Groundwork with Harley - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 23 Old 12-30-2015, 08:52 PM Thread Starter
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Groundwork with Harley

Harley is a sweet horse. But now that we've kind of let our guards down and are getting to know each other better, he does things that I don't quite understand. Tonight I went to the barn with the intention of just bonding with him and doing some groundwork. No riding, and my daughter, who usually rides Harley, was not with me. Last night I'd ridden him and he didn't do very well at ground tying (I did a few minutes of groundwork before getting on him) so tonight my goal was just to work on that, nothing else. I'd also noticed that he was acting nippy last night and was getting a bit girth sour. He also tries to evade the bridle so tonight, I figured I'd just keep a halter on him, nothing else. To be fair to him, we're trying out saddles and are having a really hard time finding one that fits him so I wanted to see what he'd be like without all the tack on.

I started by just standing outside his stall. He was eating, but came over, stuck his head out and rested his muzzle against my forehead - this is sort of our greeting to each other. I just stayed there for a couple of minutes, letting him decide if he'd rather eat or be with me. He stayed with me.

So I got him out, groomed him and walked him around the arena in his halter several times in both directions. He was interested in the open arena door (a large garage sized door that I chose not to shut just to see if I could get him to ground tie despite the fact that he could easily just run out into the pasture). But after a couple of times around, he just relaxed and didn't speed up or slow down as much. My goal was just to have him walk alongside me, respecting my space and my pace. Overall, it went well, but occasionally, he would turn in and nip at my coat sleeve. I pushed him away. At no point did I feed him any treats.

Then I stopped him in the middle of the arena, holding the lunge line, and told him to whoa, giving him a hand signal. He stood still as I backed away a few steps so I went in and praised him by scratching his forehead. He seems to like that, and relaxes his eyes and sometimes chews so I do think he understands it as praise. I then dropped the lunge line, told him whoa and walked all the way to one side, all the way to the other, still no movement. More praise, then I walked all the way around him, praised him, walked a wider circle, easy peasy! I praised him again, then told him whoa and walked all the way to the arena wall! He watched me but didn't move an inch. I did it on the other side. Perfection. I'm thinking wow, this is working great. What I was prepared to work on for half an hour was over in five minutes. So I decided to walk him around some more. Did figure 8's, changed directions. He got more and more nippy. He would sometimes lag behind me and put his chin on my shoulder. I view this as herding and do not accept it. When he does it, I pull him forward and to the side. At one point, he was so relaxed, he stopped twice in his tracks and I couldn't figure out why, then he dropped, rolled on one side, then the other, taking his time. He stood up and shook really good. I allowed it, and after it was over, walked up to him and gave him a good scratch, then we walked on.

I guess I am just a bit confused as to why the nipping behavior keeps occurring. To be fair, I probably overdid it with treats initially. Tonight I did not hand-feed any treats and have not done so in a couple of weeks or so. After we were done, I put him in his stall and put treats in his feeder. I think the BO's are quite generous with their treats too though. Should I get them to stop? Is he just testing me to see what he can get away with? Every time he moved his head too close to me or lipped my coat sleeve I poked him with my finger (and sharp fingernail). But he kept at it. Like he was just annoyed at me for some reason.

I know some of you will say that I am overthinking, but I'm trying to create a positive relationship on which to build trust. He is boarded so I don't feed him but I do see him almost every day. I get that he has to respect me. What would you do in the face of increasing nipping behavior?
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post #2 of 23 Old 12-30-2015, 09:02 PM
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I am no expert but I'd never let a horse roll while I was walking it. I also give them a smack on the muzzle if they nuzzle my pockets. There are lines I do not let them cross because they are bigger than me and I need them to respect my space. But, like I said, I'm no expert, and I've learned here that I do a lot of other stupid things. LOL
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post #3 of 23 Old 12-30-2015, 09:03 PM
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For the nipping you state that you pull him forward and to the side. Can you explain that a little more clearly for me?

My horse loves to roll in the arena, but I don't allow it while he is on a lead line/lunge line. After he works I pull the halter off and let him roll, buck, and fart.

Halter on, work. Halter off, his time.
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post #4 of 23 Old 12-30-2015, 09:15 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sarahfromsc View Post
For the nipping you state that you pull him forward and to the side. Can you explain that a little more clearly for me?

My horse loves to roll in the arena, but I don't allow it while he is on a lead line/lunge line. After he works I pull the halter off and let him roll, buck, and fart.

Halter on, work. Halter off, his time.
Yes, it occurred to me maybe I should not have let him roll, but by the time I realized what he was doing, he was already down. Also, I took it as a sign that he felt safe with me. He is in a herd where he is targeted all the time by the other horses so he probably doesn't roll much. In fact, I think his nervous looks at the open arena door initially were caused by him worrying that the other horses might come charging in at him.

I don't pull him forward and to the side when he nips. I pull him forward and to the side when he lags behind me and puts his chin on my shoulder. I take that as him trying to herd me. When he nips, I poke him with my finger or smack him on the side of the muzzle, depending on whether it's really nipping or just turning into me. By smack, I mean a little tap that might get more vigorous if he's really trying to bite me, but that didn't happen tonight.
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post #5 of 23 Old 12-30-2015, 10:00 PM
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When he is lagging behind he is napping, you need to wake him up a wee bit. A horse that I can't see because he is behind me is a horse that can run me over if he spooks.

So, get him walking right with you. Or you may find that in a few months he is being lazy under saddle. Seen that happen with a friends horse and I used that gelding as an example on another thread regarding Cherie's checking and over under advice.

Smart creatures horses are. Really good people trainers!
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post #6 of 23 Old 12-31-2015, 01:22 AM
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he is expressing boredome, IMO. the nipping is not real aggression, but rather a bit of peavishness, and him kind of 'poking' you to see what will happen. it is , a game.

he is too close to you when you are leading him. he is "prying on you " , as my trainer would say. you need to get him busy doing more, so that he is not thinking what to do with all this down time. and send him off and make him walk at a 6 foot distance, too,but still keep up.


if he starts to do that, make a sudden change of direction, or speed up and require him to move off briskly, but do not allow him to be on top of you. he needs to stay up, but not too far.

leading a horse should be balanced by 'sending' . it is a dance that has equal parts of push and pull. you have too much pull here, and he has too much push.
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post #7 of 23 Old 12-31-2015, 02:46 AM
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When he nips at you go after his shoulder fast & hard with the end of your lead rope. He may jump away & act all scared so hold on, then tell him whoa & continue. He's old enough to know better than to nip, so one correction is all it should take.
When you poke at him it does become a game in his mind. Horses at play bite at each others faces. Once one attacks a shoulder it's game over.

I feed treats frequently & no one bites or gets pushy (twice).
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post #8 of 23 Old 12-31-2015, 03:06 AM
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He's bored, he doesn't respect you, and you aren't challenging him for his attention.

I want my horse looking to me for the next step, not being a lazy blob. Even when ground tying, I play an active role. If he gets at all pushy, then I put him in his place. Hard and fast, then it's over.

A horse, when being lead, is only to follow you. They are NOT allowed to roll or lag or do anything of the sort. That's asking to be ignored, or worse...hurt due to their lack of focus. That's when the spooky behavior blossoms and it's not pleasant.

"Strength is the ability to use a muscle without tension"
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post #9 of 23 Old 12-31-2015, 03:08 AM
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Also do not get into a tug of war match with a horse. Use the end of the lead and whap him on the shoulder or hip to get him forward. Then release. It's a bit awkward at first, but eventually you'll be able to increase your own energy and they'll be right there with you.

"Strength is the ability to use a muscle without tension"
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post #10 of 23 Old 12-31-2015, 09:53 AM
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He nips at you because he can with no fear of real reprisal. Don't treat him like he's a toddler. When you get after him, as Natisha explained, don't pet on him or talk to him. That can be your undoing if the timing is wrong. You need to do as any horse higher in the pecking order would do, make it a consequence - a hard slap with the lead in your case. When you do deliver the smack he may try to move away a few steps, just go with him. He'll stop. Then turn and begin walking with him as tho nothing happened. When you walk with him, your hand on the lead rope should be about 4' from the halter. This is more comfortable for him and allows him to walk without arcing his head toward you. That may have been what he was trying to tell you.



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