HERD BOUND – PART ONE
I am currently training a horse for a client that has these “herd-bound” issues. So I wanted to share a series of articles with you to help you overcome these problems in your horse.
Typical Signs of a Herd Bound Horse
- The horse’s attention is on the other horses instead of the rider
- Difficult to control when other horses speed up, slow down, or change direction
- If the rider wants to separate from the group the horse gets upset, anxious, and hard to handle
- The horse even in a group will not settle down; always wants to be in front (and everything that goes with that)
This type of horse is relying on its own instincts, as a herd animal, instead of listening and being attentive to the rider’s direction. In order for this not to get any worse the rider must not give in to the horse’s desire to be with the other horses.
Tips to Overcome:
- BE AWARE
Be aware of what the other riders around you are doing. If the group is walking then trot. If the group doesn’t start trotting while you are, then slow your horse back down to a walk. Do transitions like this often. Try to ride proactively ahead of the possible actions of the other riders. When stopped at a gate make him stand facing the person opening the gate. Before the riders start heading out, start walking in your immediate area to alleviate the anxiety of your horse feeling it is being left by the others going through the gate, then follow when it’s your turn. If you can “see” your horse’s mind drifting, do something to make him pay attention to you.
- SET UP SITUATIONS
Even before going out on the trail, set up situations that would cause herd-bound behavior. Teach him how to properly handle himself in the situations that cause him to react with his herd mindset. Get some friends to help you and make a plan, as best as possible, before going out on the trail. Take an opportunity like this to teach and help your horse through his anxiety.
- WALK – TROT – WALK
(To do this step have two other riders with you to help you.)
Select an open, flat riding terrain, wide trail, etc. Start by walking with the other two riders, then trot about 100-150 feet in front of the other riders, as soon as you slow down to a walk on a loose rein, another rider should do the same in front of you. Your horse and the other rider’s horse should be walking on a loose rein. Then have the last rider do the same. When you feel your horse needs to catch up and starts to trot, bring him back to a walk. DO NOT HOLD YOUR HORSE BACK FROM TROTTING, ask him to walk and as soon as he does release and ride on a loose rein. Every time he tries to trot bring him back to a walk and release. If the horse will not maintain the walk on a loose rein then shorten the distance between you and the other riders the next round. Doing this “leap frog” exercise, adjusting the distance between horses until you find a comfortable distance that allows you to walk on a loose rein will set you up for success and progress to bigger distances without anxiety.
Remember: If your horse trots when you don’t want him to, keep your body in the walk mode. DO NOT “Trot your body” when you want to walk.
- RIDING IN TANDEM
When riding with another rider, separate for a minute. While that rider stays on the trail take your horse off the trail and give him a job to do – circle a bush or tree – then come back to the other rider for a few strides and have your friend do the same with their horse. After you have done this and your horse is relaxed try to separate at the same time going different directions. Go only a short distance at first to keep the anxiety level low. Continue doing this exercise until you feel your horse relax. Then ride together for a while and start the drill again.
I hope that this will help you with the herd bound issues you may be experiencing. I will be posting more exercises for different herd bound issues.
HERD BOUND – PART TWO
“Herd Bound to a Buddy”
A horse that has “attached” itself to another horse can obviously create a herd bound issue.
Here’s an exercise you can do to work through this buddy issue. (Have a friend help you with this exercise)
Have your friend ride the buddy of the herd bound horse. Together ride in a large arena with good footing. Have your friend on the buddy horse stand about 150 ft away allowing plenty of room between him and the fence.
Take the buddy relying horse to the other end of the arena and make it stand there facing his buddy, relax your reins, and do not ask the horse to move. Let him make the choice to move or not. More than likely the horse will want to move towards his buddy. When he does allow him to, but once he gets close to his buddy get him busy! Actively trot or lope around the buddy. Do this until your horse wants to rest and decides his idea of the buddy has turned into a lot of work. Once you feel this happening ride back to the other end of the arena, face the buddy, relax your reins, and pet him. If he decides to move towards his buddy again, do the same drill, change directions, implement figure eights or other transitional maneuvers until he understands that his decision has made it difficult, and has to work every time he makes the decision to move towards his buddy.
DO NOT REST HIM BESIDE HIS BUDDY. He only rests at the other end of the arena with you. When the horse decides to be content and to stand relaxed at the other end of the arena, then you can walk him quietly towards and around his buddy, and even allow him to stand beside his buddy for a few seconds, then go back to the other end of the arena.
The object of this drill is not so the horse will want to stay away from the buddy, but that you can take the horse away from the buddy as you please without an anxiety attack. We are expanding the horse’s comfort zone and building the horse’s confidence in you for comfort and safety instead it relying on the other horse.
(Please use discretion on the length and intensiveness of this exercise, we are not wanting to injure the horse in any way. If you feel that the horse is getting overly exhausted and not “getting” the drill, then allow him to rest away from his buddy and give him time to think. Then come back the next day and set up the same exercise again.)
Remember: Timing is important. Try to anticipate anxiety to be with the buddy before it happens as you work through this exercise. Also make sure you ride calmly through this procedure. Don’t let your energy get cranked up as you ride actively. Be calm and active at the same time.
HERD BOUND – PART THREE
“The Horse Wanting To Lead”
One may not think that the horse that always wants to be in the lead is a “herd bound” issue, but it is!
The goal for this horse is to learn how to be content, following your lead. To be able to be in the lead, middle, or back of the line with no problems. The exercises I’m going to share with you are best accomplished with a group of four or more riders who are willing to help you. Make sure during these exercises you allow ample time and distance for your horse to make a positive change.
Here are a few exercises to follow:
As you are riding with the group and your horse decides to pick up speed to get in front, *don’t hold him back*, instead let him get to the front, but make him go about 30-40 yards past the front. Then turn around and trot all the way to the back of the group. Once you get past the last horse turn around and ride with the group ON A LOOSE REIN. If he seems to want to go to the front again then repeat the exercise. Do this until your horse decides his idea is a lot more work than your idea.
****Thought to Remember: Containing (holding back) a horse like this will often add fuel to the fire and make things worse. This exercise allows him to “get what he wants,” but with you directing him, instead of containing him, which in turn will get you what you want.
EXERCISE TWO – “The Snake Trail”
Riding in zigzags down the trail will help direct the horse’s energy, allowing him to cover more ground without putting any more distance between your horse and the others. Use the terrain as markers to weave in and out of (trees, rocks, bushes, etc.). You are moving forward with the others, but this will allow your horse to be focused on you for the next turn instead of wanting to be in the front.
EXERCISE THREE – Make A Lot of Transitions
Making a lot of transitions will keep your horse’s attention on you. If you are making him do something different often enough it will not allow him to think about what it wants to do, but what you are asking it to do.
Here are a few transitions you can do….
~ Change Direction
~Change Speed (ex. trot 10 strides, walk 5)
~Ride Around Obstacles
Often times a herd bound horse will whinny at the other horses. Instead of getting after them for doing that, refocus it’s attention with a “job” to do. Ideally being proactive in your riding and catching him before he whinnies is best.
All of these exercises mentioned in the “herd bound” series will help broaden the comfort zones of you and your horse. It will develop a strong partnership and willingness in your horse to want to be with YOU! Remember to ride proactively and to work through little steps at a time, progressively getting better and better until the problem is worked through.