Hi all! I'm new to the forum (just joined today!), but not entirely new to horses. I rode a bit in high school (mainly just exercised a 14-year-old paint mare for my grandma's neighbor and trail rode with a vet tech I worked with on her horses) and for the last two years I have worked with a friend at the stable she is leasing, helping her train and exercise her horses (mostly arabs, arab crosses and a thoroughbred thrown in the mix). I retrained one of the horses, an eight-year-old arab/saddlebred gelding whose owners had allowed him to get away with everything and had also abused him a bit (long story there), working him back from the ground up. I taught him how to lunge (didn't know how to lunge in a round pen or on a line), I taught him voice commands, I taught him ground manners, and basically got him to the point that he could be used as an off-lead, bareback lesson horse for an eight-year-old little girl who had been thrown from a horse and was terrified of horses because of it. I also helped my friend lunge/exercise her flighty five-year-old arab mare who had a neck injury that caused some serious neurological damage (she's rideable, but only just).
ANYWAY, none of this experience has prepared me for what I've just taken on. I just bought a two-year-old Percheron/spotted draft cross stud colt who has not had much in the way of training in the past two years (when I say "hasn't had much," I mean he was just barely halter trained). He has basically been spoiled by all the ladies who board their horses at the stable where he is now. He had the horrible habit of biting (not mean biting, just curious baby biting...he was taken off his dam and the herd WAY too early and apparently never learned what was acceptable and what wasn't), but I've almost completely broken him of that. Now he only does it if he thinks I'm not paying attention or with newer people, but I don't let him get away with it (this was a bad habit the eight-year-old gelding had that I broke him of, so I know how to handle it). He was barely halter broke and balked at putting on the halter the first time I tried, but after I got it on him, he was actually very good. He is one of the most level-headed horses I have ever met, especially considering he's a two-year-old stud (don't worry...he's going to be gelded in the next three months...it's in my purchase contract and the guy who sold him to me is having it done for free from one of our local vets). He does not spook very easily (his stall is next to the road, so he's used to traffic, horses riding by, kids on bikes, dogs, etc) and he is willing to try anything if I'm willing to lead him (calmly, of course). He even went into the giant tack room that occupies the front half of the main barn, which most horses won't do (you have to go through the giant tack room to get to the stalls at the back of the barn...kind of difficult to explain, really).
Anyway, we've already passed a couple milestones since Friday when I purchased him. The first is that we have officially gained a good, consistent stop and stand while leading. This may not sound like much, but when you have a 15.2hh, 1000+lbs horse crowding up on your shoulder when you stop, or just simply keeping on walking, an actual stop is an amazing thing! Now he walks just off my right shoulder (far enough away that he's not crowding me) on a loose lead and stops the second I do. He also stands quietly without shuffling or moving until I start walking again. The second milestone we passed was that he stood tied for the first time EVER today. His lead rope was looped around the hitching rail, not actually tied, and it was only for a few minutes, but I was able to walk five or six feet away and lean against the next hitching rail over without him following me...at first. After a few minutes of watching me, he realized I wasn't going to walk back any time soon and tried to come to me (he's a huge pocket pony, really). The rope tightened slightly and as soon as he felt the pressure, he stepped back to his original position and looked at me like "Okay, now what?" He did great until I went to unwrap his lead rope from the hitching rail. When I started to lift it up, that somehow spooked him a little bit, but his spook consisted of throwing him head up about 6" and taking two small steps backward. I think that's the most I've seen him spook at anything, even walking into the tack room.
Okay, so the leading and the tying are things I had to work on with the eight-year-old gelding I worked with, so I've got those down. However, our biggest hurdle right now is lifting and holding his feet for the farrier. He really needs to have his feet done, but right now he doesn't like them messed with. He is willing enough to pick them up (all I have to do is grab his hairy fetlock and pull up gently while leaning against his shoulder or flank and up the foot comes), but he HATES having them held. Yesterday when I worked on it, he was fine until I got to his left hind (started with his left fore, then worked my way around clockwise, so his left hind was the last). When I got to his left hind, he was thoroughly pissed off and came fairly close to kicking me. Is this something that I just need to keep working on every day or is there something else I can try? I have to have someone helping me right now as he doesn't tie completely yet and he tries to reach around and bite my bum when he's had enough (which is pretty much from the get-go), so someone has to hold his head so he can't reach around on me and catch my pants in his teeth. I don't want him to be one of those horses that thinks he gets a treat for everything he does (the eight-year-old gelding was like that), but I'm not against giving him treats if appropriate (just not all the time).
I know I'll have more questions as we progress, but that's it for now. If you've stayed with me through this whole long thing, here's a virtual cookie! Thanks so much for any advice and I hope to learn a lot while I'm here. :)
Sounds like you have already accomplished a lot. Until he is gelded, you might want to go slowly on any thing where he can get away with biting you .
So, I guess I wouldn't work on it unless you do have a helper to hold him, and I would go slowly so that every time you have his hoof, it is YOU who ends the session.
I have seen people work with horses who cannot tolerat their feet being held by keeping a smooth hold on it and moving with the horse. Of course, you don't let them put it down, but when they lift the leg or reach it forward or such, you just hold on and follow the motion. When they hold still, you put it down and give them praise and a break.
I actually did the moving with him thing the first time I picked up his feet (partly because of the informal "training" I received working for my friend and partly because I watched our amazing farrier who is wonderful with any horse thrown at him). He didn't like it and almost tried to paw at me, which earned him a smack on the shoulder (that's another studdy habit he has, the pawing...he gets a nice hard smack when he does it, which is VERY infrequently).
Here's a few pics of the "little" booger.
(Only side view I have that is anywhere near decent lol)
The trot...if he gets what he thinks is too far away from me (like the end of the turnout), he comes hurrying back :P
And what's a nice clean horse without a good ROLL in the DIRT?!?
Thanks! He has a personality to match his looks. :)
I need to talk to the stable owner about when they're going to geld him. I want it to be on one of my days off so that I can be there. I worked for a vet in high school and have seen geldings done, so it'll be nothing new for me.
It sound like you are on the right track. Take is slowly and do just what tinylily described. He needs to know that you aren't going to let go until he relaxes, and that he is safe too. Keep up with the basic leading and groundwork and that will help with the relationship too. He needs to trust you to stand there vulnerable on three legs and that takes time.
Is this something that I just need to keep working on every day or is there something else I can try?
Yes, just keep working on it, and not just when you want to work on his feet, e.g. Just walk up to him and practice lifting the leg, holding it, and putting it back down like it is no big deal. You would be surprised at how big a difference in behavior and respect there is between a horse that is touched and handled a lot and one that is only handled every week.
Well, wanted to provide a little update. Aires is doing really well. His biting is dwindling to nothing, however we did have an incident day before last. I was out walking him like I always do (we were walking down the dirt road the stable is on) and all of a sudden, completely out of the blue, I had a horse attached to my forearm. That's right. Completely without provocation, Aires bit me HARD on my right forearm. This wasn't a play bite, like before. This was a very angry, ears back chomp. I smacked him hard for it and he hasn't done it since. I was talking to Cam (the stable owner) about it yesterday and he agreed that Aires is starting to very mildly act like a stud.
Anyway, yesterday was a kind of "blue ribbon" day for us. They have this almost trail course set up in the arena that has a bridge and a small jump and trot poles and such. Well, I got the brilliant idea to try Aires on it. When we got to the bridge, I led him to it and almost expected him to refuse, but he sniffed it once and then stepped right up onto it. Made him stand on it with all four feet planted for a good minute or two and then praised the heck out of him and led him on. We did the bridge THREE times and the first and last times he was perfect! The second time something spooked him (not the bridge, because he had no problems approaching it the last time) and we had our first major freak out, but it wasn't even that bad. It consisted of him skittering out around me to my left (behind me, though, so I had to turn quickly to keep from getting wrapped up in the lead rope) and when he got about halfway out his rope, he stopped and let stood there so I could approach him. I calmed him down and then led him back to the bridge and he went up on it just fine. I'm also happy to report that he's already desensitized to tractors, motorcycles/dirt bikes and quads. The stable owner's son was riding his little mini bike around the stable while I was working with Aires, and while he was respectful and slowed down when he passed us, Aires just looked at him. And then Cam was running the tractor right by Aires stall (preparing a couple stalls for new horses) and Aires just looked at that, too.
Aires gets his feet trimmed on Wednesday, which is going to be an adventure. The stable farrier gave me some exercises to do with him to get him to lift his feet better. The farrier that is going to be doing his feet isn't the stable farrier, though. He's the farrier that we had out at my other friend's barn. He's really good and really patient with the horses and when we told him that he was going to be dealing with a 2yo Percheron stallion, he took it in stride and said "Let's schedule you for the end of the day so we have plenty of time and won't have to rush."
Other big news...Aires is going to start his training week after next!! Cam is going out of state all next week to pick up a new boarder's horses, but after he gets back, he said he's going to start Aires lunging in the bull pen. I CAN'T WAIT!!
I feel like we took a BIG step backward today. The farrier came out and Aires went absolutely nuts. It took my friend almost TEN MINUTES just to get a halter on him. Then she led him to where the farrier was parked and he went ballistic. He was rearing and lunging around, dragging my friend with him (she's a little thing, about 5'4" and maybe 150lbs or so). He wouldn't let the farrier or Dave (one of the guys who boards his belgian/QH gelding at the stable) anywhere near him. When I went out after work, I took him out and walked him around and he was an absolute angel. Luckily I know the farrier pretty well (he does the horses at the barn where I used to work) and he said that if I wanted to, he's more than willing to come back out on a day I can be there and bring a sedative with him. I am going to wait until Cam gets back and see what he wants to do, since he's the one who is paying for it this time.
Note: I wasn't there because I had to work. I forgot that I'd switched for the day off (we're going to visit my brother on Saturday and it's an all day affair) and my friend failed to mention that we were the last appointment before noon, not before the end of the day.
Hey, it happens, don't worry about it. Just keep working with him. This suggestion is old school and a lot of people don't agree with it, I'm sure, but I am not above using a leg rope to tie a foot up on something as big as him. It would require an experienced person who has done it before but it can really help on an animal that is simply too strong to wait them out and move with them.