By Steve Bauhr
Within every horse is a strong overwhelming power. At times, it will take over muscle and bypass logic or reasoning. At times, it will cause the horse to hurt themselves while trying to avoid being hurt. Many believe it’s the strongest drive in the horse. What is it? Self-preservation.
My grandparents lived in Seattle, Washington when I was young. I was fortunate to spend several summers there, and it was a must each year to go up to see the famous Space Needle. The first couple of years it was no problem going up that high, I even stood next to the glass in the glass elevators, but the last summer I was there, I notice the height started to bother me. I had not had a traumatic experience to warrant this, it just happened. That same summer, the Space Needle was being painted, and I can remember watching the painters out on the rim walking around with nothing but 600 ft of air between them and the ground. My Grandfather must have noticed something and said to me, “Do you know what you’re feeling right now?” “No,” I replied. “That’s called Self-Preservation,” he said. He was right, and I had it coming on strong with an overwhelming desire to get my feet back on solid ground!
Some years after that, I had a similar situation that is more in line with what I believe our horses deal with in regards to Self -Preservation. On my walk home from High School, I passed the town’s mortuary. There was a short cut I would take by walking behind it and through their back parking lot. I could see the back of the mortuary from this angle, and also see the door in which bodies and caskets were taken in and out. It was no big deal in the day light hours- there were people around and the street next to it had some traffic, but late at night it was a big deal.
If there was a school function like a dance, and I was walking home late, I had to make a decision as to saving about 4 minutes by taking the short cut or not. Again, in the day light, it was a no brainer, but late at night with no one around? I would usually take the short cut, but what typically happened was, once the door that I had seen the bodies and caskets come in and out of was past my view, I found it almost impossible to only walk, not run.
Imagine the ideas going through a young boy’s mind as to what might be creeping out of that door at night. As hard as I tried to walk, I usually bolted into a full sprint until I was certain I had left any Ghouls or Zombies in the dust! This need to bolt was so strong that if anyone or thing had tried to hold me down, I might have even hurt myself trying to break free.
Is any of this sounding familiar? If you tie your horses, this is exactly what you’re asking them to deal with- an inability to flee. You’ve taking away their number one mechanism within their Self-Preservation tool box, which is to run from danger. When we see horses with pull back issues, we’re witnessing this first hand at its worst extreme.
Giving to pressure: teaching and preparing a horse to deal with halter pressure is the first step, and that’s not done while they’re tied up, it’s done while teaching them to lead or follow you.
Patience – learning to wait: The next step is asking them to ground tie, stand in one place with the lead rope lying on the ground in front of them.
Foot work: Working a horse back and forth on the rail while being held, not tied, close to the rail.
Once a horse is proficient at these things, you might consider tying them. I like using the blocker ties to start out because they can release some lead, allowing the horse some relief if they panic and pull back.
As you can see, for me, it’s a process of steps before I ever just tie up a horse. If I’m going to take away a horse’s best tool, it’s important that I convince them first they no longer need that tool. Once you can get a horse to stand tied without panicking, even if they’re getting worried, you may have done some of your best training.
See ya out there!
Steve Bauhr owns and operates Bauhr Ranch, a full horse training facility in Chinese Camp, Ca. For more info, go to bauhrranch.com or find us on Facebook!