Sometimes horses just have a bad day, but other times horses get like we do when we need a vacation. When your horse sours on his job, how can you change your horse's attitude?
Josh Lyons changes his horse's attitude by applying two earlier lessons. He uses the principles of correcting the horse's thought instead of his action and getting the horse to do his job in a way to solve any type of sour problem, from a refusal to go into the arena to refusals to leave a buddy or go onto the trail.
"If a horse doesn't want to go into the ring, he's either mad about it or nervous about it," Josh said. "So we already know the thought-he doesn't want to go into the ring."
Josh suggested that our first job is to consider whether there's anything that we're doing to cause him to feel that way. Perhaps we're too aggravating with our cue, or maybe we're tense and sending him confusing or demanding signals.
"Next, we have to find the motivator," Josh continued. "How can we get that horse to quit his own job, which is trying not to get into the ring, and to work for us by going into the ring?"
Josh does it by working the horse outside of the arena. By asking the horse to perform several maneuvers - in other words, work hard - Josh gets the horse to look forward to going into the ring, where he won't have to work as hard.
"After 15 or 20 minutes, I'll head him toward the ring and I'll let go," Josh said. "If he goes into the ring, or even goes up and stops by the ring, I'll let him rest for a few minutes to let him know that approaching the ring was a good thing. I don't scold him because he stopped."
Josh then repeats the procedure, working the horse outside of the ring and bringing him back toward the ring.
"I don't want to kick him into the ring," Josh said. "I want him to want to go into that ring. As he's going toward the ring, if he stops, I give him a break, turn him around, take him away from the ring and work him 15-20 more minutes, assuming that's not too hard for him at his level of training or condition. After two, maybe three times tops, the horse won't stop. He'll actually pull you into the ring because he thinks he can rest in there."
Eventually, you should go back to working the horse in the ring. While you may think this will make the problem recur immediately, Josh has found that it doesn't.
"Once you get that 'want to' attitude built, it doesn't matter what lesson you're doing," Josh said. "Your horse will try harder. You've made him think, 'Is that all you want? Heck, I can do that.'
"It's not that you'll never have to teach the lesson again. It's just that the time in between the corrections gets longer. At first it might take you an hour before you have to correct him again. The second time it might be two days. The third time might be four days. The fifth time might be a week. The sixth time might be a month. You're always going to have to do it. It's just that the time in between corrections gets longer."
You can also use this principle in such situations as when your horse refuses to leave a buddy or refuses to go out on the trail. You work on exercises you want to improve anyway, gradually getting the horse farther away from his buddy or farther out on the trail. You've figured out his thought and changed his focus to the job that you're asking him to do.
But what about those days when your horse is just in a bad mood? Maybe he didn't get as much breakfast as he thought he should. Or he spent all night talking to the new horse in the barn.
Why he's cranky doesn't matter, assuming that he's healthy and not sore.
"There are two emotions involved when you're working a horse," Josh said. "There's the horse's emotion and your emotion. You can't let the horse's emotions become yours. Somebody's going to move, no matter what. Either I'm going to pick up the horse's attitude, or the horse is going to adopt mine."
The key, of course, is to convince the horse to do the moving. As Josh puts it, we, in effect, tell the horse, "I can see you're having a bad day. But that doesn't mean I'm going to have a bad day."
Realize that while it's okay for your horse to have a bad day, you're not going to give into his emotions and lose your temper. Instead, work on maneuvers, such as serpentines, that give you better control over your horse.
"We think that one exercise has to be for barn sour, another exercise has to be for ring sour and another exercise has to be for horses in a bad mood," Josh said. "But it's not that way. You can do any exercise you want. It doesn't make a difference. Working on any exercise improves the horse's performance, which earns him a reward, and that improves his attitude."
Ironically, once you've successfully worked through your horse's bad day, you'll often find that the two of you work better than ever together the next day.
"The next day the horse may be amazingly better, but you don't know why," Josh said. "Well, it's because of the day before. Even though you thought you had a bad day, you really got a lot accomplished and you got a lot better control of your horse. So those bad days are really good days because you get more accomplished than you think. It might not feel that way that day, but it will feel that way tomorrow."
Josh's three-step lesson can help you solve many problems with your horse.
1. Focus on the horse's thought and correct the thought before it becomes an incorrect action.
2. Offer your horse enough incentive so that he'll come to work for you instead of against you.
3. Apply those two principles to your "sour" problems by anticipating his thought and giving him enough work to do that he will focus on the work and not the problem.
These three steps will keep your horse's blue Mondays down to a minimum so that the two of you can enjoy your time together.