When you’re on a trail ride or riding through pasture, does your horse yank his head down and grab a mouthful of grass? Break this annoying and potentially dangerous habit with Clinton Anderson’s three-step technique.
Step 1: Put His Feet to Work
Your horse can only think about one thing at a time. He’s either focused on you or his next snack. If he grabs a mouthful of grass, he’s obviously not thinking about you. Gain his attention by redirecting his feet and making him hustle.
As soon as your horse snatches grass, bend him around in a circle, and kick his side with your inside leg. Wake him up, and get his attention back on you. Make him hustle like his life depends on it. Do serpentines, lope him in a circle, gallop him in a straight line. Get some energy into it.
You’re saying to him, “Hey, you don’t have time to eat grass, because you’re too busy listening to me and hustling your feet!”
After you make your point, put your horse on a loose rein, and dare him to take another bite so he can commit to the mistake. Let him grab a mouthful of grass, then hustle his feet again.
Keep in mind that horses are basically lazy creatures, and the worst punishment you can give them is hard work.
Step 2: Squeeze, Cluck, Spank
If your horse stops at a patch of clover and refuses to move, get more aggressive by using the squeeze-cluck-spank method.
First, squeeze your horse with your calves to cue forward movement. This squeeze cue politely asks your horse to go forward.
If he ignores your squeezing, Cluck to him with your tongue, “cluck,” “cluck.” This cluck warns him that a spank will come if he continues to ignore you.
If your horse still doesn’t respond, spank him with the end of the reins or a dressage whip. Do whatever it takes to get his feet to move. With horses, you have to be as easy as possible, but as firm as necessary.
Step 3: Make the Wrong Thing Difficult
If you still can’t get your horse to move his feet, make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy. Whenever he tries to grab a bite, pop him between his ears with the end of the reins or a dressage whip. Tap him firmly enough so that he thinks, Oh, man, that wasn’t fun.
It’s almost like a big surprise. Every time he opens his mouth, something quickly smacks him on the top of his head. He’ll eventually stop going for the grass, because he’ll figure out that by doing so, he’s making himself feel uncomfortable.
Timing is important. Act quickly, so your horse will think that he’s the one causing the pressure between his ears, and connects his discomfort with his grass-grabbing behavior.
Clinton Anderson grew up in Queensland, Australia, learning to ride as a teenager and training with many of his country's top horsemen. In 1997, he relocated to the United States to perfect his Downunder Horsemanship program. Under Anderson's guidance, horses learn to respect and respond to their handlers, developing willing partnerships. To learn more about Downunder Horsemanship, Clinton Anderson Walkabout Tours, and more, visit www.downunderhorsemanship.com.