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QUESTION
I bought a pony about a year ago for our daughter. In the arena he is nice and relaxed but outside he is super skittish. I have just started using your groundwork techniques on him and have seen some success, but he’s still skittish. Can you tell me if he will always be a bit spooky? Or will I get the relaxed pony we wanted? – Kara  W. 

ANSWER
There is no doubt that earning the pony’s respect by doing groundwork with him will help take away his spookiness. However, it’s important to remember that each horse is an individual and some horses will always have a tendency to be spookier than others. It’s no different than people. Some people are just naturally more jumpy than others. One of my friends is that way. It’s really easy to surprise her. Like she can be in a room by herself and when someone walks through the doorway, she’ll get startled, jump in place, and then go straight back to what she was doing. It’s not like she gets startled, jumps and then runs screaming from the room and doesn’t stop until she’s out the front door and half a mile away. She just gets caught off guard and then her brain immediately says, “It’s OK, you’re not in danger, you can relax.”

Your pony might get surprised easily, but you want him to only be in that reactive frame of mind for a nanosecond and then immediately go back to the thinking side of his brain. You do that by desensitizing him and becoming a leader he trusts. If you remain calm and in control when he’s unsure of a situation, he’ll mimic you. But, if you overreact and get nervous, you’ll only fuel his uneasiness and make the situation worse. It’s like he’ll say to himself, “Yeah, I knew I should be worried! You think we’re going to die too!”
With that being said, it’s also important to realize that you can never completely train the reactive side out of a horse no matter how many hours you spend training him or what his disposition is. Horses are naturally wired to react – that “run first and think later” mentally is what kept them alive for millions of years. Even my well-trained horses spook every now and then. Horses aren’t robots; they’re living, breathing animals with minds of their own.

The bottom line is that I can’t honestly give you an answer to your question. Without working with your pony, I have no way of knowing if he’ll be a safe, quiet horse for your family. What I can tell you with certainty is that you can absolutely take away a lot of his spookiness by applying the techniques of my training method and using your imagination to desensitize him to as many objects as you possibly can.

QUESTION
Clinton, I have a horse that when put in the pasture with cattle, he runs them through the fence. I have tried to get him separated from the cattle and move his feet as quickly as I can, but he is a cutting horse that I am going to be competing on. What do I do besides just keeping him separated from the cattle? – Gina S.

ANSWER
A While what your horse is doing is dangerous for your cattle, it’s kind of a good problem to have considering that you want to compete in cutting with him. It’s obvious your horse is very cowy. Honestly, if you don’t want him to chase your cattle, your only option is to separate him from the cattle. Depending on how much land you have to work with–and what your budget is like–you could either create another enclosure (pasture or dry lot) for the horse, or you could put a temporary fence down the middle of the pasture to keep the cattle and the horse apart. Putting the horse in the same pasture with cattle and expecting him not to work them would be similar to taking a lab, a dog known for its love of water, out to a lake and expecting him to sit on the shore while you swam. It’s unlikely to happen and unfair to him.



QUESTION
My 2-year-old is leaning all of her weight on us when we trim her feet and she will nip the farrier sometimes. How do I get her to behave? – April S.

ANSWER
AI like that you’re being smart and want to correct these problems early. The fix is simple in theory for both issues – make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult. Do not allow yourself to become a leaning post for the horse. If you pick up the horse’s foot and she leans on you with her body, just drop out from underneath her. It won’t take her long to realize that if she leans on you, you’ll jump out from underneath her and she will lose her balance. If she falls on the ground, that’s her problem. Never encourage any horse of any age to lean on you for support because it can be dangerous. Let your horse learn to balance and support herself. When she knows that you could drop her foot at any time, she’ll be less likely to lean on you. It’s the same concept as you leaning on a weak post. If you lean on a post and it breaks at the bottom and you fall over, you’re not going to be very keen to lean on the posts next to it because you’re not sure if they can support your weight. But if that post just stays put, there is no reason for you to stop leaning on it. Anytime the horse nips, no matter what you’re doing with her, immediately hustle her feet backwards for 100 feet. Then go back to what you were doing as if nothing happened. When a horse nips or bites, it’s a very forward action – he’s coming to get you. Backing is the complete opposite – you’re driving the horse out of your space and telling him to get back. If you’re consistent with backing your horse every time she nips, she’ll learn to stay out of your space.

Have a horse question for Clinton?
Email your question to:
askclinton@cowgirlmagazine.com