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Problem Solving - Pull-Aways!

One minute they’re with you, the next your horse is eating grass 20 foot away, your rope is covered in mud and so are you! Why do they always look like they’ve got a smug smile on their face when they do that?!


A horse that pulls away from you can be frustrating but it can also be dangerous.

Once learned it can be quite a difficult pattern to fully resolve as your horse has learned something ‘he never needed to know’ that he is stronger than you are and he can get away if he wants to.


If not addressed, pulling away can also lead to bolting when ridden as the horse has learned to pull on the rope. It’s only a short step to learning they can pull on the reins.


Why do horses pull away?


Let’s look at the root of the problem...


Fundamentally a horse that pulls away is voting with his feet and saying that comfort is not with you, it’s away from you!


While this can be a hard pill to swallow you have to know that the way to deal with this at a psychological level and teach your horse that you are a great place to be!!


Why does it happen? Usually it’s too much pressure, that might be from the handler but it can also be from the environment, so something gives them a scare and they just can’t stay with you any longer, instinct kicks in and they have to run!


Pull aways can happen because the horse is scared, or because he is unmotivated to do what you want. It’s important to know which one you’re dealing with as this will be key to creating a successful outcome.


There are lots of techniques for pull aways and lots of gadgets you can buy to stop your horse getting away. While these might work, in my opinion the most effective solution is to change your horses mind and convince him that it’s better to stay with you.


The bottom line is that your horse is about 10x heavier than you are so if he’s really a determined pull away there’s a good chance he’s gone before you get a chance to do much about it and you are better off to let the rope go than get rope burns. This is why I like to try and employ a bit of psychology.


Scared Pull away


A horse that runs because he is scared is literally trying to save his life! He has returned to his natural flight instinct which is to get out of the situation!! So it’s important that your horse learns to feel safe with you.


The horse is already scared so getting angry or frustrated with this horse will only make the situation worse and punishment after it’s happened is guaranteed to send you backwards.


These horses are often on adrenaline which makes the whole situation harder to deal with as your horses responses will be faster and heightened.


So, what to do?


First you need to calm the situation down, get yourself and your horse into a safe enclosed area so you do not add the fear of your horse getting away and injuring himself into the equation. Horses that are scared and on adrenaline need to move their feet and will feel claustrophobic if forced to stand still.


Give them some length of rope to move rather than holding the rope short. When they come to a stand still relax your body as well, breathe out for a few moments. If they start moving again allow it and try to keep the movement to a walk. It might take a while for the adrenaline to come down, I’ve seen it take 10 minutes and I’ve seen it take a couple of hours depending on the horse.


If you can see it through all the way to it’s conclusion where your horse is calm and relaxed you will have made a huge step forwards in building your horses confidence in you.



Confident Pull Away


These are the one’s that just don’t fancy doing what you want to do right now! That patch of long grass looks much more appealing.


This horse is basically saying ‘what’s in it for me?’. Treats and scratches can work wonders with these guys. It rewards the behaviour you want and gives your horse motivation to be with you.


It’s important that you reward your horse for the behaviour you want rather than bribe him to do what you want. Bribery doesn’t teach anything and can actually reinforce your horses tendency to just go for the food.


Liberty (loose schooling) sessions are really useful for these horses as there’s no rope to worry about and you really can work with the horses psychology.

**IMPORTANT** Don’t chase your horse away from you to start, wait until he makes the choice to leave and use minimal pressure to ask him to keep going . It’s a subtle but really important difference. When the horse leaves me I will ask him to move around me at a minimum of a trot, I use as little pressure as possible to keep the trot so no chasing the horse around as that will just reinforce that you are not a good place to be! As soon as they look at me I will back off and allow them to come in if they want to.


This works particularly well if your horse is a bit lazy! He’ll soon figure out running away is hard work and it’s much easier to stay with you!! Add a reward (scratches or food) and you’re on to a winner!



3 Top tips for Pull-Aways


1. Give your horse some rope to drift, as mentioned earlier for a scared horse holding them short can make them worse but it also means you don’t really have time to see what’s happening and respond.


2. 'Hold and Release' the rope, don’t just pull! If you just hold your horse can put all his weight behind it and just pull away, if you use 'hold and release', it’s much harder as he has doesn't have your weight to pull against.


3. Teach your horse to come to you without the rope and have a reward, either scratches or a treat to show him it’s a good thing to come over.



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Before trying any training technique it is important to rule out pain or discomfort. Saddle fit, teeth, back, hoof balance and lameness issues should all be checked by a qualified professional before applying any training.


If you have questions or need idea's to help with a specific problem feel free to get in touch with me on lylacansfield@hotmail.com


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Lyla has been helping riders and their horses in the UK, USA and Europe for over 15 years. She has prepared horses for crowds of over 6,000 people with no calmers or ear plugs for venues including Birmingham NEC, Aintree, Bury Farm EC and Hartpury.


Lyla specialises in horse psychology and behaviour problems with a specific interest in dressage and has worked with horses from grass roots to Grand Prix across the UK and Europe including international competitors and Olympians from Spain, the US, Canada and the UK.


See www.lylacansfield.com or email lylacansfield@hotmail.com for more details.


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All training techniques discussed are from experience only, it is impossible for to accurately advise on horse/rider combinations without seeing them live. Lyla Cansfield & Equine Mind & Body Training strongly advise anyone considering using any of the techniques discussed to get live help and can take no responsibility for the outcome of applying any of the techniques discussed with or without supervision. Riding is a high risk sport.

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