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FAQ

Dr. Miller's FAQ
[Frequently Asked Questions]

We receive many questions for Dr. Miller.   Unfortunately with his busy travel schedule, he isn't able to answer all of them.   So to help out, we have created this FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page.   Where we will be adding questions and answers.   Eventually, we plan to make this into a searchable database.   Submit suggestions for our FAQ by emailing to questions@robertmmiller.com

SECTIONS:
Behavior & Training
How To
Imprinting
Mare & Foal
Health & Nutrition
Miscellaneous

TOPIC

QUESTIONS & ANSWERS

Behavior
Q: What can I do about my horse who is always pulling back when tied and forever breaking halters and ropes?

A: This nasty and potentially injurious habit is discussed in my video Understanding Horses.  For many decades, I both prevented and solved this problem by using elastic tie ropes or tying regular ropes to a strong inner tube.   Now, the Blocker Tie Ring invented by Ted Blocker, if used correctly, effectively abolishes this bad habit.

Behavior Q: Which of your books on horse behavior and how to handle horses do you recommend for beginners?

A: Well, they are all different, but for a starter volume, I suggest Understanding the Ancient Secrets of the Horseís Mind, available for order here.

Behavior Q: As soon as I start to mount, my horse begins to move off.  How can I teach him to stand still?

A: Mount in a corner.  That reduces by 50% the directions in which he can move.  After mounting, sit quietly for a while and then dismount.  In fact, if every time a horse is mounted the rider would sit quietly for awhile and then either dismount or go in a different direction each time, green horses would not learn to move off as soon as they are mounted.  We teach them to do this.  The learn to anticipate and we can prevent this by always doing something different.

Behavior Q: My horse is very difficult to paste worm.  I dread the chore because she fights it more each time.  I hate using a twitch on her.

A: Load some syringes with applesauce, syrup and molasses.  Every day give such a treat.  When it is time to worm, put some of the treat on the outside of the syringe.

Behavior Q: My question is about 'flooding' to desensitize a clipper shy horse. I have spent the last two years using approach and retreat and still cannot get near the upper neck area. Do you think the flooding technique would be dangerous for this particular phobia as we are dealing with machinery, wires etc. Thanks for any help you can give me.

A: Yes, flooding a clipper shy horse can be dangerous. Tie him in front of a feed bucket or manger. Buzz the clipper. Immediately give him a treat (slice of carrot, a mint, or a pinch of sweet feed). A small treat. Repeat this 10 Ė 20 times over 2 Ė 3 days. We want to make a dinner bell of the clipper. Each day, move a little closer, but donít rush it. Eventually you should be able to rub his back with the clipper. Initially, do that for just 2 seconds, then give the treat. Remember to take lots of time. Eventually move to his withers. Then his neck. If he resists, back away. That will reassure him. If it takes a month to get to his ears, fine. Back away whenever he shows fear. Reward whenever he tolerates it. 

Behavior Q: Iím 63 years old and have never before had the experience of a horse trying to bully me. However, I now have a seven year old Arab Quarter horse mare. Up until January she was respectful and fairly cooperative. Recently she was successful in removing me from her back twice and twice causing me to dismount because I couldnít control her Behavior from the saddle. Every time I took her back to the round pen and worked her hard. Then I remounted and went out again on the trail. I took her to a trainer for two months and I worked with her and the trainer at least 3 times a week. The training facility was 125 miles from my home. I went that far because she was taunted as being very good at dealing with difficult horses. She was cooperative for a few weeks. I went on vacation for a month. Then when I rode her, she was back to her old bad habits. Our last encounter left me with an 8Ē bruise on my thigh because she swung her rear into me and knocked me down. I believe the one legged hobble is needed to coax this animal into looking to me for leadership.  Is this device safe enough ( for me and my horse) to use as long as it is on soft ground?

A: The one-leg hobble alone cannot solve your problem. Can your mare be rehabilitated? Yes! But do I recommend that you, at 63 accept such a challenge? Not if we are sensible. You should do one of two things. Anything in between is asking for an eventual disaster. Itís not worth the risk:
1. Put her with a good trainer for at least 3 months. Itís cheaper than a skull fracture. Drop by as often as possible to make sure they work with your mare daily.
2. Sell her and get a safe, gentle, well mannered horse. There are lots of them around who need homes. Check 4-H and ETI.  Perhaps a girl is going off to college or an older person is quitting riding and their horse needs a home. As a half Arab she should sell for enough to help buy a new nice horse.

Behavior Q. My vet uses a twitch. How do you feel about this?

A. The twitch, like the bit and the spur, is a legitimate tool in horsemanship, but like the others, it is often used improperly and harshly. No horsemanship tool should ever be used in anger or impatience. Because some people do so, other people often disapprove of their use in general, which shouldnít be the case.

Behavior Q: Is training a mule different than training a horse?

A: Training a mule should NOT be different than a horse. I have used identical methods on both with equal results. However, mules must be trained the way horses should be trained. Horses are more forgiving and throughout history horses have been mostly improperly trained. The exceptional unforgiving horse was labeled an ďoutlaw.Ē If the traditional coercive, insensitive, forceful methods are used on mules, they usually end up as the stubborn, untrustworthy, disagreeable creature that tradition portrays them to be. Properly handled, the mule can make an extraordinary animal, superior to the horse in several ways. Several of my books and videos include mules: Imprint Training, Handling The Equine Patient, Understanding Horses DVD.

Behavior

Q. Some trainers encourage food treats, and some abhor them. What is your opinion?

A. Food rewards (not treats) are the most powerful way of reinforcing behavior positively. Butóthey must be used correctly or they can encourage behavior problems. Be sure you use food rewards appropriately. The Spanish Riding School uses them, as do most circus trainers.  Shawna Karrasch, a former dolphin trainer, has a DVD available on the subject, On Targetô Training.  Allen Pogue, a great trick horse trainer from Dripping Springs, Texas, also has a DVD, Using Treats as a Training Tool.

 

Behavior Q. My horse hates any kind of a bit. He throws his head and opens his mouth. A tie-down doesnít help. Can you recommend a bit that will work?

A. No! His behavior is the result of inept training. He needs to be started over, from scratch, in a halter, side pull bridle, or hackamore. This must be done by a skilled traineróit will take time before he can gradually be reintroduced to a bit.

Behavior Q: I have repeatedly observed horses online showing a resistance to the trainers request. It may be fleeting but it is still there. I know when I work with my own horse they will also sometimes do this. It will be gone in an instant with a flick of an ear but it was there. To me something is missing in this. If all was in accord would this be the reaction? I must be missing something because I see it happen in all the trainers up to Cavalia all who have better skills than anyone I know. Would you help me understand why in harmony this happens. Or is it that they are animals and there can never be that true understanding only the best we can do.

A: Horses are highly reactive creatures.  Any detected unfamiliar sensory stimulus ( odor, touch, sight, or sound) will precipitate a flight reaction--or--an aborted suppressed flight reaction.  Thus it is IMPOSSIBLE to completely avoid frightening stimuli.  What we CAN do is handle horses so as to AVOID unnecessary fear as much as p possible.  Our goal should always be 100% respect and zero fear, but realistically that can never be completely attained.

   
How To Q: I have a 3 yr old HUS appendix QH mare who has never been tied. She is barely halter broke, meaning you can put a halter on her, and she leads okay, but that is it. I need to teach her to tie. I cant remember if you tie them high than their withers, or level to their withers. I think higher sounds best, so that if they pull back, they cant really get good leverage to continue the act. Any help would be great. Also she is horrible about her feet. What can I do to help w/ this, as I dont want to get hurt?

A: My EARLY LEARNING video has a section on teaching to tie. So does UNDERSTANDING HORSES. I also recommend the Blocker Tie Ring invented by Ted Blocker. He may have a video. As for her feet. Go very slow and gradual rubbing her withers and back progressing very very gradually to her feet. Take a few days to reach the feet. Read UNDERSTANDING THE ANCIENTS SECRETS OF THE HORSES MIND. Always tie high.

How To Q. Iím confused. Some trainers advise teaching horses to back from the ground before they are even ridden, and believe that itís an important foundation to further training. Other trainers say backing is the last thing they teach. Which is correct?

A. I believe that next to teaching a horse to lead gently and quietly, teaching them to back on command is an important prelude to further training. I teach horses to back differently than most trainers do. I do it from the horseís shoulder, facing the same direction as the animal (just as I would if I were riding). I do this using a halter, and, if necessary, intermittent pressure applied to the chest using something like a dull hoof pick. As always when training horses, if there is the slightest response to pressure in the desired direction, reward the animal instantly by removing the pressure and using praise and gentle stroking.

   
Imprinting Q: We began our first imprint training session about 30 minutes after birth and worked for 45 minutes. When finished the foal wouldn't nurse, as if he was too tired. Skeptics at the barn said it was because of the imprinting. We ended up milking the mare and the vet administered the colostrum. Consequentially, the mare hadn't cleaned because, we were told, the foal wasn't nursing. We repeated this a couple of times and finally after about five or six hours the foal latched on and began nursing. Then the mare cleaned shortly thereafter. My question is, has Dr. Miller ever encountered this? The foal being too wore out to nurse.

A: It is not rare for a weak foal to be unable to nurse, but imprinting as nothing to do with it. Foals are born fully nourished and so not need to nurse for hours. In 54 years of handling countless foals I never had such an experience. In fact, I have found that the newborn foal straining to arise while being handled is STRONGER once it is allowed up, probably due to the isometric exercise it experiences. Your weak foal was born weak as foals sometimes are and handling it postpartum had nothing to do with its difficulty nursing.

Imprinting
Q: I have a 9 year old gelding quarter horse. I have had him since birth and he is a one-person horse. Other women can ride him with little to no trouble, but men struggle to gain control. When he was born, I was only 11 and since his birth I have conditioned and trained him. When he was two, I broke him to ride without his bucking or acting out. He doesn't allow other horses to interact with me. How do I know if I imprint trained him without knowing that I did it?

A: Assuming you worked closely with the horse in the first 48 hours after birth, some imprinting undoubtedly occurred.  But his behavior sounds like a socialization failure.  Inadequate exposure as a foal with enough horses and people.

Imprinting
Q: I have a one-week old foal and need some information about how to train him naturally. I missed the birth, so was unable to do immediate imprinting. He will let me stroke him, and he is wearing a halter. I am wondering if Robert Miller's books and videos are specifically for imprinting right after birth, or if there is enough information in them for me to use for the next several months of his life.

A: Unfortunately, the imprinting period is only in the first 48 hours after birth.  Foals can certainly be trained after this period, but their special elasticity and capacity of their brains is not the same.

Imprinting Q: My main concern about imprint training is that it will cause interference between the mare and foal and that the foal will think that it is human. 

A: This is the most commonly expressed concern and it is absolution unfounded.  In fifty years of experience I have never had a mare reject an imprint trained foal.  Moreover, in those mares that reject foals because they are afraid of it, imprint training overcomes such rejection.  The mare is reassured and habituates to the foal's presence as the handler works with it while it is lying on the ground.   Also, mares which were imprint trained at birth remember it, and calmly observe the process when it is done to their own foals.  This in turn reassures the newborn that, being a precocial species, is keenly aware of all that it senses and of the dam's attitude.

 

Imprinting Q: Will imprint training work in puppies?

A: Yes, but not at the time of birth.  Dogs are an ALTRICIAL species, just like us humans.  Development and learning ability is delayed.  Puppies imprint at 6 weeks of age.  If you'll think about it, that's when the wolf cub crawls out of the den and sees its mother and pack members for the first time. 

PRECOCIAL SPECIES, such as horses, goats, deer, chickens, etc. imprint as soon as they are born or hatched.  They must follow mother to stay alive.  Their greatest learning period is during the hours and days after entering the world.

Imprinting Q. My mare is expecting a foal in April, and I want to try imprint training, but Iím afraid of making mistakes. You warn, ďIf you canít do it right or devote the time, donít do it at all.Ē

A. Thatís true for any training methods. Imprint training is easy to do. For novices, I recommend a minimum team of three people; one holding the mare AFTER she gets up by herself, and two to work with the foal. To avoid mistakes, donít experiment. Follow the steps that I have done for over 50 years, on countless foals, with a 100% success rate. Do each step exactly as instructed, as you would follow a recipe. By adhering to these instructions, good results are guaranteed. For more information on imprinting your foal, see the section on Imprint Training, below.

Imprinting Q. We began our first imprint training session about 30 minutes after birth and worked for 45 minutes. When finished, the foal wouldnít nurse, as if he was too tired to do so. Skeptics at our barn said it was because of the imprinting. We ended up milking the mare and the vet administered the colostrum. Consequentially, the mare hadnít cleaned it either because, we were told, the foal wasnít nursing. We repeated this a couple of times and finally, after about five or six hours, the foal latched on and began nursing. Then the mare cleaned shortly thereafter. My question is, have you ever encountered a situation like this, where the foal appeared too worn out to nurse?

A. Itís not unusual for a weak foal to be unable to nurse, but imprinting has nothing to do with it. Foals are born fully nourished and thus need not nurse for hours. In 54 years of handling countless foals, Iíve never had the experience you describe. In fact, Iíve found that the newborn foal straining to arise while being handled is stronger once itís allowed upóprobably due to the isometric exercise it experiences. Your weak foal was born this way, as foals sometimes are, and handling it post-partum had nothing to do with its difficulty nursing

Mare & Foal Behavior Q: Why do some mares reject foals?

A: This is most common in first foal mares that are raised in an unnatural environment where they never experience newborn foals.  In my experience this is most common in the Arabian breed. 

Mare & Foal Behavior Q. My foal, the first I have had, snaps its jaws when I approach. Is this aggressive behavior, and should I correct it?

A. No! It is submissive behavior. Ignore it, and be gentle. It will soon disappear.

   
Health & Nutrition Q. What vaccinations do you recommend for horses?

A. The incidence of disease varies from area to area and according to the seasons. Ask your local veterinarian. He or she knows best.

Health & Nutrition Q. When should I geld my colt?

A. Immediately. Any male not intended for breeding should be gelded as early as possible. I have done mine before one week of age. It isnít traditional, but nobody can look at a mature gelding and tell if he was gelded at one day of age, one week, one month, or one year. When my clients asked me ďwhen should I geld him?Ē My answer was always, ďyesterdayĒ

Health & Nutrition Q. Do you prefer feeding grass hay or alfalfa hay?

A. I recommend both, but grass hay such as timothy, oat, barley, orchard grass Bermuda, etc, comprise 75% of the hay fed.

Health & Nutrition Q. My older mare suddenly developed a hoof crack.  What can I do to help?

A. I recommend a hoof supplement containing Biotin. Use it generously. Ask your vet to recommend a really good farrier. Special shoes may be needed until the problem is solved. Also use a hoof dressing containing LANOLIN on the wall and coronet every day.

Health & Nutrition Q. Whatís the best bedding material for a stall?

A. To some degree, itís a matter of preference. Straw, tanbark, wood shavings, and even chopped-up newspaper have been used. The important thing is that itís clean, and that the stall is mucked daily. In the United States, the most popular beddings are straw and wood shavings (avoid walnut). For a foaling stall, I prefer clean straw.

Health & Nutrition Q. My family is moving from Southern California to Montana. Our three horses have never experienced extreme weather, and Iím worried about winter. Do you have any suggestions on how to help them adjust?

A. Horses evolved in cold climates and handle low temperatures better than very hot weather.

Health & Nutrition Q: I have a 16 year old sound quarter horse.  A local vet suggested that I feed her a small scoop of wheat bran daily or almost daily. I have done that and she has thrived. She also gets alfalfa blend pellets twice a day and grass hay once a day. Occasionally I read stories about how bad bran is on a regular basis? Do I have any cause for worry? A fellow stopped by our barn recently and said he thought her kidneys were hot and had a friend who was there feel and she confirm that she could feel some warmth. He mentioned the bran had a lot of protein and could be the cause.

A: Bran is very high in phosphorous and excessive feeding can cause bone disease because excessive phosphorous with calcium absorption.  It causes a disease known since the Roman times as "Big Head."   A once a week bran feeding is OK.  I do it, but I do not recommend daily bran.  You can try 2 pounds mixed with some Psyllium.  It helps prevent sand colic.  A Saturday night bran mash was traditional in some regions prior to an idle Sunday.

   
Miscellaneous Q: What do you think of the recent popularity of wild mustangs and the "mustang makeover" competitions?  Can they make save horses if they were born wild?

A: I am an enthusiastic supporter of the mustang adoption programs.  When I started practice, mustangs were shot, roped, crippled, trapped, and most condemned to make dog food.  Today, thanks to the art of what is popularly called "natural horsemanship", mustangs born in the wild and never before handled by humans can, in a few days, be made tame, calm, bonded with humans, and trained to carry a rider.  What other species, previously unfamiliar with humans, especially a prey species like the horse, can be so gentled and tamed? 

I am happy about the trend for several reasons:
1) It provides a home for many mustangs which are terribly overpopulated costing taxpayers millions of dollars.
2) It enables people to buy good horses that are properly started, sound, and resistant to unsoundness problems common in horses started too young, and all at a low cost

Many of these horses are quite attractive, they have good feat and most are not too large.  So many people ride unnecessarily large horses.  Lighter weight horses tend to remain sound longer than heavy horses.  After all, truce wild horses usually weigh between 600 and 800 pounds.  That's what nature intended.  It was mankind that bred larger and larger horses for work and for warfare.  Natural selection over several centuries has made most mustangs strong, agile, intelligent, sensible and inclined to live in a herd environment.  So they readily bond with humans if handled properly. 

Several prisons now are involved in programs wherein inmates, using "natural horsemanship" methods, are training adopted mustangs and eventually selling them to the public.  Included are the state prisons of Nevada, Colorado, Utah, and Oregon.  Not only are some of the inmates rehabilitated, but the trained mustangs are eventually sold for sizable prices.  Everyone benefits.

   
Questions about Dr. Miller Q: I have read your books and would like attend one of your clinics.  Can you suggest one?

A: You can click the Appearances link above to see where I am going to be speaking.  One regularly scheduled event I would highly recommend is the annual Light Hand Horsemanship clinic in Santa Ynez CA that is held each May.  You can visit the Light Hands website for more information.

 



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