Tip #1: Fix the cause, not the symptoms.
The majority of horse “problems” (such as bucking, rearing, biting, and pawing) aren’t really problems at all; they’re really just symptoms of a cause. Seventy to eighty percent of all the problems you’ll ever have to deal with as a horse owner will fix themselves if you do the ground work and earn your horse’s respect.
Don’t become so focused on your horse’s undesirable behavior that they you can’t see what’s actually causing it. It’s like a weed growing in the ground. You can chop it off with a weed whacker, but two weeks later, it’ll grow right back, because the root system is still intact. To kill the weed, you need to pour weed killer on it to kill the root system. When you kill the roots, the weed will die.
It’s the same thing when training horses. Any problem that a horse could possibly have comes from either a lack of respect or fear, or in some cases, both.
Tip #2: Train both sides of the horse.
Horses have two sides to their brains: the left brain and the right brain. Each side of your horse’s brain is like a completely separate horse. You’ve got Lefty and you’ve got Righty. Horses hear, smell, think and react differently on each side of their brain.
Whatever you do on one side of your horse, you have to do on the other. Just because you desensitize or sensitize your horse to pressure on one side of his body, it doesn’t mean that he’ll automatically understand what to do when you move to his other side. To have a well-balanced, responsive horse, you have to act like you own two separate horses.
Tip #3: Balance out your training.
To balance your horse so that both sides of his body are equally relaxed and responsive, spend two-thirds of your time working on his bad side (the side that’s stiffer, pushier, or more reactive), and one-third of your time working on his good side.
For instance, if your horse is spookier on his right side, then spend two-thirds of your time desensitizing that side of his body. Or, if he’s really stiff when you ask him to flex his head and neck to the left, spend two-thirds of your time practicing the exercise on the left side of his body.
Eventually, both sides will even out, so that you’ll have a calm, respectful horse, whether you’re standing on his right side or left side.
You’ll find that your horse’s good side and bad side will switch on and off. Once you have him desensitized well on the right side, he might be worse on his left side, and vice-versa. It’s always going to be a bit of a balancing act.
Clinton Anderson grew up in Queensland, Australia, learning to ride as a teenager and training with many of his country’s top horsemen. In 1997, he relocated to the United States to perfect his Downunder Horsemanship program. Under Anderson’s guidance, horses learn to respect and respond to their handlers, developing willing partnerships. To learn more about Downunder Horsemanship, Clinton Anderson Walkabout Tours, and more, visit www.downunderhorsemanship.com.