April 7, 2016
Horse Wrecks! (Part 1: How to avoid them)
Horse Wrecks: How to avoid them
Step 1 – Hobble Training
Art by: Will James
Starting a colt can be one of the most rewarding experiences for a horseman. It’s truly a magical thing taking a wild herd animal with intense instincts telling it to run or even fight, and within a few short lessons, being able to build its trust and confidence and make it a partner. One moment it’s trying to flee for its life and the next, you’re loping around in the arena and teaching it new things.
Still, we’ve all witnessed disasters when starting a horse. Almost always, these wrecks can be avoided with patience and proper horsemanship. Understanding that we are dealing with a herd animal as opposed to a domesticated dog or cat is key. More than anything, the horse wants to flee.
Horse training at its basic core level is teaching the animal to deal with certain limits of confinement. In other words, every part of its training, from the beginning to the end is designed to have the animal overcome its instincts and trust the cues given to it. For example, at some point I will teach the animal to move away from leg pressure. Instinctually, a horse wants to lean into pressure. It takes a big leap of faith on the animal’s part to learn to move away from the cue, not into it. In other words, a horse has to ignore its biological impulses and not only accept the new limits I’ve set for it, but learn to respond to the cue in a manner that the rider is expecting.
How do we achieve this shift in a horse’s view of the world? It starts with the first day that we work with a colt. Of course, every horse is different, and it takes a great deal of experience to learn to “read” the signals a horse is telling us through its body language. This is where your job as the trainer becomes complicated as you have to earn the horse’s respect as well as his trust.
Hobble training (hobble breaking) a horse is one of the first steps I take in achieving this mental shift. What it entails is loosely tying the front legs together to prevent the horse from being able to run away. I have essentially taken away his primary instinct and required him to turn to me for assistance.
Several safety precautions must be taken before trying this. First, I’ve handled the colt. Since every horse is different, some are spookier or more belligerent than others, I make sure there is some level of trust already. I can lead the horse. In many cases I’ve already worked with the animal on a lunge line. I would never pull a colt right out of pasture and hobble him. I’m trying to not make this a traumatic experience. I want to horse to learn from this.
So once I’ve decided the colt is ready to be hobbled, I use a soft leather hobble or a burlap sack cloth to avoid any skin abrasions. Also, I’ll hobble them for the first time in my round pen in soft sand. I’ll hold onto the lead rope to support them. These precautions prevent injury and allow the horse to learn from the procedure.
The benefits to hobble breaking a horse are tremendous. The immediate aids it provides are clear. The horse has to stand still as you work with it. When you begin sacking him out or saddling him for the first time, for example, he cannot flee. He has to stand and work with you. Next, if he were to ever get cast in his stall or have a foot trapped in a wire, he wouldn’t thrash himself to death trying to break free. Hobbling will have taught him to remain calm until help arrives. This also make your shoer’s life much easier and he will be more willing to hold a foot still while its being worked on. Most importantly, hobbling is the first important step in training your herd animal to ignore its instincts and work with you.