Training A Positively Playful Young Horse

My 5-year-old gelding is very playful. Can I turn his playfulness into an advantage when I train him?
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training a playful horse
In many cases in skilled hands, playfulness and a focus on interacting can be an advantage for training. Consider working with a trainer with experience and skill working with young colts and stallions in a nonconfrontational style, incorporating good behavior modification practices. | Photo: iStock
Q.My 5-year-old spotted Saddle Horse gelding is very playful. How do I turn his playfulness into an advantage when I train him? He turns scolding into a game. He overturns his grooming box by pawing, nips clothes to get a reaction, and invents new antics all the time. It’s important to note that I do not give him treats. He is a brat, but could his focus on interacting be an advantage?

—Susann Dye, Montrose Minnesota

A.Yes, in many cases in skilled hands, playfulness and a focus on interacting can be an advantage for training. You might do best consulting with a trainer—one with experience and skill working with young colts and stallions in a nonconfrontational style, incorporating good behavior modification practices. An experienced trainer can often very efficiently figure out how to best direct the particular animal’s interest and curious energy toward the task at hand.

One of the tricks to efficient behavior modification is to avoid any scolding, which to most stallions, some geldings, and even some mares essentially translates into play initiation gestures that inadvertently distract the horse from the task at hand and bring his or her energetic focus to the handler

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Sue M. McDonnell, PhD, is a certified applied animal behaviorist and the founding head of the equine behavior program at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the author of numerous books and articles about horse behavior and management.

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