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  • Writer's pictureLouise Stobbs

Bargy horses

Horses that walk through you, pull you in whatever direction they fancy and seem to barely notice you’re there are not only unpleasant to handle but can actually cause a danger to you, others and themselves. It is also not enjoyable for them, a horse who is displaying these behaviours isn’t feeling comfortable or understanding what is expected of them.

Often we are told to use equipment to “fix” these problems, there are a myriad of pressure halters available that promise to do all sorts of magical things, chains over the nose and the dreaded chifney. Now I am not saying they’re all awful, some halters may have their place to train a horse who has a really ingrained pulling behaviour by a careful trainer with excellent timing, but the goal should always be to go back down to a normal headcollar. (Just a note to say I would never use a chifney on any horse unless it was literally a life and death situation as they can be so damaging, and I cannot honestly fathom a situation where it would be necessary)

Instead, unfortunately, people just shove them on and start pulling their horse about. I’ve literally seen a halter advertised recently as a “loading halter” with reviews of how amazing it is and their horse loaded straight away, no mention of training. The horse learns nothing about softness and instead just complies because of the discomfort.

Horses have no concept of how they’re “supposed” to be around us. They don’t know we want them to walk at our shoulder, or behind us, or next to us. We have to show them where we want them to be with consistency and patience.

Bargy horses do not understand pressure and release properly. If you’re constantly having to use high levels of pressure to get a response then how will they ever learn to respond to soft cues? We also teach them to lean into pressure when we lead them with constant tension in the rope, we are essentially desensitising them to pressure. 💪

Bargy horses are usually stressed horses, they do not understand what is expected of them and people are often having to use a lot of pressure and pulling just in their day to day life, this is not pleasant for a horse. These horses can often be quite shut down in their nature and described as naughty, numb, stubborn etc, when in reality they’ve just given up trying as the pressure doesn’t release anyway. They’re not doing it to get one over on you, they literally do not understand.

We are sometimes inadvertently reinforcing this behaviour, lets take a horse that sets his neck and pulls away to the grass. You’re using a high amount of pressure to get him to stop, he finally gets away from you, the pressure releases and he even gets positive reinforcement in the form of grass. Why wouldn’t he repeat that behaviour? 🌾

We can help these horses by teaching them to respond to soft cues. Start somewhere small like the stable or somewhere the horse feels comfortable. Apply the softest pressure you can onto the lead rope and just wait for your horse to even shift their weight back, release the pressure off immediately, you don’t even need a hoof to move at first. We ask for the smallest try then we can build from there. You need to be extremely patient and stick to your end of the “contract” so to speak. If you revert back to just pulling so will they.

Here’s a good test to see if your horse truly understands pressure and release from the headcollar. Stand still next to them and without moving your feet at all apply soft pressure to ask them to take a step forward. If they really understand it they will take a step forward despite the fact you are staying still. 🐴

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