SUBSCRIBE TODAY Smiley face  Get updates via email! 

We Are Flying Solo

August 23, 2011

Little Red Rearing Hood, Pt II

Disclaimer Again: I am not, nor have I ever claimed to a professional anything (except maybe Professional Dispenser Of Sarcasm). Horse training is not for the inexperienced, faint of heart, quick of temper, or slow of reflex. Be safe, ask for help, and BE SAFE!

He leapt and spun and dug in to a scrambling gallop. I called him a not very nice name that started with a b-a-s and ended with a t-a-r-d, but otherwise, remained impassive, holding the end of the lead and letting him tear around his melodramatic circle. When he began to slow, I lifted the end of the whip slightly and asked him to continue, which propelled him into a new frenzy of drama.

When I was ready, I asked him to stop, an opportunity, he gladly seized, licking his lips and begging forgiveness. I patted his head and we turned to the trailer again. He assumed his position on the ramp again. I prepared to ask him for another step again. I was presented with a view of his front ankles again.

So he found himself on the circle after he was done twisting and bucking away.

"You're doing this to yourself, you know," I informed him as he scrambled madly around me. I was not chasing him with whip or rope. I kept my body quiet and still, simply following his circle. He knew what I wanted. He simply didn't want to do it and was using all the tricks he knew to end the dance.

We repeated this a few times. It was hot and he quickly worked up a heavy sweat. I stayed quiet and kept the directions clear: you can walk nicely into the trailer and hang out in the shade or you can stay out here and work in circles and be hot and unhappy.

I'm not usually a proponent of the circling thing. I'd rather use a tap as a forward cue and a simple pressure and release approach. But to tap, you must be able to touch the horse with the whip. Which you cannot do if he is standing all hi-ho-Silver at skull level. You could touch him, tap him, with the whip all day long anywhere else, but on the trailer ramp, abandon hope all ye who enter.

So we circled. And we approached the trailer again. And he stood up again. As I looked up at him, I saw pinned ears, flat against his head, and I saw his anger as he turned his head and glared down at me. I had called his bluff and he was pissed.

We circled some more and stopped again. He was hot. I was hot. A fit young TB, he could probably keep it up all day, but I did not want to push him into a black rage OR heat stress.  I never hit him, I never hurt him, I never chased him, but his penchant for drama might write checks that neither of our bodies could cash.

"Take him for a walk for a few minutes, let him have a mental break." I handed his lead to his owner and sat down to nurse a drink and ponder.

I knew he knew what I wanted. And I knew he knew I knew he knew. I also knew he had not yet conceded that apes should get full respect; that was a much longer, deeper project. He was an intriguing mental puzzle, one I longed to unravel. He was not dangerous in that he would intentionally hurt you -- had he wanted that, I would have been finished 30 minutes ago. He would just rather not toe the line unless you made him. But it was not a physical battle (we'll always lose those in the end), it was a mental one, which is what made it so interesting.

He and his owner came wandering back. "Ok," I said, "put him on the trailer."

She walked him to the ramp. He stepped on, hesitated for about five seconds, then sighed and walked in. In the shade, they stopped and he licked his lips and lowered his head. Lots of pats and finally, a rest. After that, he proceeded to unload and load a few times, then we were done.

Over the past week, he has continued to march on readily. When the rope halter goes on, his body language changes and he becomes alert and obedient. I would love to keep working with him, but he is not my horse, so I must respect those boundaries. But I think he got the message, at least for the time being. Will it stick? I hope so, but I feel certain he will need reminders, although they will undoubtedly be far easier than the first drawing-of-lines-in-the-sand.

Sweet though he is, he is smart, fit, energetic, young, red, and easily distracted. A challenge for anyone. His owner is an excellent rider and an experienced horse owner, strong and intelligent, just a little out of practice on the groundwork. Her horse, as all of ours attempt to do (and often succeed!) has found a few small openings in her armour and made the most of them. Fortunately, he will soon be hopefully back on course and continue on his way to becoming a well-trained, mannerly eventer.

He is lucky enough to have an owner who understands the bad manners lead to other problems, that eventual caving in to bribery does not equal trained horse, that you must have the body AND the mind to succeed.  Because of this, he will get to lead the happy, well-adjusted life of a horse who is obedient and safe.  And his owner will get to enjoy her horse with a little less frustration every day.


  1. Excellent post! My mare, though not a redhead, is a pony breed and of the female persuasion, which makes for a difficult combination at times. I stopped riding her for several months last spring and focused on nothing but groundwork. She was not mean spirited, but strong willed and disrespectful which was leading to more and more potentially dangerous behavior. When we went back to Groundwork 101 I came away with a calm, willing, respectful partner. I am a HUGE fan of groundwork.

  2. This reminds me of a time I had to load a very, very stubborn Holsteiner mare onto my trailer once... she picked me up off the ground a few times WITH a stud chain, turning on her ankle and walking on her hind legs away from me down the driveway... reinforcements were called in and we proceeded as follows: person at her head not touching her head (she'd rear when you did), person with a lunge line clipped to the trailer going back around her butt rocking her as hard as they could, person poking her with a broom on one side, and person poking her with a lunge whip on the other. It all failed. What worked in the end? One person picking up one alternating foot of hers at a time, and placing it forward on the ramp so she gradually was manually inched forward. At some point, she got bored and walked on. Never had a problem loading her again.

  3. Nice. Well said. Don't leave me hanging for two days again, though... ;-)

  4. starrynights, I totally agree!

    Andrea, warmblood mares are on my list of I Do Not Do, ROFL!

    Haha, thanks, T, but I had to get everyone hooked! ;-P

  5. Lol yeah me either. My last two horses both came as auto loaders. Thank the sweet baby Jesus for that.... can you imagine trying to teach a stubborn Gogo to get on the trailer if she didn't want to?

  6. OMG* That is so my mare and she's not even a red head. We were in the middle of rehabbing her respect quotient when I broke my leg and large scale or intense rehabbing has to wait. Though I am doing a little work with her walking her to and from the pastures rather than just letting her follow loose behind her pasture mate. Thanks for the advice and it was a great story, you did a great job.

  7. This story was very fun to read! I am glad that you were able to call the horse's bluff.

  8. OMG, Andrea, imagining trying to coerce a stubborn Gogo and finding myself unnerved by the thought!

    EM, be GLAD she's not red, LOL! Even Solo has redheaded temper tantrums.

    val, thanks!

  9. Goodness gracious, I am impressed by your perseverance. Personally, I would have been scared out of my wits and not really known what to do. Yay, you!

    That horse doesn't know how lucky he is that you happened to be on the scene, or that he has an owner with a modicum of patience and common sense. There are many people who would have thrown up their hands and just said, "Screw the bugger, I give up, I'm selling him," ESPECIALLY with the rearing.

    I certainly concur with the importance of groundwork. The horse I'm riding these days has always been a saint once you're in the saddle, but on the ground? Not so much, to put it mildly. He's a lot better than he used to be, thank goodness, but you still have to be careful. Good thing his momma will never, ever part with him because I'm afraid he would come to a bad end.

  10. Agreed, RW, about the risks of bad ends. Thank goodness for thoughtful, smart, and dedicated horse owners like this lucky red booger has!