Horse Rescue 101 – Retraining

Horse rescue

Dancer 1st ShowWhen the horse finally has a body score of 3.5 to 4, it’s time to start a true evaluation of its training. Once the effects of starvation have declined and the horse is feeling better, both physically and mentally, you will know only a couple of things about its true talent – that it’s calm or it’s wild. Starvation can have a powerful effect on the mental health of horses. They can be either be very forgiving and place full trust in those that have healed them, or they can carry the distrust of humans around for the rest of their lives. Normally, we have no knowledge of the occurrences in a horse’s life before they came through our gates. We’re taken in horses that have had a lot of excellent training in hunter/jumper skills, barrel racers, cutting horses and those who are easy riders on the trail. How they end up in the situations they do is a mystery, but the fact remains that until the evaluation starts, the skills are completely unknown, and might remain unknown until a skilled trainer puts them through a few paces.

Prior to any introduction of physical exercise, it’s best to have a vet do a brief exam to determine any lingering effects of the starvation, such as heart murmurs. Sudden exercise in horses, just as in humans, can cause death, so take it slow and easy, just as you would if you had been through the same experience yourself. A few turns in the round pen should be enough the first few days, slowly increasing the exercise time as the days pass, just as you did while refeeding. There is no reason to rush. Without rebuilding the muscles, the horse is in the same shape as a couch potato, with the same dangers of blood clots and heart attacks.Horse Rescue 101

The evaluation needs to be honest. Pushing a horse into the “ridable” list when there are riding issues is doing more harm than you might realize. Far too often, those horses classified as, “Good for children or therapy programs” are past the point where they need anyone on their back. Be they crippled, weak, half blind, too spooky or for whatever reason you honestly feel they should not be ridden, let them just be a horse. Some folks say that all horses need jobs, but before the BLM decided to turn the west into cattle country there were thousands of horses that enjoyed a good life walking around the wilderness grazing and sleeping. If your newly rehabbed horse need to spend his days munching hay and drinking water, let him.

Naturally, finding an adopter for non riding horses is almost impossible. They exist, and I love each one of them. Occasionally someone will come to the ranch and, being very up front, say that they only want a few horses so they can watch them graze. That’s the perfect adopter for about 50% of the horses at the ranch. As of the day I’m writing this, Willie Nelson has 73 of our guys at his ranch, and I praise him for taking them under his wings.

dads_new_horse1The first few times in the round pen has nothing to do with training. It’s pure evaluation time. To start, look for the obvious signs of training. Is he easy to halter or does he toss his head and avoid you at all cost? He might be trained, but if he had ear problems when you brought him in, such as mites or ticks, he could be trained but scared of more pain. If he lowers his head for you when you approach with a halter, you know he has something going for him. Are there signs of aggression, like trying to swing his butt to you, ears pinned back? That could mean that either there is little to no training, or he was treated very harshly before he came to you. Does the horse stand still when you approach, or turn to constantly keep an eye on you? Does he try to escape? Is he better with a woman than a man?

The variations are endless, but by watching very closely you’ll notice the signs of previous training that will tell you what to expect when the horse has a saddle on his back. Again, go slow. You want this experience to be good for the horse. If there was abuse, it probably happened in this same situation, and those memories are very real in the horse’s heart. Just as you held him when he first came in, this is the time to be soft and gentle as well.

Important: You cannot learn to train a horse by watching RFDTV or by buying the 20 DVD’s and special bridle for $429.95 from the latest “gentle training” guru. If you don’t know how to train, don’t do it. Even the best horse can get screwed up by a know-it-all supposed trainer. No one learned to ride a bike by reading a book. If training is really something you want to do, then study under a real trainer.

My profession is equine physical and mental rehabilitation and I’m the first to admit that I don’t know the first thing about training. That is an entirely different profession and that professional is who I want in the round pen with the rehabbed horse that I spent six months rebuilding. A good trainer is a treasure. If you have one, hold on to him/her and keep them happy.

Is he potty trained?

Horse Rescue 101One hard, fast rule we have at the ranch is that under no circumstances will there ever be any screaming, angry outburst, nor will a horse ever be struck in anger. When you get to the point that anger and frustration become that strong, it’s time to walk away. Gentle training is the only acceptable method we use, and it’s proven itself time and again. The days of beating as a training method are long over, but it still exists in those who refuse to change or recognize the difference. The senseless feeling of power over a living creature is slowly being replaced by the feeling of mutual respect born out of gentle training.

That first ride is a big day, and you need a very experienced rider to swing the first boot over the back of the horse. One horse that we rehabilitated at the ranch acted totally at ease as we slipped on the saddle. Nothing happened when we tightened the girth and he was as calm as could be when he was mounted. We walked him first, someone holding the lead rope, as the person in the saddle tried neck reining. He seemed to understand and respond to the pressure, so we unclipped the lead rope. One little click and the horse went ballistic, throwing the rider far over his head. The final analysis was that the horse was untrained, but trusted us enough to saddle and mount. When the lead rope was unhooked and the person in front of the horse walked away, there was suddenly the realization that a monster was on his back. Again, you never know.

A good trainer can evaluate gait, ability, softness and a dozen other things that some folks think important, but the whole scope of knowledge about the horse adds to the adoptability. Is he good with trailer loading, receiving shots, hoof care, washing? We like to give our guys an “A-F” grade, just like in school, that way we can inform the possible adopter if there are issues.

Beyond evaluating the horse, the adopter must also be evaluated. Too many people think they “know” horses when in reality that don’t have any idea what a complex animal they have. Horses will test their limits, almost on a daily basis and if they find a weakness in their human, they will take advantage. That’s one of the biggest reasons adopters end up sending horses back to the ranch – they showed fear or became intimidated and the horse started taking over. I’ve seen adopters in tears when they come to the ranch with their once perfect horse who “suddenly turned aggressive.” Within five minutes back in the hands of one of the ranch workers and the horse is back being as calm as the day he left.

All of that speaks to the confidence one has with their relationship with the horse. Absolutely he can be your best friend, but he also needs to know that you are his leader and that you will protect him. You are his alpha, the leader of his herd. Show that, be that, feel that, and you have a relationship that goes beyond any measure.

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I hope “Horse Rescue 101″ has offered a small bit of knowledge about what we do on a daily basis. Horse Rescue 102 might be coming, so make suggestions about what you would like to learn (or just to listen to me rattle on about). However, your tuition is due. You have a choice of either pressing that “LIKE” button over on the side –> or donating a million dollars, which ever is easiest.

And yes, I’m still waiting for Sandra Bullock’s check. Last I heard, she said it would be a cold day in someplace. We were disconnected before I heard the rest of it,

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AUTHOR: Jerry Finch
12 Comments
  • Mustang man

    This is a wonderful and very well done article. 80% of it hits true to the bone but….. Round pens… Horse’s worst night mare, THE most abused and misused piece of equipment ever designed for horses after the other torture device known as the snaffle bit. Use a square or rectangular pen. You won’t find a round pen at the Spanish riding school and I dare anybody to find a better educated horse then theirs.
    Body score is a good basic idea of starting a horse but 4 to 5 is not in my opinion, I suggest a 6 or 7 for a neglected, returning from starvation horse. You need fat to build muscle and a fat horse has plenty to convert to muscle, you could be no more right then to take it very slow. They didn’t get neglected over night and you shouldn’t try to rehab them overnight either.
    Training, Every horse enthusiast SHOULD READ and WATCH all you can on training (I agree RFD-TV is not watching, that is a sales pitch only) before you select a trainer,any trainer that wishes to train your horse without you present for all sessions is not a trainer by the way. American methods by and large are incorrect, natural or any other gimmick method you wish to use. Classical horsemanship was developed over 2 thousand years and has been around firmly for over 500 years now. Cowboys are not going to reinvent it or make it go faster, this is a mind you are dealing with not a dirt bike. When you can learn a foreign language fluently in 120 days then maybe you can teach another species how to understand what you are asking for in about 5 years after you learn what you wish to ask correctly in the first place. They go hand in hand. This is not meant to discredit this article which I find very good but until Americans understand that their approach to horses is wrong, period, then we are not going to fix our problem of screwing them up in the first place. It takes lots and lots of time that is why it is called High school and not Kindergarten training. Fixing others attempts from riding a horse in 120 days only leads to having to spend 360 days teaching the horse that what they were forced to learn was not what was intended in the first place. Dont drop out at 2nd grade, get the education you need to be the most you can for your horse. The horse deserves that at the very least.:)

    December 31, 2012
    • BlessUsAll

      Thank you for your observations, Mustang man.

      Could you please explain why you call the round pen “THE most abused and misused piece of equipment ever designed fro horses after the other torture device known as the snaffle bit”? Why do horses prefer square or rectangular enclosures, please?

      January 1, 2013
      • Mustang man

        How would you like to be constantly bent to your right or left running around in circles until you are sweaty and tired? You can not get a proper circle on a horse that does not know how to walk straight in the first place. In a square or Rectangular arena your horse learns straightness and then has square corners to proceed into to turn properly then straighten up again. Wide at first and very tight as they get stronger and progress.
        A horse should be returned to his/her stable or pasture as fresh as they left it. Not a sweaty mess. Sometimes your horse learns all it needs to for the day in the haltering process but people constantly feel they have a time frame for the horse to learn something in and that no matter what it takes they are not going to quit until the horse gives it to them. Try this with your child at school sometime and see what you accomplish. This is called coercion in the Human world. It is no different in the equine world. There is nothing you can do in a round pen that you cant do with a proper lunge line in a open field, a front or back lawn, fact is there is much less you can accomplish in that pen. 🙂

        January 2, 2013
        • BlessUsAll

          I like your thoughts on this subject very much. I’m especially aware of how most humans coerce not just horses but all animals to do their bidding — and it’s usually NOT in the creatures’ interests to obey. 🙁

          Please keep contributing comments — and your reasoning behind them — on this blog. Between Jerry’s expertise and yours, I’m learning a lot about what constitutes a truly humane, compassionate, just, and trusting relationship between us and our animal friends and neighbors.

          January 2, 2013
          • Mustang man

            LOL, Thank you but I am not even in the same company as Jerry Finch. He should be worshipped for not only what he does but how he does it and how he stands against speciesism. The man simply does not have “No” or “can’t be done” in his make up. If horses had 20 more of him in this world then they would have no problems.
            All that I know I have learned from the Germanic/French masters, I live by the codes set forth by Colonel Alois Podhajsky most though. They have never failed me or anybody I know that has followed them. You must simply follow the instructions to the letter with no deviation or excuse that it takes to long. Time is meaningless, correct education is priceless, Never stop learning, Learn even from those that know nothing but think they do as what they teach you is how NOT to do it if nothing else. Trust in your feelings, your ethics and learn to understand the whispers of the horse. Learn to ride properly, not just to sit on the horse, that is “classical” riding not what western people and even a lot of English people call riding generally, there is only one correct way to ride and it has nothing to do with the design of the saddle you use or the costume you put on before you do it. You can’t teach what you don’t know and learning to ride properly is the first step in learning to educate a horse.

            January 4, 2013
          • Mustang man

            Just few of my Masters thoughts on teh subject of horse educating, Do not get intimidated as many do by the use of teh word dressage, reember it is simply fruch for Education, nothing more:

            “I have time” should be the guiding word especially of dressage riders during the entire course of training and remind him of the fact that the goal of the classical art of riding is to be attained only by the gradual increase of demands.”
            (1965; translation: T. Ritter)

            “Horse and rider should always be an aesthetic sight.”
            (1965; translation: T. Ritter)

            “The best guideline for the appropriate intensity of the work is provided by the old rule that the horse should return to his stall as fresh as he left it.”
            (1965; translation: T. Ritter)

            “Just as experience dictates to the ballet teacher the length of time necessary to train his students, so the horse, too, needs time to mature into a great fourlegged dancer. This fact cannot be obliterated by seeming successes that supposedly prove the opposite. For, even if someone should succeed in training a horse to high school level by the age of eight, this individual occurrence cannot shake the foundations of the classical art of riding, if this dressage horse is completely unsound and unusable by the age of ten.”
            (1965; translation: T. Ritter)

            “A ruthlessly condensed training only leads to a general superficiality, to travesties of the movements, and to a premature unsoundness of the horse. Nature cannot be violated.”
            (1965; translation: T. Ritter)

            “Just as the sculptor at first chisels the future outlines of his work of art with powerful blows out of the crude block of stone, and then lets it develop in increasingly finer detail in all its beauty, the aids of the rider must also become more and more delivate in the course of the horse’s education. Every rider should always keep this strictly in mind and especially avoid destroying with crude aids, out of impatience or other reasons, what he has built in his previous work.”
            (1965, translation: T. Ritter)

            “The third type of longeing, the training of the young horse, must be described in detail, as it is the most important one. Especially in this area, many mistakes are made that come back to haunt the later education. It is particularly the chasing of the horse on a small or tiny circle that cannot be condemned enough. This not only does not help the education in any way, but the horse runs the risk of suffering all types of bodily harm.”
            (1965, translation: T. Ritter)

            “Riding forward is the essence of correct training.”

            January 4, 2013
          • BlessUsAll

            Those quotes from Col. Alois Podhajsky are keepers. I found them myself just now at http://www.ArtisticDressage.com.

            A friend of mine who was raised with horses in South Africa and now rescues them in Tasmania has learned a lot from Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling and Alexander Nevzorov. I gather those names are familiar to you.

            In any case, thanks again for your wealth of astute observations, Mustang man. And may you continue to post here, alongside your anti-speciesist hero (who may be blushing at that label).

            January 5, 2013
  • Janet Garcia - Gramas Cottage

    Very interesting! 🙂 I don’t see a like button so I’ll have to send the million. But that’s ok because it’s all about love anyway! I for one would like to hear more about horses testing humans and what kind of bad habits they can develop! I remember at ten my best friends welsh mountain pony would attempt to rub you off as you rode him past any nice metal mailbox. He’s the one I got to ride. (pausing for an aha moment) She told me to always remember to lift my leg so I did. She also told me he did it on purpose, which always puzzled me. We were 10 yrs old… and the only ones who ever rode her 2 horses. The adults never intervened. Years later after I’d moved away, she wrote and told me he sliced her leg open on a mailbox. Looking forward to 102. Thanks!

    December 31, 2012
  • Robynne Catheron

    All horse owners should read this, it’s a gem. I’m glad I did! Looking forward to 102 also 🙂

    January 1, 2013
  • BlessUsAll

    I need to call Sandra Bullock and ask her where the “like” button is, since she can’t find the missing $1 million in her purse.

    The thing I like best about your training sessions is that you always remind us, as potential adopters, to put the needs of the horses first. And you require us to trash the ego trip. And you repeat “go slow” until it’s drilled into us.

    For being clueless about training, you sure give a great primer in how to build sound and secure relationships with our equine friends, Jerry.

    January 1, 2013
  • Amy Miller

    I like horse training 101. Thank you for sharing. My new love with my horses are teaching them to do tricks. This kind of endeavor has definitely taught me that I need to be so patient with the horses. After 2 years of training I let my horses do the talking. If I am pushing too hard then then tell me and I slow down to where they feel more comfortable. Anxious for 102.

    January 1, 2013
  • Very well said soft voice soft hands is What iv thought my ten year old daughter and i may Add she has a gift from god she has adhd and other health issues but she is a wonferful rider barrel racer. At ten years old she has Had several jobs working with rescues for friends she is very gifted We call her our horse whisporer she is amazing and has trained several rescues aNd rehabbed them even some of the wildest horses that have never been handled some abused some starved she has worked with to many to count it is good for both her and horses i know everyone thinks i just like to brag i do but she is truely blessed with a gift from god she took two rescues to work with this summer couldn touch them at first she feed and care for them both as days went on i watch my child transform to spookey mean terriffied horses info two if the best behaved good riding horses. Half way thought time she agreed to work with the two the owner sales my child do you think they Are ready for a trail ride she didn Want the man to take god horses and go to the trails she wasnt finnished with her talk but she spoke to the man explained how to ride load saddle her way the man took the two horses for two days my child agreed to trail ride. When he returned whirh the horses We Are told the two rescues that you couldn even spray with fly spray or bathe due ti fear. They ended up being the two best mannered horses on the entre ride that weekwnd several people that knew how they did act was amazed at the huge transformación the two wildcrazy horses Had make into well mannered minded horses. I belive after the rest if the riders found out that a ten year old girl transformed the horses people were amazed my child started getting calls after that to rehab other rescues and non rescues and even now she has people on a waiting list and dates scheduled for horses to work with i am amazed at my child ability and gift from god to be able to make the biggest deffrince in rescue horses but she has been on a horse from time she was two mo old till now and every day even if only 20 minutes. So i know this 101 is so true. And soft hands voice and paitiants understanding attention love and respect Are the key to train any animal even ones not in rescue may We all be blessed with some one like my child to Show the horses from troubles abused starved and any horse the love to give theses animals a second chance in life to see not all humans Are mean. One proud mom and blessed

    January 2, 2013