was never an issue at that hill again. Do you have the patience and skill to do this? It couldnít hurt to try. We humans tend to want to make things happen. I believe that, with horses in particular, less is more. Figuring out how to make what we want the animalís idea too works for me very well. It just takes a bit more time, skill and patience than most can muster. Also, I donít like working horses. But I do love playing with them and getting the job done that way is even better. Itís a question of attitudes and beliefs in this way. Our language reflects our beliefs and attitudes.

I like two twenty minute round pen sessions per day. But this time is for much more than simple movement and going in circles, which is BORING. This is to establish your partnership, your conscious relationship, your bond, your mutual trust and....respect. This is to develop your partnership as dance partners. The round pen should be a play arena, a dance floor and an opportunity to develop a higher level of connection. I would let the liberty play become more of an equal focus along with the riding for a while. By shifting the focus from work to a more overall enjoyable form of activity the riding actually can become something he look forward to, the icing on the cake of your activities time together. The ride could last for 45 minutes or so, after 20-30 minutes in the round pen. The turn out time in the round pen, could simply be a bit of quiet, quality time, void of big agenda you and he have together if you have the earlier time in the round pen time be active play. For his turn out time, take a book into the round pen, sit and read quietly. Imagine that?? You will be amazed at how positively this would affect your relationship with this horse.

By shifting our attitudes we change our lives and we will shift our horses attitudes and lives as well. Work ethic could be called play ethic depending on the attitude and skill of the leader of the game. Horses want attention and they want a leader. They also like a job. You probably know these things. But do you know that when the job becomes enjoyable, still very active and focused activity with their special human, miracles take place. Of course the human needs to fully understand how to reward the horse and reward it very frequently for any and all effort at complying with what we ask of it. This way we make it the animalís idea to keep trying to do as we want. It becomes the idea of both parties and not just the bossy human. Sort of like a young person enjoying the habit of practicing the piano or studying their lessons. If it can become an often rewarded task provided and requested by a teacher/human with an attitude of enjoyment...more miracles and more of what we want will happen.

Some humans (and I do not mean this unkindly or as a criticism) absolutely cannot embrace any paradigm for sport horses other Ďput him to work and a lot of it.í They demand obedience and the concept of fun for a horse while training, and probably for themselves, is unthinkable or impossible. Unfortunately, I find many professional riders/trainers and even those at very high levels of competition with this attitude and paradigm. I always support horse owners/riders in not being task masters and cutting the horses a lot of slack. We can all have off days. We can have bad days. We can have days when we just donít want to get out of bed. It is the same for horses. But we keep them locked up and control every aspect of their lives. They are rather like our slaves arenít they? This is why figuring out how to give them some choices I think is a fantastically good idea. Freedom can take many forms. For a domesticated horse, some freedom of some choice is a real bit of freedom. When that freedom of choice means they choose as we would want them too, that is when you see all the miraculous equine extravaganza shows. Your desire can be to jump, competition or simply hack out with your horse. You do not need to want to participate in Equitana. But, you can have a real partner ship with your horse if you want ... and this will mean the work ethic you want, the behavior you want and the horse of your dreams. Seems like you have the skill and knowledge already. It may just be a question of desire, patience and time.

Again, I would be happy to chat with you as my treat if you desire. Best wishes to you and your horses and I thank you again for your kind and generous donation. I hope I have offered you at least some food or thought.

Sincerest regards, Franklin

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