Grazing during training; solved!

Spring is coming soon and the nice, green grass is starting to grow. This time of year we get the following question a lot: ‘What should I do when my horse just starts grazing while we’re training?’ or ‘How do I teach him not to graze?’

I’d like to share a simple but very important lesson concerning distractions, in this case a distraction named ‘gras’. Learn this lesson and your grazing issues will be as good as gone.

First of all you need to ask yourself a question: Why does my horse graze during our training together?

I’m sure the answer isn’t; because he’s hungry?! If it is, than right now is the time to stop training and start giving your horse some more hay. 😉

Probably the answer has more to do with: He’s feeling like having a bite. What does ‘feeling like having a bite’ mean to you? Usually we say this when we don’t necessarily feel hungry; we’re satisfied in that sense. Usually we say this when we’re feeling bored or are just crazing something sweet or nice. If you’re working really hard trying to finish before deadlines end you usually don’t have the luxury to think about having a nibble, and especially not if you have to go and get it somewhere. The same is true for your horse!
So the answer to the question ‘Why does my horse graze during training?’ is:

  • He’s bored
  • He has time to spare and think about the fact that he feels like having a nibble

So what go’s wrong? When our horse starts grazing during training we usually feel like pulling his head up and by this we say ‘Just stop grazing and pay attention!’
You can imagine that when you do this your horse will ask WHY he should stop and pay attention; pay attention to WHAT? And usually when he does we’re not quick enough to have our answer ready and to him it might then even feel like a rude interruption on our part.

And the solution? Like I said the solution is usually pretty simple:
Just make sure that your horse has enough to do and no time in his mind to think about something to nibble on. Give him something to pay attention to. Instead of stopping your exercise to correct him when he starts grazing, you just continue the exercise and he’ll have no choice but to start paying attention in the end.
Using the 4 phases we talk about in the article ‘Lightness to your aids’  would be really handy here.

Imagine: you ask your horse, from the ground, to yield sideways from your hand on his forhand and hindquarters. He ignores you and starts grazing. Instead of getting frustrated and pulling his head up (stopping what you were doing), you just calmly continue upping your phases. By doing this you actually tell your horse: ‘Sure, you can graze, but I’m continuing the exercise until you pay attention and give it a try, and I’m going to get more annoying by the minute!’.
This way you give your horse something to pay attention to! Instead of annoying him by forcing him. He gets to make a choice and soon he’ll start appreciating the choice and start making the right one; and BAM you just won his respect and got his attention with it!

Of course you start practicing this somewhere where the distraction is not too big yet. And the higher the grass the bigger the temptation and the more interesting your excercises will have to be to keep his attention.