Have you ever had a young horse started and moving in the right direction as a two year old and then when he’s a three or four year old he develops a new set of brains? I can tell you I have. Once in a while I’ll get a colt that just has to check to see if I’m for real and challenge me. That new set of brains comes out and says “ I’m tough and I want you to know it.” He also is telling me that “I’m bigger, stronger, and smarter than the first time you rode me, so be ready.”
Remember the article about kids and horses and how they are the same? Well, once again here’s another parallel. Remember how sweet your little Johnny was when he was in grade school? Remember how mouthy he was in Junior High? Remember how challenging he was in High School and how you were so ready to have him out of the house when he graduated? Well, he was constantly developing a NEW SET OF BRAINS the entire time he was growing up, just like the horses I talked about earlier.
With kids and horses our challenge is to figure out how to get them grown and out of the house without wanting to kill them. Now I don’t want to kill anyone, but sometimes your patience gets stretched to the max. It’s at these times when you have to take a step back and evaluate where you are in the rearing process.
For the young horses that challenge me, I’ll step back and go to the beginning and reinforce the basics. I’ll get busy with more ground work and more work with my flag and rope. Then it’s back to ponying with the saddle and more wet blankets. Miles of trail and continued discipline eventually bring these guys back to where they need to be. A steady diet of work and reward seems to be the best answer for their new brains to understand that the best route to take is the one they were on to start with. They figure out that challenging me at every turn is non-productive for them and that it simply creates more work for them.
Remember Johnny back in Junior High? Remember the time he got mouthy with the teacher and how he got the opportunity to write on the blackboard, “I will not talk back to the teacher in class ever again”, one hundred times? Remember how that made an impact on Johnny and the rest of the class? Well, kids and horses are the same. Writing on the board one hundred times was the discipline needed to make the point the teacher wanted to make and it more than likely worked. Make the right things easy and the wrong things hard. Making my horses move their hip left or right and backing them up when they decide to fidget when I want them to stand still is the same as making them write on the board. Make the right things easy and the wrong things hard. See, kids and horses are the same…
I have a three year old gelding, Jack. He was a great two year old and started really nice. He never did one thing wrong in his first round of training. I turned him out to pasture to continue being a horse and then as a three year old I picked him up to continue his training. Jack is much bigger and stronger now and yes, he developed a new set of brains. The first three rides I had on him were just like I thought they should be, he was great and seemed to be going really well. The fourth ride turned out a bit different. At one point on the trail he was walking through some tall dry grass that seemed to make a funny sound as it brushed past my tapadaros. He got worried and wanted to get away from the sound and in the process went to bucking. This is where he discovered his new brain and figured out that he was bigger and stronger than he used to be. The next ride went well until he encountered the same spot on the trail and heard the same sounds that made him worry the last time and he bucked, again.
So now he is getting to go back to kindergarten and has been to boot camp for a few days. Back to basics and more work for my boy Jack. He’s a good boy with some ideas of his own right now but that will change. A little work and some more discipline and he’ll be fine. The last two rides I was on included Jack, saddled and being ponied the entire ride. He went through the tall grass and was worried but he got by without having a fit, so I just kept on leading him into that kind of stuff to build his confidence. I also used my flag around his legs to get him over the feeling of stuff brushing past them. He was not a fan of that process but he eventually got to the point he was OK with that, too. Everything I do is to help him, it’s not done to scare or reprimand him unless he does something with intent to hurt me. That is not a good thing and let’s just say the penalty is a bit more than writing some words on a blackboard. I think in the last article I mentioned something about a spanking.
A couple more good non-eventful trips and I’ll be back to riding Jack and then I’ll see how he’s doing. I’ll start just like I’ve never been on him before and give him all of the time he needs to get his head back in the game. He’ll get to go with me to Arizona this fall so he’ll have plenty of time to get good. I have lots of time to give him all of the miles he needs. As he gets closer to being a four year old, he should be solid. That’s still young, I understand that, but I expect him to be good at that age and I believe he will be.
Like kids, horses can be good, respectful and willing to work at an early age. All they need is to have someone give them the direction, support and discipline to learn how to do the task at hand. There’s no better way to build confidence than to help a youngster complete a job and do it in a way that makes everyone proud.
When we understand it’s OK to go back to the basics and put in the extra time needed to help our horses develop and get their heads back in the game “It’ll Be Fine”.
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This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 8, Issue 9-10