Flagging to Kid-Proof Your Horse
- August 29, 2018
- Savanna Simmons
I bring to you some sub-par photos that will hopefully end up being helpful for a fairly specific situation. My husband and I use the flag for a multitude of situations, and just like anything, too much of a good thing is not a good thing. A person can really numb up a horse with the use of too much flag. However, if your horse is a bit jumpy and overly sensitive, flagging can bring your horse to a level of sensitivity that the rider is comfortable with, while acting as an extension of the arm and, hopefully, keeping the rider out of harm’s way.
Case in point is my old gelding Tuff, who is quite calm by nature, but doesn’t enjoy being away from his friends. He isn’t herd sour to an unmanageable degree; he just spends a lot of time with the herd, so upon first leaving them, he lacks confidence and is a bit spacey and jumpy. The photos I’m sharing are from the second day that I flagged him, and while he improved immensely from day one—in which he jumped around, spooked a bit, and had big ol’ wide eyes—he benefitted from day-two flagging to reinforce what we’re after: calm eyes, loose ears, and still feet.
When using a flag, I move in random, circular or back-and-forth movements if I want to desensitize my horse. Likewise, if I want my horse to move his feet, I use a very rhythmic motion, similar to what I would use as my spurs to get him to move. If I flop my legs and body around on him, my hope is that he wouldn’t pay much mind, but if I rhythmically ask with my legs, he would go into the desired gait. The same goes for the flag. I can still use it to move him calmly around if directed at his “go” points, such as his side, shoulder (to turn) or hips, but if I’m flailing the flag under, over, around, and through him, he should stand and take it calmly.
Here’s the important bit: if your horse has a tense face and ears like mine does in the above photo, moves his feet, jumps around, or doesn’t accept the flag in any way, DON’T QUIT FLAGGING. Sorry for raising my voice on that last bit there, but it’s so important! If you remove the annoyance as soon as your horse reacts negatively to the flag, as in a reward, he will think that’s how you want him to react. Instead, keep the pressure on until his feet stop or he takes a big breath or his face relaxes.
You can do this in steps. If he is really quite panicky, reward small actions in the right direction. If he’s running off with you as soon as you get the flag out, keep the pressure up and as soon as those feet plant, even if he’s huffing, wide-eyed, and trembling (hopefully it isn’t this dramatic or he may not be kid-horse material), take the flag away. Then start back in slowly, only giving when he gives a little as well.
Where this ties in with being a kid’s horse is that, like the show, kids do the darndest things. They don’t usually adhere to rules with horses, and sometimes horses get a little wigged out if they think it’s an empty saddle up there, and really there’s a shrieking, giddy, wiggling, little horseman-in-the-making up there. Flagging around the flanks, saddle, neck, legs, hind end, and belly can prepare a horse for anything those little buckaroos may try on the ground and in the saddle, and using a rhythmic flagging pressure on the ribs can get a horse ready for cues that may normally come a little lower on the horse’s side due to the length difference in legs.
Read more about creating a kid’s horse here: https://cavvysavvy.tsln.com/blog/groom-kids-horse-part-1/
and a bit more about it here: https://cavvysavvy.tsln.com/blog/groom-kids-horse-part-2/
About Savanna Simmons
I'm Savanna Simmons and I live north of Lusk, Wyoming, on the Four Three Ranch with my husband Boe and our sons, Brindle and Roan. I grew up evolving my horsemanship with clinicians like Ray Hunt, Joe Wolter, and Jack Brainard, but not within a...