Way back in 1989, I did an exhibition at the California State Fair in Sacramento. I was the four o’clock “show” every day, for eighteen days. At the Fair I met Tad Griffith, one of the greatest trick riders the world has ever seen. Every day, Tad put on a fantastic Wild West show, complete with Cowboys and Indians and plenty of stunts and fabulous trick riding.
Part of Tad’s show was “Alpo the ball kicking horse”. Alpo was a one trick pony. When Tad threw a rubber beach ball at Alpo’s rump, Alpo would kick the ball out of the arena. Luckily it was a great trick because it was the only one Alpo had.
Normally we don’t want our horses to kick but as far as Tad and Alpo were concerned, the “right” thing to do was to kick that ball out of the arena. And as far as the crowd was concerned, Alpo did the “wrong” thing if he didn’t kick the ball.
Just like every other horse, Alpo didn’t have any concept of right or wrong but he did know how to make life easy for himself. And he knew that kicking the ball was the easiest thing to do.
Next time your horse kicks, think about Alpo. Remember that your horse isn’t doing the wrong thing and he’s not being naughty. He’s just doing what he sees as being easiest under the circumstances.
When a horse is nervous and worried, he may feel threatened when his legs are handled and kick out to defend himself. When this happens, the person invariably takes his hand off the horse’s leg and moves away. So, from the horses point of view, kicking relieves his worries because it gets the annoying hand away from his leg. And so, in a very short time, another horse is taught to kick.
Never punish any horse for kicking. When a horse is nervous and worried, the first thing you must do is build his confidence. Next, the horse can be taught to hold his leg still for a few seconds and your hand will be removed from his leg. By using this approach, the horse will soon learn to relieve his worries by holding his leg still, instead of kicking.
This approach is demonstrated and explained in great detail on my Starting a Horse Under Saddle Online Clinic. At first, the three-year-old gelding in the videos was very nervous and worried when his legs were handled. However, in a few short lessons I taught him to hold his legs still, instead of kicking.
This is the first time that this approach has been so clearly explained and demonstrated on video.
You can teach any horse that the easiest thing to do is to kick like Alpo. Equally, you can teach any horse that the easiest thing to do is stand and hold his leg still for you.
Most of the time, we think it’s “right” for a horse to hold his leg still. However, in Alpo’s case, everyone thought it was “right” for him to kick.
Next time that someone tells you to make the “right” thing easy and the “wrong” thing difficult, remember that horses have no concept of right or wrong. Every horse simply learns how to make life easy for himself.