Many times we find ourselves talking with someone while holding our horse, and we are constantly pushing, pulling, moving, swatting, fretting, trying to move that overly pushy freight train we call a horse out of our space having limited results!
Why? Is it because he loves us to the point where he wants to be in our pocket? Maybe because we are trying to win his love and devotion with those tasty little horse cookies made of molasses and oatmeal? How about we are the only heartbeat around, and the lions and tigers are lurking in the bushes, behind the fence post or under a rock?
Wrong! It’s none of the above! He just doesn’t understand where his place is because we are too busy pushing him over, back, and around to really share with him what it is we really want. He is the confused one!
Let’s take it from the horse’s perspective. He views us in one of two ways: Either he views us as the submissive one in the herd and he has no respect for us (and thinks it’s our job to get out of his way!), or he views us as the leader and respects our wishes to stand a distance from us and wait on us for the next command.
Have you ever watched a group of horses as they move around the pasture during the day for a few hours? You would be amazed by the dynamics in the roles each horse plays based on the hierarchy of the band. First off, the lead horse, we’ll call a mare for all practical purposes, will make the decision where to eat, drink, rest, and come in to eat! Notice I said lead, that means #1 head horse in charge! I, on several occasions, have witnessed my mare, Reba, drag her feet headed to the barn for dinner just to prove her point. After the feed pans are rattled and the gate is opened, she will stand and wait for all others to line up behind her before she starts her leisurely walk to the barn. More often than not, she will stop and relieve herself before she makes the last fifty yards just to reinforce she is the boss!
So, how do you, as the human boss, instill the same level of respect that Reba does with the herd? Are you going to pin your ears, bite and kick them? Of course not, but all those actions are designed for one thing— to cause the more submissive to move their feet in the direction Reba requests!
Your job is to move those feet in the direction you request. Back, over, forward—stand where I, “The Boss,” put you! Imagine, if you will, the energy Reba would use on the lazy or non-attentive horse. Like a bolt of lightning if the suggestion (pinning of ears) didn’t work. Horses hate energy unless it’s their own idea and on their time table. So, if I wanted to reinforce my space is off limits, I must make an effort to ensure that the horse can understand to get out— and stay out! Now! And every time he walks, sneaks, inches, or creeps into my space I have to move him back, NOW. Horses are animals of habit. If I allow the horse to come into my space one out of every 20 times, I have not done my job of engraining the habit. Develop the habit and you will develop a respectful horse.
Sounds easy, right? So, if I want to ensure my horse stays out of my pocket while I’m talking with a friend, I don’t want to pull on him in any way, shape or form. I want to send energy down the lead to back off, NOW!
Start with a little wiggle in the lead and progress to a real snapping action until those feet take one step back. Just one…don’t get greedy! Rest, relax and give the guy a chance to understand what just happened. When he opts to move back forward, which he will, repeat the action, and this time, get two steps. They will come easier each time, trust me. Practice, practice and more practice will teach the horse to stay a predetermined distance from you at all times.
This will not affect your ability to walk into his space. You have the right, he does not! How about him moving his big head into my space from the side? Again, using energy, a bumping action on the jaw line with the palm of your hand, lightly at first, then increase with rhythm until he moves his feet over. Try it again. By golly, it works!. Don’t get into a pushing battle with the horse. He’ll win. The bumps are energy. He just can’t stand much of that!
Another mistake I see so often is where we hold to lead our horse! So many people hold the horse just where the snap on the lead meets the halter. Imagine if you will, I put a rope around your neck and hold both lines just below you chin, tight enough that it’s not allowing for any movement. Comfortable? I bet not! Now, let me hold that rope about three feet down the line. A little more comfortable? You bet!
Horses, being prey animals, do not like the claustrophobic feeling. Move your guy away from you a bit and you will see him relax much easier. Use the tip of your lead to drive him over if he crowds you while walking. If we do our job in backing him away at a standstill, he will back off as well walking with just a little wiggle!
We would be amazed at how well our horses would adapt to our wishes if we only took the time to teach them and instill a sound habit.
Have a good ride!
Jim Thomas and Bar T Horsemanship is a North Carolina-based training and teaching facility that conducts clinics throughout the US and abroad. Contact us for any training and clinic questions!