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Clinton Anderson: Take Spooky Out of Your Horse’s Behavior

Bring out the best in your horse's behavior with these tips and a handy piece of training equipment.

Woman rubbing horse with ropeDo you like to get a massage when you’re stressed? Well, for your horse, a sure-fire stress buster is groundwork, which cures many a behavior problem. Here, one of today’s famous horse trainers, Clinton Anderson, gives training lessons in desensitizing your horse, and shows us a piece of training equipment no horse owner should be without.

Enjoy your horse,


Clinton Anderson: De-Spook, De-Stress, Desensitize Your Horse
By Clinton Anderson with J. Forsberg Meyer
Photos by Kevin McGowan

Do you want a horse that’s calm, focused, responsive and obedient? Of course you do; everyone does. With this lesson, you’ll begin to learn the essential groundwork and training methods that will teach your horse to show that behavior for you–consistently. The exercises I’ll present here are the same ones I use to start colts, reform bad actors and keep nice, broke horses nice and broke.

They’re also what my student Renee Humphries uses to keep her Appaloosa gelding, Sammy, safe and fun to be around. Sammy is a perfect example of why you must be consistent in your groundwork training methods. When you are, your horse remains consistently good for you. When you slack off, so does he, and so does his behavior.

Groundwork works because it sets you up as your horse’s leader, teaching him to trust and respect you with a minimum of training equipment. It also activates the thinking (as opposed to the reacting) part of his brain. My groundwork includes both sensitizing (where you train your horse to move away from pressure) and desensitizing (where you teach him to relax and accept pressure calmly).

Renee will demonstrate how she keeps Sammy desensitized to her training equipment–her lead rope and training stick—by rubbing and/or flinging them over his body and slapping the stick on the ground.

To learn more from top trainer Clinton Anderson, download our
FREE guide—Clinton Anderson’s Ground Work: Tried and True Horse Training Methods.

I’ll explain what’s happening at each step of the training lessons and Renee will share her insights, as well.

To Get the Most from these Training Lessons:

  • Outfit your horse in a rope halter with a 14-foot lead. I prefer my own halters, which have extra knots on the noseband for improved responsiveness, but any stiff rope halter will do.
  • Grab your training stick. If you don’t have one, make one using a sturdy, 4-foot-long stick with a 6-foot-long detachable rope string. Or use a dressage whip.
  • Work with your horse several times a week–ideally on consecutive days to speed his learning–in an enclosed area with safe fencing and good footing. Remain calm and patient at all times, and work both sides equally.

Woman rubbing horse with rope

woman prepares to throw rope over horse
1. Clinton: Renee has already rubbed the lead rope over Sammy’s body (first image); now she’s preparing to fling the rope to further desensitize him.
Renee: The key is to get the tail end of the rope all the way behind you to get enough momentum to fling it up and over. Your other hand should be held up to deflect your horse from bumping into you, should he spook. My left hand could be a bit higher and farther back toward Sammy’s face.
Woman throws rope on horse's back
2. Renee: Pretend you’re throwing a ball; it helps your aim. Then keep it going–flinging and pulling the rope well back–in a steady rhythm.
Clinton: Sammy’s standing nicely, but if he were to move, I’d have Renee go with him, keeping Sammy’s head turned toward her for safety and keeping the rope moving until he stops his feet, and only then take the pressure off. That way, he’s rewarded for standing still, not for moving.
Woman throws rope at horse's rear leg
3. Clinton: Once your horse tolerates the rope over his back, proceed to flinging it around his hind legs, as Renee is here. Again, if he moves, keep at it. Once he stops, let the rope stop, too.
Renee: This part’s hard for me–maybe because I can’t throw well! But practice makes perfect, so I keep at it, with rhythm. After the hind legs, do the front legs, too. (I find them much easier to master.)
Woman uses stick to rub horse
4. Clinton: Next, using a firm, steady pressure, rub your training stick all over your horse’s body, starting at the withers and being sure to include the inside and outside of each leg.
Renee: I learned the hard way the importance of beginning and ending each groundwork session with this step. If I don’t, Sammy starts to get worried about the training stick–to the point of jumpiness.
Woman slaps whip on ground next to horse
5. Clinton: Renee’s moved on to slapping the stick’s string on the ground all around Sammy. She does it over and over, with rhythm, and if he moves, she’ll keep at it, moving with him (keeping his head turned toward her) until he stops.
Renee: I love this exercise. I was amazed how Sammy learned to stand quietly, even when I slapped the ground hard. (As a bonus, it’s a great arm-toner for us girls.)
Woman rubs horse with stick
6. Clinton: Good job, Sammy, and good job, Renee! Positive reinforcement is always a key part of your horse’s learning process. Let him know when he’s done a good job for you.
Renee: It takes a little practice to wield the stick precisely for forehead-rubbing, but it’s worth it–my horse loves it, and it guarantees he’s never afraid of the stick.

Categories: Clinton Anderson.

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2 Responses

  1. This has helped sooo much with my Arab! Doing right before going on ride makes such a difference! :)

    Christiana BettsJuly 17, 2011 @ 7:34 pm
  2. i read your training explaination but i don’t think it will take a professional with this mare of my sisters mare we took her about two years ago too an supposedly good horse trainer and he completely when we took her she would ground hitch really gentle to everything just about what my sister did with her she just wanted her finished breaking or finished or fine tuned you would call it but all he did was too totally screw her mind up to just about every thing and until this day we still don’t know what he did do to her and you can’t catch her unless you have a treat to offer her. she is not crazy she is just scared of every thing and i mean evertthing and we just don’t know what to do she will not kick or bite she will saddle and bridel and still get on her back but we do not trust to take her out of the round pen not sure what would if she heard a noise or somthing move the wrong way what she would even do.she is so afraid of everything. so what can we do glenda really loves this mare and she gorgeous and a big mare so there it is its a really big challenge what about it any suggestions. sincerely virginia help

    virginia whiteJune 27, 2012 @ 1:38 am

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