"It's the thought that counts!"

"It's the thought that counts!"
Samantha Harvey & Taylor to Perfect
Alternative Horsemanship with Samantha Harvey & The Equestrian Center, LLC Copyright 2017. Articles and/or photographs posted on this site may NOT be reproduced or copied without written permission.


Ask the Trainer: Round pen resistance

Question:

I have a 3 y/o quarter horse who does not work well in the round pen. When you put her in the round pen and ask her to move she doesn't. All the articles I have read talk about working the horse in both directions and I have had a trainer come to my house and show me how with my other horse. However, what do you do when the horse will not run the pen so you can establish dominance over that horse? She paws the ground and challenges the fence. If you put pressure on her rear to move she bucks and kicks. A time or two she has charged me and ran me out of the pen. This is the same horse that is the first to meet you at the fence when I walk up. She is not timid or shy but she seems scared of the round pen. You can halter this horse without any problem and lead this horse but with some resistance when leading at times, but overall she is a sweet horse until you try to work her in the round pen. She is very buddy-sour but so is my older horse but she does well once she gets her attention on me in the round pen and off the other horses. I have been kicked once and I do not want to be hurt trying to train my horse. Her kicks are incredibly powerful, much more powerful than my older horse. How can I safely approach this problem with her and not be trampled or kicked in the process?

Samantha Harvey & TEC Answer:

Thank you for writing and I am sorry to hear of your situation. First I am glad that you are searching for help. Second, there are so many variables that could affect what you are seeing/experiencing, what your horse is seeing/experiencing and what may actually be happening so my answers will be more to offer you ideas and perspective rather than a "fix it" solution.

First I'd like to address your initial statement of working the horse both directions and having the pen be a controlled setting for "dominance." If you ask a million trainers you will get a million different answers, so bear in mind when I work with people and horses, I'm looking for availability of the mind, rather than accomplishing physical results. If the horse's mind is "open" to "hearing" what you are asking or suggesting, you then will see your horse physically perform what you are asking. Instead, a more common train of thought when working with horses is to physical control, direct or micromanage them, in order to get a change in their brain. All I can do is put it into people terms, if you are physically resistant to doing a task because that task causes you emotional or mental stress, until you change how you FEEL about the task, you will never be able to accomplish to task to your full abilities. The same goes for horses.

So I will disagree that the round is a place to create dominance. In my mind, the round pen is a controlled and "safe" setting to work with your horse. As for working both directions, well yes ideally we would like to accomplish that. But you are jumping "ahead" in your desires from your horse. You mentioned that when you ask her to move she bucks and kicks. You need to first get her "thinking" forward, then her body will physically move forward, THEN you can become more specific as to where you would like her to move to. It would be the same as turning your steering wheel as hard as you can, but if you don't have the car engine on and are not using gas, the wheel does you no good. Until she can be soft in how she thinks and moves forward, I would not worry as to which direction she may or may not be going.

As for your horse's actions of either bucking, kicking or charging, she is trying her options. If she is resistant to go forward, most likely she is worried about what exactly it is that you want from her. Her way of not "getting IT wrong" ("it" being whatever you are asking) is to not move.

But if you "force" her with enough pressure, her alternative is to eliminate what is causing the pressure and discomfort, in this case, you. So therefore she will charge you, if that gets you literally out of the pen, then the act of charging has accomplished eliminating a source of discomfort. The more that behavior works, the more she will resort to it.

Not knowing your horse's full history, she may really have either bad feelings associated with the round pen, or because of a lack of clarity from a person, find that the pen causes her stress.

Either way, her physical actions and resistance are a reflection of her mental and emotional status.
As for haltering and leading her with "some resistance" is the beginning stages of a LOT of resistance. Horses rarely "out of the blue" take drastic measures towards a person. Her resistance in leading if she is a buddy sour mare most likely has to do with the fact that her buddy is somewhere opposite from where you would like to take her. She needs to understand that when you are working with her, her brain needs to be with YOU.

There needs to be a clarity of physical communication (because when leading her you are using a lead rope, so this a physical way of influencing her,) that when you do something with the rope, it needs to mean something to your horse. She should be able to think left, right, forward, backwards, sideways, etc. all by how you use your rope. She needs to understand your energy and literally match that, if you want to move out in a big walk, she needs to too, or if you would like to "creep" along, she needs to make that adjustment to remain "with you." When you stop she needs to respect your personal space and stop immediately, rather than to "fall" into a stop.

Your mare needs to understand when her different thoughts of work or if they do not. Most times when people catch a horse the horse goes "brainless" on the end of the lead and is literally drug around. They horse may be physically complying but is mentally resistant. The day will come that if there is enough stress presented, if the person working with the horse does not have enough "tools" in how they use their lead rope and a clarity of communication in how they use their rope, the horse will get just as "big" on the rope as if they are loose.

So it sounds like you may need to seek the help of a trainer who can appreciate and respect working with the horse's brain in order to get a change in mental and emotionally availability. The more you are able to see and experience just how little of an action can create a positive change in how your horse trusts and respects you will be the beginning of you working WITH your horse, rather than each of you tolerating one another. Timing, awareness, energy, sensitivity and clarity are all things you will need to establish in order to start seeing positive results with your mare.

Remember, your safety is a number one priority, if you hear that little voice in the back of your head telling you not to do something, listen to it. Too many horse related accidents occur because people are "hopeful" that it will all work out.

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www.learnhorses.com