by Ann Kirk
2020 is here and with it comes a year like no other. This virus that has attacked our nation and the world has changed our lives in ways we could not have imagined at the beginning of the year. It can be an anxious time for many and I pray this article will give you something to do with your horses that will give an outlet to the emotions of being separated from others and concerned for loved ones. We will continue where we left off last time with the sacking out process.
The term “sack out” refers to a process used to get the horse to calmly accept any reasonable amount of pressure, whether it comes from an object, your presence or your touch. You are going to use many objects around your horse in its lifetime and you will touch the horse in places that natural instinct demands he protect. Rather than just trying to overwhelm the horse until he submits, we will go through a process that allows the horse to accept things in stages so as to build confidence and trust in what we are doing. By doing this, we not only gain the benefit of making him feel safe about the particular object we are working with at the time, but we also teach the horse how we want him to respond to any new object or touch we might eventually approach him with.
This lesson is for the ‘trained’ and untrained horse. For the trained horse, this lesson can help you identify and eliminate small problem areas. If your horse is great except with ???, you can use this lesson to help him cope. For the untrained horse, it is the perfect way to create a solid foundation upon which to build your dream horse. You can follow this process to introduce any new item to your horse throughout its lifetime.
We left off with the first touch on the horse’s face at the end of the last article. You may find that your horse still has substantial fear and does not want to accept your touch. Take as much time as needed here. I can tell you from personal experience that skipping the layers of emotional training in the beginning can lead to injuries that will haunt you for the rest of your life. Be patient and know that the time it takes to build a solid foundation for confidence at this stage will speed the training time later.
The horse must be absolutely comfortable with having his head touched and handled. A head shy horse can hurt you when you least expect it and can be very dangerous to ride. I continue working with the horse to touch him on the face first. Only rarely will I touch the horse on the neck or shoulder first. In those rare cases, I use it as a starting point to get to the head.
When your horse will calmly allow you to pet it between the eyes with one hand and will turn and face you when you walk away, it is time to add more hands and more places. First I will add two hands to working the head before beginning to advance down the body. Then begin to work your way around the head, down the neck, sides and rump of your horse in small increments. Don’t stay too long before walking away and approaching again. As you progress, leave at different angles from the horse beginning with staying towards the front and progressing until you can walk almost directly behind him and he will turn and face. Also move to different parts of the pen when you walk away. Asking the horse to move his feet by turning to face you will keep him from becoming “locked up” in one place.
Every time you approach, it is the beginning of a new mini lesson. Every time you walk away, giving the horse a release, is the end of that mini lesson. So you can work for as long or as short as time allows and are never in a bad place to stop. By not staying too long before moving away, you are getting the horse better and better about being approached which can be scary for some horses.
A lot of horses that are hard to catch are really just afraid of being approached. We go out to get them with halter in hand and chase them, tease them, try to corner them until we can get the halter on. Then they act like they are totally comfortable with us. If training the emotions requires them to be raised some and then brought right back down, then up, then down, how many times does this standard way of catching your horse raise the emotions? Basically one time! And depending on how mad we get in the process, the emotions for both of us can get very high, stay up way too long and then only come down after we have caught the horse, (depending on how frustrated we are and how much we mistreat the horse once we’ve caught it!)
So a by product of doing the approach, rub with the hands and walk away many, many times as the horse learns to accept your approaching and catching him. As you go over his body from head to toe with many times of leaving and returning, he will probably even start following you and you will see big changes in his interest level. When he understands that you are looking for a specific response, he will do his best to find it to get more of your praise and attention.
A few words of caution need to be added. Some horses show no warning signs before they bite, strike or kick. Remember, you make the final decision as to whether or not you are going to work with your horse. If you know that your horse has some dangerous areas be sure to have someone watching you or get a professional to start the horse on these lessons.
You will be working from head to tail. Keep your body in a safe position. As you work toward the rear of the horse, you should pick up on signs of the horse being uneasy. Look for jumpiness, ear pinning, belly kicks, throwing the head, etc. If you see any negative behaviors, STOP and rethink the lesson before you continue. You may want to add a halter or bridle with a snaffle and lead line to have control of the nose and drive the hip away. Or you may want to use a long whip to start touching the hind legs at first to check for kicks. Whatever the case, do not put yourself in a compromising position.
Another thing to note is a horse who always seems to have his hind leg cocked on the side you are on. Usually we associate this with being very relaxed but you have to look at the whole horse. If other parts of the horse like the ears, level of the head, tension of the body, etc., do not look relaxed, the cocked leg is like a cocked gun. The horse will shift its weight off of the leg so it is easier to strike if it feels the need to protect itself.
Next article, we will begin to add some of our objects. You will teach the horse to ‘spook in place’ which is one of my favorite lessons for safety out on the trail or in the show arena. Until then, stay safe and enjoy your horse…….Ann Kirk
Ann Kirk is available for Sensible Horsemanship Clinics or Workshops in your area. For more information and other Sensible Horsemanship Programs, go to www.annkirk.com. Beginning Sensible Horsemanship is available in a DVD series with a new addition – Sensible Trailer Loading.