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Teaching A Horse To Flex

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I don't want to give too many details about this for privacy reasons for both me and the other person involved, but this is something that I had to ask.

I was recently helping out a trainer who was working with some young horses. He wanted to show me how to "properly flex a horse", and proceeded to take a long yearling (possibly two years old) by the bridle, clipped a lead rope onto one side of the bit, then tied it's head around to the saddle. He said you then leave them there for 10 minutes, then do the same on the other side.

Was I right to be thinking... :shocked: :shocked: when he showed me this?? That poor filly had NO release whatsoever. I have never known of anybody flexing a horse in that way, I have always seen a pressure/release method which seemed much kinder and the horse still learned how to flex just fine.

Is this a normal thing to do or is it really as bad as it looked to me? Please enlighten me!

Edited by ohNine

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there are quite a few trainers that do this.. the bad part about it is there is NO release.. and it does not encourage the horse to keep its poll over its nose, but rather snake their nose around and tilt their head. which creates a bad habit.. and if the horse flexes like that undersaddle it becomes another thing to over come (dropping all their weight onto the opposite front.)

there are WAY better ways of teaching flexion and give. tying their head around only teaches them they cant get away from doing it (even if its wrong). it also creates really stiff necks in the end.. and lots of fun chiro issues should the horse fight while tied around.

when the "trainer" runs out of tools in their own mental/skill box, they resort to crap like this as a shortcut.

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This made me cringe! I would never flex my horses this way, and would probably have a heart attack if I saw it. Like Equi and Grace said, I use the pressure then release. Yikes, I'm still in shock over hearing that.

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Thank you for the replies, I am glad my gut was right in telling me that this was not a good thing.

Now, would this deter you from working with a person who does this to their horses? All other training methods seems fine, but this one is really eating at me...especially since he wants ME to start doing this with horses, and I just don't have the heart to do that when I know that it is not right. :confused0024:

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I would tell this person I do not agree with this style of training.

I would let him know that I may not be a trainer but I do know/have learned that horses learn from release of pressure and this is not correct.

If he disagrees with me,I would politely let him know that I do not have a problem with working with him in other areas of training ...so far...and do wish to continue to do so but THIS particular lesson I will no longer wish to have demonstrated to me nor will I participate in.

If he wants to argue...then I don't need his services and would see that as a sign from above that I am being made ready for a better trainer to come along for me to draw from.

School is always in session and pride is a unvaluable commodity when dealing with horses...it can get us killed if we are not humble enough to know we are always to remain teachable.

If he is the "I am the expert...and this is the only way to do it, Little Lady" sort...you don't want him as a mentor anyway, right? :confused0024::smileywavey:

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Not all the time, but often enough, when someone ties a horse around there are other things in their "training toolbox" that are equally as ignorant and/or questionable.

I have seen numerous WP world champs do this or talk about it, and i really dont see it as a tool to teach anything beyind tolerance. Tolerance for a crappy method that creates other issues should you have a resistant horse that pitches a fit.

I would express my concerns, and if its a commonly used method, id cut ties with that trainer quickly.

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I would tell this person I do not agree with this style of training.

I would let him know that I may not be a trainer but I do know/have learned that horses learn from release of pressure and this is not correct.

If he disagrees with me,I would politely let him know that I do not have a problem with working with him in other areas of training ...so far...and do wish to continue to do so but THIS particular lesson I will no longer wish to have demonstrated to me nor will I participate in.

If he wants to argue...then I don't need his services and would see that as a sign from above that I am being made ready for a better trainer to come along for me to draw from.

School is always in session and pride is a unvaluable commodity when dealing with horses...it can get us killed if we are not humble enough to know we are always to remain teachable.

If he is the "I am the expert...and this is the only way to do it, Little Lady" sort...you don't want him as a mentor anyway, right? :confused0024::smileywavey:

I totally agree with teampenninglady. The pressure/release method has ALWAYS worked for me. On my paint, I can now stand on his side and when he looks around at me, all I have to do is to wiggle my fingers in a come here sign and he will flex all the way back to me.

You can try talking to this trainer; however, if they will use this type of force method, what other forceful methods will they use that you have not even seen yet or they will require you to use. I would look around and talk to other people to find another trainer.

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I would use this on a horse who had been mishandled and had a hard mouth. It's how I fixed my gelding after 14 years of trying to rip the arms of the people riding him out of their sockets. We aren't stronger than them so sometimes this method is useful...however I would not tie to the saddle horn...thats too high and does encourage them to bring their nose up, so I tie to the girth behind the shoulder. I also make sure my bit is a full cheeck so that it can't be dragged through the mouth if the horse fights. And lastly never tie any tighter that bringing your horses nose to a 90° angle...as in if you were to mount a pole that ran across the horses chest you wouldn't want their nose past the pole. I also NEVER leave them this way...I actually ask them to move around at a walk. This keeps their head straight and pole area above the nose so they aren't leaning and dropping their weight to one side or the other...basically what you want is for them to walk little cirlces down the rail...always making sure you are making progress around the round pen...so as to keep forward momentum.

The way you described is NOT the way this method should be practiced but done correctly CAN be useful in certain situations.

eta: I do not (would not) USE this to TEACH flexion...I use it to create suppleness and give in horses who are having a tough time or have been improperly taught.

Edited by Desert Lane Training

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many people use this method, when I've seen it done the rein is tied to a loop of leather tied in a circle in the opening on the back of a saddle where the "bucking strap" would attach.....the thinking is that when the horse learns that standing still and not fighting the rein is easier then fighting it.......I have often used bribery, lol meaning I take something tastey and haver the horses nose follow it to the sides and between his front legs, I use this to help the horse stretch and work those muscle. For flexion under saddle I simply pull his nose from left to right toward my toes, release as soon as he gives, I then break it up with some other simple work like large circles and whoa and backing, then more pulling the nose to my toes, its awfully boring but works for me....

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there are quite a few trainers that do this.. the bad part about it is there is NO release.. and it does not encourage the horse to keep its poll over its nose, but rather snake their nose around and tilt their head. which creates a bad habit.. and if the horse flexes like that undersaddle it becomes another thing to over come (dropping all their weight onto the opposite front.)

there are WAY better ways of teaching flexion and give. tying their head around only teaches them they cant get away from doing it (even if its wrong). it also creates really stiff necks in the end.. and lots of fun chiro issues should the horse fight while tied around.

when the "trainer" runs out of tools in their own mental/skill box, they resort to crap like this as a shortcut.

Ditto this! I teach mine in a training halter first, holding the lead about 18" from the chin, bring the head around holding your hand on the wither... If the horse moves, walk with them (that's why I hold the wither) once they stop and release (slack in the rope) I drop the lead immediately as reward, give me a rub &pat and go again.... My client love how light my horses are!

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Thank you for the replies, I am glad my gut was right in telling me that this was not a good thing.

Now, would this deter you from working with a person who does this to their horses? All other training methods seems fine, but this one is really eating at me...especially since he wants ME to start doing this with horses, and I just don't have the heart to do that when I know that it is not right. :confused0024:

Yes I would be very deterred.... I'm confident this wouldn't be the last 'shortcut' that would be taught :(

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IMO this is a lazy shortcut. Several years ago I hired a trainer for my (at the time) 7 year old gelding. We were doing a modified training plan, she would come out once a week and I did the majority of the training on him. I left her with my boy, went to the house to get money to pay her, and came back down in time to watch him rear and flip over a fence. She had decided he wasn't flexing well on his (BLIND) right side, and so she tied his rein to the saddle. Needless to say, that was the last time she set foot on my property... Take the time to teach them to flex in hand. No good reason to tie a horse's head to their saddle, I believe if you have to resort to that, you have bigger holes in that horse's training that need addressed first...

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I would tell this person I do not agree with this style of training.

I would let him know that I may not be a trainer but I do know/have learned that horses learn from release of pressure and this is not correct.

If he disagrees with me,I would politely let him know that I do not have a problem with working with him in other areas of training ...so far...and do wish to continue to do so but THIS particular lesson I will no longer wish to have demonstrated to me nor will I participate in.

If he wants to argue...then I don't need his services and would see that as a sign from above that I am being made ready for a better trainer to come along for me to draw from.

School is always in session and pride is a unvaluable commodity when dealing with horses...it can get us killed if we are not humble enough to know we are always to remain teachable.

If he is the "I am the expert...and this is the only way to do it, Little Lady" sort...you don't want him as a mentor anyway, right? :confused0024::smileywavey:

^^^This^^^

:notworthy:

My personal feeling is that I can always learn something new. Even if the teacher is an idiot.

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Thank you for the comments everyone.

I have decided to leave this job for multiple reasons, including the issues with this training technique.

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I would use this on a horse who had been mishandled and had a hard mouth. It's how I fixed my gelding after 14 years of trying to rip the arms of the people riding him out of their sockets. We aren't stronger than them so sometimes this method is useful...however I would not tie to the saddle horn...thats too high and does encourage them to bring their nose up, so I tie to the girth behind the shoulder. I also make sure my bit is a full cheeck so that it can't be dragged through the mouth if the horse fights. And lastly never tie any tighter that bringing your horses nose to a 90? angle...as in if you were to mount a pole that ran across the horses chest you wouldn't want their nose past the pole. I also NEVER leave them this way...I actually ask them to move around at a walk. This keeps their head straight and pole area above the nose so they aren't leaning and dropping their weight to one side or the other...basically what you want is for them to walk little cirlces down the rail...always making sure you are making progress around the round pen...so as to keep forward momentum.

The way you described is NOT the way this method should be practiced but done correctly CAN be useful in certain situations.

eta: I do not (would not) USE this to TEACH flexion...I use it to create suppleness and give in horses who are having a tough time or have been improperly taught.

I've actually seen Craig Cameron do this! It was a long time ago so I don't remeber if he had a bridle on the horse or just a rope halter and lead rope. It was a young horse I believe, he was in a round pen and the horse did have a saddle on. It seemed to work very well for him. The horse was calm through the whole thing. He used a round pen and a small flag or plastic bag to keep the horses feet moving.

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Does this trainer live in the dark ages??? That old method is soooo out of date - not to mention the cruelty of it all. :duh: He needs to learn something from the current (and some older) clinicians. Someone should make him aware that he is not teaching the horse anything without the release of pressure and only frightening the horse because they tend to be claustrophobic. :bang_head:

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Actually too many trainers still do this at the higher levels too. I knew one trainer that took it even farther by thinking longer is better and would tie up a young horse for hours. Even if it fell over he would unhook it, get it back up and retie it. :(

Now I am at the point I am DIYer so I know my horses are being treated right all the time. Nothing hidden when I am not there since I am the only one training them. Get tons of compliments now on how well they are doing at the shows including from trainers.

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What about tying rein to knotted tail, where the head is just bent far enough to tip the nose a little? I have seen this done in several different barns... not tied hard to the saddle, but to the actual tail... (Tail is in loose knot, so if there IS a major blow up, knot releases.) isn't that safer for horse & trainer... as in horse objects, any negative resistance is self inflicted, vs. person on the ground getting ran over if they are working with a reactive horse?

You still get the same result, horse learns that when he is asked for his head on that side, he gives, pressure is released, if he fights, his butt moves, wheather he wants it to or not... no human is directly "at fault", therefore, no hard feelings?

Just curious.

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Why not teach a horse to give to pressure from the ground via ground driving, etc.? I don't get the whole idea of tying around, because there is no release. The rein pulls the horse's head in a direction, and the horse is forced to hold their head bent for long periods of time or else feel pressure? I know one thing - it's a GREAT way to teach your young horse how to LEAN on pressure, because when their is no release that is exactly what you are teaching them to do. It is the same with riding badly and hanging on the reins. Eventually the horse will learn to lean back and ignore the pressure.

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red- its still teh same idea, regardless of where the horses head is tied to.

im with CR- there is no positive reinforcement (release). yes, they "give", but only because they HAVE to.. not because they WANT to.. its forcing the horse to half-arsed "learn to give".. and it causes a heck of alot more damage and things to unlearn, than if the horse was taught correctly from teh get go.

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I'm with Desert Lane on this....it is a useful tool if done correctly for very short periods of time and the horse is not left unattended and there's a quick release in case he gets in trouble. I've also seen it done using surgical tubing that has some "give" to it....the horse learns to tuck over to the side just a hair more than where he runs into the pressure so releases the pressure on his own by flexing slightly more. If the horse is asked to move while so tied he also learns to a) follow his nose, stepping over with the front, and b)disengage/step over with the rear (this can be a useful step in teaching a one rein stop as an example). Like any tool it can be misused and abused. A modification is to use a long lead/rein and flip it to the horse's far side and around his rear...apply some level of pressure to turn the horse's head away from you and then to follow his nose completely around to you while at the same time the lead/rein applies some "step over" pressure on his rear so the nose comes around to you while the rear steps over and away....the horse does about 3/4 of a circle.

None of this should be done with a flighty, fearful, overreactive horse...they need to understand giving to the bit in the first place and if using long lines, to be desensitized to ropes and such bumping or rubbing the rear/legs.

Edited by coloredcowhorse

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I agree with Coloredcowhorse and Desert Lane. Tying around can be a useful training tool when used correctly and for limited periods of time. And i have to disagree with some of you who say there is no release. IF IT IS DONE CORRECTLY the horse would not be tied around so far that there is no room to give. They should be tied around loosely enough that their nose is still tipped to the inside, but they can bend there necks just a little bit more and find that there is no pressure on them. It is good to teach a stiff horse to give just a little more than you ask, or to teach a impatient horse patience. By this i mean, if they want to walk around and fight with their necks it's more tiring than just giving their face. It is good to get one following their nose and crossing over in the front and disengaging their hind quarters. I'm not saying that ALL TYING AROUND IS RIGHT OR HUMANE, but IF it is done correctly it can be a valuable training tool.

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Actually quite a few trainers use this method, and done correctly it has merits. It is not used to teach a horse to flex, but rather to follow his nose. You tie their head around slightly, as mentioned, about 10 minutes each side.

You then encourage them to move, following their nose, and not just to stand there leaning on the bit

Reining trainers and a host of other trainers use it,, and they certainly have anything but hard mouthed horses or ones that are stiff!

One can also ground drive young horses, but again, it must be done correctly. If you hang on those lines, because the horse is moving faster than what you can walk with slack in those lines, it will teach a horse to over flex like nothing else

Again, timing and feel come into play.

Over flexing, esp at the standstill, id often seen by NH followers. This teaches a horse to rubber neck, esp when that horse is constantly asked to flex latterally until his nose is at the rider's stirrup. I do most of my flexing exercises while moving, having the horse bend and move his entire body, and having those shoulders follow that nose

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Hello ohNine.

I also agree with Desert Lane and others.

If done correctly and for short periods of time and in no way should the horse be left unattended.

Its like anything things else... the mildest tools, techniques done incorrectly can be harmful to any horse.

When this type of technique is done by an experienced individual, it can be notice/witness by others that there are releases attained by the horse and on it own.

The trainer would be looking for small yield responses of correctness with the horse demonstrating the ability of staying calm and figuring things out,in which many ways are teaching itself how to response, being supple, having softness and attaining patience, getting the overall approval from the trainer by both animal and human quitting and taken on to another training task or call it a day.

Heres the deal... an animal shouldn't be done out of the blue, it because other training steps would need to have taken place first & learnt, such as teaching the horse using a halter and lead rope and that allows the horse to become familiar, being able to understand that part of the process without any fearfulness of what is being done.

Controlling the animal's feet and travel upward/downward transition in gaits with directional changes often should put an position effect on it's mind and there is no need to over work the horse because he or she won't be able to learn due to exhaustion.

The animal must be and stay in a calm state of mind to experience the fullest of this and other techniques.

One rein would be tied to the side ring of the saddle and within an reasonable length to start out with slowly taking up small section of slack until reaching the desired effect. It causes the horse to seek relieve by finding the release point and hold, while standing still and once again there are valuable elements of training being attain while going in this manner of teaching in which I feel it is more effective because the horse is learning these on it own.

The trainer is there with the horse standing an few feet away to oversee everything and the durations.

This kind of thing along with other training techniques can be viewed and misunderstood when a person is witnessing someone who is incompetent that lacks real training knowledge. In that case I could see where people feel this is wrong when it not.

The horse wouldn't be overly concern or show stress about their situation because they have been taught to seek correctness of the release.

The final product would render a horse which is quick to soften and yield to each rein.

I hope this insight helps bring about a clearer understanding about this training technique and its usages.

Edited by BW7

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This kind of thing along with other training techniques can be viewed and misunderstood when a person is witnessing someone who is incompetent that lacks real training knowledge. In that case I could see where people feel this is wrong when it not.

Now don't assume just because there are those of us who don't believe in this type of training we "lack real training knowledge". That's a bit pompous! I have plenty of training knowledge, I have bred, raised, and showed many horses to a high level and I didn't not have to tie around a single one of them when breaking or training. There ARE other, more pleasant ways to teach a horse to bend and flex and give in to pressure.

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I am in the "if done correctly" camp. Please remember that this is not done to teach flexing as described by several of the training gurus on TV these days. It is done to teach the follow your nose concept.

There is absolutely nothing unpleasant about doing this if it is done correctly. We do it with almost every animal that we train and they don't usually resist at all. It is done calmly and the animal simply follows it's nose around in a circle going down the fence line at a walk. The nose is tipped, not bent around to the girth and tied to the cinch ring, not the saddle horn. we have done it both in a loose ring snaffle and in a bosal with no ill effects.

I have never had one rear, flip or otherwise act silly although one will occasionaly try to tuck it's head in and go opposite the tie. They learn quickly that this is the hard way and not what is easiest for them to do.

I have no trouble with anyone that doesn't want to use this method and I am sure that there are things that you do that I would not be interested in. I am also sure that there are many people that do not do this properly and/or overdo it as with any other training method. There are many, many ways to achieve our goals with our animals and idfferent is not alwyas bad.

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