Wednesday, September 14, 2011

frustrations in horse training

Well folks, when it comes to horses I'm a great dog trainer. While Gibson is growing into a working sheepdog, Jasper is another story. Dogs, I get. I started showing dogs in AKC obedience and conformation events in high school. I always lived with and trained my own animals, earning titles, running my sled dogs, living in harmony as a co-species team. But Jasper is (literally) a whole new animal. My riding lessons over the years have made me comfortable around horses and in the saddle, and I can read their emotions and behaviors, but when it comes to learning to be a driving instructor... I just don't have it down yet.

Jasper won't stand still to be harnessed unless he is on crossties or held by the halter by another person. He fidgets, nibbles my clothing, pulls my pocketknife out of my jeans and throws it on the ground. Once in harness, he won't stand still, has to be moving. And he won't move forward from a whoa into a step-up unless he feels like it, 80% of the time he just turns around to walk towards me and gets the chains and traces tangled. So I need to unstrapped them, move him back into position, tell him to whoa and try again. It gets so frustrating I want to scream. Yesterday, we were ground driving without any chains or weight, just me and the reins and he just decided to lie down and roll around in the grass, hooves in the air scratching his back. I stood there like a moron holding the reins, asking "Are you kidding me?" while he showed me his belly and acted like a toddler having a fit in the grocery store. After a while he starts walking on his own and some progress is made, like what you saw in that video, but I think the writings on the wall here: he needs an experienced trainer. And I need to hit the books.

I was in the break area at work talking with a friend about Jasper and I, and the struggles I'm having. I said out loud, but to myself, That I should have apprenticed under someone with cart horses first. Should have done my homework. Should have studied, and prepped, and so on. "That's not the Jenna way." was his response. This is very true.

I'm not giving up. I just need to keep at it, and go about it differently. But I would be lying if I wasn't getting disheartened.The upside to all this is how sound of an animal Jasper really is. He acts the way he does because of my poor handling an inexperience, but even with the confusing commands, wrong bit (we now have a properly fitted driving bit), and new chains and people: he has not kicked, bolted, bit or caused any harm. To put up with me and my learning curves proves there's some patience and kindness in this pony. We'll get through it.

So this weekend, and experienced trainer is stopping by the farm. A Haflinger trainer from a town over, and she'll help me get right with Jasper. In the mean time, I'll train him the most logical and successful way I know how: with help. If I am driving from behind and another person is calmly walking him by the halter, we can make progress. Tonight two friends are coming to the farm, Tim and Geoff, to help train Jasper and Tim will take some photos as well. He hasn't been up to the farm since it was muddy, cold, and lamby so it'll be quite the change with grass and three times the sheep!


Blogger CJ said...

Maybe you would enjoy some learning at this place -

September 14, 2011 at 10:11 AM  
Blogger Dancing shepherdess said...

I can just imagine the look on your face when he lays down and rolls over. Priceless. Here's to getting help from the trainer this weekend. Methinks Mr Jasper is a bit big for his breeches.

September 14, 2011 at 10:14 AM  
Blogger Bovey Belle said...

Oh gosh - has he got YOUR number!! For the fidgeting and not standing still, I would recommend Clicker Training. I have a couple of friends who had real problem horses (as in, if this didn't work, they were too dangerous to save) and Clicker Training has literally turned those horses around. It is so black and white in the approach that horses comprehend exactly what is wanted and when they have done the "right" thing.

Your lad is just messing you about a bit - because he has realized that he CAN! I suspect that the moment he was harnessed before, he was expected to move, pronto. You just have to break this habit by positive reinforcement so he knows when he has done the right thing. The Monty Roberts ethos is strong on positive reinforcement, so worth looking at one of his books.

As for him ROLLING - you DID make me laugh. Little ratbag! If he decides to try that one again, encourage him forward the moment you see him starting to think of buckling at the knees.

See if you can borrow someone to lead him for you to start with until you get used to the idea of getting him to go forward for you. Voice commands, needless to say, are vital here. If you can't borrow a person, use shorter "long reins" and drive him from around his withers, like leading him almost, but with your hands as if you are riding him and the reins carefully looped so should he take off you aren't going to get tangled. Gloves, needless to say, are a Very Good Idea. Have him walking and turning like this until he is obedient, and then you can gradually position yourself behind him. If you are familiar with the concept of lungeing, you could try lungeing him with your long reins and keeping him going forward and obedient to your voice commands and restraint of hands on the reins.

Oh gosh, I could go on all night, but I'm glad that you've changed what in England we would call a curb bit, to a gentle snaffle for driving in.

I hope this has been of some help. Perhaps your friend in the video the other night can come back and coach you for a few lessons.

September 14, 2011 at 10:38 AM  
Blogger ill said...

I totally agree with the Clicker Training! He sounds clever cause he's naughty, and that is the PERFECT candidate. There are tons of youtube videos on Clicking with horses, and Karen Pryors book and website is a wealth of info! Good luck!!

September 14, 2011 at 10:40 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

This advice is AMAZING, keep it coming!

September 14, 2011 at 10:44 AM  
Blogger kippy said...

Remember what you learned from dog training and AKC handling.The animal can feel your emotions through the leash/reins. Pull your shoulders back, take calming breaths and while you work with Jasper, visualize him doing exactly as you wish. Kelpie has the right idea-Mr. Jasper seems a bit full of himself.

September 14, 2011 at 10:44 AM  
Blogger Jen said...

Darn, somebody beat me to the clicker! Have to work on my timing, looks like.

I know nothing, personally, about training horses. I do know that they take well to the clicker! That, and it's a lot of fun, and can be a concrete way to work past formerly frustrating situations.

September 14, 2011 at 10:44 AM  
Blogger HotFlashHomestead said...

Great book to check out of the library or better yet, buy for reference: "There Are No Problem Horses, Only Problem Riders" by Mary Twelveponies. Lots of good stuff about horse psychology. This definitely helped me have a better -- and more defined -- relationship with my mare. She just needed to know who was in charge of our working relationship, and it was NOT her. Jasper just needs the same thing. Horses are devilish smart and will get away with whatever they think they can. Don't worry! It's a common situation, and it can absolutely be fixed with diligence and patience. Good luck. : )

September 14, 2011 at 10:48 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

Oh Lordy, I know where you're coming from in the difference b/w dogs and horses. I totally "get" dogs and have always been able to read them. But even after 2 years of riding lessons, I was never that comfortable with horses. Considering one is a predator and the other a prey animal, it makes sense they'd be so different.

Good for you for sticking it out and getting some help. I sure hope you can remind Jasper who's boss eventually. He sounds like a clever pony; too clever by half!

September 14, 2011 at 10:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you familiar with Lynn Miller and "Small Farmer's Journal?" While I don't have a ton of horse experience, I would recommend looking at the Journal for tips, as well as Lynn's books, especially "Training Workhorses/Training Teamsters."

September 14, 2011 at 11:03 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Jenna hang in I grew up with riding horses,then purchased a Belgian Draft. I wanted a horse and my husband said he would buy me one "if" I picked one with substance"no girly horses".I had intended to only ride my horse.I bought a 14 month old Draft as my Draft grew so did my interest in driving,I had no clue. I found a man selling a harness,and purchased it without an idea of how to put it on or harness.The man selling the harness tought me to dress my draft, and became a friend.My new friend told me of a man who tought driving lessons(we started with ground work).Once my horse was about two (and too young to ride)My instructer came every Saturday for 4 months.My husband I learned tons.We got so hooked on our draft horse we moved from Ma. to Maine bought a farm and a second draft. We now ride,drive, sled and do much farm work with our team.
PS. When I bought my 14month old"baby" my husband said "I'll buy you this horse if it makes you happy, but I want nothing to do with it, I have enough chores and hobbies" NOW he is hooked line and sinker, Barnheart infected I might say... Hooves and Hounds Farm

September 14, 2011 at 11:08 AM  
Blogger Gayle said...

I think he is bored. He knows all this stuff already.

September 14, 2011 at 11:42 AM  
Blogger Erika said...

Hi Jenna - I am a regular reader but infrequent commenter, but I want to say I admire your stick-to-it-iveness!

I am glad you are hooking up with a trainer with driving experience, I know you will be able to transfer all your dog knowledge to horse speak. As a life long horsewoman, I would like to add just one tidbit of advice. Every time you handle him the rules have to be the same, and it is always a good idea to add some 'work' to your regular routines. Paddock to field? Whoa and stand there until I say walk. Field to paddock? Lets go the long way around, and how about a whoa or a small circle. Time for dinner? Take a step back first, please and thank you.

Ponies are wicked smart little things, a good one is worth it's weight in gold. I think Jasper is one of them, he just needs to remember that even though you are fumbling you are still boss hoss :)

Good luck, and please keep us posted!

September 14, 2011 at 11:42 AM  
Blogger Knit Picky Knitter said...

Hang in there Jenna - I'm sure you can teach that old horse new tricks!!! Picturing Jasper rolling around in the grass cracked me up. He's living the good life now and doesn't want to come out of retirement. I'm sure you'll get him to come around though.

September 14, 2011 at 11:47 AM  
Blogger kristen said...

Amen to all the comments from horse folks... I feel no need to repeat. Do keep in mind that horses are often smarter than dogs, and that they still need a pack leader of sorts (in a herd, there's usually a head mare... that's you!). Firm, clear direction combined with the clicker might have you shocked at how quickly you advance. I'm glad to hear you have help coming. Enjoy your time with the trainer!

September 14, 2011 at 12:01 PM  
Blogger treehuggers kitchen said...

Such great advice from all of these experienced horse people. I...have no advice to give to you. But the mental image I got when you were describing him rolling, you holding the reins and looking at him had me giggling. I know absolutely nothing about horses (have never even ridden on's on my bucket list), but I agree that it sounds like he's having a lot of fun at your expense. Hang in there, you've gotten through much worse (and less funny). :)

September 14, 2011 at 12:02 PM  
Blogger Lori said...

It is WAAAY too early in the game to become disheartened. Remember you are just starting out. You can't walk out , hook up a horse and expect to be logging in a week or 2. Give Jasper, and yourself, a chance to mature in the training.
Accept the gag reel for what it is and move on.

September 14, 2011 at 12:09 PM  
Blogger Campbell Kids said...

Sounds more like a great big puppy dog! LOL!

September 14, 2011 at 12:16 PM  
Blogger Victoria Nidetch said...

I admire your tenacity Jenna. Your description of his rolling,very funny! Stay with it don't give up.

September 14, 2011 at 12:26 PM  
Blogger Natalie said...

Ah! This all sounds pretty familiar to my horse and I, except the rolling part, ha! Funny, I've definitely used the reference to a little kid in a grocery store, too...

I don't know if you carry a whip with you when you're ground driving, but it might help. Not to hurt him but to give a little tap when they're thinking about stopping to eat/paw/roll/not give a damn.

It's back to work, little horse, and he doesn't seem to be very pleased about it!

September 14, 2011 at 12:41 PM  
Blogger Erika said...

I had another thought - him rolling in the traces reminded me of the fact that I have had horses (including my current) roll when I was up top. That is quite the experience! Naughty equines aside, when you have an itch...

September 14, 2011 at 1:14 PM  
Blogger Jamie said...

Biggest rule of thumb with horses- riding or training- is to make sure you let them know who is boss and in control. Horses and ponies (and ponies are known to be bullheaded at times) like to test the boundries, much like kids do. They want to see just how much you're going to let them get away with, especially ones as smart as Jasper seems to be. The more they get away with, the more they try. Work on being assertive and correct him immediately when he starts to do something he shouldn't in a firm voice with firm (but gentle) actions. Have confidence in yourself and Jasper will realize he can't boss you around anymore. Good luck!

September 14, 2011 at 1:17 PM  
Blogger Meredith A said...

Sounds like you need to work on foundation training starting with ground manners.

September 14, 2011 at 1:34 PM  
Blogger DarcC said...

While she is not a driving trainer, I learn a lot from the blog at She is a horse trainer who puts more thought into her work than anyone else I know. She labels her posts well for easier archive searching. If you like, I will try to find some relevant posts to direct you to, reading your comments on Jasper really made me think about things she has written in the past about evasion, etc.

Jasper definitely has learned how to evade your commands. I'm glad you found a trainer. I can also highly recommend Blue Star Equiculture,, a farm for retired carriage horses, they are HUGE believers in that these work horses are happiest when working. Mike and Pam are wonderful people and I'm sure if you reach out to them they can help you and/or direct you to someone local as well.

September 14, 2011 at 1:45 PM  
Blogger Patsy from Illinois said...

I have to admit I got a big laugh from Jasper rolling on the ground right in front of you. Teehee. Now you must admit looking back on it, it is kind of funny. And pulling out your knife and throwing it on the ground. He is a bit naughty but nothing that can't be cured.

September 14, 2011 at 3:44 PM  
Blogger The Village Queen said...

Good advice here. Remember horses are not dogs. They dont really want to please you in the same way dogs do. Dogs are preditors and think differently. Horses are Prey and are motivated by food and safety. Ponies are sneaky little buggers, very motivated by food and are stubborn to boot. Horses have to be given much firmer boundries and correction. A firm NO or STAND and a tug on the reins is required. then when they do it they get a treat. I bet that pony is fully trained already, you are the one who has to come up to him which is why he is jerking your chain. Pretty funny all in all. Be patient with yourself and learn lots, he has a sweet and teasing nature that isnt being hurt by you know knowing what your doing. Best way to figure it out is by having what is called a 'horse master' Many people learn to ride on these gems, and your pony is taking you to school quite regularily. Good to see he isnt being mean about it though.
Have fun!

September 14, 2011 at 3:47 PM  
Blogger Meredith A said...

You mentioned jasper doesn't stand still, is he getting enough exercise? Working a fresh horse/pony is always extra challenging.

September 14, 2011 at 7:30 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Goyle said...

Doesn't stand still or listen? Sounds like 2 of my children...

September 14, 2011 at 7:40 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Keep with it I know you can do it. Yes you should have gotten a bit more training yourself but at least you started with a broke pony. Keep in mind that if he is putting his mouth on or around you he is disrespecting you and should be stopped. I am not saying you can't love on him (I would) but there is a time and place. Horses and ponies will always see what they can get away with and you need to keep firm boundaries. Don't let him drag his nose on the ground (not saying crank on his mouth) cause all that does is invite him to do what he wants - like roll.
If he walks off and picks his own direction without you; you probably need a firmer hold on the reins. He should only go where and when you want. Also with the stopping when he wants - you need to tap him with the reins (when driving)(I don't recommend this too much because it can get to be jarring on the mouth) or get a buggy whip and enforce your command with a tap from that if needed.
I wish I was there and could help you more but I'm sure you are finding good people in your area to learn from. Good Luck!

September 14, 2011 at 7:48 PM  
Blogger admin said...

Horses certainly have a language of their own.
When I was about 15 my dad got the brilliant idea that we’d get mustangs captured from Nevada who’d never been handled by a person until they were rounded up—and then never trained of course. He thought I could train them since I loved Western Horseman and could ride a friend’s horse. Well…somehow, someway it worked, but with some help from some old hands and lots of research. I had to develop that I’m in charge body language even if I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing. It kind of sounds like he knows he can get away with things or maybe confused—but no worries, that can change. I think a lot of your attitude on all this.
Most of my resources are all western riding orientated, but anything Buck Brannaman or Pat Parelli on groundwork is awesome and may help. Pat has some great resources (for purchase of course) via his website—he even has an segment on horses that won’t stand still:
Sure you’ll benefit more from the trainers though—take heart!

September 14, 2011 at 8:45 PM  
Blogger Lauren said...

Hi Jenna, You have LOTS of great advice and I get where you are coming from. I am just the opposite. I walk into a barn and feel at home. The huge animals give me no fear and I can move them naturally as if I was talking with them. My dogs however mystify me. I am NO dog whisper. When my husband bought a horse that hadn't been handled for a LONG time (she was definitely neglected and abused) I found Clinton Anderson book (Clinton Anderson's Downunder Horsemanship: Establishing Respect and Control for English and Western Riders) to be EXTREMELY straight forward and helpful. Also, I spent time reading and learning from various "horse whisperers" such as Monty Roberts, Pat Parelli, John Lyons, etc. A horse needs to respect you and be speaking the same language as you via body language. So exciting to see the different ways to whisper a horse out there. Much more exciting than "training" in my opinion. There is even the new film "Buck" that is about horse whispering (which I have yet to see so I can't recommend). A fantastic movie to watch is "In a Whisper" it isn't really a "how to" but it was great to watch. Good luck with Jasper. You are totally on the right track with getting help. Can't wait to see you two working like a team!

September 14, 2011 at 9:52 PM  
Blogger Rosie said...

Check out Chris Cox Horsemanship. He is a marvelous trainer and I like his natural methods.
I have trained horses all my life and I would guess the problem starts at ground manners and RESPECT for you. This running off when you turned him out and bucking and "playing" was evidence manners are lacking and you are not in control.
You should have a round ring or a fenced flat area to work him and establish you are calling the shots. He needs to figure out that standing still is a good thing and a relief.When he figets he needs to know that it will mean that you are going to make him move because you say so, he will eventually understand that standing still and calm is sooooooo much better than having to keep moving. It is key that you establish control now on the ground work because you do not have the advantage of physical contact or body english.
Working him up and down a slope is not going to give you control and it will wear you out. You need a flat ring, a confined space.
I would not drive him until I had him under control on the leadline. He should be able to lead with out leaning on you or not respecting your space. Backing when asked, moving his shoulder, moving his hip and then sidepassing when asked all of these controls should be done before trying to drive him from behind. He should tie and stand for longer and longer times without pulling back or figeting. If he will not stand tied you have a major safety issue. Its all about ground work and giving him physical exercise to burn off any feisty-ness. This horse needs to be worked.

September 15, 2011 at 2:16 AM  
Blogger embracingitall said...

That pony of yours is so full of cheek! I love him. One day it will all click for you both. Jacinta

September 15, 2011 at 7:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Coming from an Amish farm, I'd wonder if he were trained using English commands.

Just a thought. Good luck with the training. With your track record of persistence, I'm sure he'll become a fine cart horse.

September 15, 2011 at 3:52 PM  
Blogger DeirdraV said...

I would be happy to talk your ear off about crossing over from Predator training to prey training.
I had the worst time changing my behavior when I started to religiously train my horses like I train my dogs.
It took a lot of patience and you have a youngster who has your number.
Big fan of the clicker as well.
You can email me at

September 16, 2011 at 2:04 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Montero said...

I'm re-training one of my riding cobs to drive. I've got a willing horse and 30 years' experience with horses under my belt and I'm finding it a challenge. Don't get disheartened.

You've got enough good advice already, you don't need more from me. What I would say that's helped me is having a second confident horse person there when I'm working. Someone to hold Jasper's head, yes, but someone to give you a bit of moral support and laugh at Jasper's antics. Even another perspective on a training problem can be helpful.

September 18, 2011 at 4:46 AM  

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