Q. Dear Chelsie,
We adopted a horse from Standardbred Foundation. He is a 12 yr old gelding. Seemed to be a good match for my son. My son is not an experienced rider. We have been working with the horse and an instructor and my son. The horse tacks up great. He will let you pick up his feet, comes when called, and loves being around us. But when it comes to working, he will work for a while and then heads back to the barn whether my son wants him to or not. I can’t sell this horse as per the contract. I need help!
Thanks for the question. It sounds as though you have a pretty nice horse. Just a few things need some help. You always want to think about how you can help your horse become the horse of your dreams. It sounds as though this horse is close to that, we just need to get him to understand that when we want to continue riding he needs to respect that. My biggest question is you said that he goes back to the barn when he wants to. Does he go at a calm walk? Or does he turn and take off for home?
Either way, I will try to answer your question with the information you gave me.
You have to think of it the way the horse does. The arena means work, the barn means rest, comfort, herd mates, food, and many other comfortable things. So he is working for you and being compliant for as long as he wants to, but when he is tired of it, he wants to go back to the things that make him comfortable. When working with horses we try to make the right thing easy for the horse and the wrong thing difficult. Meaning that, when they are doing what we want them to do, things are comfortable and easy for them. When they are not doing what we want, we are going to make it uncomfortable and not easy for them. When he starts to go back to the barn the worst thing to do is let him go to the barn and then get off and put him away. Because now he got what he wanted as a reward, to be put away.
So what you need to do is when he starts to turn and go back to the barn, I want you to reach down either rein and bend his head and neck around and go in small circles until he stops trying to go to the barn. As soon as you feel him stop trying to turn to the barn, let the rein go and walk back to where you wanted to be, stop and rub him so that he knows that when he does what you want he gets rest and pets for it. If he does get back to the barn do not let him stop, keep his feet moving, going in circles anything just do not let him stop, keep working until you can get him back to the arena. As soon as you get him back to where you wanted to be, stop him and let him rest, pet him and stand there for a few minutes. That is how ‘making the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult’ works. If you do this consistently over time your horse will learn that he has to keep working until you say you are done. But consistency is key.
Thanks for the question I hope this helps you, your son, and your lovely horse.
Chelsie Natural Horsemanship