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This Trainer's Life: Keg's Finale

I didn’t follow Keg’s story as much as I would have likes while he was in my care. Life is busy and I am one who would rather be out doing something rather than inside typing. So here is the final on my journey with Keg.

The biggest challenge

The hardest thing I had to do was to get Keg’s feet light. If you read Keg, The Initial Intake, you will see what my biggest challenges were when I started with him. He didn’t necessarily resist moving his feet, but did it more out of laziness to get out of being reprimanded rather than respect. I did in the end get him moving respectfully of me and got a good start for his owner. His feet were much lighter when I finished than when he first arrived.

The first thing I needed to do was to get control of his feet for then I would have control of his mind. I spend the first month with him doing nothing but focusing on this. I did about a week of groundwork only to get this foundation laid. It paid off and doing the work in the saddle came much easier because of it.

For more on groundwork check out all my Groundwork blog posts

There were three main issues I had with him that I focused on the most and they all stemmed from the same problem. The first, as described was the lack of control over his feet, the second was getting him to stand quietly for mounting, and the third was to get him to stand quietly where asked, and I mean anywhere I asked. He was a bit herd bout (or buddy sour as some call it) more so because he was more comfortable in the herd than he was with me because I was asking him to function in a much different capacity that he was used to; he was to no longer be the alpha.

The second week we worked on the standing while being mounted and the whole week I pretty much just mounted and dismounted his several times. This doesn’t go to say that I didn’t “ride” him for there was several times it was a good 15 minutes before he would stand quiet after I mounted before I would get off of him again.

So this is how it went. We would go through our ground work to establish our foundation again and check his attitude for the day. When I was satisfied he had submitted to me I would mount him. I would step my foot into the stirrup and if he took more than one step I would remove my foot from the stirrup and we would go back over our ground work with heavy emphasis on whoa. When I had a good whoa again I would start with my foot in the stirrup again and repeat what we did before or step on.

Many times in my attempt to step on he would move again and I would step down, go through ground work again to reaffirm the whoa. Then I would go back to step on again. He got to where he would not move while stepping on but then as soon as I got in the saddle would move even before I got my other foot in the stirrup. We would then continue with me in the saddle going through our groundwork steps of moving the hip and moving the shoulder best I could then asking for a whoa and repeating until he would stand after I said whoa. As soon as he would stand after I asked for a whoa I would dismount.

He spent pretty much most of the day in the barn, saddled and after he would stand quiet and I dismounted I would take him to the barn and tie him again, work another horse and then get him back out repeating much of what I had just done previously with him. By the end of two weeks he was standing quietly to be mounted from the ground or the mounting block from either side. We were then ready to move on to actual riding.

The Ride

Riding is not as easy as most think. From the saddle I was working on getting his feet light as I did from the ground, gaining control of the front and hind end independently. Once I got control of those feet we moved onto stepping out when asked and whoa. The whoa is the most important part after getting control of the feet.

I would ask him to walk a simple circle, pre-signal through my body with an exhale and rotation of my pelvis toward the cantle, say “whoa” and then pick up on the reins of needed. He needed quite a bit of pick up on the reins for quite some time. I would walk him, pre-signal, “whoa” and then pick up the reins and back him until he became supple under me with a breaking at the poll, which in turn rounds the back of the horse, and no longer tried to push the bit through my hands. He did a lot of backing, but with consistent work he developed a nice whoa.

The other problem I had to overcome with this bit of herd boundness he had. He was not bad at all, but I just never 100% had his mind. It improved immensely over time with him, but anytime he got a bit confused of what was being asked or I was asking something new his first response was to see where the herd was. This continued through the entire time I was working with him, but it grew less and less. He was certainly more confident riding in a group rather than out on his own, but he was never hard to manage.

Once we got a nice whoa going in the arena it was time to get him out of the arena. We started with simple strolls down the drive and back, and then increased to riding the road in front of the lots, then we moved into taking him out into the waterways in the field. Again, every time we were working on whoa. It is much easier to get a horse to go than it is to get one to whoa.

Everything was going fairly well, still working to reinforce his focus onto me rather than the heard or the barn when out and about but nothing to bring a great concern. To reinforce the whoa and his focus on me, every time he would give me a nice whoa and stand quietly I would step off and walk him back to the barn. He would be tied and either worked again or unsaddled later. This was to teach him that returning didn’t mean he got put up, but that it was a reward for good behavior. Most days he got worked twice but there were days he was worked 3-5 times.

The Breakthrough

There was one day in particular when I had the biggest breakthrough with him. He had a bit of a chip on his shoulder that day and I was still expecting him to do his job, but this day he refused to whoa as he had been the previous 3 weeks under saddle and in the field. I knew this day was coming and it had to be addressed. I didn’t turn the heat down, but turned it up meeting his threat of a fight.

He refused to whoa or stand in the field so I took him at a very brisk trot and at times a canter back to the barn, through the barn (startling him and some of the horses in the barn) and down to the arena. Before we entered the arena I asked for a whoa, he refused and so there we stood in the small area between the barn and the arena having a big fight that included him rearing on me, but then found out that didn’t help his situation at all.

I finally got him to whoa briefly then we entered the arena. We didn’t work lightly, we galloped the arena, asking him to whoa several different times, rolling him back the other way and continue the gallop, maybe even change direction on him, anything to make his unwillingness to stop uncomfortable.

Finally, dripping in sweat, huffing and puffing and purely exhausted he stopped and stood without me having the pull on him. I dismounted, took him up through the barn out to the front, remounted and went back out to where this fight started. I had to get stern with him a couple of times, but he soon gladly listened and stood when asked. As I did before when he gave an acceptable answer I dismounted and walked him back to the barn and tied him. We both got a good break and we went back out to the field again later that day and his attitude was much different. There is something good about letting a horse stand at a "thinking post" for a bit.

The Trail Home

From then on he was much more submissive and understanding of his rider’s authority over him. His owner took him home when his time was done and she was confident riding him in the arena and out in the field and he was respectful and watching his rider. She has had him at home and rode him several times with very little issue other than the two of them building their relationship together. “I never let him win” she told me, which is the bottom line of all good horsemen.

One of my last rides on Keg.

The picture is of one of my last rides on Keg. I rode with a group of friends and was actually ponying my friend's three year old daughter on one of my other horses. He did his job well and after this I had much confidence in his ability.

Keg ended up staying with me for only two months. After our big break through and the fact that he was to simply walk a trail there wasn’t much left to work on for the owner. I will be anxious to see how he is this spring.

If you have any questions about the work I have been doing please don't hesitate to contact me. I want to see you and your horse succeed in all you do and have the same relationship with them as I do with mine that I treasure so much.