Snubs and hobbles can help a nervous horse

Scatterbrained horsemanship like mine has a way of leaving holes in training.

That’s ok, I tell myself. Exposed holes get filled and the return to fundamentals makes for an improved horse, an improved rider, and, most importantly, an improved relationship. Read about filling Holes in Training.

Over our 18-month history, Jolene has gotten away from me dozens of times. She has this history of spooking and bolting on the ground (Oddly, she doesn’t have as many issues when I’m on board.)

Jolene, a nervous gal, doing what she liked to do in the early days.

Jolene, a nervous gal, doing what she liked to do in the early days.

A friend reaches out to pat her.


I sneeze.


Sudden burst of wind.


Recently, I introduced some exercises to encourage Jolene to have more tenacity or “staying power.”

The power of a snub

maTo snub is to check the movement of a horse by wrapping the lead line around a post or a tree. A nervous horse who pulls back when its line is around a post will still be able to move, but she won’t get away. It’s a preferable alternative to tying a horse fast and hard or having the horse get loose.

For some time, I had treated Jolene like the sensitive mule she is. I’d move slowly and introduce new objects, new spaces with delicacy. It was time to move on, or as my friend, Kim Stone, related years ago: “If you treat a horse like a glass doll, it will break!”

Now, I had a new plan. After bringing her from the pasture, I find a decent space with a tree and move her with vigor and nnanimation. At first, she tries to bolt, especially when I’m in her right eye. Each time, I act nutty until she pauses. At that moment, I stop.

I switch sides and repeat. Jolene is learning that she can move her feet without leaving me and that I won’t restrict her.

After she’s relaxed with this snubbing exercise, I transition to moving her animatedly without the tree to help me. (see photo at right) She’s finding staying power in a sensible manner.

Another strategy – hobbles

Hobbles are a great way to prepare your horse for any scary situation of leg hobbrestriction – caught in wire, tangled in rope, bound by ground vines, etc. As clinician Craig Cameron explains in this video, “if they’re not hobble-trained, they will panic and get hurt.”

Rick Gore has a great page dedicated to hobbles and hobble training. Click here.

I introduced Jolene gently, with soft, cotton hobbles (not leather or nylon).

Maybe it was too gentle. With her narrow stance and these lengthy hobbles (see right), she was able to step almost normally. Nonetheless, she learned there was no need to panic with something restrictive around her legs. When I approached her with hands up, she moved her haunches over once, then stood still.


Read Amy Skinner’s checklist for first rides.

Read about progress in strange places.

Read about filling Holes in Training.


Progress in strange places

not too old to learn challengeProgress comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be planned or spontaneous, pretty or pretty ugly.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve worked with Jolene at all of the above.

Read more about deliberate tips for working with a spooky horse.

Meanwhile, we had two outings that helped build Jolene’s confidence in a more spontaneous manner.

Outing 1:

susanI rode Shea and ponied the mule on an easy, afternoon ride. Along the way, we met a neighbor. She innocently stepped forward and reached to pet Jolene on the head. This is an event that normally would send Jolene into the next county. I dallied my lead line and braced for a mammoth tug from the thousand-pound girl whose middle name is Distrust.

Remarkably, she stood firm. Her quick breaths told me she was nervous. But our friend was gentle and soft-spoken (which, I believe, made the difference). As her admirer stepped back, Jolene licked her lips.

Outing 2:

Jolene gets used to trash bags full of cans

Jolene gets used to trash bags full of cans

Since certain crummy horse riders like to toss beer cans on the trail, I’ve placed two containers for trash in the area. Periodically, they need to be emptied. (You can read about my initiative here.)

This time, Jolene donned a bareback pad and came with me, Raechel Nelson and our five dogs to help collect the trash. At times, the canine gang was loud and chaotic. Jolene swiveled her ears incessantly, occasionally stopped to account for everyone, but otherwise was calm.

After the 30 minute walk, we arrived at the trash collection site. She watched as we piled cans into plastic bags. I let her smell the bags before tying them to each side of the bareback pad. She was nervous. I snubbed the line around a tree and moved her so the bags bounced and jangled with the noisy cans. After several orbits, I let her chill and graze before heading home.

In both cases, Jolene did great!


Unbranded gets standing ovation

11174682_867151063331329_5751020672287218165_oUnbranded, the new documentary film about the epic, 3,000-mile journey of four Texas A & M University grads and their cavvy of extraordinary mustangs, is receiving rave reviews at the Canadian film festival, Hot Docs. Read review.


But did you know?

NickerNews was the only media outlet interviewing the team during their journey. We’ve been applauding them for years. NickerNews has the most extensive catalog of Unbranded features, topping all other publications by dozens of pages.

Here’s a sample of what you can read on NickerNews:

Consider starting with our 2013 on-the-trail interviews with Ben Masters as the team rides through Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana.

In Montana with Ben Masters

In Montana with Ben Masters

Read what former Western Horseman publisher, Darrell Dodds, has to say about Masters and the adventure.

Read early interviews from director Phill Baribeau and team member Ben Thamer.

Check out the series of 2014 interviews with:



Producer Dennis Aig

Editor Scott Chestnut

Read how executive producer Cindy Meehl approached the project.

Read about our ride in Montana wilderness with Masters, Dino, and Chief, two of his mustangs

For a complete listing of articles, click here.

Ben Masters, Maddy Butcher

Ben Masters, Maddy Butcher

Welcome Libby Lyman & Hay Pillow!

Libby Lyman

Libby Lyman

This week, we welcome two new and exciting advertisers to our fantastic family of partners.

Libby Lyman has been expanding her knowledge base, circle of comfort, and client list with a Gentle Approach to Horsemanship. She leads clinics from California to Maine and points in between.

This summer, she has several clinics at Piper Ridge Farm in Limerick, Maine. Visit her site and check out the Events page for her new listings.

logo copyHay Pillow is a fabulous, slow-feeding product developed by Monique Warren, a horse enthusiast extraordinaire, who observes that slow-feeders make for healthier, happier horses. Her products are Made in America, come in a helpful variety of sizes, and on line ordering is simple and descriptions well-explained.

Stay tuned for more reporting on Lyman and Hay Pillow! And tell ‘em you found them on NickerNews and BestHorsePractices.


Nicker More, Buck Less Bottles are here!

Most readers know that NickerNews is not big on promotions. But we do stand behind what we like and what makes sense: bottlestreating horses like horses, laying a good foundation before trying bigger challenges, and being a lifelong learner.

How about staying hydrated and using Made in USA water bottles?

Starting this month, NickerNews is proud to offer our own custom-designed Liberty Bottles!

The folks in Union Gap, Washington helped us design two super-fantastic offerings. Both feature our trademarked logo: Nicker More, Buck Less. The bottles are made of recycled aluminum and are BPA free. Read more about why these bottles beat all.

Liberty offered us a great price that we are passing on to our readers. Buy one for $19 or two for $35 (plus shipping). And, yes, we send internationally!

There’s a limited supply. Order yours before heading out on those lovely, long trail rides. Click here to purchase (scroll down for bottles).

Here’s a closer look at the two bottle designs:

bottle1 bottle2

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