Monday, September 28, 2015


I'm going to whine here for a minute.

I'm so paranoid about not messing Penn up, and not letting him get away with anything (within reason due to his lack of training!), that yesterday I had a bit of a let down. Well a lot of a let down.

Stupid clippers.

I'd already been meh about our rides last week- nothing awful about them, but nothing wonderful either. The canter continues to improve without any giraffe moments. The trot... it's becoming more giraffe like. How?!?! I had a better ride Thursday where I did quite a bit of insisting that he be round, that he bend, that he pay attention, and that no, he can't run off in trot. It really did wonders and I got some of the best canter work yet. Friday's ride in jump tack was almost a disaster. I don't like flatting in jump tack.

So anyway, I had a few minutes to kill (problem 1) on Sunday, so I pulled out my clippers because Penn's bridle path was too long, and his whiskers needed to be trimmed for the show next weekend... and I always clip 3-5 days before.

I showed him the clippers. No big deal. He was interested. I turned them on a couple feet away from him (problem 2) and he promptly left the barn. He backed up quickly, hit the end of the cross ties, paused (thinking about the fact that he should respect them), then broke them (fear overtook training), and flew backwards out of the barn. He proceeded to continue leaving by ducking around the side of the barn (I had turned off the clippers and set them down by this point and was walking after him).

I caught him (he was giving me the hairy eyeball because he knows breaking out of the cross ties is bad), he got his scolding, and then back into the barn. I retied the cross tie, then unhooked him from it. No reason to continue breaking it. I put the chain over his nose (it helps stop the flying backwards) and held up the clippers again, not running. He pulled the lead rope out of my hands (thank goodness it's a ten foot rope), but the chain did it's job and he cranked himself. Cue rearing (problem 3). I cranked him for that until he wanted to keep his feet on the ground.

Back up to the cross ties, again, not tied in. I brought the clippers back up, not running. Repeat fear induced response. Repeat cranking for standing up on two feet.

Back to cross ties. This time he had a look at the clippers before jumping away, but only a step or two while keeping all four feet on the ground. When I asked him to step back up, he tried to run past me. What the hell horse? I mean, I'm happy it wasn't backing up/rearing. That's fine. I just brought him back around and reset him in the cross ties.

He mouthed the clippers (fine), I rubbed them all over his head and neck and ears and poll and he just didn't care.

I should have just stopped there. But instead, I held them way away and turned them on (problem 2 again). He stood his ground for about 3 seconds, before doing a whole body quiver and trying to leave by flying backwards and then walking on his hind legs when he hit the end of the line. I really fucking hate that. Stupid rearing crap. He's going to flip over because he's in such a hurry to fly backwards and he's got shit balance. I can walk forward and crank him so he doesn't pull against me and pull himself over. What I really need is someone behind him with a whip or something to get him forward again. Sorry, we're delving into cowboy land I'm sure, and I'm probably making some of you cringe. I don't care that he's afraid of the clippers. I care that his immediate answer to not being able to leave is rear. There's no pondering another option. He goes to it immediately.

Eventually he wouldn't get too far from me, and I'd force him to give to the chain and walk back up to the cross ties with the clippers running. He got very brave towards the end, and stood there with them running. He was quivering, the poor thing.

It was all going well until a mare decided he was within reach and bit him on the side of the head. Of course, he flew backwards, and I tried to keep up with him because that one wasn't his fault. I brought him back and away from that stall. A friend had arrived by that point and we both told him good boy, and she rubbed his face and praised him as he stood there with the clippers running a few feet away. I turned them off, let him sniff and mouth them, and rubbed them all over him again.

I wizened up and stopped there. I put him away, but I can't help but feel I lost that battle. I know this is just a baby horse learning step, and with a whole lot of time and slow work, the clippers will be no big deal.

Has anyone out there dealt with habitual rearing? I'm not interested in putting him in his stall and attempting to clip him- I feel like that's a super bad idea to corner him. I'm also not interested in making him flip himself over. He slipped on some grass and fell on his side when we were trying to load him to bring him home, and that stopped the rearing, so I imagine it would probably work, but that's too dangerous. I would rather not sedate him because one- if he does freak out while sedated he WILL fall down, and two- I don't like relying on sedation for anything. It's not always available and that's what they did to load him in the past and it didn't work in helping him to load. Any other suggestions would be nice.

I'm seriously getting a rearing complex. I dread loading him on the trailer Friday. All I can see is him walking on two legs because he doesn't want to get in. I just don't know how to reprogram this learned behavior. I'm super pissed at whoever taught him that in his past. He goes to rearing too quickly. Someone in his past opened a can of worms and never closed it, so now I have to.


  1. Ugh. That's frustrating. I wouldn't worry about cowboy territory, I didn't hear anything here that made me cringe.

    Pig has a bad habit of rearing when he feels trapped, too. He'll fight head pressure by rearing every time, and will rear when pressured to get in the trailer (always has, trailer accident did not help or hinder this behavior). He wears a helmet, because I don't like dealing with head lacerations.

    What has helped me mitigate the rearing has been lots of leading confidence work. In other words, hours of leading him past/onto/around/between scary things and tight places. It's low stress and helps him figure out he's supposed to follow me at all times. Also a driving whip is super helpful to tickle the back feet while managing the lightness in the shoulders from the front. The big thing with rearing seems to be giving them a place to retreat. For Pig that often means giving him space for his head, even if it means letting go a little (slackening the line). He is NOT allowed to leave, though. Or run me over. That shit is punished soundly. Backing seems to work when all he wants to do is rear and halt the forward motion. So does trotting forward in hand. Basically lots of in-hand work.

    None of that sounds actually helpful. Sorry. :(

    1. I dug out Mikey's old trailer helmet because Penn already hit his head on my trailer (thankfully nothing bad happened). He wears it to haul all the time now!

      I like your leading everywhere to build confidence work idea. And the driving whip. But I get a feeling he's so fucking squirrely that by the time I catch his going backwards, I'll be encouraging it. Of course the answer is to preemptively encourage him forward at that point. I think I'm good at reading horse body language, but he turns on the plant and fly backwards so damn quickly. It's once I correct him that backwards isn't the right answer that he rears. Hmm. Interesting thought- change the whip to a lunge whip (lash by the handle), lead rope to a lunge line, lead on. Let him fly backwards a little further so we don't entice rearing, then use the added reach of the lunge whip to correct him? I just worry that his balance is so shitful on footing that is not sand that his feet are simply going to slide out from under him!

      I've gone the backing up route when rearing. "Fine you want to rear/fly backwards? BACK UP!" He doesn't really get it.

      And no worries about not being helpful, commiserating with me is helpful too!

    2. Definitely not a fun problem to have, but I really like the ground work suggestion as well. My own choice is a clinician style rope halter/12 foot lead combination (natural horsemanship/cowboy training style) for the ground work. Both of my boys will rear when pressured, although Speedy has quit doing that now that he's truly an adult. Izzy can and will. I also like the back up forever strategy. I also like to do tons of yield the hind quarters and the forequarters. I really love the yield the hindquarters into a back up! Anything you do to control his feet is controlling his mind. I like to get mine moving and thinking so that they're focused on me. I think if you school on the ground for a while, you can come back to the clipper lesson with a more solid foundation in place. While he might resist it probably won't be a full on panic attack as he'll have his brain in place! :0)

  2. Ugh no fun. Rearing is NOT okay. It's so frustrating when something like this happens, so sorry you're having to go through it :(

    Unfortunately it seems to be a go-to move for some of the warmbloody horses since it just comes so easy for them being so uphill. Rico had a rearing problem, but was almost completely undersaddle. With that, pulling him off balance (to the side, not backwards omg), which basically was me threatening to cause him to fall over sometimes worked. He never actually flipped but he was also older and smart so knew his limits and cared whether he fell or not. Some of them either don't have the balance or don't care whether they fall. What I learned is that once the front feet are in the air, unless you're prepared to flip them, you've lost that battle. From my limited experience (like 2-3 horses, all with rearing problems undersaddle, none on the ground), it's best to try to prevent it as much as possible. I'm not really sure what that entails on the ground with a problem like yours, but undersaddle it just meant keeping Rico forward and making sure that he was never in a position where a rear would be easy- so lots of bending, never going on straight lines for very long where he could slam on the brakes.

    TC reared a bit when tied to the trailer at a horse show once because his friend was gone (cue lots of solo trailering). I would look for the signs that he was going to rear and then came after his shoulder on the side with a whip when he started to plant those hind legs. I'm all for the cowboy stuff, there are some responses that are NOT okay. The thing with TC though is that he is super submissive so once as he realized I wasn't okay with it, he was on board with not rearing. It may return, who knows.

    It's hard when it's a flight response to them because they sometimes just can't help it. That doesn't mean that it's right or that you shouldn't fix that behavior, it's dangerous. Best of luck! I'm curious to hear from people with more experience than I have.

    1. Penn tried rearing under saddle, but it was half hearted and I may have gone cowboy on his ass while cranking his head to one direction to break the motion. He thinks twice about it now. I can catch it before it even gets to that point with seatbones that dig in in a driving seat. I'm fairly confident in him under saddle. Probably 90% of the time, if he's scared or spooks, he jumps but then holds all his feet on the ground and waits. He's actually been super confident under saddle about spooky things.

      It's just on the ground when and when he doesn't want to do something (trailer loading habit) or something scares him (clippers). We've worked with him on giving to pressure, and he does give to the chain. Perhaps I need to make the give to pressure a more immediate response? Or bigger response? Or something? Ack. I know forward is the answer though, but it's hard when he turns it on so quickly and then he's far behind me. That and when we're starting from halt. A forward thinking stand in the crossties, just like a forward thinking halt. I do think he cares about himself and doesn't want to fall down. I know he doesn't have the balance to catch himself. He's all crazy legs at this point.

      I've only dealt with two horses (both QH mares incidentally), one had a sporadic rearing problem (who was super balanced and super into self preservation) that very rarely manifested, and one with a rearing problem under saddle when she didn't want to go forward (hers would get to the point where you get off, whip on the butt and go forward around the rider until forward thinking again, then back on). With consistent training and handling, the second one got over it and figured forward was easier.

  3. Try putting him in a position where he can move in a circle around you. For example, hold the clippers and when he gets fearful, direct him in a small circle around you. The key is to just keep the feet moving. He is allowed to be afraid, he can snort, he can jump. But he cannot back up and cannot rear. But do give him an "out" at first so that he gains confidence that he will never be trapped with this scary beast-eating pair of clippers. :) He might run circle around you. Fine. Once he slows, or calms down - stop the clippers and reward.

    1. Alright, next thing is to buy or borrow is cordless clippers. I like that idea, but the implementation needs to be carefully thought out... Our aisles are wide, but only tractor/manure spreader wide, and we don't have a round pen (or any small fenced in area). I know we have to find an appropriate out- which is why I was happy when he ran forward in an attempt to leave the barn in the other direction. I didn't really stop him, just made him turn in the aisle. Kind of ignored it and set him back up. Maybe setting him in his stall wouldn't be so bad? Set his rump in a corner so he's free to move forward past me and around me, but not backwards? The stalls are 12x12 and he's a little guy haha. But I think that's too closed in still. Hmm, thank you!

    2. Maybe just try having someone hold the clippers while you walk by them in the aisle?

  4. That is rough. Courage has a rear in him, but he doesn't bust it out that often and usually only under duress.

    And he's old and smart and not going to fall down.

    Lots of good ideas here. Might also consider tackling things in smaller chunks so he doesn't feel as overwhelmed. It's not that you can't push him--just that he has to trust you more before you do.

    But I'm more lackadaisical than most. Whatever works for you.

    1. I'm already breaking it down to clippers off, clippers on! I'm not expecting to actually be able to clip him, but I'd like him to not run and rear when he hears them haha. We did have a good night tonight that I'll detail in the next post!