Subscribe to Polo Pony Rescue Subscribe to Polo Pony Rescue's comments

Don’t Train Your Horse to be a Nutjob!

Posted by poloponyrescue. Comment (0).

I’m just saying…a lot of you seem to be doing your best to achieve this result.

I get that not everybody can afford a pro trainer, and that there is a lot of training advice on YouTube for free.  I’m not going to tell you who to follow or whose way is best. I’m just going to tell you the things that, as a rescuer, I have seen mess up horses damn near beyond repair. The things NOT to do.  EVER.


I bet there’s something you’re really scared of having touch you.  Spiders, centipedes, snakes, vomit?  Would you get over this fear if you were thrown into a tub of it and couldn’t escape?  Yeah.  That’s how much sense it makes to tie the scary shit to your horse. Whether it’s milk jugs, tarps, flags, whatever, don’t do this.  EVER.

Instead, you hold the scary thing and the horse on a sufficiently long line or in the round pen and you wait for the horse to come to you.  You don’t FORCE them.  You want them to choose.  Believe me, they will. You might be waiting a while. Yes, it may take more than one day.  Yes, it’s fine to make a cookie or a bucket of grain part of the process.  After they come to you when you’re holding it, then you slowly introduce touching them with it. You don’t try to do this in a weekend.  Repeat after me “flooding never works.”  Some of you need to write that 500 times on a blackboard.


You know, having to take the kids to school every day is a tedious pain in the ass.  Why not just lock ’em in a room and teach them the whole year’s curriculum in a weekend?  Of course not, you say. The kids would be so stressed and exhausted they’d never retain a thing.  They might even suffer permanent emotional issues from the stress and pressure.  Okay, but a bunch of you seem to think taking a baby horse to a weekend colt starting clinic is a great idea.  It’s the SAME THING.

Don’t. Do. It.  Instead, spend 30 or 60 days on ground work.  Make sure that young horse clips, ties, loads in a trailer, longes, and ground drives.  What’s ground driving?  It’s an amazing way to get a horse trained before you sit in the saddle, so that you do not die.   You get on a horse who already knows how to stop, turn, back up, etc.  I HIGHLY recommend it.

Imagine that as you put foundation on a horse, there is a risk meter of you winding up in the emergency room that continues to decrease.  That’s exactly how it works.  You absolutely can start your young horse and never have a bucking incident.


I see a lot of misuse of a patience pole.  A patience pole is something like a telephone pole where you tie your horse until he quits pawing, whinnying and acting like a loon.  That’s the point of it – to prep that horse for having to stand at the trailer at an event and not lose his mind.  It’s fine to use it in moderation, keeping in mind that no horse should go more than a couple hours without access to water, and obviously don’t leave him on it in the hot sun when it’s 100 degrees.

It’s NOT fine to use it as a punishment.  When I hear someone say they’re tying a horse up to let him think about how bad he was, I know that person doesn’t know squat about how horses think.  A horse doesn’t have any idea five minutes later what he was bad about.  He certainly doesn’t relate it to being tied to a post in a cause-and-effect way.

The trainer who said you have a 3 second window to tell a horse he did wrong (can’t remember, may have been Ray Hunt?) was correct. That’s about it.  If a horse, for example, strikes at me in hand, I’m gonna give him a good whap with the lead rope in the chest, growl at him like a demon from the pits of hell and run him five or six steps backwards so there’s no doubt in his mind he made the wrong call.  It’s immediate, and then it’s over. Then we proceed like he didn’t do it. I don’t stay angry at him five minutes later because he wouldn’t even understand it and I don’t like to walk around angry all day. It’s not healthy for me, or anybody around me, if I do that.


Force is never gonna work against a horse because you’re like 1/5 or less the size of a horse.   Every single time you try to force a horse into something, say, the horse trailer, you just create a horse who is even worse to load the next time.  Again, as with dealing with a Scary Thing like a plastic flapping thing, you want the horse to choose.  You want him to think of the trailer as a good place to be, a place where there’s no pressure.  You know how you can ensure a horse will not get into a trailer?  Stand in the middle of the entrance, in his way, and pull on his head.  Put a lip chain on him for good measure, I’ve seen plenty of I.Q. challenged trainers pull that ridiculous move.

There are many methods of trailer loading, but all of the ones that work do not involve pulling on a horse’s face.  Pressure needs to come from behind only, and the horse needs to see the trailer as a large, safe space that he can jump into without encountering a stressed human in his way.  Let him take his time, let him sniff!  Make sure the inside of the trailer is well lit (you can park a car behind it and flood it with lights that way if you don’t have parking lot lights and you’re loading at night).

If you really do have a crisis, i.e. fire is coming, you’ll find that a lot of horses load faster if their best friend is already in the trailer.  Another trick that works great is squeezing a horse into the trailer with panels. I do not think you’re going to traumatize a horse for life if you have to whack him in the butt to get him on the trailer in a real crisis, but taking your time and getting him to choose the trailer when you do have time is going to mean he will load whan that fire comes and you really NEED him to get in.


Let’s say your horse doesn’t like the clippers.  You can take you time and slowly introduce them while the horse has his face in a bucket of grain, or you can put on A PRODUCTION.  I see people put on A PRODUCTION all the time.  They whip out the lip chain, the twitch, or both.  They grab an ear.  They have like 3 people on the horse, trying to force him into tolerating clipping.  The horse is losing his shit, winging his head every which way like a weapon, breaking the cross ties, stepping on people’s feet.  Total shitshow.

I see it with deworming too. For heaven’s sake, just hide the wormer in your pocket and learn to be fast about it.  Or put your horse on Strongid C.  I’ve heard applesauce in an empty wormer tube works for some people to start teaching the horse to tolerate a mouth syringe – not a bad idea, either!

The larger the production, the lesser the chance of success and the greater the chance that someone is going to the emergency room.  I used to hang the running clippers on a piece of twine by the feed bucket with a spooky young horse I once had. Worked great.  A week of that and I could clip him.   Similarly, hard to bridle is fixed a lot faster with molasses on the bit than with twisting an ear.  (And of course, check teeth when you have hard to bridle, and check ears for growths that make bridling painful!)

Bottom line, de-escalate whenever possible to keep yourself safe and your horse sane.  Be like a good cop dealing with a meth head, because believe me, an upset 17 hand warmblood acts EXACTLY like a meth head.  Just bigger!


Most of the accidents I’ve seen happen, the really bad ones, weren’t the result of a horse bucking or bolting.  They were the result of a horse feeling trapped in some way and unable to escape a Scary Thing.  A horse, in nature, is a prey animal. His defense is to RUN when frightened. So if you have to do something frightening to your horse, the worst possible thing to do is to have him tied to a solid object while you do that.  He feels utterly trapped and will go straight to FULL BLOWN PANIC in an instant.

(It should go without saying that you do not want a 1,000 lb. animal having a full blown panic attack around you, right?)

So, whenever you’re introducing something that might be scary, like a rider for the first time, don’t let that horse feel trapped.  Don’t get on him tied to a post (yeah, I’ve seen Youtube trainers do this).  Don’t have someone HOLD HIM TIGHT (that’s like saying, Hi, Universe, may I have a broken pelvis today?).  A ground person is fine but they need to move with the horse, and let him walk if he feels like he needs to.

Sure, horses have to learn to tolerate feeling trapped.  They need to tie, they need to stand quietly in the horse trailer, etc.  But you don’t combine feeling trapped with a new experience that might be scary, i.e. fly spraying them for the first time in cross ties.  Do those things when you’re holding the lead and you can let the horse move if he feels like he needs to.  You’re not “letting him get away with” anything. You’re giving him a chance to release his anxiety.  Standing will come later – overcoming the anxiety about the Scary Thing has to come first.


You are 100% wasting your time if you’re trying to train a horse who has a sore back, ulcers, etc.  Lay the horse off work, get the vet, get the chiro, get the massage therapist, fix the problem.  You aren’t productive at work or school if you have a migraine, and you’re a lot smarter and more able to prioritize than a horse is.


I’m just going to link to this, because Janet already wrote it up in great detail.  Don’t do this.  (Skip past the photos to the part where the rant begins)



Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

%d bloggers like this: