Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Punisment Must Fit The Crime

From the time I was a little girl, I was always told that you had three seconds to correct a horse or else he would not associate the correction with the behavior. The correction had to be quick, brief and fitting for the misbehavior. In short, the punishment for a misbehavior had to fit the "crime" committed and neither be too harsh or too soft for the situation.

Having said that, I am a very, very patient person when it comes to training my horses. I've been working with unbroke and greenbroke horses since I was 13 years old and over all of these years I have cultivated my patience and learned what is acceptable for horses at a certain training level and more importantly, what isn't.

Johnny has been testing my patience for the past couple of months. Ever since he first came to school, he's been apprehensive about the garage door at the end of the arena (note that there are garage doors at both ends of the arena, but just one bothers him) He walks past it just fine. He has examined the door itself and all of the jumps piled at the end of the ring numerous upon numerous times. He's not actually afraid of any of it. He would sleep there if you let him, but tracking to the left, he refuses to bend into that corner. His aversion got worse after winter break, but with weeks of work he has finally learned to bend into the corner and walk and trot. For weeks and weeks, I've been working on getting him to bend through that corner at the canter, and each time he drops his shoulder and tries to run off.

Last night, my patience ran thin. After him bolting away from the door every time when I put my inside leg on, I finally lost it with him. I cantered him past it again, nicely applied my inside leg, massaged the inside rein to supple his mouth and opened the outside rein a bit to give him somewhere to go. What did he do? Drop his shoulder, spin away from the corner and BOLT off down the long side.
No. Way.
Like I've said, I'm super patient with my horses. I don't like to punish them when they are trying to be good, but that was just the problem with Johnny. He hasn't been really trying at all. Instead, he was starting to jeopardize my safety when he spun and bolted all the time. I've put up with it for months with forgiving corrections, but not anymore.

When he bolted I slammed my heels down, sat back and pulled-reined his face. Instead of stopping, he flung his head up (almost breaking my nose...thank god for his standing martingale) and tried to take off AGAIN. I spun him in a circle to the inside where he flung his haunches out and tried to jump sideways. I corrected him with my legs and made him stand quietly. Then I turned him across the ring and circled back around past the door. AGAIN he bolted. I slammed him to a stop again, this time backed him up halfway across the ring, then let him stand quietly. Circled across the ring and tried again. He bolted. This time, I wasn't nice about it. I pulley reined his face, spun him, slammed my inside leg into him and actually yelled at him to "get over!" and half passed him to the rail. I was not happy. He wasn't scared, wasn't being pushed too hard or too fast, he just wasn't listening. At all. The next time past the door I literally had to "dressage" him past the corner to make him bend and keep the rhythm of his canter. He definitely knew he was in trouble. I finally made my point and the next time he cantered past the door quietly, bending nicely to the inside.

E was riding Emmy while this all happened. As I was walking Johnny out (we went back to trotting for another 20 minutes to reward him and quiet him down) I asked her if she thought I had been to harsh with him. "Kate," she said "you've been nice to him for 4 months now. He bolted and almost just broke your nose. It's ridiculous. He's not scared, he canters finds all the other corners just fine. He was disobedient to you legs, seat and hands. Basically he just said "eff you" and took off every time you asked him nicely." She made a good point and helped to reinforce my thought process. Hopefully we won't ever have this problem again, but this time, the punishment definitely fit the crime.


  1. I'm such a creep. I was googling the region and found your blog. :3 But yeah, I love it though!

  2. Ahh! Lol I was wondering what you meant by that comment on my facebook! I haven't been on here in a few days! hehehe you can creep on me all you want! Glad you like it :)