Ask Our Expert - Clinton Anderson

Clinton AndersonSince moving from his native Australia to the United States in 1996, Clinton Anderson has captured the attention of horse lovers. His no-nonsense approach to training, which begins with ground work, is the basis for his Downunder Horsemanship.

Clinton AndersonThis Month's ExpertClinton Anderson

Since moving from his native Australia to the United States in 1996, Clinton Anderson has captured the attention of horse lovers. His no-nonsense approach to training, which begins with ground work, is the basis for his Downunder Horsemanship.

Anderson presents clinics at his ranch in Stephenville, Texas, and around the country. Downunder Horsemanship is one of RFD-TV’s highest-rated programs, and Downunder Horsemanship TV airs on the Fox Sports Network. Anderson won the Road to the Horse colt-starting competition twice, in 2003 and 2005. He also competes in reining and reined cow horse events, with several championships to his credit. In 2008, he won the National Reining Breeders Classic Limited Open division on Princessontheprowl, a High Brow Cat mare he bred and raised out of Princess In Diamonds, a leading producer of reining horses. In 2011, he won the Limited Open at the Southwest Reined Cow Horse Association Kalpowar Futurity on Thecrowdlovesme, a stallion by Smart Chic Olena.

For more information on Clinton Anderson, visit DownunderHorsemanship.com.

Q: My 7-year-old horse is terrified of water. Whether it be a puddle or a stream, he won't go anywhere near it and snorts and prances around the source until I give up asking. I purchased the horse a couple years ago, and his previous owner didn't say anything about his phobia. How can I safely introduce him to water and get him to cross it?

Janice, Colorado

A: While some horses take to crossing water without a hassle, most will put up a fight when you first ask them to get their feet wet. And it’s no wonder when you consider what you’re asking your horse to do. Horses are naturally afraid of objects that move and make a noise. When a horse steps into water, it not only moves, it also makes a noise. The best way to tackle water is from the ground, and then as your horse’s confidence grows, you can move to working with him under saddle and increase the size and depth of the body of water you ask him to cross. I’ll explain here how to start the process on the ground.

Whenever you’re trying to teach your horse anything, always establish a starting point. In this case, find a puddle or make one yourself. Don’t immediately try to get your horse to cross a big body of water because that would be too intimidating for him. Find a place where your horse is comfortable being next to the water, which may be 10 or 15 feet away from the puddle. Keep in mind that how far away you start from the puddle depends on how scared your horse is of it. If he’s really frightened of water, you may even have to start 50 feet away from it.

Once you’ve established a starting point, begin to send your horse between you and the puddle. When he’s calmly passing between you and the puddle at that distance, take a step forward closer to the puddle and continue to send him back and forth in front of you. Gradually work your way closer to the puddle in this fashion. Before moving on to the next step, your horse must be confidently going directly in front of the puddle in a relaxed manner. If he’s tossing his head and rushing by the puddle, he’s telling you that you need to spend more time building his confidence.

Now that your horse is confidently passing between you and the puddle, start asking him to step into the water by using the Approach and Retreat Method. Walk your horse up to the water. If you think he’s going to stop in nine steps, stop him in eight. Then back him away from the water. You’re going to go forward and backward – almost like a yo-yo. Ask him to go forward toward the water again, and before he plants his feet, stop him and back him up. The trick to using Approach and Retreat is to stop your horse and back him away from the puddle before he stops himself. That way, stopping is always your idea. The more you retreat, the more you act like you don’t want him to go in the water. Keep approaching and retreating until your horse can step in the puddle and back out of it.

Clinton AndersonWhen he’s comfortable getting his feet wet, then you can send him back and forth through the puddle. If he braces his feet at the edge of the puddle, back him up a few steps and then ask him to come forward again. Don’t try to force him to step into the water – it has to be his idea.

Think of it like a game of “cat and mouse.” The more you act like you want your horse to get into the water, the more he’ll resist your efforts. Act like you couldn’t care less whether he steps in the water, and before long, he’ll be walking through it with confidence. Once you have built his confidence on the ground, then you can use the same concept under saddle.

Clinton

Q: My 5-year-old gelding has the basics of a reining turnaround and steps across correctly and consistently when going slowly, but I'm having a hard time speeding him up. When I ask him to move just a little faster he sometimes will step behind instead of crossing over in front. How do I make progress with him? And how can I keep him from turning incorrectly?

Nick, Oklahoma

A: This is a common problem when first teaching a horse to spin. In order to spin correctly, the horse needs to place his outside front foot in front of his inside front foot. But what often happens is the horse steps behind his inside leg, which causes him to catch his legs, slow down and just make the spin look clumsy overall.

Whenever you teach a horse anything, or change the element of an exercise, like adding speed, you need to establish a starting point and then build from there. In other words, don’t go from asking the horse to spin slowly to expecting him to be able to do two rotations quickly. When you’re ready to add speed to the spin, only look for one quick step initially and then reward the horse. Once he can consistently take one correct quick step then ask him for two correct steps. Keep building on the number of steps you ask him to take. You want the horse to feel like he could always take another step or two, but you’ll stop him before he can. If you keep asking him to give more and more, he’ll get frustrated and resentful because he won’t know where the reward is. Remember, horses learn from the release of pressure, not the pressure itself. So if he feels like he can’t win, then he’ll start to think of ways to get out of the spin by backing up, locking up his feet, etc.

Clinton AndersonA great way to remind the horse to step forward is by trotting him out into a small circle after he takes a few correct steps and then spiraling him back down into the spin. Ask him to move his front around his rear, and as soon as he takes one correct step, trot him out in a circle. Then spiral him down into the spin again. Asking him to actually move out will help him think “forward” in the spin rather than stepping back.

Also keep in mind that the more control you have of the horse’s shoulders, the better her spins will be overall. Exercises like shoulder-in/shoulder-out, rollbacks and sidepassing help develop that control. In fact, I’ve personally found that the better a horse can sidepass, the easier it is for him to step forward in the spin.

Clinton

Q: In hand, my 12-year-old Quarter Horse is extremely "mouthy." He doesn't bite people aggressively, but he is always looking for a lead rope or cross tie to chew on or, in the case of our showmanship class, he is always trying to "lip" my hands. What's the best way to stop this behavior?

Kim, Ohio

A: When your horse gets mouthy, put his feet to work. The most effective punishment you can give a horse is making him move his feet. Horses are basically lazy creatures and would rather stand around with their legs cocked daydreaming about their next meal than moving their feet and working up a sweat. They’ll always choose the option with the least amount of work involved.

So if you’re standing next to your horse and he starts lipping your hand, turn around and put his feet to work and turn a negative into a positive. Back him up or lunge him – the horse can’t mouth on you and move his feet at the same time, especially if you make him hustle with energy and do lots of changes of direction. If you’re consistent, it won’t take long for the horse to connect the two together – when he gets mouthy, you’ll make his feet move.

One of the best ways to stop a mouthy horse, and especially horses that bite, is to back them up. Backing is a very humbling exercise for a horse to do. When a horse gets mouthy or tries to bite you, it’s a very forward action; he’s coming forward to get you. When you back him up, it’s the complete opposite; he’s being submissive to you by moving out of your space.

Clinton AndersonJust like your horse, a lot of horses like to put objects in their mouth – the halter, lead rope, etc. Most people’s first reaction when the horse grabs a hold of the lead rope is to try and tug it out of his mouth. However, the more you try to pull something away from them, the mouthier they will get. It’s like a puppy with a toy. The more you try to yank it away, the more he grits his teeth and hangs onto it. Instead of getting into a tug-of-war with the horse, use reverse psychology and “mouth” him back. Vigorously rub the horse’s muzzle with both of your hands for a good 20 seconds. While you’re not hurting the horse, you’re rubbing him firmly enough to make him feel uncomfortable. It’s like when your uncle would scuff your head at a family get-together. Every kid in the world hates that. It didn’t hurt when he tousled your hair, but it was annoying and you didn’t like it, and you soon learned how to avoid him. It’s the same philosophy with your horse. If he wants to get mouthy, take all the fun out of it for him by roughing up his muzzle with your hands.

Clinton

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