Q&A Questions and Answers:
I was given a beautiful 5-6 yr. old Paint/Quarter Horse stallion and have been training him myself for 5-1/2 months. He has been ridden about 30-40 times and for the most part performs great. By the way, I work 7 days out and 7 days in on an offshore platform. That's why I've only ridden him that much in 5-1/2 months.
My problem is when I ride him by myself out in the fields he stays on edge and often jumps five feet sideways at nothing at all. Could be a stick, clump of dirt, a thistle plant or anything at all. I have done very extensive sacking out training and he doesn't seem to be scared of much at all normally. I can even twirl a rope over his head and crack a bullwhip while we are riding (not hitting him). But once in a while, out of the blue, he freaks out. Not very fun if you are relaxing and enjoying the scenery. He does this with other horses sometimes but not nearly as bad, almost not at all. I speak to him in soothing tones and keep walking like nothing ever happened when he does it.
I had a vet check his eyes and asked about his diet. He said he was fine. Do I just need more saddle time with him or is there something more I can do to sack him out or calm him down? I am thinking of having him gelded to see if that helps but he doesn't have any bad habits like some stallions and I would like a colt out of my brother's mare. I have all brand new equipment (you can do that when the horse is free!) so I don't think anything is hurting him. He gets shoed regularly by the most patient man I've ever met and has a 1-1/2 acre paddock and nice shed to sleep in. I have goats, sheep and a calf with him to keep him company and life should be great for him but....
Please tell me I won't have to continue my balancing act much longer. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
I assume you've already read Q & A 39 - Keeping a horse from spooking. The photos at the bottom of the page may be especially helpful to you in understanding why your stallion is so jumpy.
Another thing to keep in mind is the stud's job description within the herd. The lead brood mare maintains discipline and order, watches for potential threats, and leads the herd out of harm's way. The lead stallion is lower than the lead brood mare in the hierarchy; he is subject to her direction. At the same time, he provides her with an extra set of eyes, ears and a nose. If things get serious, he's the one who has to go on the offensive against the threat. As a result, he tends to be on high alert at all times. How can you fault him for doing his job?
Overall, it sounds like you're doing the job right. The task is a bit more complicated than it is with a mare or gelding, however. With the latter, you only have to become their lead brood mare. With a stud, you have to be both lead brood mare and top stallion - so he can let you take over the job of defending against attackers. The contest for top stud is usually very physical and the looser suffers physically. If you can communicate confidence and strength to your horse, he may simply accept your leadership.
In other cases, that approach simply is not enough. Professor Beery made a career of training "unmanageable" horses. One of his techniques for steadying horses involved putting hobble straps around the front feet. A line was then run from the left strap through a ring on the belly of a surcingle, through a ring on the right strap, and up through a ring on the right of the surcingle. Being careful to select a soft area free of stones, the trainer would assert physical dominance over the horse by applying pressure on the line. Any motion of the horse's legs gave the trainer more slack to take in... and gradually forced the horse to its knees. In that position, the horse could be pushed over on its side and the line tied to the surcingle - leaving the horse unable to get up. The trainer would pet the horse and calm its panic. After the initial fear was gone, an assistant would enter the training ring, waving flags, banging on a pan, even firing blanks. During these unsettling experiences, the trainer continued calming the horse, stroking it, and letting the animal know that the human had absolute control over both horse and situation. After a fairly short period of such handling the horse was usually fairly docile.
Effective as Prof. Beery's method may be, I still prefer the method I outlined previously of trying to see the world through the horse's eyes and exercising a calm control. With a more agressive stud, however, the Beery method may be useful.
Whichever approach you take, you're sure to gain a new understanding of why old-time riders didn't use stallions as everyday saddle horses.
The Rest of the Story:
When I notified M. D. R. that I had posted my response to his question, he sent me this note:
Believe it or not, my Mom gave me copies of Professor Beery's training manual. She said my Great-Grandpa used it and could make his horses sit and all kinds of stuff. I wasn't sure his methods would apply but now that you mention it, I will go back for a second look. I have just about convinced myself to have him gelded since he has no papers and I use him primarily for a saddle horse anyway.
Thanks for the speedy reply and keep up the good work on your website.
M. D. R.
And a few days later, I received this e-mail:
Just a note to update you on the situation with the stud horse I wrote you about in your Q & A forum. It was #62.
I tried Professor Beery's methods of getting him on the ground and then sacked him out for over an hour with everything I could think of. Just like in the book, after a while he just lay there. I even took off the hobbles, surcingle and rope with him still lying on the ground. I had to pull him to get him up.
But actually before I did that, I took him to the vet and had him gelded. So I really don't know which one did the trick, but who cares, right? I rode him several times this week and he was a little nervous at times but never spooked. I took some welding rods and pinned some plastic grocery bags to our arena floor. Then I rode him all around them while the wind was blowing and he barely noticed. So hopefully he is well on his way to relaxing. I hope to get another horse soon and maybe that will help calm him down too.
Thanks again for the help.
M. D. R.
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