I've been working with my yearling and the more time I spend with him, the more I notice his funny little quirks. One quirk in particular is very worrisome to me and I've been working on it for a few days, just trying to fix it before it turns into a full blown habit.
Levee leads and gives to pressure well. When he's tied, he has a tendency to back up, but as soon as he feels the pull on his halter, he'll walk himself forward a bit. However, he is developing this habit of bobbing his head and as a result, he manages to get the lead line over his head and then he has a mild panic attack when he can't lift his head. The 'panic attack' doesn't include him trying to throw his head up, but just dancing side to side and attempting to turn around. Not a bad spook, but it has the possibility to escalate and I want to nip it in the bud.
As a result, I always feel nervous about tying him. I spent a lot of hours over the last few days, trying to work this issue out of him, because it's such an undesirable, dangerous one. This is what I've tried:
- Tying him up shorter. Instead of giving him 2 feet of rope to play with, I gave him less. He still managed to get the rope over his head and flipped out even more because it tightened up faster. Because he pulled the rope so tight, it made pulling the quick release loose very difficult and I ended up unclipping him to release the extreme pressure on his head before he became frightened and unruly.
- Looping the rope over the fence to give him the idea of tying and me just standing there, gently holding the end. This worked for a bit, until he figured out he could just slide the rope around and give himself more rope to play with. So I looped it around the fence a few times to make it more secure.
- Using a fence pole at eye level versus shoulder level. This worked the best, but he was constantly anxious and couldn't relax. As such, he spent the time dancing around and trying to untie himself. Not good.
- Tying him with a quick release and standing within reach, giving him a pop on the shoulder and a sharp "no!" whenever he started to bob his head or dance around. I don't like this method at all because it seems to do more harm than good. He stands, but it's not because he's learning the concept. He gets grumpy and then the entire lesson is shot because he's focused on that instead of the task.
- Exercising him before the lesson. He's a young guy and he has lots of energy, so I figured some walking and trotting around the big round pen would alleviate that and help him focus. Nope.
Would it be beneficial to teach him to ground tie first and then reintroduce tying to a post? Would cross-ties be a good middle step? Personally, I prefer cross ties to tying, but I know it's important to teach a horse to tie. I've heard of using an inner tube, but the methods described confuse me a little bit and I don't want to do it wrong. I've never encountered a horse with this particular issue before and I'm just a little unsure how to deal with it. Please keep in mind that this is a horse who doesn't mind ropes around his head. He LIKES things on his face and is happier than a pig in, well, sh--, with towels draped over his ears.
Any pointers for me?