My Horse Moves When I Try to Get On
This may be one of my favorite training difficulties. It is probably one of my favorites, because I can usually achieve great results in a very short period of time. This is the type of problem that, if you were a well-known horse behaviorist, you would like to be presented with in front of a large crowd.
Before I discuss the solution, allow me to illustrate the reason for the problem. At the root of this problem is the phrase "next time". I have learned over the years that you should take care of obstacles at the time they occur. This is often the most inconvenient, inopportune time to deal with the problem.
The learning curve usually looks something like this: You get up in the middle of the night and on your way to the bathroom, you stub your toe on the same dresser that you have stubbed your toe on 30 other times. At the time of the collision, during the height of agony, you utter something like, "What is that dresser doing right where someone can trip over it?!" The next thought might be "We should move that dresser so that I stop tripping over it". Next, "I’ll get it in the morning, I’m really tired." And the dresser will remain in its place until and beyond your next collision.
I don’t believe that this is exactly the same as textbook procrastination but it is awfully close. "I’ll get it next time." After you have swung that leg over the horse and managed not to fall off, you don’t feel like climbing down and starting all over again. The first time was hard enough. "I’ll work on that at some later date."
The second part of this problem is simply lack of knowledge. Most people simply do not know what to do in this situation. I have seen riders slap the horse or kick the horse’s leg accompanied by some choice words, every time that the horse moved forward during the mounting process. I have seen this cycle turn into a circus with the horse moving in circles around the rider, all the while, the rider adding fuel to the fire by physically reprimanding the horse. This is a downward spiral and can easily end in an injury.
The third part of this problem is that the only time that the problem is thought about is while it is occurring. Think about it. When do you think about your horse moving forward while you are trying to mount? Most of us only think about it when we are trying to mount, and we forget the situation shortly thereafter.
As with most other training difficulties, we must disassemble the problem, examine the parts of the problem, and then work on the problem in a controlled environment. There is nothing you can do to fix the problem while it is occurring. You cannot attempt to teach a horse to stop during a runaway horse situation. You cannot teach horses about chainsaws while encountering your first chainsaw on a trail ride. It is best not to teach a horse how to load onto the trailer in the middle of a veterinary emergency. We need to teach these skills so that when we need to rely on them, we can rely on them.
So, what do we do for the horse that wants to move forward every time we step into the stirrup? First, we disassemble the problem. As I see it, the horse understands that after you get in the saddle, the next thing that you do is move forward. The horse is merely anticipating your cues, and horses are notorious anticipators. The horse understands that when you get in the saddle, you move forward. This is important to keep in the back of our minds because after we fix the mounting problem, we are going to begin to ask for a step backwards or a side step.
For now, let’s address the opportunity. This is really an extension of the acclimation or "sacking out" exercise. In this exercise (#5 in the Horse, Follow Closely Video Set) we convince the horse that it is more comfortable to stand and tolerate some mild discomfort rather than following his instincts to move away from the discomfort. We start with the horse, at liberty, in the classroom. Remember, this is exercise #5, so if we have not completed exercises 1-4 (visit www.ponyboy.com to print a copy of these exercises), then our efforts will most likely be fruitless. Begin by asking for some forward movement followed by a few inside and outside turns. Next bring the horse to the center of the classroom by turning your shoulder away from the horse. Turn towards the horse, approach him and begin to pet the horse. From this point on, if the horse attempts to avoid your touch, by moving his feet away from you, you should move the horse forward at a pace that is slightly faster than comfortable. You will have to determine what "slightly faster than comfortable" is. I know that it is not a full gallop, and is not an ambling saunter. I use two laps as a general prescription, but depending on the horse, one or three laps may be appropriate.
The key is to provide discomfort when the incorrect answer is given, and comfort when the correct answer is given. If you are able to pet your horse all over, without the horse moving in avoidance, move on to a rope. The same rules apply. If the horse avoids the discomfort...two laps. Next we use a saddle blanket, a brush, a spray bottle, etc. Eventually you work up to the saddle and the cinching of the saddle and finally, your weight in the stirrup. The same rules apply during the entire exercise. One word of caution: if your horse shows any signs of discomfort with the girth, do not tighten or tie the girth. The horse could run from the girth pressure and end up with a half-tied saddle hanging around his belly.
When introducing weight in the stirrup, first use your hand. If the horse moves...two laps. If the horse stands still or if the horse shows signs of trying to give the correct answer, release the pressure and reward the horse. By following the same procedure, introduce your foot in the stirrup, stand in the stirrup, bring your other leg over the saddle and sit. This procedure involves quite a lot of exercise and you may find it beneficial to use a mounting block.
On the average, most people can remedy this problem in less than an hour. It is mostly a matter of scheduling some time to get it done. If the only time that you think about the problem is at the beginning of your monthly trail ride, then you will probably live with the problem for some time to come.
About the author:
GaWaNi Pony Boy’s profound understanding of the relationships between horse and rider draws students from all over the world, and His Relationship Training™ curriculum has become a vital part of the horse owner’s repertoire. Pony’s approach teaches the necessary skills and imparts the confidence necessary to make positive changes in the horse/human relationship. His courses, bridging all disciplines, are grounded in the firm foundation of what the horse understands best. Pony’s students learn to systematically exceed their own horsemanship goals and accomplish more than they had hoped for with their equine partners. Team Pony Boy, Pony’s far-reaching organization, offers horse owners the continued encouragement they need. To learn more about GaWaNi Pony Boy and to sign up for his free weekly email newsletter with training guidance, visit www.ponyboy.com.
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