Horse as Teacher
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Groundwork Exercises for Gentling (Part 3 of 3)


This exercise is specifically aimed at teaching your horse to stay calm and relaxed if he gets caught in wire. You will need an assistant for the second half of this exercise. Start by placing the loop of your lariat around the pastern of one of his front legs. Hold the lead rope with one hand while using your other hand to apply pressure to the lariat. When your horse allows you to move his foot forward with the lariat, release the pressure, and pet him. Repeat this process and move his foot a little further forward each time. Eventually you should be able to lead your horse by his front foot. Repeat this exercise on the other front foot.

Next you want to teach your horse to yield his back feet in response to pressure on the rope. It’s a good idea to wear leather gloves and chaps to prevent rope burns and bruises for this exercise. Have your assistant take a loop of the lead rope around a stout fence post and stand on the opposite side of the fence or use a long rope so he can stand more than a horse body length from where your horse is tied. Now place the loop of your lariat around one of your horse’s back pasterns. Stand about 15 feet away from your horse and gently apply pressure at a 30 degree angle out behind your horse. Ask him to pick his foot off the ground in response to pressure from the rope. His first reaction will probably be to kick violently to free his foot. This is exactly the action that causes such severe injury when a horse gets caught in wire. Don’t try to stop your horse from kicking but keep enough tension on the rope that your horse can’t kick the loop off. Release the rope as soon as your horse stops kicking. Again ask your horse to yield his foot and relax the rope at the slightest response, such as resting the foot on the toe and letting you drag it backward. Your goal is to have your horse lift each back foot in response to the rope pressure and to hold his foot up with no resistance. This may take several sessions so be patient. In addition to preventing injury, this exercise also helps your horse learn how to balance on three legs.

Why Groundwork?

I’ve listed only a few of the many exercises you can do with your horse in preparation for saddle training or as a review on days when you can’t ride. Not only will your horse develop more self-confidence but he will learn to trust you as well!

About the author

Madalyn Ward, DVM, owns Bear Creek Veterinary Clinic in Austin, Texas. She is certified in Veterinary Homeopathy and Equine Osteopathy. Memberships include American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, Texas Veterinay Medical Association and the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy. She has authored several books and publishes the monthly newsletter, “Holistic Horsekeeping.”

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