Wednesday, September 12, 2012

In Which I Wallop a Horse Repeatedly and He Changes For the Better


                        by Laura Crum     

            I used my yellow horse to run the chutes at the roping arena yesterday. Running the chutes from horseback is a fussy sort of task. There are four gates which must be opened and closed—swinging, sliding, spring loaded…etc. Some gates require the horse to shoulder in, bending his head to the side to get it out of the way. Some gates try to spring back at you—a problem with a jumpy horse. Some gates require you to lean way out to reach them (especially if you have short arms, like me) and the horse must be willing to sidepass right next to them—without crushing your leg. The cattle must be moved through the narrow chute, sometimes with the cattle prod. When you pull the lever to let the steer out, the ropers and steer blast out as hard as they can run—right next to you-- and this can be a problem for a nervous horse. In short, running the roping chutes from the back of a horse is something that not everyone can do.
            Your horse must be a good gate horse, steady and patient, because you open and close these gates over and over again—not just once. Many horses get frustrated with the endless-- take three steps backwards, now one step to your left-- over and over. Many horses are frightened by the springing gate, the running rope horses and cattle, the cattle prod used from their backs. In short, you need a solid, cooperative horse with good ranch horse skills to do this. And Sunny, my yellow horse, is that today.
            Now I didn’t teach Sunny these skills. He came to me as a made horse. It’s my belief that he got his ranch horse training on the ranch in Mexico where he spent his younger years. However, when I got Sunny, he’d been owned for a couple of years by people with no ranch background, and his skills were rusty. Not to mention he had a lot of bad habits.
            I bought Sunny about five years ago, and at that point, he would try to evade being caught—including by offering to kick, he was hard to load in a trailer (again would offer to kick), tried to nip when he was cinched, would try to bull through you on the leadrope, would balk and refuse to go forward on the trail including a sort of mini-buck/bolt routine, and acted as if he hadn’t a clue how to open and close a gate. He also threw a fit when he was fly-sprayed and paste-wormed. My friend/boarder, Wally, an experienced horseman, disliked Sunny, told me I shouldn’t have bought him, and called him “Small Nasty.”
            Since I had known Sunny before his previous owner bought him, I knew that he knew better than to behave this way. I was perfectly aware that he knew how to load in a trailer and, as a former ranch horse/team roping horse, he had all the appropriate skills that these disciplines require. I knew he had once been a well-mannered horse. I did not need to teach him anything—I just needed to remind him that I required him to behave himself. And for the first couple of years I owned him, our interactions included regular come-to-Jesus meetings in which I walloped the crap out of him with the end of the lead rope. I didn’t try to “train” him, or show him what to do, as if he were a green colt. I just let him know he could not get away with any BS with me. Plain and simple. I’m sure that many of my kinder, gentler blogging friends would have decided that I was an abusive horseman if they had watched me beating up this poor, cute, little yellow horse who was “scared” of the paste wormer.
            Believe me, if a horse was/is truly scared of something (like being wormed) and you wallop him for his behavior, he will only get worse about it. He will NOT get better. And for those who think that a horse won’t try to bluff you into thinking he’s scared of something (as an effort at dominating), well, all I can say is you’re wrong. Some horses WILL do this. Not all horses are trying to please. (Some are, some aren’t—horses vary as much as people in their individual personalities.) Sunny rather quickly decided that he’d stand still and take his paste wormer rather than be walloped. I rest my case.
            Sunny and I understood each other. I knew he was smart and cold-blooded and needed me to prove that I could be the boss of him. I never once put a mark on Sunny, but I got his respect over time. He tested me less and less often. He was always a good trail horse, and he became even better. He gave up the balking, and the buck/bolt resistance move. He became easy to catch—meets me at the gate every time—and easy to load in the trailer. I can fly spray him with zero theatrics and he takes his paste wormer like a gentleman these days—sometimes I have to give him a pop with the leadrope first, just as a reminder.
            Reading this, you may think that I believe that beating a horse up is the answer to everything. But this is not at all what I think. I have horses I never yell at, let alone wallop. It wouldn’t help them; it would only scare them. It would do no good to get after them as I got after Sunny; it would only do harm. It just so happens that Sunny is a horse that needed walloping. It didn’t take me too long to figure this out—and this is what a life spent riding/training many different horses will do for you.
            And I didn’t just wallop Sunny as needed. I gave him a life that made him happy. He has plenty of room, grass hay three times a day, horse buddies to socialize with, the rides I take him on are well within his capacity, and I turn him out to graze and give him lots of positive attention and affection. Over the time I have owned him, I think Sunny has become a much more contented horse. His life/job suits him, and he likes having an owner he respects. Sunny does tolerate beginners, but he’ll push them around—and I think, like many horses, he feels safer with a rider/owner that seems tough enough to him to be his leader/boss.
            The funny thing is that this overall happiness manifests itself in odd little ways. My friend Wally now says that Sunny has transformed himself into “a pleasure to be around.” And me, I noticed yesterday that the horse who acted as if he had no idea how to open and close a gate five years ago, allowed/helped me to run the roping chutes on horseback for two hours, quietly and cooperatively sidepassing, shouldering in, backing…etc to allow me to open and close a fussy selection of gates and move recalcitrant cattle through the chutes. I never once had to get off.
            Its not that I somehow trained or re-trained Sunny such that now he’ll work gates again. Sunny has just thrown in with me, and whatever I ask him to do he tries to do. It’s that simple. Though I would have a hard time doing a credible sidepass or shoulder-in in the open arena (where Sunny wouldn’t see the point), he understands about gates, and having chosen to throw in with me, he sidles up to each gate as I ask him to, and stands such that I can open and/or close it as I need to do. I don’t give him any fancy, specific cues. I just bump him gently with hand and leg until he is where I need him to be. He gets the point.
            When I got done running the chutes on him yesterday I took him over for a drink of water and rubbed his neck while he drank. We were happy with each other. What a great horse he’s turned out to be for me, in all his clunky, sometimes grouchy ways. He is EXACTLY the horse I need today. Isn’t it funny how when you are open to it… “you get what you need.” I needed Sunny—and I think he needed me.
            And finally, I almost never have to wallop Sunny any more. A “growling” tone in my voice is almost always sufficient. Sunny and I are good partners. He trusts me, I think. I trust him. And guess what? He got that way through being walloped (at least partly.) Had I not been willing to be tough with him, I am quite sure that he would still be “Small Nasty” and I doubtless would have sold him, as I won’t have a horse that will purposefully kick people. So there’s my tale concerning the way that judicious walloping CAN (in the case of the horse that needs it) be the right path to a happy horse/human partnership.
            I know not everybody will agree with this approach and I’m quite happy to hear dissenting points of view. Fire away.

26 comments:

Pattie said...

Like kids each horse is different and requires different methods of discipline. What works for a passive, easy going child or horse will not work for an in your face, limit pusher child or horse.

Walloping when done right IS an effective tool for both horses and people. Today people seem to forget that.


Sonny is that way because of your refusal to back down. You did a good job.

Laura Crum said...

Thanks for the comment, Pattie. With horses, I believe the trick to successful "walloping" is to be clear that the horse is defiant, rather than scared or confused. Walloping will only do harm in the latter case. Certain sensitive horses shouldn't EVER be walloped, or even scolded harshly. Gentle corrections are enough. And finally, the person doing the walloping must be free from anger--just walloping a horse cause that is what is needed in this particular situation.

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

Yep, I am a firm believer in the 'you are being a jacka** and need to stop it right now' walloping technique. It's the best remedy in the world for a horse that 'knows'.

What so many horse owners don't seem to realize is that it's only the really dumb and/or lazy horses that won't ever try to push the boundaries. Smart horses are the ones that are always testing, testing, testing. You can only remind them so many times before you have to open a can of 'whoopa**'. Generally they freak out for a second of two, act like you are killing them and then it is all over and you are back on solid ground and can get back to work.

Laura Crum said...

BEC--That is SO true about smart horses. And yeah, they do start out acting like you are killing poor little old them when you wallop them...and then they give it up and do what you were previously asking them to do...quite calmly. That's how I know I'm on the right track.

Thanks for the comment!

AareneX said...

Laura, I swear that you spy on me and write what I'm thinking!

Last week my friend Patty borrowed Hana so we could ride in the hills. The woman who *has* been riding Hana is rather timid (she's improving) and Hana definitely has the woman's number. Patty, however, was raised on a horse farm. When Hana refused to back up out of the trailer, Patty gave her three good whangs with the end of the rein and That. Horse. Scooted. Out. Of. The. TRAILER! As you say, she didn't need training, she needed leadership.

Fee was a different kettle of worms. She had gotten *some* decent training somewhere, but enforcement was sporadic and she had learned that she could sometimes get away with biting and kicking. For even thinking those thoughts I walloped her and it has taken YEARS...I still sometimes see her thinking an evil thought (the ears betray her, they are huge and communicate clearly!) and she gets walloped.

When we are riding in a group, she still wants to kick...for that, she gets her ear whanged: a quick-but-painful zing across the top of her ear tip. The joke among the Usual Suspects is that I have "ninja fingers" because when Fiddle thinks a bad thought, I will raise up my hand and wiggle my fingers in warning and she will stop thinking the wickedness. Constant vigilance! (but spaying her has helped some, too...some of her wickedness was hormone-driven).

Alison said...

Relish and Belle have never needed walloping, but training Ziggy the new pup has required lots of "alpha dog" behavior on my part, which has required some retraining for me. I wish I had read up on it for Jake, who would have benefited as well. So yup, I get the 'need to assert oneself' with any pack or herd animal. Certainly a wallop with a lead rope is nothing compared to the flying hooves of a pissed off lead mare.

Kate said...

You already know I disagree - I think alpha/dominance stuff is just mumbo jumbo and has very little to do with horses or effective horse training. Remember that just because something works that doesn't mean it's right or justified - there are a lot of things done to and with horses that work (to some degree), but that isn't the only requirement in my book. I just think punishment/negative reinforcement is not a very good training tool - it's a blunt instrument, very often misused and involves treating the horse with disrespect (which other people watching then learn and imitate in their handling of horses) - and yes, I do believe that horses should respect me too - it's a two-way street - my horses don't walk all over me or push me around, but I get there by a different road. So I'll just keep doing things the way I believe is right - for me, and also, and most importantly, for the horses.

jenj said...

So, so true. I have one, Cash, that you can never do more than gently correct. Otherwise, he gets so tense and nervous that he just falls apart. I have actually encouraged "misbehaviors" (like grazing while riding) to get him out of his shell and let him be a little more assertive. Oberon, on the other hand, won't listen to anything less than a wallop. This morning he tried to walk out of the stall while I brought in the wheelbarrow, and I kneed him in the chest and yelled at him. He moved much faster than he used to - he's definitely getting the idea that I mean BUSINESS and I'm going to back up my threats.

It's all about knowing how to handle the horse in front of you. Great post!

Laura Crum said...

Aarene--I really admire you for what you have done with Fiddle. I would not have had the patience or desire to work with such a horse. Sunny was a much easier "fix." But you have done such a good job getting Fee to be a useful horse...and she works for you. That's great.

Alison--You are so right. It is pretty much impossible to hurt a horse with the soft end of a leadrope, unless you hit him in the eye--which I am very careful about.

Kate--I'm always happy to have someone disagree. It makes it much more interesting. I know you use different methods and they work for you. The proof is in the pudding. If your horse does what you need/want him to do and you feel safe riding/working with him/her, that's great. My Sunny horse would probably have tried very hard to dominate an owner who wasn't willing to be as tough as I was. He had done this to his previous owners. But since we can't run a test where the same horse is subjected to different methods and we see the respective results, we'll never know. Note that my Sunny horse meets me at the gate to be caught. That should tell you that what I am doing works for him and that he does not feel "disrespected."

Thanks, jenj. I think you and I are on the same page.

Francesca Prescott said...

Right, so, Laura: about getting a horse into a trailer without kicking up a fuss. How do you go about it? Qrac can load like a flower, or he can muck around and jump sideways, and prance and generally be a total pain in the you know what. I'm never sure he's going to load, in fact it's got to the point where I dread having to load him in case he misbehaves. And when I'm alone trying to load him, he seems more and more inclined to misbehave. What would you do if you were alone with a horse who knows how to load but leads you a song and dance? Do you make him circle in front of the trailer, forcing him to move his feet until he's fed up and loads to get out of being made to circle? My farrier gave him a good whack on the rump the last time I was over there because he was being a right pain in the behind. He loaded pretty fast. But when I'm alone, I can't exactly wallop him on the rump. So I'd love some good advice, as I have to go to the farrier on Friday afternoon!

Laura Crum said...

Cesca--I'm not advising that you do this--because I don't know your horse. But I have had to deal with a horse that knew how to load just fine and wouldn't one day--cause he didn't want to. He was not afraid and he'd been hauled lots. I made sure he could see me put hay in the trailer, and when he still wouldn't load, I walloped him with the leadrope (in the shoulder) and asked him again. Then we had a right little dust up in which he first got much worse and tried to bull through me, and I kept walloping and pulling his head around for awhile. This looks like going in circles in front of the trailer, but I'm pulling his head around hard and walloping him in the shoulder or rump, whatever I can reach. This took maybe five minutes. At the end of which time we were both out of breath and the horse was quite willing to stand still. Then I asked him to get in the trailer and he stepped in like a gentleman and put head under my arm. He never refused to load again.

But...be careful how you try this with a stallion. They are different, and once you get them on the fight it can be bad. If it were me, I would try to have someone there to help me. It sounds like just one person who could wallop Qrac on the butt would do it. Surely someone in your barn would help you?

Laura Crum said...

Cesca--Sunny's loading issue was solved over time. We always feed hay in the trailer, and usually there are two of us to load. One leads the horse in and the other is quite willing/able to wallop on the rump with the leadrope if needed. Sunny went from willing to kick, to slowly but reliably getting on, and now loads and unloads easily. I think feeding hay in the trailer is key. The horse needs a positive reason to want to load, as well as being clear that refusing to load won't work in his favor. The trailer itself must be comfortable for the horse, as well. Many horses won't load because they hate being hauled. Often this can be solved with a more comfortable trailer. (I am taking it for granted you don't drive too fast--this can really put horses off being hauled.) We use a three horse slant and every horse that is with us awhile loads and unloads easily.

Laura Crum said...

One other comments on loading. A long leadrope (LONG, like a lungeline length) run through the tie ring at the front of the trailer (so you can stand behind the horse and encourage him), with the trailer parked next to a barn wall, will, if you have enough time, enable you to load pretty much any horse.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

I can see both sides of this issue.

My sweet, somewhat lazy but super smart horse figured out that I was a cautious, un-confident new horse owner shortly after I brought him home. And he tried to take over.

It has been imperative a few times for me to put the fear of god into him...

Even more imperative was how we came to jesus. He needed to think his life could be on the line, and I needed to convince him of this with absolutely no emotion, no anger, whatsoever.

When the correction is over, we're friends again and we move forward - no holding grudges.

Also critical is developing the eye for his body language so the timing of corrections - of the release of the correction - is perfect.

All of this has taken time, but as you related, when I do have to correct anymore, the tone of my voice, or a tug on the lead line is all that's necessary.

I guess what I'm saying is maybe it's not that strong corrections are or aren't necessary, but if you feel they are - how you employ them...

Laura Crum said...

CFS--I totally agree with what you are saying. I'm pretty sure there's nothing in my post that would imply that I disagree with what you said here, so I'm not sure I understand "seeing both sides." You just agreed with me that some horses need these "come to jesus meetings". Certainly I agree about the being friends afterwards--and I think my post shows that Sunny and I are friends. Understanding body language is key--its what I meant by saying that a lifetime with horses has taught me to sort out the horse that needs walloping from the horse that doesn't. And many horses do not need this sort of thing. So I would say that you and I are on the same page. If I've misread you, feel free to say so.

Francesca Prescott said...

Laura: I always have hay in the trailer, also carrots, and even a little bit of grain for extra enticing! I've made apple trails up the ramp...well, almost, you get the idea! He's followed me in with a carrot, but maybe he gets too many carrots now and can go without one more! I'd just like him to walk right in, to be able to show him the ramp, ask him to walk up and to be able to throw the rope over his withers, like my friend does with her horse. Qrac unloads this way no problem, really slow and carefully. I think my trailer is quite comfortable, it's a two horse trailer, not a slant as those tend to be too heavy for regular cars to pull. I know slant trailers are more comfortable, but I don't have a massive Mercedes, or a Jeep, or one of those huge American gas guzzlers!!! I drive slowly, and I'm always careful going around roundabouts, corners, over sleeping policemen, etc.

Yes, the circling in front of the trailer pulling the head around sounds like the loading lesson Qrac had with a "swiss cowboy" a few months ago, except he didn't wallop him, just made him turn until he was sick of it. Also, he pulled on the lead rope and then released the pressure as soon as my horse moved forwards or released the pressure himself. It's a good method and my trainer has used this guy with many of her clients' horses. I'm going to have him come back asap, but have to wait until mid-october as he's going to a cowboy/horsey meeting in the US. I need him to come three days running, to make sure the lesson is assimilated, then load Qrac for a few minutes every day without going anywhere, just to get him really used to it. It should work, right?!

I've used the lunge line method too, it works, just takes more than one person. Anyway, thanks for the tips! If you, or anyone else has anymore please share :)

Laura Crum said...

Cesca--The long line method doesn't need two people. You run the long line that is clipped to your horse's halter through the ring at the front of the trailer where you will tie him and then back out the rear of the trailer. Now you are standing behind your horse, holding the rope. Hopefully you have a barn wall or at least a fence on one side, and the rope down the other. You encourage your horse to load by gentle indications with the rope, clucking...etc. If he doesn't load you use a whip to tap him. You don't try to pull him in. You keep him facing the trailer with the long line, that's all. Just be persistent about getting after him from behind. Not too hard, just persistent. Make it unpleasant for him to refuse to load. Most horses who know how will step in pretty quick. At that point you take the slack out of the rope so it doesn't get tangled around his feet, and shut the trailer door. Then you walk around to the front, reach in through the window, unclip the long line and reattach the lead rope and voila.

Val said...

I understand what you are saying, although the only horse's that I have truly had to wallop were Fjords and a Perch cross, both cold breeds and trying to walk on top of me or someone else. My horse, Harley, does not require such strong reminders, but I did give him a smart slap on the hindquarter when I first got him, because he scraped his leg and didn't want to hold it still while I cleaned it. I barely new him, but his behavior screamed "bluff". I slapped him and told him to knock it off with a lot of energy. That doesn't sound very elegant, but he stood like a statue for the remainder of his leg cleaning and has never fussed with that sort of thing since.

Joyce Reynolds-Ward said...

No arguments from me--I'd have done the same thing, and have.

Calm, Forward, Straight said...

Oh - did I not support my first sentence well enough?

What I was saying is that I can understand Kate's point of view - there is a difference between fear and respect - and frankly, walloping might be an off-putting word choice...

As long as walloping = strong correction with temper in check, I think it can be an appropriate strategy, especially where safety is a concern.

It's not either / or, but how...

Laura Crum said...

Val--That is a perfect description of the kind of horse that needs walloping. Cold-blooded and trying to walk on top of a person. That would be Sunny when I got him. Such horses can be GREAT when they learn to respect their human--the cold blooded aspect becomes calm, solid-minded responses. A more sensitive reactive horse just doesn't need that strong a correction under any circumstances. It fries his mind and he is the worse for it. It sounds like you have Harley figured out.

Joyce--Yes, I think a lot of us have had to do this with specific horses that needed it.

CFS--I see. Well, that is the line. A horse that is truly fearful should not be walloped, and I chose that word purposefully. First because if I write pleasant posts with nothing controversial in them very little discussion ensues and discussion is fun. Second because the word is playful, unlike the words "beat" or "whip". Nothing I did hurt Sunny or damaged him in any way, and I wanted to convey this.

When you say that it was imperative to put the fear of god in your horse--well, there is that word fear again. It is my opinion that our horses do have to be a tiny bit afraid to cross us--that is what respect amounts to in a horse. Many horses just respond to humans this way naturally. Other horses, especially once they become older and "get" the human/horse relationship, start testing. Those are the ones that need reprimands. I think the true test of whether a reprimand was appropriate is the horse's behavior afterward. If the horse understands the reprimand and it is effective, the horse will not seem upset when it is all done. Mostly they want to get close to you and connect. If the horse seems flinchy and afraid of you, he was the wrong horse to reprimand.

Laura Crum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jenj said...

"I think the true test of whether a reprimand was appropriate is the horse's behavior afterward. If the horse understands the reprimand and it is effective, the horse will not seem upset when it is all done. Mostly they want to get close to you and connect. If the horse seems flinchy and afraid of you, he was the wrong horse to reprimand. "

THIS!!!!

Laura Crum said...

Thanks, jenj. I'm glad you agree.

White Horse Pilgrim said...

Interesting post and comments. I have a mare who definately does not take to being whacked with the end of a lead rope. (A little tickling tap about the middle is OK, like a rider tapping with the heels.) If whacked she will just become more stubborn and pissy in not doing what is asked. In her case (and I am assuming that she represents a particular type of equine personality) it is patience that works. Such as: 'OK, you won't load, so I shall just tie you to the bar in the trailer with a long rope and wait'. After a while waiting doesn't seem so interesting and in she goes like a lamb. When she is asserting that stubborn streak, no rope around her butt, no-one behind with a whip, nothing will get her to move forward. Passing 'scary' obstacles can be like that. Wait a bit and next thing she wants to graze around the 'frightening' object. Is she just taking the piss? Is there a bit of draught horse slowness at work? Or does it just take a little whle for the tantrum to wear off?

I've just had the one stallion to ride, and he could be variable about loading. Getting him back on track required obedience training - groundwork in giving to pressure to move forward and backwards, to circle, etc got him atuned again to listen to the human. I had another pair of stallions for draught work too: we never travelled these. Much seems to depend on gaining an essential respect so that the stallion listens rather than taking charge. It helped a great deal that my three were kept in daily work: less surplus energy, a regular routine and plenty of opportunity to remind them who was in charge.

I have a book by Ulrich Schramm, a former cavalry soldier who became a trainer, in which he tells of an occasion when he had to give a recalcitrant mount a really good whacking to make it comply. He had to: the Red Army was approaching and he needed the horse to escape on. Sometimes a good whacking is necessary. It just depends on the horse.

Laura Crum said...

WHP--I think that is the bottom line. "It just depends on the horse." As I said in the post, I have three horses on my place that I NEVER whack--I don't even raise my voice to them. As you say with Brena, patience goes further with some horses. I have known stallions who got on the fight when whacked and they became MORE stubborn. I am certainly not saying that walloping a horse is always the answer. In fact, Sunny is the only horse I have ever had who needed fairly regular walloping for a year or two. But now, no more. I am pleased to say that yesterday he took his wormer paste like a gentleman--we have come to a place where he cooperates with me readily. But walloping was the way we got here--and I think it is instructive to note that there ARE horses like this. Again, as I said in the post, Sunny had a lot of bad habits when I got him--and they were all about trying to dominate his human handlers. He was just the sort of horse that needed to be shown that he could NOT dominate--and I actually think he found this process very reassuring.