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Sheepdog 03-29-2012 08:13 AM

Retraining or Respect and Control
Hi all, I'm as usual looking for some advice/ opininons
I have a gelding, unsure of his age, equine dentist is coming out in the next few weeks, will find out aprox age then. Best guess is somewhere between 8 and 15. He is not a yongster, but still has a lot of fire in his belly. Thing is Kroon was trained (if you can call the local method of breaking a horse to cart training) to pull a cart. Somewhere along the way, he was taught to accept a rider on his back. He is currently being used as a cow pony on the farm, but we are experiencing a lot of small problems with him. Stuff like refusing to stand for mounting, wanting to be mounted from mostly the right side, but then sometimes from the left. Being generally a little hard to handle, not seriously disrespectfull, but hard to catch, hard to bridle. He is very hot under the saddle and sometimes the workers have a hard time. We ride him in a jointed pelham on the curb rein and even then sometimes have trouble stopping/ steering. He also overreaches at faster gaits, clipping his front feet sith his back ones. His previous owner used a liverpool driving bit on him, not sure the smooth side or the other side.
What I want to know, with winter and more work on the horizon, we want to work on his general manners/ responsiveness. I normally use CA's training methods, and was wondering, should I start him over with the colt starting series, or use the respect\ control series on him?

corymbia 03-30-2012 06:34 AM

Looks like you've got a real project to play with. Lots to work on but also lots that is quite easy to retrain and very rewarding along the way.

Rather than seeing his issues as being a lack of respect, its helpful to think of them as being due to incorrect training, confusion and the wrong responses being rewarded.

The basis of all horse training is pressure applied and released. The pressure tells the horse you want him to do something and the release rewards him for doing that something. If we release when the horse is doing something other than what we want, then its that behaviour that's getting rewarded and its that behaviour that will get repeated in the same circumstance. Conversely, if we don't release when the horse does what we ask, such as hanging onto the contact after the horse has halted, then the horse won't get its reward and is likely to try doing other things to make the pressure go away, such as pawing, head tossing or going faster.

Or the horse will habituate or get desensitised to the cue, like pressure on its mouth and then will need stronger and stonger cues or stronger bits like the pelham or liverpool that this horse is wearing. Its highly likely he is hard to bridle because he knows that after the bridle is on he will feel strong and uncomfortable pressure on his mouth that he doesn't know how to escape. Its also likely that he won't stand to be mounted for the same reason, once someone is on his back the pressure on his mouth starts. He tries to run away from the discomfort but then the pressure increases. He is in a world of confusion about what's required of him and what he needs to do to get that pressure release reward.

So the key to retraining is to apply just enough pressure on his mouth as you need to get the beginnings of a stop or slow and then release the pressure. Because he is so confused at first you might need to use a lot of pressure to get that slowing, but by making sure you release ASAP he will learn that stopping or slowing, rather than going faster makes the pressure go away. If you get your timing right, pretty soon he will start to need less pressure and you can then get him nice and light.

I would also ditch the pelham and try a snaffle. The pelham is a first class lever which means it magnifies the amount of pressure, so that it feels feather light to you, but its still quite stong on his mouth. A snaffle is direct and the feel in the reins is much closer to the force you are applying to his mouth with the reins. This will help you calibrate so you can move to lighter pressures as him improves.

Practice getting a walk to halt transition that is soft and immediate, with him staying relaxed, then try it at trot. If he gets fizzy, go back to walk until he calms down. Working him when he is fizzy and fighting you is just practicing being fizzy and that won't fix the underlying problem.

Use his level of tension and anxiety as a guide. Get the work soft, calm and immediate before going faster and be prepared to go back a few steps if he gets uptight. THe faster you go, the more adrenaline in the system, the less he is able to listen to cues and the more motivated he is to try flight to solve his problems which even if he doesn't actually bolt, gives you that big over reaching trot. Its no fun for you or for him. The other thing is to expect that before it gets better it might get worse because to begin with he is confused about what he needs to do to make the pressure go away and will try the things that have worked in the past. Your job is to not release the pressure until he stops and slows but then release the second he does. The golden rule is, the pressure motivates, the release trains. Behaviour which is rewarded gets repeated, whether "good" behaviour or "bad".

This principle holds for leg aids, leading aids, steering aids and the like. It may well be that once he is clearer about rein aids the bridling issue may get better.

Good luck!

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