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The Importance of Perfect Timing

by Marilyn Pineda


You’ve heard the phrase, “timing is everything!” One of my students, Cecelia Hagland, had a great illustration of timing recently with her gelding, Waylon. They had been having wonderful experiences developing a foundation of communication together when everything golden suddenly turned to a deep, dark pool of frustration over one simple task: trailer loading. She e-mailed me a description of her dilemma which involved working with Waylon for sessions that were lasting as long as 3 hours to get him in the trailer and asked if I had any suggestions. Waylon had been trailered plenty of times, so it wasn’t a matter of him being afraid to go in. He had simply decided he didn’t want to go in.

Knowing Waylon, and knowing Cecelia’s kind  heart, the first truth that I had to share with her was that Waylon was being disobedient and had learned that he could get away with this behavior. Cecelia needed to be able to administer discipline in an appropriate and timely manner. I assured her I would not be recommending anything cruel and reminded her that horses use discipline among themselves, especially when discerning who the alpha is. Obviously, Cecelia needed to become alpha!

Since I could not be there in person, I told her she would need a helper and a nice long rope, approximately 30 feet long. I then instructed her to thread the rope from the inside of the trailer to the outside near to where he would be tethered once he was loaded. The passage of the rope through the trailer window would need to be safe, and would need to allow the rope to pass through without getting caught.

The next step was to bring the clip end of the rope back to Waylon, who would presumably be standing at the rear of the trailer. Cecelia’s helper was responsible for managing the rope on the outside of the trailer at Cecelia’s direction. I instructed her to leave the rope attached to Waylon’s head loose, but to have the helper bring up slack each time he moved forward. I cautioned her NOT to pull him in, but neither was he allowed to move back out. The rope would need to be held as though he was tied to where his last movement has been. I advised her that if he could not be prevented from moving out (due to physical strength), then simply keep pressure on the rope until he returned to the point he was before he started backward. It would also be important to keep his nose pointed towards the inside of the trailer.

Cecelia’s responsibility was to apply discipline during this process, so that Waylon would associate the consequences of his misbehavior directly to her, so she would be seen as the alpha. The discipline I told her to use was to switch him on the butt in a constant rhythm if he was not moving forward, or if he was moving backward. I told her to use judgment on the appropriate level of severity – softly or not at all if compliant at any level, and more severely if not. The discipline should only be used to the level of being annoying so Waylon would ultimately want to move away from the switch. The important part of the whole thing would be timing: Cecelia needed to make sure that the slack in the rope was taken up and held at the right time and the switching would need to stop the instant Waylon made any sort of forward movement. 

Cecelia Hagland and her horse Waylon. Photo credit Marilyn Pineda

The happy ending to this frustrating problem is that within 20 minutes Waylon was loaded and unloaded several times and had a new level of respect for Cecelia. She shared another interesting story, which further illustrates how important timing is for the horse’s mind. After this successful session,  Waylon had been loading great until one day, as she was loading him and anticipating that he would not go in, she switched him just as he stepped up to go in. Thinking that he was being switched for going in, he backed out! When she realized what she had done she set him up to go in and stepped back a bit, allowing Waylon to go in on his own accord – success!

Impeccable timing: It’s a crucial element of riding well grounded.


Published November 2013 Issue

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