Tricks of the Trade
This page will discuss little tricks and techniques in the basic handling of the green horse. This will relate mostly to very green unbroken horses typical of that found on NZ stations (large farms): the NZ ‘Stationbred’. These commonly have had very limited exposure to people. The American equivalent is free range ‘Mustangs’, Australia: ‘Brumbies’, Argentina: ‘Creole’ – the foundation to their wonderful polo mounts.
Nowadays, most horses in NZ are bred on very small farms where they have continuous exposure to people and handling. But, green horses still exist in the hills. They are sometime uncut diamonds, if you know how to train them.
I will discuss different approaches, including unsavoury ones that I know are used, but decline to use myself. Techniques vary according to the geography in which horses are being trained. What you can get away with in the open flat plains of Australia or Argentina can kill you in the hill country of New Zealand or the Canadian Rockies. For example a bolting horse in the former is no big deal, just ride him out i.e. push him harder. A galloping horse does not buck. Do this in hill country and one or both of you is going to get hurt.
Rather than write thousands of words I will try to put the info into short phrases, then comment as little as possible. These will be piecmeal.
Just be with them
Have the very green horse close nearby as you work on others. Have him in a small yard if he does not yet tie. If he ties bring him each day and leave him tied. Being tied with hay net all day long does no harm.
Have a dog
Having a dog running around while working with any green horse is constructive. It breaks up the continuity.
Never set a schedule
Allow progress to set itself on the basis of how you both feel each day. Setting objectives for each day leads to trouble
Work every day or several times each day. Do the same stuff several times each day with breaks in between. When you finally back him, leave him in the yard, then go back and do it again 2 or 3 times the same day. This puts you both in a mindset which is essential in this work.
Work both sides
Whatever you do on one side do the same on the other. This includes mounting
Repetition over and over
Use the number 12. When you have got to the stage of putting on a saddle, don’t do it once each morning. Do it 12 times. Same with mounting. Each morning mount 12 times from the near and 12 times from the off. It builds your confidence too. Same with the cover, the bridle: on and off 12 times ever morning. Once you are riding and he is starting to move off when mounting (they all do) go back to repetitive mounting in the yard.
Avoid teaching vices
Once a horse evades 3 times you have taught him a vice.e.g. never try to bridle or drench a green horse when he is tied up, he can pull back and blow you right out of there. Untie him and back him into a corner or do it in a race. When drenching have a good grip on the halter and never allow him to pull it out of your hand. Do it right first time.
Use a special lead
When grooming or handling legs have in your hand a special lead onto the halter that allows you to bend him slightly towards you. If something goes wrong he cannot veer away and kick you.
Push the boundaries
Feel your way up tp the point where he will over-react then back off just a little eg grooming: once he accepts the brush groom faster and faster. How far can you go down the legs?
Have a strong volume hose. There is no easy way to hose for the first time. Assuming you have taught him tie properly and will not pull back, get a full flow and just DO IT! Go for the shoulder. He is going to freak out but don’t stop. When he goes forward you go further forward to balance him. When he goes back you go further back. Within minutes he will settle down. Then you can start working the legs. If and when he kicks immediately spray the leg he is standing on, the split second he reacts with that leg go back to the first that he is now standing on. You will wear him down. Do it front and back.
Don’t be in a hurry. I am often riding for 3 days before I try lifting legs. The first objective is to be able to groom or run your hand down right to the hoof without him reacting. Achieve this and you are 80% there. If and when he rests a hind leg on the tip of the hoof, cup your fingers under the hoof and lift the leg forward and up for a few seconds then let back down. He will not react. Lifting the leg back and up is far more demanding. Don’t be in a hurry to do this. Do it after you have been riding for several days. The same goes with lifting the front leg forward and up. This is an advanced position.
Use the long stick
You will need at least 2.5 m. stiff strong bamboo or the NZ flax stick is best. Lunging whips are useless. They are too heavy and the tail is only applicable to a horse that is lunging perfectly. You can rub him all over or tap him low on the hind legs to see if you have a kicker. Another test for a kicker is a tap on the hind-quarter just below the base of the tail. A non-kicker will hunch his hind quarters downwards. If you have a kicker get him lunging at walk then tap each hind leg just before he lifts it off the ground in a rhythm.
Use some help
Don’t be a hero. Teaching lunging and driving for the first time alone can be very difficult. Use someone at the head to get the idea through to the horse.
Teach very rudimentary lunging before driving. The sensitive horse can easily blast and get away from you when driving. There are some tricks you can use to maintain control:
Use extra long reins
Feed the off rein through something fixed like a D or short stirrup by all means
Feed the near rein through a stirrup leather wrapped up in such a way that the rein comes free when you pull hard outwards. If and when the horse takes fright and bolts drop the off rein and hold tight on the near rein. It breaks free and you have him in a lunge situation. Why the near? : because most horses will bend naturally to the near side when driving. More on that later
If you have a hot chronic puller - the sort of horse that wont walk out and breaks into a jog the whole time - try riding in the dark at night
When loading a float or truck for the first time, lay a continuous spreading of hay from well in the paddock right into the float.
Use elastic girths when first introducing the saddle. Do up just enough to hold the saddle in place with no rider. A girth-proud horse is much less likely to object.
Before trying the saddle, test him by puting a roap around his girth and grip the end overlaps on the side of the horse with one hand. Get him to walk foreward with lead rein in other hand. You can tighten or loosen the rope by twisting to test his reaction. Just puting on a saddle and cinching up tight is problimatic. He can go into a bucking fit.
Always use breast plates on the young horse, once riding, to keep the saddle foreward.
When first introducing the cover tie lengths of bale twine to the hind straps and use a 1 m length of wire with a hook to pull the straps up inside the hind legs and attach. Once clipped, run the strap-ends through the metal D, twist, and feed back through the eye of the hook, then pull up tight. This stops the hook from catching on something and becoming unhooked. It also remedies the problem of old hooks getting too weak in the leaf spring. A cover coming off the hind in the paddock is bad news.
When first teaching lunging ask for very few circuits in the beginning. 2 circuits, one way, is enough on day one. Then build slowiy each day. They sour quickly and you can end up in a battle that you may well lose. He may go round so far, then stop at a particular location on the circle. Have someone to tap him up with a long stick at that location. Sure this stuff can be done alone, but on occasions, 2 is easier.