The same routine and requests were made at breakfast. I had to teach this morning so my husband fed. He reported Phil did move away from the food dish willingly, but still bobbed his head around when my husband, Dan, attempted to pet his forehead. The head bobbing is not from head shyness, it is from impatience. Dan has implemented a rub on the forehead when Phil acknowledges him (both eyes). I will make sure I follow up the routine and do the same. It is so important when teaching new tasks (and keeping the old tasks) that everyone who interacts with your horse does the exact same thing.
Today’s lesson: Haltering.
I really would like to take the time to write about this overlooked task. I would say that almost everyone halters their horse incorrectly. Haltering incorrectly is essentially very disrespectful to your horse. I talk a lot about the horse respecting humans; however humans must also respect their horses. Let me give you the usual scenario: The handler unsnaps the convenient throat latch snap, lurches the halter up to their horses muzzle, the horse usually is lifting his head to get away from the noseband of the halter that is being shoved into his nostril at this point. The handler reaches, stretches on their tiptoes and finally shoves the crownpiece over the horse’s ears, completely smashing his ears. Now, take a minute, and imagine a really tight turtleneck that you are trying to pull down over your head. An ear is caught and pulled down as the unforgiving fabric squeezes your head. That is really uncomfortable, isn’t it? Your thoroughbred may have been ear twitched at the track or just may be really sensitive like Phil. This is really rude to your horse. Here is how handlers should respectfully halter. I’ll use Phil for my example. Phil, like your thoroughbreds stand very tall, they can crane their necks even higher. I have been teaching Phil the head down cue. We practice this exercise every day. Today I looped the lead over his neck, tied the ends into a cavalry knot so he could not step on the lead. Using the lead behind his ears I applied gentle pressure and lowered my body to signal head down. He lowered his head and I held the halter out in front of his nose. The crown buckle was unbuckled. Standing on Phil’s left side I reached under his cheek with my right arm and tipped his nose towards me. I am teaching Phil to lower his head into the halter and reach for the halter which is held in my space. Yes, I did say I invited him into my space. If you chase your horse’s head and have to reach for him, you have just put your horse in control of the situation. Your horse should tip his nose to you and drop his head into the halter. It is easy to buckle the crown piece on a horse with a lowered head. Phil was pretty obliging to this today; I was impressed. As you can see, I build on all the little exercises everyday to perform the basic daily tasks. Head down cue is used for everything from de worming to calming your horse. Don’t forget to also halter your horse on the right side.
Elizabeth has asked for some pictures. I brought Phil out of his round pen to groom him. I have an outbuilding that I use as my tack room. It has a covered grooming bay with cross ties. I was told Phil didn’t have any issues with cross ties, but I approached the situation like I would be introducing this restraint for the first time. I attached one tie with a panic strap and held the lead. Phil pawed, jumped around, and pulled on the cross tie. I untied him and started driving him around, changing directions frequently. I used this to get Phil to focus on me. Once he stopped and acknowledged (both eyes) me I stopped. I walked him back to the grooming bay. Phil balked and I immediately sent him moving backward with a purpose. He balked 3 more times and each time I sent him back a further distance. Remember, the better your horse backs up, the better he does everything else. As I mentioned previously backing is a submissive move. The 5th attempt to go back to the bay Phil quietly walked behind me and stood like a gentleman. Phil figured out it was much more difficult to scurry backwards down my driveway than to leisurely walk to the bay going forward. This was a huge break through.
Since Phil was fairly anxious being tied I tied him to a tie blocker outside the arena. He pulled on the lead, jigged, and tossed his head. My conclusion is that Phil is NOT halter broke. A halter broke horse is a breeze to halter, will lead willingly under any condition, can be caught anywhere, and stands quiet while tied. Most horses are not halter broke. You may have been riding your horse for years and he is not halter broke. I know I may have “stepped on some toes” with that statement, but think about it for a minute.
I asked him to walk through a narrow chute and he didn’t even think about it. Phil is validating my original diagnosis that the key to Phil is earning his respect. Phil and I did some ground exercises for the photos and I was very happy with his willingness and lightness. I even let my 10 year old daughter do some ground work with Phil.
While we were in the arena Phil took every opportunity to jerk his head to snack on grass. This is a personal choice for owners. I feel my horses get to graze all day and the least they can do is work for me on the end of the lead rope or reins for an hour or so out of their day. This is also an annoying behavior to me because I don’t like the lead or reins jerked from my hands.
Dinner time: What a break through today at dinner! I entered Phil’s pen and he backed away from the dish allowed me to pour the feed and pet him on the forehead. I walked out of the gate and then returned. Phil immediately lifted his head, acknowledged (both eyes) me and backed from the dish! Awesome! The biggest reward I could give Phil was to leave him alone.
Phil has given me several long glances today and I can see his eye softening. This is absolutely wonderful. He hardly whinnies for the herd. I heard him only twice today.