Creating a Willing Partner: The Story of a Sour Horse

by Nanette Levin,

There are a number of circumstances that can make a horse sour. It's important to be creative and responsive in how you approach the training and communication regimen.

"Studley the Impossible"

All deemed Studley a lost cause, except his insightful, reticent trainer who wasn't ready to admit defeat with this horse and his green owners, who were enamored by the idea of having a racehorse stallion. The moment he arrived, we began to question our creative capabilities with this monster, not to mention our sanity.

Studley was a stallion with a mean history and a quarrelsome attitude that rendered training attempts at the track impossible. After we developed a strategy addressing his sour nature became a priority. Ultimately, it was clear we'd have to work around his bad attitude to get him fit enough for speed training.

Usually, mean horses have been beaten into submission or forced to perform through extreme pain to a point where they find the only recourse is violence. This can create a dangerous horse, particularly if they are abused to the stage where their existing physical pain makes any additional hurt a person can put on them inconsequential.

If they don't care anymore what you do to them, they quickly learn that they are bigger and stronger and can certainly be nastier and more effective than you on your worst day. It's critical that you can control them but will not do so through violence, no matter how much they bait you. Consequently, groundwork is essential in reshaping their attitudes and asserting your leadership qualities.

The First Steps

Round pen work was interesting with Studley. He was quite willing to allow a rider up while he stood quietly, which was a surprise. He even responded positively to walk and stop requests on cue. Faster gaits were a little more challenging sometimes he'd comply but was equally ready to resist. Still, we felt we had enough control to hit the trails.

On the first day in the "wilderness" we made it about fifty yards from the round pen before he planted himself. This became a routine each day for the next month or two of our training regimen. We waited until he was ready to proceed on most days, and this was a sufficient win for him to comply with future requests.

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