Ask Our Expert - Clinton Anderson
This Month's Expert
Since moving from his native Australia to the United States in 1996, Clinton Anderson has captured the attention of horse lovers. His no-nonsense approach
to training, which begins with ground work, is the basis for his Downunder Horsemanship.
Anderson presents clinics at his ranch in Stephenville, Texas, and around the country. Downunder Horsemanship is one of RFD-TVâ€™s highest-rated
programs, and Downunder Horsemanship TV airs on the Fox Sports Network. Anderson won the Road to the Horse colt-starting competition twice, in
2003 and 2005. He also competes in reining and reined cow horse events, with several championships to his credit. In 2008, he won the National Reining
Breeders Classic Limited Open division on Princessontheprowl, a High Brow Cat mare he bred and raised out of Princess In Diamonds, a leading producer of
reining horses. In 2011, he won the Limited Open at the Southwest Reined Cow Horse Association Kalpowar Futurity on Thecrowdlovesme, a stallion by Smart
For more information on Clinton Anderson, visit DownunderHorsemanship.com.
Q: My 7-year-old horse is terrified of water. Whether it be a puddle or a stream, he won't go anywhere near it and snorts and prances around the source
until I give up asking. I purchased the horse a couple years ago, and his previous owner didn't say anything about his phobia. How can I safely introduce
him to water and get him to cross it?
A: While some horses take to crossing water without a hassle, most will put up a fight when you first ask them to get their feet wet. And itâ€™s no wonder
when you consider what youâ€™re asking your horse to do. Horses are naturally afraid of objects that move and make a noise. When a horse steps into water, it
not only moves, it also makes a noise. The best way to tackle water is from the ground, and then as your horseâ€™s confidence grows, you can move to working
with him under saddle and increase the size and depth of the body of water you ask him to cross. Iâ€™ll explain here how to start the process on the ground.
Whenever youâ€™re trying to teach your horse anything, always establish a starting point. In this case, find a puddle or make one yourself. Donâ€™t immediately
try to get your horse to cross a big body of water because that would be too intimidating for him. Find a place where your horse is comfortable being next
to the water, which may be 10 or 15 feet away from the puddle. Keep in mind that how far away you start from the puddle depends on how scared your horse is
of it. If heâ€™s really frightened of water, you may even have to start 50 feet away from it.
Once youâ€™ve established a starting point, begin to send your horse between you and the puddle. When heâ€™s calmly passing between you and the puddle at that
distance, take a step forward closer to the puddle and continue to send him back and forth in front of you. Gradually work your way closer to the puddle in
this fashion. Before moving on to the next step, your horse must be confidently going directly in front of the puddle in a relaxed manner. If heâ€™s tossing
his head and rushing by the puddle, heâ€™s telling you that you need to spend more time building his confidence.
Now that your horse is confidently passing between you and the puddle, start asking him to step into the water by using the Approach and Retreat Method.
Walk your horse up to the water. If you think heâ€™s going to stop in nine steps, stop him in eight. Then back him away from the water. Youâ€™re going to go
forward and backward â€“ almost like a yo-yo. Ask him to go forward toward the water again, and before he plants his feet, stop him and back him up. The
trick to using Approach and Retreat is to stop your horse and back him away from the puddle before he stops himself. That way, stopping is always your
idea. The more you retreat, the more you act like you donâ€™t want him to go in the water. Keep approaching and retreating until your horse can step in the
puddle and back out of it.
When heâ€™s comfortable getting his feet wet, then you can send him back and forth through the puddle. If he braces his feet at the edge of the puddle, back
him up a few steps and then ask him to come forward again. Donâ€™t try to force him to step into the water â€“ it has to be his idea.
Think of it like a game of â€ścat and mouse.â€ť The more you act like you want your horse to get into the water, the more heâ€™ll resist your efforts. Act like
you couldnâ€™t care less whether he steps in the water, and before long, heâ€™ll be walking through it with confidence. Once you have built his confidence on
the ground, then you can use the same concept under saddle.
Q: My 5-year-old gelding has the basics of a reining turnaround and steps across correctly and consistently when going slowly, but I'm having a hard time
speeding him up. When I ask him to move just a little faster he sometimes will step behind instead of crossing over in front. How do I make progress with
him? And how can I keep him from turning incorrectly?
A: This is a common problem when first teaching a horse to spin. In order to spin correctly, the horse needs to place his outside front foot in front of
his inside front foot. But what often happens is the horse steps behind his inside leg, which causes him to catch his legs, slow down and just make the spin
look clumsy overall.
Whenever you teach a horse anything, or change the element of an exercise, like adding speed, you need to establish a starting point and then build from
there. In other words, donâ€™t go from asking the horse to spin slowly to expecting him to be able to do two rotations quickly. When youâ€™re ready to add
speed to the spin, only look for one quick step initially and then reward the horse. Once he can consistently take one correct quick step then ask him for
two correct steps. Keep building on the number of steps you ask him to take. You want the horse to feel like he could always take another step or two, but
youâ€™ll stop him before he can. If you keep asking him to give more and more, heâ€™ll get frustrated and resentful because he wonâ€™t know where the reward is.
Remember, horses learn from the release of pressure, not the pressure itself. So if he feels like he canâ€™t win, then heâ€™ll start to think of ways to get
out of the spin by backing up, locking up his feet, etc.
A great way to remind the horse to step forward is by trotting him out into a small circle after he takes a few correct steps and then spiraling him back
down into the spin. Ask him to move his front around his rear, and as soon as he takes one correct step, trot him out in a circle. Then spiral him down
into the spin again. Asking him to actually move out will help him think â€śforwardâ€ť in the spin rather than stepping back.
Also keep in mind that the more control you have of the horseâ€™s shoulders, the better her spins will be overall. Exercises like shoulder-in/shoulder-out,
rollbacks and sidepassing help develop that control. In fact, Iâ€™ve personally found that the better a horse can sidepass, the easier it is for him to
step forward in the spin.
Q: In hand, my 12-year-old Quarter Horse is extremely "mouthy." He doesn't bite people aggressively, but he is always looking for a lead rope or cross tie
to chew on or, in the case of our showmanship class, he is always trying to "lip" my hands. What's the best way to stop this behavior?
A: When your horse gets mouthy, put his feet to work. The most effective punishment you can give a horse is making him move his feet. Horses are basically
lazy creatures and would rather stand around with their legs cocked daydreaming about their next meal than moving their feet and working up a sweat.
Theyâ€™ll always choose the option with the least amount of work involved.
So if youâ€™re standing next to your horse and he starts lipping your hand, turn around and put his feet to work and turn a negative into a positive. Back
him up or lunge him â€“ the horse canâ€™t mouth on you and move his feet at the same time, especially if you make him hustle with energy and do lots of changes
of direction. If youâ€™re consistent, it wonâ€™t take long for the horse to connect the two together â€“ when he gets mouthy, youâ€™ll make his feet move.
One of the best ways to stop a mouthy horse, and especially horses that bite, is to back them up. Backing is a very humbling exercise for a horse to do.
When a horse gets mouthy or tries to bite you, itâ€™s a very forward action; heâ€™s coming forward to get you. When you back him up, itâ€™s the complete
opposite; heâ€™s being submissive to you by moving out of your space.
Just like your horse, a lot of horses like to put objects in their mouth â€“ the halter, lead rope, etc. Most peopleâ€™s first reaction when the horse grabs a
hold of the lead rope is to try and tug it out of his mouth. However, the more you try to pull something away from them, the mouthier they will get. Itâ€™s
like a puppy with a toy. The more you try to yank it away, the more he grits his teeth and hangs onto it. Instead of getting into a tug-of-war with the
horse, use reverse psychology and â€śmouthâ€ť him back. Vigorously rub the horseâ€™s muzzle with both of your hands for a good 20 seconds. While youâ€™re not
hurting the horse, youâ€™re rubbing him firmly enough to make him feel uncomfortable. Itâ€™s like when your uncle would scuff your head at a family
get-together. Every kid in the world hates that. It didnâ€™t hurt when he tousled your hair, but it was annoying and you didnâ€™t like it, and you soon learned
how to avoid him. Itâ€™s the same philosophy with your horse. If he wants to get mouthy, take all the fun out of it for him by roughing up his muzzle with
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