Correcting Bad Habits
Does your horse have a few bad habits? They may not be serious, but just the little things that get under your skin from time to time. I was listening to a Tony Robbins interview and one quote – there were many – that stuck in my mind was, “Kill the monster whiles it’s a baby. Don’t wait until it’s Godzilla-sized eating the city.” You know, this is pertinent to your relationship with your horse and correcting bad habits.
Horses are professional cheaters. They see it as part of their job to test your resolve on EVERYTHING! For example, you’re walking down the trail enjoying a wonderful ride with your friends. As you pause to let others catch up, your horse casually drops his head and grabs a bit of grass. You are watching your friends, and your horse’s movement is so subtle, you barely notice it. A few minutes later, there’s a turn in the trail, and as you slow down, there he goes, another chomp of grass. Before long, you can’t take two steps without him grabbing for food. This is exactly how bad habits develop.
When you finally get around to discipline, it’s too late. Your horse is saying, “What?!? What did I do? You didn’t complain the first six times I did it, why now?” Now, he’s getting all pissy because you ask him to move his feet or yank on the reins every time he grabs a bite.
Your horse has a point. Every time you allow a behavior, he thinks it’s ok. If it’s nibbling your sleeve or rubbing his head against your back, when you allow it once, he thinks it’s okay ALL THE TIME!
Nip it in the Bud
Do a little Barney Fife on your horse, nip it in the bud. Play this game. Actively look for the behaviors you would rather not see in your horse. We ride along a canal bank and there are ducks who like to enjoy the canal. Our horses would jump every time the ducks would fly off. Ducks are not a threat to the extinction of horses. So, each time they flinched when a duck flew off, yielded hindquarters. It took about three times before they understood that ducks were not a threat.
My mare Jessie had the habit of throwing her head up when asked for a lope. It wasn’t a big deal. Gosh, I didn’t even notice it for quite some time. It was only when I wanted to develop a “collected” lope that it start to bother me. My solution was to shorten the reins before asking for the lope. When I asked, if her head came up, she ran herself into the bit. It didn’t take long before she stopped lifting her head.
Solve the Problem Now
They say the only problems that going away if you neglect them are with your teeth. If you are aware that your horse is going to try and test you on something, get out ahead of it. Be prepared with an exercise or a response that will communicate with your horse that the behavior is unacceptable. You’ll be amazed at how many bad habits you can chip away at with your horse. Once you do, your relationship will only get better.
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