Wednesday, May 5, 2010

My secret shame.

I've been hiding a secret for the last year*. It's my secret shame.

I have not been able to get my horse to do one of the most basic ground handling maneuvers. I've taught probably a dozen horses of all sizes to do this basic thing and yet I have been totally unable to get my horse to understand what I want.

I can't get him to trot in hand.

It doesn't make sense. He is reasonably good on the lead line, though he could be better. He occasionally balks or gets foolish but for the most part he is sweet and willing and compliant. But as soon as I ask him to speed up he just gets stupid. I don't mean he doesn't want to do it, I mean he acts like I want to set him on fire. He does fine on the longe line, trots at the verbal cue just fine. same with the long lines. But on the lead rope at my side he just goes bonkers. Flings his head in the air, starts to run backward, sideways. I've worked him along the fence line to keep him straight and he just goes backward but with even more drama as if the fence line has him trapped. I've done nothing different than I have done with any other horse over my 30 years around horses. I made sure he was light and giving to pressure on the halter leading, then just sped up. That usually works. If not a dressage whip in my left hand to tap his hip and get him moving forward is the next step. I've never had a horse that I needed to do anything else with, that has always worked.

So this morning I was working on some ground work before I turned him out to graze and asked for him to trot next to me and same story, one second he is fine and walking along all mellow... the next he is running backward and sideways with his head in the air and his eyes rolling back in his head.

*slaps forehead*

So I used the end of my lead to whap him in the bum and make him go forward (he has a tendency to want to back up in any situation which I do not like... You only go back when I tell you to) and he about flipped out still trying to go backward. I just kept pressure on until he went forward. Made him circle me several times. I tried holding the lead in my left hand and swinging the end with my right to make him go around me, then just straightened him out and tried to "trot" next to him... flip out again.

i seriously do not get what his reaction is all about. It's not like this is a huge critical skill for him, but there ARE times when a horse has to trot in hand (flexion test, anyone?) and the resistance I get from him just is wayyyy out of proportion to what I am asking him to do.

So... I was about to punch myself in the face in frustration when I just decided to take myself back about 14 steps. Back to just putting his feet where I want them, when I want them, as fast as I want them. We did some forward, back, side to side, around, then I made the circles bigger without making the line longer. IE: I was walking in a wider circle next to him. Then I just got about 5 steps straight forward with me next to him and stopped and gushed about how good he was. I was still holding the lead in my left hand and had a dressage whip in my right, so it wasn't actually leading him, but he trotted forward, in hand, for about 5 steps without suddenly throwing it into reverse and dashing backward with his head in the air... so I guess that is progress.

I'm going to go out for a few minutes at a time several times a day until he really gets this, even if it makes me crazy. I want to start taking him for walks around the property and along the back roads to get him used to handling out of the paddock in preparation for actually riding out some day but i need him to be wiling and focused on the lead before we do that, and his resistance to this aspect of in hand handling is a bit of a red flag that i don;t want to take him out on the ROAD until he is over his "thing" about it.

*Not really, lol. I'm being overly dramatic because I'm a doofus.


  1. hmmmmmm.... I've never had a horse I had to "teach" to trot in hand. They just did it.

    One important thing I was reminded when I had a very young and never trained horse on a lead was to NOT look back. Just start running with lead in hand, a bit slack but INFRONT of the horse (well not directly infront for fear of trampling) but you know what I mean.

    As long as I didn't look at her she would trot cheerfully behind me.

  2. That is why it is so confusing/frustrating for me! I've never had a horse do something like this before. At the most a little tap from a whip held in the left hand (like you said, not looking back, just reaching back and tapping where they should be) and it would give them enough encouragement to step it up.

    I've had a lazy horse resist trotting, but Brego is not lazy.... not energetic either but he trots on the long line on cue without hesitation.

    With no lead if i run around behind the barn he will trot and FOLLOW me. He will come trotting across the paddock to BE with me. But as soon as i get that rope and halter on him he goes fruity on me.

    I'm just going to keep looking for little baby steps of progress. I told him today, after he BACKED IN TO THE ELECTRIC FENCE, that it is a good thing he is so darn handsome, lol.