Sneak Peak excerpt from Turning Challenging Horses into Willing Partners. Due for public release in 2010.
Horse Sense for sour equines
• Rule out physical issues that may be causing pain and the horse’s associated frustration in his failure to communicate.
• Do not continue to push a sore horse, or you will only make him sourer and could turn him mean. Give him the help and the time required to heal prior to resuming training.
• Figure out whether routine or varied activities are the preference of your sour horse and give him what makes him happiest.
• Be patient, flexible, and accommodating with a sour horse when their behavior is justified. Conversely, if you’ve taught a horse to be sour by rewarding bad behavior, resolve to stop the pattern or get some help.
• Try getting a horse out of the routine with some fun activities, trail rides, and long walks if his sour behavior is likely due to too much of the same grind. Some sour horses will bounce back pretty quickly once relieved of the drill that has made them bored and cranky.
• It is rarely effective to discipline a sour horse for his behavior. If a horse has come to resent riding, punishing them aboard only reinforces this conviction. Instead, try finding an easy activity they enjoy and rewarding them for their cooperation. Once you’ve gained a rapport, reintroduce them to the discipline training in lighter doses and with greater rewards for their achievements.
• Horses that have turned sour rarely become standout competitors (unless you change their career to something they learn to enjoy), nor fun pleasure horses. If your aim is to put them back into the routine that created their sour nature (unless this is due to pain you address and correct), you are likely to be disappointed. Consider a different project.
• Find some riding activity that’s really fun for your sour horse and reward him with this after every positive response to a lesson (this could be trail riding, jumping, riding with a companion horse, going fast, going slow, a long rein, a swim in a pond – each horse is different and you need to figure out what makes your horse happiest).
• Know when to call it quits. Sour horses are some of the toughest to turn and sometimes there is no reward for the effort. If you come to hate riding or working with this horse, it may be time to say goodbye. Quality of life (yours and theirs) is something worth considering with these projects.