Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Mind Meld Side Note: Our first subject for the mind meld is haltering. Some of you have already gone into some pretty good detail. Now everybody dive in. How do you halter a horse? How have you solved haltering issues? What kind of behavior do you expect?


I led my first two rides of the day down the alley to the tie wall.

The boss was sitting in the middle of a pile of old folding chairs and a picnic table known as the "observation deck" of the indoor.

"You sure know how to pick'em," he told me.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"I can already walk up and pet all over the grulla, but that bay you thought we needed so bad won't even come up to eat."

"Give her time, she'll settle in," I said, while making a mental note to beg off the next time the boss asked me to help him pick out a horse.

"Bill has taken a shine to her," he said.

I paused with my brush in mid-air and looked at him over my filly's back.

Bill was the three-times-divorced, just out of com corp after his third DUI, 25 -year-old son of my employers.

He was a decent enough guy to visit with but he hadn't even come close to figuring out his place in the world. Bill was thinking he might be a horse trainer. He spent a lot of time wandering through the barn with a John Lyons book clutched to his chest.

I wasn't unsympathetic. I had been just as swept away by Lyons when I first learned some of his techniques. I had borrowed a grainy, poorly lit video on trailer loading from a friend and had been properly amazed.

I had immediately started playing with the new concepts I had seen on my already very broke horses in a solid, safe, wooden round pen.

I didn't progress on to anything wilder until I had worked out a basic idea of how things work.

Bill had apparently decided to start his new career on Tally.

"Well, I hope it goes well for him," I said.

It didn't.

I kept a straight face as I walked past the brood mare pen. Bill sat crouched self-consciously on one knee, halter in hand watching the little bay. He looked just like Robert Redford kneeling in the pasture during The Horse Whisperer.

Tally stood just outside of the broodmares eating hay. She didn't even flick an ear at him.

When I put my horses up that evening Bill still sat in the middle of the pen. I figured he had to be whispering like crazy by now, but Tally was happily immersed in her dinner.

I managed to get into my car and halfway up the steep drive out of the valley before I started laughing.

The next morning Tally had started up the restless pacing which had filled her first week at the place. She trotted the fence line, splashing through the creek and almost hitting the cross fence before she turned the corner and made her way up the hill towards me. She passed by me as if I wasn't there. No spook, no snort, no friendly roll of the eye.

I stood and admired her as she flowed around the pen. Her short, sturdy legs moved with the cadence of a well trained reiner. Her thick, heavy tail was low-set and hung quiet no matter what her gait and her mustangy little head was balanced on an elegant neck.

I looked a little closer and saw her knee was all torn up. It looked bad, but she wasn't lame.

"Hey Janet!"

The boss waved from the deck.

"Come up for a cup!"

The morning was cool and coffee sounded just right. I walked up the trail to the log A-frame.

"That mare hurt Bill bad."

The boss's wife, Carolyn, plunked down two cups of hot, thick coffee and sat with me and the boss.

"Oh no, what happened?" I asked.

"He got frustrated when he couldn't catch her and herded her into one of the holding pens," she said.

I stayed silent and waited for Carolyn to continue. The holding pens were 10 x 12 feeding stations built out of a single strand of hot wire. The boss had them hooked up in every pen to feed the low end of the pecking order.

"He got the mare in there and then crawled in with her," Carolyn said, "he didn't have a clue things would go wrong."

"The mare tolerated him for a minute, long enough for Bill to get a rope around her neck and then she blew," the boss said.

"Poor Bill, he's so tough, he wouldn't let go even when she ran him down and drug him through the wire," Carolyn continued.

I sat with my shoulders hunched, staring into my coffee. This story was going so many wrong directions all at once I couldn't believe it.

"He hung onto her even when she drug him halfway across the pen," Carolyn's eyes began to fill with tears, "he was hanging onto the rope and being dragged between her front legs. She was stomping all over him."

"Is he all right? Where is he?" I managed to say.

"He's in the hospital," the boss finished, Carolyn couldn't talk anymore.
" He punctured a lung and broke all kinds of ribs. He fractured his pelvis. When she spun and blew she hooked him on a T-post."

We sat in silence for a bit. I curled into my thoughts and the steam from the hot, bitter coffee. I didn't know what to say.

"Are you going to bring him home to heal?" I finally asked.

"Yes, his neighbors said they'll feed his horses. He'll need some help."

I stood up and headed out the door. The boss and Carolyn sat huddled together. They looked old and sad.

I walked down the hill and paused again at the broodmare pen. Tally still paced the fence line, her bright bay coat was flecked with sweat and her eyes still looked right through me as she passed.

The boss came up behind me and we watched her ceaseless path.

"I think she's crazy," he finally said.

"Have you got a history on her?" I asked him.

"No, nothing on her at all," he answered.

"She sure moves nice," I told him.

"Bill wants it understood," the boss said, "nobody's to touch this mare but him."

He turned and headed out to start up the Daewoo.

I walked into the arena and started my day.

It occurred to me nobody had mentioned Tally's leg.


  1. God bless you. I wouldn't have a tongue left from biting it... or I wouldn't have had a job... frustrating.

    Poor mare. But it's all her fault *eye roll*. And no one else is to touch her~ Bullshit. The animal is always more important than a human's ego.

  2. Amazing. Some people are blind, deaf, and dumb.

    I hope Talley survives all this.

  3. With a broke horse it's lower their head for haltering by lighting touching their poll, scooping their nose up in my rope halter and tieing it so the excess faces their neck. I expect my horse to easily allow me to halter them or put their nose through the halter themselves.

    If my horse is hard to catch or isn't halter broke i'll do some easy round penning at a walk and a trot, just enough to get their attention and come up to me a bit. I'll then desensitize to my lunge and then move on to rubbing their head. When I can touch their head with the lungwhip i'll rub them with my hands and teach my horse to lower their head in preperation for the halter. I'll introduce the halter and rub their head all over with. I sometimes use treats the first time I put it on, having them stick their nose through the halter and getting a treat for it. I'll take the halter on and off a few times until their completely comfortable before I ever tie it. I'll then start asking them to give to downward pressure on the halter and then introduce leading. All I expect initially is for them turn and a few steps forward. I'll build on that in later sessions.

    I never turn my horses out in a halter or halter and lead to teach leading. I've seen too many accidents.

    Oh no with Bill, did he head up alright and what about Tally? You always leave us with cliffhangers.

  4. I throw the lead rope over their withers and expect them to drop their head into the open halter I have open in front of their nose, with my right hand over the poll holding the crown and my left hand holding the buckle or loop, depending if its a rope or web halter.

    In my usual method of haltering from the left side I noticed the horses and myself were very comfortable and the horses bent slightly to the left for haltering and I invariably turned to the left further to lead them off.

    I experimented last summer, I have one particular horse that is very, very stiff to the right, so i turned a rope halter inside out so it would tie on the right, WOW, it felt awkward to me and rather uncomfortable, I noticed the horses were confused and puzzled too, they all continued to flex and drop to the left to find the nose hole, I really had to think and be aware to flex them to the right and become fluid on the haltering exercise. I noticed an improvement in all the horses, and a new awareness in being more conscious in what I was doing as well.

    I keep that rope halter turned the wrong way and use it regularly. I challenge Mugs to try it and see if she feels the same as I did. Its really different.

    I must have used a halter 10 thousand times, but doing it on the rightside was truly a new experience. I'm interested in developing the automatic and unconscious feeling on that side as I have on the left.

  5. You don't need to challenge me Cowgirl Rae. I tend to try new things because they interest me, not on a dare.
    I do like your suggestion though.

  6. For all horses, I toss the rope over the neck and halter them so they never know they could get away. Even the most broke horses will try to slip away. The rope over the neck thing helps.

    For hard to catch horses, I like to keep them in an arena sized pen or smaller. I walk them down for as long as it takes. If its taking too long, I get them to trot by swinging the rope at them and I 'trot' them down.

    For aggressive horses, I use a lunge whip and pop it at them if they pin their ears, otherwise I just walk them down until they stop and look at me with ears forward.

    They don't have to turn or come to me.

    A more broke horse might get a cookie for meeting me at the gate.

  7. Surprizewind- Go to "Two Good Questions", August 26-2008. It covers your stuation completely. Personally, I don't use spurs until my horse will happily WTC on the correct lead.
    I use my reins or a crop to teach forward.
    Spurs are for direction only in my book.

  8. Ohhh, this Tally story isn't going to end well. :(

  9. Bill sounds like the kind of guy who might win a Darwin award. I'm not really that interested in what happened to him, do want to know about Tally though!

    Cowgirl Rae I've never tried a halter inside out, but I do mount/dismount on the right every now and again and I lead either on the right or the left and my horse must deal with it. It is interesting how difficult it is to mount on the right, you just don't have the muscle memory to do it.

  10. This Tally story is making me anxious...

    Before I halter, there's catching. I like a horse to take a step towards me. They don't have to walk all the way to me, but I like a step toward me. I'll get this on a reluctant horse by stepping into their hip a bit. When the horse steps toward me or swings over to me, I usually lean or step back, exhale and look off someplace. Then I extend a hand to their nose. Then I scratch the withers a moment. We might stand there a few beats. Next I'll put the long side of the halter on one side of their neck, holding it so that the nose opening is inviting. Then I tie it up and adjust the nose band if needed.
    I sort of take my time with this. Sets a good, calm tone for saddling and so forth.

  11. yeeks - the story is nail biting! And still told so well that it feels as if you are standing in the shadows watching...

    hmm - haltering. I like when the horse stands still - if they won't stand, I make them work - they have to trot and if they decide to gallop around, fine but they can't stop working until they let me quietly walk up to them.

    I have had to run my behind off if this happens in the pasture... I'm sure it's great entertainment for my neighbors!

    I'll swing my lead rope or wave my hands at them and make them work... when they begin to drop their head and look like they want to stop I stop and quietly walk to them. A lot of times they will walk to me after all the funny business.

    I put their nose thru, run the strap over their poll and buckle them in. Then I let them stand and chill while I give them a skritch...

    They don't have to work if they only take a few walking steps away - only if they get that look and want to make a game of it.

    So I guess I expect them to stand quietly but I've never asked them to drop their head. I just put the halter on and give them a pat.

    I haven't had any afraid of the halter... but 2 were race trained before I got them so I assume used to a halter. The colt I started just really didn't seem to care when I put it on him the first time... he didn't lead well at first but he wasn't afraid of the halter or of something on his head...

  12. Oh GAAAAA!!!! My first thought was that Tally was showing the stereotypic(stereotyped?) pacing that zoo animals do. There's negative mind working in there. So I'm not surprised she freaked. Bill is either real determined or real stupid-only time(more story!more story!) will tell.

    My haltering Cisco had to do with him not going all 'OH NOES' head in the air. I suspect he's been eared down in the past. He came with a lovely 'put your head down' with multiple cues which helped a lot. So first it was touch the halter-click/treat. Then put your head down and touch-c/t. Then we progressed to head down halter on nose-c/t. And buckle-c/t. And take off with head down-c/t. Sometimes I'd stop and walk away with the halter and if he wanted more we'd do more. And sometimes we go to the mailbox or to visit the horses down the road-but only wearing a halter gets you that fun! I have had to walk him down a couple of times-like 2 minutes worth-when he's been trying me out. Silly horse.

  13. Mugs, thank you! I browsed your archives and somehow missed that one. Off to read now!
    Silly appy had a problem with forward when she was started; her preferred direction was backwards. Happily, she does not do that now.
    THanks again, you are AWESOME!!

  14. Mugs, I didnt mean the challenge in a negative way nor dare, but to encourage you to try it. Just like Helia said the muscle memory and fluidity are very different, if it is that way for me, maybe more so for the horse.

    Anything to create balance and equality make it better for the horse.

    I'd love to hear your opinion back as to how long it takes you to feel completely unconscious about haltering on the right. I have been doing it regularly since last summer and I still find myself occasionally starting to the left side out of habit, and have to make a correction to go to the right.

  15. Forgot to say: This story was amazing. Yet another that makes me compusively check your site for updates. I'm glad you added some advertising, you deserve it. And seriously, this is the kind of site I would be happy to subscribe to. Or support in some way.

    WIth the Sonita stories, there was a hopeful current. I had a feeling that the ending would be a good one. This one, though... Tally sounds like that kind of that could be amazing in the right hands and completely destroyed in the wrong ones.

  16. I've not had to deal too much with teaching a horse to be haltered. I've had to do some tweaking - like mini-Cooper, newly blinded on one eye just before I got him, and getting him used to movement on that side (which is his left side), or when I worked at a barn that got in horses that were either young and stupid (weanlings), been eared, or just testing.

    If a horse is truly afraid, I just go slow and in small steps. If I am using my leather halter, I just undo the throatlatch and slip it over their ears; if they are afraid, I'll undo the crown instead, run the leadline over their necks for better control, and then work with them, slowly, so they realize at least I won't hurt them.

    My first horse, years ago, didn't want to be caught at all...I did the "you can't have any grain until you put your head in the halter". Took a few times, but he knew what I wanted, and it was a matter of him trusting me, and really wanting that grain.

    Starlette plays hard to catch if I walk out with a lead rope, so I taught her (and mini-Cooper, and my past 17-hand boarder) to lead by the mane. Funny how quick they learn that if you pull away from me, how hard it is to suddenly drag that (cough, cough) extra weight. I will even reach around and grab the top of their nose (not to hurt, but to control) if they don't seem to be getting "whoa". I don't know if I'm very strong (I hardly ever lose my grip on the mane), or just get lucky and grab the right spot, but I don't get too much of a struggle, though I have been pulled around.

    Once I get them to whoa, going forward is the next challenge. I don't pull on them, I tap them with my free hand (at this stage, I am holding with my left hand instead of my right)and cluck to get them to move forward. Sometimes it's only one step at a time, then they figure it out. It was pretty cool when the boarder, who had been always haltered with a chain, figured out that there was another way to be lead. He just loved it!

    Starlette still runs from me for a little, but we are working on it...I too chase her around, and it seems to be getting less and less. I am also working on down transitions on the lunge line, and realized her whoa on the lunge is not that good, so that is our next focus, and I believe will help with the catching.

    I think that maybe getting their trust, and getting them to listen to you and understand, is the biggest trick. Seems like poor Tally was pretty far from that, and obviously had no connection with people at all.

    Sorry this went off in a different direction a little...I think the intent is the same. I have a cold, so if I wandered too much, sorry! I'm off to bed :)

  17. So if I were starting with haltering I would want to set things up in my favour a bit by having a fairly safe and not too large space and working on getting the horse stopped and then getting them caught. I used to have a lot of techniques I thought about for that but then when I went out to Martin's he was all "get your horse stopped and get them caught" and I realised that yes, it actually is as simple as that. There may be a lot of feel involved and a lot of communication but really it's just a case of setting things up so the horse will stop, so that they will stay stopped and then maneuvering the halter to fit it on the horse.

    Now my horse has the opposite problem at the moment, he is halter crazy. Whenever I go to put it on him he' tries to grab it in his mouth, grab the lead rope and generally eat the whole lot. I've taken to approaching it by turning my back on him and simply refusing to play that game while he is waving his teeth around and whenever possible ignoring the behaviour or making it a little awkward for him, so if he does grab it ( and it's very hard to avoid when you're slipping a halter over his nose and he's got his mouth open as wide as he can to catch the bottom of it ) I just bump on it and make it a little unpleasant for him to carry it there. Lately, getting back to doing some practical work after a few weeks where snow and frozen conditions have made it difficult to get much done, I have noticed that after riding he doesn't really do it, so it now seems to me that this pesky halter and lead grabbing game has been in large part just him using it as an opportunity to get some more me time and I think I can expect it to be less of a problem as we have more opportunity to spend time together. If it wasn't so annoying that would actually be kind of cute.

  18. After a night's sleep, one thing that sprang to mind was the "he was crouched on one knee" line.

    Let's see...he's crouched, predator-like. He then "herds" the mare into a pen, gets in, and throws a rope around her neck.

    My thought...let's set ourselves up for some good prey response!

  19. I hope I can't see where this story is going, but if I can, it's not nice. Poor Tally.

    On haltering, with any horse I like to do the rope over the neck, even if there's not a particular need. With a horse who has ear issues I'd use a halter that fastens at the cheek, up and over the poll, but with a horse with no issues, I vary between a rope halter and a normal headcollar. I'd approach to the shoulder if they were in a field, not too threatening, slide the rope and then with as little fuss as possible, go nose first then fasten the headpiece.

  20. I've raised babies, purchased youngsters and older horses....and I simiply don't put up with bullshit when it comes to haltering.

    If they avoid being caught, I make them WANT to be caught. Yes, it all starts in a round pen....and the horse will stay in the round pen until he/she willingly walks up to me for haltering. Next, a bigger pen. Finally, the pasture.

    I seriously cannot remember the last time I had issues catching a horse. I refuse to chase them, and I demand that they come to ME for the halter. It just works for me.

    I do know one thing I do that most folks don't....solitary confinment. Everytime I bring home a new horse (be it weanling or 10 year old trail horse), the horse will go into a pen with no buddies. I am the horse's only buddy until they are ready to graduate to a small pasture. If there are ever issues, we start again in solitary. I become the most important part of their day....

  21. This Tally story is going to be interesting...I hope the ending turns out good for Tally.

    Haltering~(this again is for horses that haven't been haltered before) Once the horse is facing up in the round pen and I can approach and touch the horse's shoulder with the back of my hand, stroke and scratch the horse and it will stay with me, I start with the lead rope. I have it folded small in my hand so it doesn't look like a huge snake coming at them. I rub it all over them starting at the shoulder; I go as far forward and back as the horse can handle and stay with me. I keep increasing the distance and the length of lead too. Once comfortable with that, the rope goes over their wither and gets rubbed forward and back toward the tail. Then I do the same thing with the halter.

    Once the horse is comfortable with both the lead and halter the process of putting the halter on begins. The rope goes over the neck. I then ask the horse to take a step toward me (to the horses left) by pulling on the lead around the neck. I get them to take a few steps staying with me. This practice has helped many mustangs or range horses. They have the feeling of being caught and tend to stay with me better as I go to put the halter on.

    To put the halter on, the buckle (or loop of a rope halter) and the strap are both in my left hand, then I reach under the horse's neck and transfer the strap into my right hand. I ask the horse to arc his neck toward me slightly and it's natural for the head to lower in that position. Now the horse is fairly secure and if it moves it will move around me not away from me.

    I lower the nose hole so it's easy for the horse to put his nose into the hole. I wait for the horse to make a movement downward toward the nose hole and then slip the halter up over the nose and buckle or tie the halter. After time, the horse starts looking for the nose hole before you can even get it open for them!

    With horses that are really afraid about having their faces/noses messed with, a little bit of rubbing with hands and then rubbing with the lead and the halter is very helpful. They just need to know that it's not going to bite them.

  22. poor poor tally. Cant wait to see this story play out now!

    would you mind addressing working with an ANGRY horse when you can? I think it could be an interesting post.

  23. I halter trained my twh filly when she was two years old and about 900 lb. She was wild, and I had to get some friends with wirking stock horses to rope her for me. It wasn't pretty, but she had never gotten medical or farrier care before I took over her handling. Anyway, I got a rope halter on her and stayed way out in front facing her. I had a 15 foot rope with a large knot in the end, and I stayed straight in front of her. Luckily, all she did was pull back, so I was dead weight for as long as she pulled. I just kept my feet under me and slid and waited. Once I knew she was just going to continue backing up, I moved off to the side a little and waited for the sudden plunge forward that comes when pulling back doesn't work. It came, and I threw a loop in the rope and stood. She chewed and shook her head. I waited for about 15 seconds, and then I slowly took up the slack at an angle. She threw up her head violently, then plunged forward again. I turned slightly away from her and stood for about 20 seconds. Then, I just turned and walked off with her in tow. I slowly took in enough rope to prevent her from stepping on it. She has never pulled back since then no matter what has scared her. I followed this up with hobble training, and she had her feet trimmed for the first time with no fuss. She is the lightest, most responsive horse I have ever lead, and I have inadvertently handled her only once or twice for new procedures. Once the halter is on, the only option is to go where I go, and she was put in the roundpen with a halter and rope while I supervised. nothing around her legs is a problem, and a disobedient child ran up and hugged her back leg while I stepped into the tackroom. I almost had a heart attack when I came out, but she didn't move a muscle.

  24. Poor Tally.
    I might say something about male egos, but you did not hear me, did you? *mutters*

    My horses have a May West approach to my pocket. I won't expand on this further, but they are always happy to see me. And the halter.

  25. Tally-3! Tally-3!!

    Hope all is going well with you Mugs, and you're just finding yourself busy right now...

  26. Mugs, you have a gift with words and with leaving your readers in the lurch! Looking forward to the next Tally installment.