If you don’t communicate and bond with your horse you are going to have problems. If you don’t step up, those problems will escalate. We’ve said it before and I’m sure every good trainer will say it! You simply cannot connect to your horse if you:
- Let your horse push on you (In your space)
- Act unpredictably
- Act as a follower
- Act as a predator
- Ignore the horses body language signs during training,
- Ignore the horses body language any time your with him
- Use physical strength to control your horse. (Horses need direction, not control)
Remember, horses are genetically hardwired by nature to stay together for survival. You cannot change that. (As far as we know) The more eyes and ears they have collectively, the better chance of survival. They depend on each other. To keep this life or death security blanket from collapsing (and they all get eaten) they follow one simple rule. Lead or follow. It is our responsibility to lead at all times. It will then be the horse’s responsibility to follow or challenge. If we present leadership actions to the horse he will either comply (follow) or challenge (Lead). If he tries to challenge (becomes leader) we must refuse to comply to his actions and when we refuse this leaves him only one choice. He has to become the follower. If there were no leaders in a horse herd environment confusion would take over, so horses demand it. They will test you if you show follower actions when handling them. They must trust you, as a leader to survive. It is everything to them. There can be no weakness in a herd, you must be a leader. You and your horse are always a herd. When no horses are around they will seek other animals if they have to.
Leadership actions can be presented to a horse in many ways. In the round yard is the usual favourite amongst some trainers/owners but there are other ways, depending on the horse and its training. Sometimes this can be dangerous if you do not know what you are doing (and sometimes scary when you do). The round yard method has many names depending on who you talk to (hook on, bonding, pairing, joining game etc.) The idea is to control the body by controlling the mind. We do not send the horse around in countless circles to wear him out. We control his feet and claim his territory. If we convince him enough he will comply. Every horse is different and slightly different methods need to be used with some horses, especially anxious and fearful ones. At the end of the session the horse should comply with your actions towards him. Sometimes, over time as your horse tests you, you may need to repeat the session to assure him you are the leader. Initially, it would take not much longer than 30 minutes with the odd repeat sessions of 5 minutes or so.
Challenging a horse can be dangerous and a horse that has been pushing on people for a long time can have many vices. Displaying leadership is for life as are our horses. It takes a lot of time and patience to train a horse properly; it is not completed in a month, 6 monthly or yearly time frames. Training a horse is for life and should not be looked at in any other way.
No doubt you have heard this stuff many times before. But we really do not want to be forcing horses to respond. We want to be able to ask a horse to respond. At least as willingly as possible. The way we prefer to do this is to use their language. The horse market is full of inventions to subdue the horse and force a response. But if we take the time and patience,we can ask for a response.(principle 1,) To help your horse understand what we are asking for, we need to make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult. (principle 2)
When we have proven our leadership,we then need to break down what we are asking into the smallest steps so that the horse understands. This is done by asking for a cue and then rewarding the slightest try and the smallest change in the horse when he gets the right response.(principle 3). Remember, you’re working with a mind so cause your ideas to become theirs. Take the time to think things through and always offer the softest feel when asking for a cue.(Principle 4). I have shaken the hands of many good horse trainers and found most have the softest grip.
Be clear and concise about what you are asking and be sure that the horse clearly understands(principle 5) To train these steps and cues and to help the horse understand, you will also need to set the horse up to succeed. It is your responsibility if they fail.(principle 6) As Buck Brannaman has said many times..... "You make a winner out of the horse".
All horses are different as are people. What one method of training works on one horse may not work on another. This is where you will need to adjust to fit the situation.(principle 7) In fact you should be ready to adjust to any situation when asking and teaching and change what your doing to suit the horse. When training, leading and riding you must have hands that close slowly and open quickly (principle 8. pressure and release both literally and conceptually) Always offer the softest feel first. Your horse will respond much faster than you think if done correctly. Your horse will start to learn how to learn and offer more tries. You must know how to read the horse by this stage.
Be as gentle as possible but as firm as necessary to make sure your horse understands personal space and boundaries.(principle 9) Putting him in place by moving his feet(not yours) will help ensure you maintain leadership. Something he will respect you for if you can prove you are consistent. If your horse gets worried over something then approach and retreat is your best option(principle 10) And finally, if you are training your horse with something new and he is not doing well, but then you change to suit the situation and he responds by giving the response you want, then STOP. Don't over do it. In this situation doing less is actually doing more.(principle 11) Put him back in his paddock to think about it. If it all went wrong and you cannot get a good try, then go back to something he knows and get one good try and then reward him. A good trainer will know when to walk away(principle 12, denotes finishing on a good try from the horse rather than leaving on a bad one) and train another day.
Horse training can look easy in films, CDs, clinics etc and you may have some success with your horse at home but sometimes you need that extra guidance and help as it could take forever if your doing it wrong. Worse still people have inadvertently wrecked their horse. Horses and people who do not understand each other can be a very bad and dangerous combination. Get professional help as rarely does the horse who has been trained badly behave in a manner that people want. The change comes only when the owner changes. Horses sold on to people new to horses who have little skills in horse behaviour correction are then put at unnecessary risk, especially children.
If you would like to know more on horse leadership skills then book into one of our groundwork clinics, teach your horse and yourself proper groundwork, build respect and trust and have a good time. Once your horse knows his yields then you are automatically set to try the agility clinics. This is great for building trust and learning more on how to direct your horse rather than control him.
Hope to see you at one of our clinics