Hard to Handle Horse

I know this is Cat on the Keyboard, but I work with horses and well, and will occasionally share a horse article of mine.

In the years I have had my horse and been working with and around horses, I have noticed something interesting. Many people — trainers included — haven’t the slightest clue on how to handle an “out of control” horse. This includes young horses, spastic horses, green horses, loose horses, etc. These same people are often the first ones to hop on a horse known to buck and rear in an attempt to fix the problem. So, what is it that makes so many horse people balk at handling a horse that’s a bit nuts on the ground? Is it a fear of being kicked, bitten, stepped on or trampled?

I don’t know their answer, but I do know that when it comes to handling a crazy horse I would much rather (and am more secure) at handling them on the ground than from the top of them.  

Really, handling horses on the ground is not that difficult. But, you need to actually have no fear of this tall animal looming before you.

Yesterday, a young horse at our stable got loose. I didn’t chase him, which is rule number one. Never chase a loose horse. Keep an eye on them and try to keep them from danger areas like the road, but don’t chase. You won’t win! If you have a horse that’s saddled up and experienced in herding (or is capable of it) you can herd the horse to a safer locale if you want. This happened once with me at another boarding barn. I was riding and my trainer grabbed my horse to herd a horse back home that has gotten loose and was heading through another field on someone else’s farm. My horse was not a trained herding horse, had never done team penning or any of the like. But she knew how to control him and he was brilliant at taking her cues and herding the run-away back to the barn.

Back to yesterdays adventure. The young horse (he is 2 years old with no training) galloped happily through the big field in front of the stables. I kept my car and myself between him and the road for safety, but otherwise I just watched. He sure did look beautiful, and happy. Eventually, he ran past me on the correct side, towards the stable and ran into his stall/walk-out. But he was back out before anyone could get there to close the gate. I repositioned my car once again to keep him closer to the barn and even farther away from the road.

There was a lesson going on in the outdoor arena and several people riding. The arena is very close to a small paddock and the small barns, one of which holds his stall/walk-out. Fortunately, he did not run down the path past the arena to the big barns, but instead ran into the small paddock where a student’s dad closed the gate, trapping him.

The owner’s daughter was there, on the phone with her mom, the stable owner. I heard her say “I’m not going in there to get him!” The young horse was still prancing, bucking and snorting. I stated, “I will get him.” I asked for a lead rope then went in.  The owner’s daughter was still standing there, watching. “Be careful, he kicks,” she stated. I assured her not to worry. I had handled crazier and younger with no muss, no fuss.

Now, here’s where we get to why so many people have trouble catching and/or handling these types of horses. Once again, assuming they can catch the horse easier in an enclosed area, they proceed to chase. The horse runs and perhaps bucks. This is dangerous and counter-productive to the horse’s training. Horses are hard wired to run away. It’s what they do. And young horses with a lot of energy and little experience are the biggest offenders.

What I did was nothing. I just stood there and let him run around until he realized I was not going to chase him. Then, he slowed down and walked around. I took a slow step towards him, talking to him in a casual conversation tone. “Hey buddy, how you doing? Look at that hay over there, doesn’t that look yummy?”

As he moved I took a single step nearer to him, nothing threatening. The last thing you want is to be threatening or let the horse on to your plan. Remember, horses are intuitive and instinct tells them to sense threats, even something as simple as being caught by a trusting human. Be calm, be gentle, be non-threatening.

Eventually, he made his way over to sniff the hay, so I walked over. He moved into the corner of the paddock. Again, here is a big no-no mistake a lot of people make; he’s trapped in the corner, now we can get him! No! There’s your key…trapped! Fight or flight. If he feels he cannot get away that’s when you have to worry about getting kicked or trampled. He was still near the hay and water bucket, so I reached down and grabbed some wet hay from the bucket, sniffed at it and gentle spoke. “Mmm, delicious. Wouldn’t you like some of this hay?” I put the hay down and stood there. Patience is key! It only took about ten more seconds and he came over to see this curious human who had been just standing in the paddock with him for the last five minutes. I pet his face gentle and eased the lead rope on.

The next step is another area where many people err: leading the horse away once caught. Most assume, “hey, I got the horse. I no longer need to be gentle or cautious.” Wrong! particularly with young and very energetic horses. Suddenly they realize they are no longer in an enclosed area and some will try to get away.  As this young horse tested me, I looked him in the eye, shanked the lead lightly just once, at the same time firmly stating, “relax!”  Then I stood in that spot and pet him until he calmed and realized he couldn’t intimidate me into letting go, and that we were going nowhere until he was calm. In a case like this, a chain over the nose can be helpful, but is not always necessary.

Walking him away, I put my right hand on his shoulder, my left hand held the lead. This I do with all horses that don’t lead well. This keeps the horse at a respectful distance from you, while at the time providing a bit of comfort for the horse. It also helps you to respond faster if the horse tenses suddenly you will know something may happen, and be prepared to react. I also talked to him gently the entire time. Never dismiss the power of gentle speech. And never dismiss the power of patience and calmness, always!


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