Horsey Therapist

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Someone asked for advice...

On a yahoo list I'm on, someone asked for advice about getting a colt used to a lead rope. Two people responded with thoughts about getting colt used to wearing a lead rope on his halter. I thought the question was asking for help getting him used to being led and otherwise handled with a lead rope. This is what I wrote:

I'd think about having him in an area a bit smaller than the length of your lead rope, so this might mean a large stall or a small paddock with a longggggg lead rope, but be careful you never get fingers and legs tangled in it.

My reasoning for this is so that your colt can learn to come off pressure without you being in a situation where you might feel it necessary to put pressure on him. Imagine you're introducing being led, which requires an understanding how to come off pressure, in a large area and he gets moving faster than you can for any sort of reason, and you end up either dropping the lead and worrying like heck about the outcome, or you end up pulling on his head at a time when he is already worried and moving and doesn't yet understand what that confinement and pressure mean.

Now, forget that image because it's best to have images of success when you're training a horse! In any case, he will learn about coming off pressure very quickly IF he's not frightened in the process.

And start with asking him to move off to one side or the other, not straight ahead. So, let's say you are standing off from his left shoulder or hip and asking him to bring his head and body around to the left. Start taking up some slack in the lead rope and when he shows you the earliest sign that he's thinking, wondering about what is wanted, take a little break. A second or two. Then ask again. He will experiment to see what it is you want of him, to see what is the meaning of the activity in the lead rope and the changes in your body.

Give him credit for experimenting even if his 'answer' isn't right yet. So he puts his head down or to the right -- allow that at first. At some point he'll bring his head to the left and then you take a bigger break from the lesson. Within an amazingly short time, he will know what to do when you start taking the slack out of the lead rope. Soon enough he will rearrange his body by moving his feet so he's stepping toward the left like you originally wanted, for example. It's all a lesson in how to release himself from pressure, and the pressure does not have to be obvious, direct pressure to be effective in communicating with him.

Then do the same process on the right.

I like to keep these sessions very short but repeat them frequently and then build on that. It will be different if the wind is blowing or a stranger is watching or you name it. Once he's really certain about what you are asking, then see about going to a less contained situation but be prepared that the changes may unsettle him. Just so you don't frighten him and undermine his confidence in you that you've been building. At some point scary things will be part of what he understands but I wouldn't start there.

Sounds like a lot of fun -- do enjoy the process. There is so much to learn with a young animal.

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