Downunder Horsemanship with Clinton Anderson



Horses and training have been a lifelong passion for Anderson, at the age of 6 his family recognized his natural ability with horses and cultivated his interest, buying him his first horse when he was 9 years old. Anderson constantly craved knowledge about horses and eagerly listened and asked questions of anyone he thought could help, attending his first horsemanship clinic at the age of 12. Anderson started training people's horses after school and on weekends, leaving school at the age of 15 to begin his professional apprenticeship with Gordon McKinlay of Rockhampton, Queensland. For the next 2 years Anderson started and trained over 600 horses under McKinlay's expert apprenticeship.

Those first two years of Anderson's was an experience in itself. He broke over 400 horses ranging from two to eight years olds. Ninety-five percent of those horses had little or no handling at all.

"Most of those horses were 1200-1300 pounds and had never seen a man before," said Anderson. "They were straight from the outback - they could jump, climb, bust, or crash their way out of a 7 ft. high round pen as opposed to being handled by me. I couldn't fight those horses, and win. I learned the importance of making my idea the horse's idea, without the horse even realizing it; after that, their training was pretty easy."

At age 17, Anderson left McKinlay's to apprentice for Ian Francis, a nationally acclaimed Australian cutting and reining horse trainer. After working with Francis for a year, Anderson used his knowledge and expertise with horses to begin his own training facility.

Still craving to expand his training skills, Anderson came to the United States in 1995 for a brief apprenticeship with Al Dunning, winner of multiple AQHA World Championships.

It was during this apprenticeship with Dunning when Anderson met is wife, Beth. Anderson spent a few months traveling and helping American horse owners and married Beth before they returned to Australia.

From 1995-1997 Anderson continued to travel across Australia conducting clinics, and also producing his first video series, "Suppleness and Body Collection", "Maneuvers", and "Trouble Free Trailer Loading". Along with his clinics and producing videos, Anderson found time to enter the Australian National Reining Futurity in 1997 where he placed third.

Once the video series was completed, Anderson and Beth decided to return to American and hit the road on a full time basis, teaching his Downunder Horsemanship methods. Not only did Anderson conduct clinics, he starting speaking at equine expo's across the country reaching thousands with his Downunder Horsemanship methods.

But what is Downunder Horsemanship?

"The best way that I can describe Downunder Horsemanship," said Anderson, "and the way I like to train horses is this: Horse training is like a scale, and on one end of the scale you have people who beg their horse to do things by using feed, grain or hay as a bribe. Sometimes the horse will perform just to get the treat. However, if the horse chooses not to go on because he feels giving up the fear or disrespectfulness he exhibits isn't worth getting the treat. I have also heard of people not feeding a horse or watering a horse for two or three days thinking that if the horse eventually gets hungry or thirsty enough, he will perform to survive. These methods do not get consistent results, to say the least. "

On the opposite end of the scale are people who mentally and physically intimidate their horse to do everything. A good example is trailer loading. You often see someone flogging a horse relentlessly with a whip to get it on the trailer. Now they may flog and flog, and eventually force the horse to go into the trailer. But every time they go to load the horse, the horse never chooses to voluntarily walk into the trailer calm and relaxed. The trainer will always have to force the horse to go into the trailer, and the chances of injury are always a risk.

Where do we want to be with our horse training? We want to be in the middle - somewhere between being a wimp and getting dragged all over the place, and being too rough and aggressive with our horse, always forcing him to do things for us. Both ends of the scale obtain very inconsistent results. If your horse does not respect you, he walks all over you and will not listen to you - or if your horse is fearful of you, he will never trust and obey you, because he's too frightened. So, somewhere in the middle of our horsemanship scale is where we want to be, but that doesn't mean we necessarily get to stay in the middle. There will be times when one must sway to either side of the middle.

"When my horse is acting disrespectfully towards me or giving me the wrong behavior," said Anderson, "I will step toward the hard side of that scale. When my horse starts to try and shows me respect, I will instantly step on the easy side of the scale. It is very important that you get your horse to understand that he is responsible for his actions. It is very important that he understand disrespectful behavior will cause more discomfort for him so he does not want to make that same mistake again. When your horse is doing what you want, or at least trying to do what you want, it is very important that you take the pressure off and reward your horse. A lot of people try to reward and love their horse to get it to respect them. You can't love your horse to get it to respect you. You can love and reward it for respecting you. There is a big difference."

So, how do you gain your horse's respect? You make your horse move forward, backward, left and right - just like the dominant mare does in the pasture.

Think about feeding time. The dominant mare will walk up to the feed trough and pin her ears back, immediately all the other horses move out of her road. If, however, another mare decides she wants to challenge and be the leader, when the dominant mare pins her ears back, this mare might not move. The dominant mare will start to increase her aggressiveness until she gets the less dominant mare to move. She will pin her ears or act like she might bite. The less dominant mare now has a choice. She will either continue to challenge the dominant mare, or she will move out of the dominant mare's road, at which point the dominant mare will cease to put pressure on her. If she doesn't get the desired response, she will not quit until she gets the desired response. Horses deal with each other in nature very simply, and we can obtain the same results if we duplicate their actions.

The time frame between when a horse pins its ears back and when the less dominant horse moves away is a matter of seconds. The dominant mare doesn't waste time and there is no debate. They have a very brief discussion - "I'm asking - what are you going to do? If you don't want to do it, that's alright; but I'm going to increase the pressure until you do." It's very important that people understand that horses will deal with each other in nature very peacefully. They rub and groom each other and live in harmony. When there is disrespectfulness in the herd's behavior, the dominant mare will do whatever it takes to make her point and restore harmony.

"This is very similar to how I deal with my horses as well", said Anderson. "When a horse treats me disrespectfully and pushes into my personal space, I increase the work load and the pressure until the horse begins to respect me. As soon as I get respect and effort, I instantly reward that behavior and back off the pressure. Reward is great, but you can only reward when you get a desired response."

You must teach your horse that he is responsible for his actions, meaning that if he bites you, kicks you, walks into you, runs over the top of you or does anything to you that is even remotely disrespectful, he must pay the consequences. His behavior puts him under pressure and feeling uncomfortable - you just make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy. Very quickly, your horse should stop making mistakes and stop acting disrespectfully if you learn this important rule.

It is very important that you let your horse make mistakes. For example, if your horse doesn't want to stand still, that's fine. But you put that energy to a constructive use and make him lunge, stop, turn, or physically do something. After five or ten minutes, the horse is thinking "Man, it was much easier standing still and relaxing than what he is making me do now!"

Horses are basically lazy creatures. Use this to your advantage. Even the most athletic, fearful, crazy horse in the world would much rather stand still than work, if given a choice. Basically, the more you tell the horse not to move, the more he wants to move. On the other hand, if you let him know that moving will be more difficult for him; and standing still will be rewarding, the horse will want to stand still. This is an excellent example of letting your horse make a mistake and making him pay a price for it. Let your horse be responsible for his actions. Don't protect him. A mistake is really a blessing in disguise, because every time your horse makes a mistake and you correct him, it's one less mistake he will make in the future. Anderson guarantees that the more you try and protect him from making a mistake, the more mistakes he will make - and they will be a lot worse and will come when you least expect them.

Horses have a very natural desire to be controlled or led. Horses always follow a leader in the pasture. However, if you don't want to be the leader in your relationship with your horse, your horse will gladly step up to the plate. If you want to get that leadership back, most horses are willing to give it up. However, if your horse has been the leader for a long time, he might be reluctant, but not impossible. Every time you let your horse take control, you are teaching your horse this is acceptable. Horses learn through repetition.

You don't have to teach your horse to do anything. Whatever you allow your horse to do is what he will learn. When he walks off when you're trying to mount him and you don't correct him - you've just taught him that it's acceptable behavior. When you allow your horse to pin his ears back at you when you tighten the girth - You've just taught him that it's acceptable behavior.

Horses understand action. So when your horse pins his ears back or acts disrespectfully towards you in any way, if you put pressure on him and reprimand him for this behavior, he soon figures out that it was uncomfortable for him to do that. Horses get away with whatever you allow. If you let your horse be disrespectful and act like an idiot - he will do an excellent job of just that. If you let your horse act respectful, patient and obedient, he will learn to be respectful, patient and obedient more often than not.

Horses learn through repetition. When you do something to a horse once, you plant a seed. When the horse does it again, it becomes a habit. Always remember, bad behavior can create bad habits.

Some people don't like to hear the words reprimand or punishment, but horse training is very simple - it's very black and white. You either have a respectful horse or a disrespectful horse. The more black and white you can keep it, the easier it gets. Your horse has to realize that every time he acts disrespectfully towards you, he will become uncomfortable. Every time he acts respectfully, he will be rewarded. A lot of people want to reward, and they understand that reward is very important; but the reward is only as good as the reprimand that backs it up.

Don't bluff! When you ask your horse to do something and he doesn't do it, you had better be prepared to step up to the plate and increase the pressure until he does, then instantly back off the pressure.

Remember, you can't beg your horse to respect you. In general, the more you try to beg, the more disrespectful they become. The more you ask your horse to do for you, the more respectful your horse becomes.

Most people feel that they have a respectful horse if the horse stands tied; leads; stands to be saddled; loads in a trailer, and allows his feed to be picked up.

However, if the horse does not want to load one day, doesn't like his feet being handled, won't lead or be saddled - as soon as one of those five things goes wrong, the owner panics and thinks he has a disrespectful, problem horse. Chances are, that horse has always been disrespectful, but he has never been challenged enough to show it. You never know how respectful your horse is until you put some pressure on him and ask him to do something for you.

"Remember this," said Anderson, "horses have 23 hours every single day to sleep, eat and drink. Not a bad deal! For 23 hours a day, he can do whatever he chooses. For that one-hour a day you handle your horse - and let's face it, sometimes it's not even one hour - that time is your time. That is your time to say, "Listen! I want to be a partner with you, but I am the leader! You are not the leader! You are not equal with me! I am the leader!"

"The more you understand this and the more you get your horse to understand this, the fewer problems you will have", said Anderson. "I always want to give my horse a choice. If he chooses to do the wrong thing, that's fine, but he must pay a consequence for it. Horse training becomes difficult for people when they have too many shades of gray."

If you buy a brand new truck that should get 16 miles to the gallon and it doesn't, the first thing you do is go back to the dealership and ask why. However, when you buy a horse, there is no written manual. Most people have a general guideline - their horse should not bite them, kick them, hurt them - but that's about as far as it goes.

"I try to raise people's expectations in what they believe their horse should do for them," said Anderson. "To me, my horse should respect me, cooperate and try. This is not good behavior - it is expected behavior. So many owners are used to disrespectful, bad behavior, that when their horse stops behaving badly, they think this is respect. On its very worst day, your horse should respect and pay attention to you. On his very best day, he never makes a mistake. I will never reprimand my horse or put pressure on him if he tries. I will put pressure on a horse and reprimand only for not trying or if he's disrespectful or challenging."

Most people who attend Anderson's clinics are too passive and to the point of unless they can change their horse's behavior, selling the horse or getting out of horses completely. Anderson finds that seven out of ten professional horse trainers are usually way too aggressive with horses. They never give the horse a chance to understand the desired lesson. Again, horse owners need to be somewhere in the middle.

Horses will deal with each other at times very passively, but very aggressively towards disrespectful behavior. If nobody disputes this, why is there such a stigma in the horse industry that people are not allowed to reprimand their horse? Fifty years ago, everything was force and intimidation. That is completely wrong, however, now the horse industry has turned people too far in the opposite direction and they are begging their horse to do things for them. Anderson sees so many wonderful people every weekend so close to getting injured by their horse because they are literally begging their horse to listen to them. You can't whisper sweet nothings in your horse's ear and expect him to listen to you. Horses understand actions - they don't understand words.

Stay focused on what you are doing with your horse. If you want your horse to be a willing partner and really perform well, you have got to be prepared to put in the effort. You can't expect your horse to go from Grade 1 to Grade 10 in four days and do it once every three months. It is very important to remember that horse's learn through repetition and that you should be prepared to focus and work through any resistance that you come across and reward the behavior that you are looking for.

"The main thing that I want to get across to people that don't know me," said Anderson, "is that there are two sides to horse training. There is a loving, rewarding side and there is a pressuring, reprimanding side. It is very important that you understand both sides, because your horse will want to choose the rewarding side - if you set it up for him to do so."


You may also visit his website at: www.clintonanderson.net.

 


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