Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Horse Training: How Well Does Your Horse Try for You? Getting More Try

I hear horse trainers talk all the time about the level of a horse's "try." Most trainers like horses with a lot of try. In fact, one trainer I know will choose a horse with a poor comformation but a lot of try over a horse with super talent and very little try.

A lot of "horse try" can overcome many obstacles ... including lack of innate talent or poor comformation.

This is all well and good for the horse with a lot of try, but what about the horse who doesn't try? How do you get more try out of that horse?

Horse Try: Finding the Right "Hot Button" or Motivation
For the equine with little or no "horse try," the horse owner's job is to figure out why the horse has no try. The reasons could include:
  • fear of punishment or pain
  • fear of new things or concepts
  • boredom
  • dislike of his current career
  • physical inability to do his job
  • sheer laziness
  • a competitive streak
  • lack of understanding of the task
Lack of Horse Try: Some Examples
I have three horses in roping training now (I'm learning with Mary Duke and Dusty Healey of Stirrup Cup Farm), and each horse has experienced at least one bump in the road ... a place where he or she had no "try." The interesting thing was that, knowing each horse personality type, I was able to figure out the reason behind the lack of try, and solve the problem. (Learn more about horse personality types here and test your horse's personality type here.)

Lack of Horse Try Because of Fear
Walker, the gelding I've written so much about (and pictured above), lacked try because he had been roped as youngster, and was traumatized by the lariat. As a Shao Yin horse personality type, his main goal is to please his human, but his fear kept him from doing so. He would try and try to bear the rope exercises until he just couldn't. Then he would bolt at Mach-1.

Solution: Because Walker was still suffering from the trauma of being roped earlier, that meant he was stuck in his "fight or flight" sympathetic nervous system and literally could not think rationally. My solution was to start feeding him Eleviv, an herbal supplement that shifts horses (and humans) back into the normal parasympathetic nervous system. From this nervous system, horses can think rather than react. Another herbal supplement that works well is RelaxBlend from Equilite. Feeding probiotics can also help, since probiotics like acidophilus and bifidus produce B-vitamins, which can keep a horse calm.

Now Walker gets 2 capsules of Eleviv before roping practice, and has all the horse try in the world. He is, in fact, one of the star students of our little beginning roping clinic.

Lack of Horse Try Because of Misunderstanding
The second horse I introduced to roping training was Reyacita, a five-year-old mustang mare. Being a Metal horse personality type, Reyacita's primary goal in life is to understand her job clearly, and do it well. Once she understands her job, she will do it unfailingly. If her job description changes, she will demonstrate a lack of try.

When I first introduced Reyacita to roping, she lacked try because until then, her job had been "trail horse." Roping was not part of her resume.

Solution: To integrate roping into Reyacita's job description without having her buck me off, I started out slow. By introducing roping to her in several logical "chunks," she was able to understand her new job relatively quickly. For instance, we took it in these small steps:
  • practice the rope exercises (created by Stirrup Cup Farm) at home
  • introduce Reyacita to the Robosteer
  • have her follow the Robosteer in the correct position, rewarding her each time she does
  • practice throwing the lariat with the Robosteer at a standstill
  • practice throwing the lariat at the moving Robosteer
These small steps, introduced over several sessions, allowed Reyacita to add roping to her job description. She also demonstrated much more horse try than she had before. I also gave her Eleviv before each session because Metal horses are among the slowest learners of all the horse personality types (but once they learning something, they never forget!). Eleviv helps Metal horses learn new tasks more quickly while being less resistant.

Lack of Horse Try Because of Boredom
The final horse I put into roping training was my big mustang jumper mare, Valentine. Valentine is the prototypical Wood horse personality type: super talented, super competitive, and easily bored. Valentine has the talent to jump around super big jumper courses ... but getting her to do it consistently is another story. Jumping bored her to tears. After 2 seasons in the jumper ring, I was exhausted by Valentine's lack of horse try ... and I had the bruises to show for it.

Solution: Since Valentine does enjoy chasing things, like cows, I decided to try her at roping. She loves to do ranch sorting and team penning, but once she cuts her cow out of the herd, she just likes to run, whether she keeps the cow in control or not. Thus, I don't take her penning much.

But roping doesn't require rolling back on the fence line and going back after the cow if you lose it, so I thought roping might just be the perfect niche for her. She has never been afraid of the lariat, having pulled steers, posts, and all manner of other items with the lariat, but when I started working with the lariat at Stirrup Cup Farm, Valentine was a mess! Talk about lack of horse try! She spun in circles, she snorted, she acted silly. She wasn't afraid, just bored and acting out.

Dusty came up with the brilliant idea of moving the Robosteer, which she liked to follow, while I swung my rope. As soon as Valentine saw the Robosteer move, her competitive instinct kicked in. She flattened her ears and went after the steer like crazy. The lariat became of no importance. Suddenly, we had horse try. I was able to easily position her in the heeling position, and rope both hind feet. Presto! Horse try, at last.

What Will Increase Your Horse's Level of Try?
Every horse has plenty of "try" if you find the right motivation to awaken the horse's desire to try. The lazy horse with a sweet tooth may have more try when offered treats. The competitive horse, like Valentine, may need to redirect her competitive nature toward the steer instead of toward her rider. The fearful horse may need plenty of reassurance and slow introductions to new things. He may also need herbs like Eleviv or RelaxBlend to help him deal with stress.

Your horse's personality type often says a lot about why he won't try. Here's a short rundown of the types and the reasons they won't try.

Fire Horse: lack of attention from their human, knowing they can't do the job for physical reasons

Wood Horse: competes against the rider or trainer rather than against the clock or the steer

Earth Horse: too lazy; needs to be motivated by food treats or rewarded for effort with short workouts

Water Horse: fearful; needs slow introductions to new lessons in a safe environment, and lots of praise

Metal Horse: needs consistency and routine in training until he knows his job; if his job description changes, the change needs to be introduced slowly, in small chunks

I hope that helps you understand why the horse try may be lacking in your equine friend. To type your horse, visit the Horse Harmony Test website. To learn more about each type, read more or buy the book on the Horse Harmony website.

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Photo credit: Mary Duke of Stirrup Cup Farm


  1. Super article. This is a subject I am familiar with, but haven't seen done much. Great job. I'm going to share it!

  2. Stephanie,
    You really understand the different horse personalities. Madalyn