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Horse Training Leading Problems

Training Question

My horse runs in and out of the stall at the race track. I try to use a chain over the nose but he still does it. He almost ran me over today.

horse training leading problems
horse training leading problems

Trainer’s Response

There are a few things that might be going on with your horse:

1. He is not trained well enough to lead and give to pressure.

We do not use chains over our horses noses because many handlers do not know how to use them correctly, and they can be very dangerous and not safe, so we eliminate them all together. But, however you decide to do it, with or without a chain, you should be able to train him to give to pressure in all directions with only slight pressure. He is not trained to lead correctly unless he will do this 100% of the time. The directions he must listen to 100% of the time are: forward, back, left, right, up and down.

He sounds like he has no problem with the forward cue! Work on the back cue, and be sure to release the pressure with each step he takes back. Do not force him, but instead ask him. Do the same for the cue to the left (towards you). For turning right, instead of moving my hand under his chin to give him the “go right” cue, I put pressure on the horse’s neck and only release the pressure when he moves away from it.

The directions “up” and “down” are very, very important. The placement of your horse’s head is crucial to having control over him. If his head is high up in the air, you have no control! Place your hand on your horse’s poll with about 1 pound of pressure. When he lowers his head at least 2 inches, release the pressure immediately. To teach him to raise his head, place your hand under his jaw with about 1 pound of pressure up. When he raises his head at least 2 inches, release the pressure immediately. Your horse is not properly trained to lead unless he can do each of these maneuvers consistently 100% of the time and under any circumstance or conditions. Once he can do this, you will have no problem leading in and out of the stall.

If you train these cues and he does them fine when leading, but still not as he’s walking into his stall… that means that you have not trained him to do it 100% of the time, there was a gap in the training.

Try introducing him to different situations while training these cues. For example, standing in front of his stall, which will tempt him to be distracted. Once you can do this 100% consistently, you will also be able to get his attention at any time you want by simply asking him to perform the cues you’ve taught him. See also, Halterbreaking Basics.

2. Your horse may be running into his stall anticipating feeding time.

If your horse is anticipating feeding time, then you must teach him that there will not always be food in his stall when he walks in there. This way, he will not anticipate something really good. (Right now, he is likely to see it like this: You walk him toward his stall, he pulls and darts into his stall yanking the lead out of your hand…then he gets rewarded for that behavior with the grain that’s in his bucket. He thinks this is a good thing to do.)

What you can try doing is taking the grain out of his stall and walking him into the stall. If he darts in there, yanking the lead rope…do not give him grain and walk him right back out again. Repeat this over and over until he decides to walk calmly into the stall. When he walks calmly into the stall, give him the grain. You may have to do this for several days or weeks before he understands 100%.

3. If he does not get turnout (most race tracks don’t turnout horses), this increases his energy level and thus excitement to get out of his stall.

If your horse isn’t getting any turnout, we cannot help you with this problem because horse are, by nature, grazing animals. They need to constantly be on their feet and moving around. Spending so many hours per day in a tiny, cramped stall is not good for them mentally and physically.

Mentally, because they desire to be outside…this is what they are born to do. Many horses will learn bad habits such as the one you’re dealing with now, and even more become depressed.

Physically, because the blood flows down to their feet and specific parts of their foot helps to “pump” the blood back up their legs back to their heart as they walk. When they cannot constantly move around to pump this blood back up to their heart, leg problems arise. I cannot stress enough the importance of turnout for at least 6 hours per day, even though this might not be ideal in your situation on a race track.


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