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Guest writers

Clair Thunes
Summit Equine Nutrition

Clair Thunes

As an equine nutritionist Dr. Thunes has worked with a wide range of horses from lactating mares to competitive dressage horses, and with a variety of physiological problems including insulin resistance and muscle myopathies, and she is happy to work in conjunction with your veterinarian. Dr. Thunes believes in finding the right balance between the horse\'s diet and needs and the client\'s resources. She works with both individual horses or an entire barn and enjoys working with owners to find the optimal feeding solutions. Services provided include diet evaluation and formulation, hay analysis interpretation, custom supplement formulation and farm visits. Dr. Thunes also offers phone and email consultations. Dr. Thunes can be contacted at 916-248-8987.

Articles by Clair Thunes:




Charles Wilhelm
Ultimate Foundation Trainings

Charles Wilhelm

Charles Wilhelm is internationally known as America’s most respected horse trainer and is the creator of Ultimate Foundation Training, an equine training technique that combines the best of traditional, classical and natural horsemanship into a methodology that is applicable to every riding discipline.

His training facility located in Castro Valley, CA, offers extensive hands-on learning programs for every level of horsemanship, from novice through trainer.  His programs truly reflect his motto “Success Through Knowledge”.

Articles by Charles Wilhelm:

Introduction to De-Spooking and Sacking Out

Training Month IV - Continuing Linework & First Bath

Training Month I - A Good Mind & Haltering

Training Month II - Leading & Picking Up Feet

Training Month III - Basic Linework

The Role of Equipment in Horse Training


Training Month I - A Good Mind & Haltering

by Charles Wilhelm

Please welcome our new training project, the yearling filly “Jaz Poco Salsa.” Jaz is a National Foundation Quarter Horse, from Jaz Ranch in Oregon. All their horses are Poco Bueno bred and they breed specifically for classic Foundation attributes: Brains, Bone, Beauty, Disposition, and Versatility. Jaz herself is a red dun filly, with good bone and nice, soft eyes. And if her first week is any indication, this filly has one of the best minds and dispositions I have come across in long while! Jaz arrived at the ranch last weekend (early October). Up until being loaded in the trailer for a two day journey, she had been sharing about a thousand acres with a large herd, and had barely been handled by people. She had no training and had never been in a trailer prior to this trip. Though she arrived with two minor trailer scratches on her face, she unloaded very calmly. While she was attentive to her surroundings, her overall demeanor was pretty nonchalant. She allowed me to lead her easily to a paddock, where we gave her some hay and she was able to see other horses nearby. I always want to give horses the opportunity to relax and settle in to new surroundings, get out any nervous energy. But Jaz was acting like she had done it all a hundred times before.


Now before I talk about how we started her training this week, I do want to let you know why we chose this horse, and why it’s important that you make good decisions for yourself as well.

Friends, you cannot train for disposition. You cannot train for a good mind and temperament. You can only work with what you have. But to have a horse that is naturally willing, wants to please, wants to be with people, has a work ethic… those things make training not only significantly easier and more effective, but they also mean that at heart — you simply will always have a safer and better equine partner for the life of your relationship.

I have talked in the past about horse personalities and what affects them. One of the biggest factors is breeding. And unfortunately, horses are an industry and lots of people breed horses for a quick buck or for what I believe are the wrong priorities for the majority of riders. They may breed for conformation, performance, and color even, but a good mind is low on the list for many breeders. In my opinion, that should consistently be a number one trait you look to pass on. A great disposition is gold — truly invaluable.
That being said — there are many exceptional breeders out there that do focus on disposition and trainability. Yes, their horses are likely to be more expensive and yes, it’s worth it. You can either invest up front in a horse that takes to training and partnership easily, or you can buy a horse that you have to spend far more on training because it does not want to work, doesn’t want to be with you, is not naturally complacent, and still have a horse that needs higher maintenance for its whole life.

Me, I want the lower maintenance model, especially since that often delivers higher performance at the same time. I researched a lot of horses and breeders before I selected Jaz. Because the next year or two of starting this baby is far more than a project to share with readers and clients on the benefits of starting a young horse correctly — I want this horse to be a lifetime partner for me. So I did what I think everyone should do when looking to buy or breed for a youngster — be very selective and buy for those the traits that you can’t really see, but surely can feel.

This first week with Jaz was a perfect example of why that good mind matters so much. The first formal training exercise in our plan was to teach her to accept a halter well. You kind of need to start with that no matter what, as it’s rather hard to do much with any horse if they cannot be haltered. Well Jaz pretty much just let me walk up to her and put a halter on, and has ever since. Now while that has certainly been a pleasant experience for me, it does not help those of you with babies having a hard time haltering your horse, so let me share what I expected I would be doing with her.

First thing you need to do is to get the horse into a small space. If the horse is in a stall or paddock, you may be able to use the gate to create a smaller triangle-like area where the horse is more easily accessible for you. However if the horse is in pasture or a paddock, you may have to start by creating a bond with that horse just to be able to get near it, and one where it looks to you as the leader. So where does that start? With moving it’s feet. Now the horse may move off when you approach. Fine, keep it moving then but when it finally stops, even if just briefly, you need to not only stop, but back up away a bit as well. Back to “Pressure and release 101.” Reward the baby for the behavior you want by releasing the pressure the second it performs that behavior. If you continue to do this, releasing the “pressure of your presence” as the youngster stops and allows you to become closer without moving, you should be able to approach it over time. Each youngster will have very different fear levels. Some babies you can walk right up to, others may take awhile. Let the horse progress at its own rate but do not stop until you have made significant progress. On a very nervous horse, you may not halter it the first day, but if you ended by being able to approach it without it walking off, that’s great.

The next step will require some assessment on your part. Again, I was able to put a halter right on Jaz, but some horses you will need to first get them used having their face touched, head, ears, and then touching those areas with a rope… long before you try to put a halter over them. Now could you force it, just get a halter on a scared horse right away to start to work with them? Sure, but why? What’s the rush? Your goal should be building a relationship of trust with you as the leader. With more nervous horses, and especially with young horses, this should be done very patiently. I would much rather spend a few days teaching a baby to quietly accept a halter than to risk losing her trust.

So once you determine how slowly you need to progress, introducing yourself, physical contact around the face, the equipment around the head… it’s all done with the same pressure and release mechanism. Only release the pressure if the horse quiets, even if just for a second. For example, if you are reaching toward the horse to pet her ears and she backs up — stay with her until she stops backing — then immediately step back yourself. That’s her reward. Same thing with the halter. If the horse resists when you are ready to put the equipment on, stay with it no matter where the head and neck are going until the horse quiets or stops resisting – and then immediately pull the equipment away. Now the tricky thing with babies is recognizing “baby-gives.” It’s the tiny tries they offer and oh-so-hard to recognize baby-steps that you need to reward so they can start putting two and two together to see what you are asking. This is just another reason for you though to take the training slow yourself. It’s much easier to recognize their small attempts to comply if you are only asking for small behaviors.

So take it slow and let me assure you that while teaching a horse to accept wearing a halter may seem like a mundane training chore — it is indeed a critical building block for everything you will be doing with your youngster. Halter-breaking (which comes next) is such an important method for teaching horse to give to pressure, and one that carries over directly into saddle and bridle work. Plus for the rest of your life with your horse you will be haltering it every time you want to do something with it. And nothing is less fun than fighting with an adult horse to get a halter on its head day after day. People ask me all the time, how do you get your horses to lower their heads to be haltered?

I don’t teach them to lower their head per say, instead they lower their head because they have learned it’s the most comfortable way for them to be haltered. By lowering their head, little to no pressure is put on their poll during haltering. So when we are consistent, employing the immediate releases of pressure to reward them while training them to accept a halter, the horses then learn to avoid the pressure altogether by lowering their head for you. And certainly, by using methods that communicate with the horse in a way they understand, it also increases their trust of you and makes them want to be with you — additional reasons they will come to you and stand quietly for haltering.

So as I write this column, we are just beginning to teach Jaz to lead, and getting her used to grooming and bodywork. Next month we will review how Jaz did with her leading, along with some round pen work. I’ll cover the basic techniques for getting any youngster to lead easily, which is the next stage in pressure and release education, and then the benefits of using a round pen (or line work) to establish leadership and respect.

Until next month,

Charles Wilhelm

Andalusian Dressage Partners
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