Unlocking the Power of Magnets
All horses have what I like to call magnets ““ objects they are naturally drawn to. Magnets can be things like the arena gate, the barn, other horses in the arena, the horse’s buddies back at the barn, the trailer, etc.
Horses are drawn to other horses, of course, because they have that herd survival instinct. They feel safety in numbers. Before they were domesticated, horses relied on the collective strength of the herd to survive in the wild, and millions of years later, they’ve maintained that instinct. The horse feels safer as part of a group because he knows that by himself his chances of survival plummet. A lone horse might as well hand himself over to the lions. Animals in a herd depend on each other for mutual protection. The more eyes, ears and noses that are involved, the likelihood of detecting predators increases.
Horses are also drawn to the barn. They know there are usually other “union partners” at the barn that they can rest, sleep and play with, and at the barn, they don’t have to hustle their feet, sweat and work hard like they do in the arena or on the trail.
They are also drawn to arena gates because the gate leads to the barn and the barn leads to other horses. You’d be surprised at how fast horses figure out where the gate is in an arena. At tours, some of the local horses I work with for the groundwork and riding demo know exactly where the gate is after the first groundwork session. When they come out for the second groundwork session, I have to spend time erasing their magnet to the gate using the approach I describe below.
Dealing with a horse’s magnets can be frustrating at best and downright dangerous at worst. No matter what the magnet is, they all have the same affect ““ making the horse go off course, whether that be leaving an exercise and trying to go back to the gate or taking off in the middle of a trail ride to get back to the barn. All magnets involve the horse wanting to be somewhere other than where he is, doing something other than what he is doing.
The key to fixing your horse’s magnets is to make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult. You’ll accomplish that by moving his feet where he wants to be and letting him rest away from the magnet. This approach works well because horses are basically lazy creatures. They’d rather stand still and cock a hind leg than risk the chance of losing weight.
Here are two examples of how you can fix an unwanted magnet. Although I’m giving you just two examples, the theory can be applied to almost any situation.
At some point or other, almost all horses develop a magnet to the arena gate. To deter your horse from hanging out at the gate, make being next to the gate feel uncomfortable to him. Right now, your horse is attracted to the gate because he knows that’s how he gets out of the arena and back to the barn.
One way I like to erase a horse’s magnet with the gate is by doing rollbacks next to the gate.
625 Canter a 50-foot circle next to the gate. When you reach the gate, stop the horse and then shape him for the rollback by tipping his nose toward the gate.
628 Then press your outside leg up near his shoulder to roll him back.
705 Hustle the horse out of the turn and onto the circle. When you reach the gate, roll back again. Continue to do rollbacks next to the gate for several minutes, and then ride the horse to the opposite end of the arena and let him rest. It won’t take long for the horse to realize that the arena gate is not going to get him the rest and escape from work that he thought it would.
If you’re at a show or on a trail ride, it’s common for your horse to develop a magnet with the trailer. In your horse’s mind, the trailer is equivalent to getting to rest, munch on hay and hang out with his buddies. Rather than trying to keep the horse away from the trailer, let him go there and then put his feet to work. It’s the same concept as before. Depending on where you are and the amount of room you have to move your horse’s feet, you can either stay in the saddle and hustle your horse’s feet or dismount and work him from the ground. If you stay in the saddle, you can do rollbacks next to the trailer, trot serpentines and figure 8’s, canter circles or anything you can think of to hustle your horse’s feet and do as many changes of direction as you can.
852 On the ground, you can put his feet to work with an exercise like Lunging for Respect Stage Two. Not only does this exercise get
the horse’s feet moving, but it’s a great “listen to me” exercise you can do when your horse is in a new environment and full of nervous energy. The secret to getting a horse to use the thinking side of his brain is to move his feet forwards, backwards, left and right. This exercise requires the horse to do a lot of moving his feet and changing directions. It will knock the air out of him pretty quickly because it takes a lot of effort to constantly stop and change directions.
If space is limited, you can do the Sending Exercise, sending the horse back and forth in between you and the trailer. Look for the horse to do a snappy hindquarter yield and to trot by you. The key is to make him put some energy into this.
868 Or, you can hustle his feet backwards. Backing is a great exercise to do with horses, especially ones that have “forward” on their brains. If you spend a few minutes backing your horse with energy in his feet, you’ll be amazed at how it’ll humble him and he’ll be ready to focus on you and get to work.
After a few minutes of working the horse next to the trailer, walk off and rest him next to the arena or on the trail, wherever he didn’t want to be. With repetition, the horse will forget all about trying to get back to the trailer. Remember, horses are basically lazy creatures. They never run to hard work.
Author note: Clinton Anderson is a clinician, horse trainer and competitor. He’s dedicated his life to helping others realize their horsemanship dreams. Learn more about the Downunder Horsemanship Method at www.downunderhorsemanship.com.
All photos credit: Darrell Dodds
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This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 8, Issue 2