Teaching Good Manners: Building from the Ground up

We've all seen it. That poor lady at a show, struggling to control her 17hh tank of a horse, who's decided that he really doesn't want to play ball today. But I'm sure many of us (me included!) have been in exactly the same position.

On the one hand it's embarrassing. On the other, it's down right dangerous.

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We all love our horses, and many of us will tolerate a lot of bad behaviour because we couldn't possibly tell our perfect ponies off for just 'playing'. But establishing good manners is an essential part of owning a horse or pony, and training should begin from day 1.

These are huge, unpredictable animals, and although we like to think that we know them inside-out, we can never be 100% sure. Horses are flight animals and even the quietest school-master has the potential to spook at any given moment.

So how can we make sure that we are safe when working with our horses and continue to build a great partnership?

Learn to read your horse

Horses are immensely expressive, and communicate with us, and their herd-mates through subtle changes in body language. Learning to correctly read and interpret your horse will not only help you to determine your horses mood and establish yourself as the herd leader , but will also help you to develop a much deeper bond.

You can learn about the different types of body language here.

Anyone who spends time around horses can learn to tune in to their unique forms of nonverbal communication.
— http://equusmagazine.com/article/how-to-read-your-horses-body-language-8577

Teaching good manners

When doing anything with your horse, you must set clear boundaries that they mustn't cross. Your horse needs to respect your personal space. Horses that are constantly in your face are displaying clear signals that they lack respect, and are actually the dominant partner in your relationship.

We are all guilty of letting our horses lean in for a kiss or cuddle, or even search in our pockets for treats uninvited, but this can be a subtle sign that your horse doesn't respect your personal space. Leaving this unchecked can ultimately open the door to poor manners and bolshy behaviour. 

Luckily this is easily remedied by teaching your horse to back up and move away from you. Being able to control the direction your horse takes on the ground not only keeps you safe but also reinforces your position as the leader.

In the wild, the head mare can easily move other members of her herd around with very little effort. This shows dominance and that she can be relied on for support and guidance.

Your horse will always look to you for guidance, so you must be clear in what you are asking them to do.

There are many benefits of establishing good manners on the ground. If your horse spooks easily, being able to diffuse the situation quickly will save you a fortune in headcollars and lead ropes. You can easily teach your horse to step towards pressure instead of backing away from it by using a Dually headcollar and a long lunge rope.

Stand slightly away from your horse and tighten the slack on the rope. Your horse should instinctively take a step towards you, and as soon as he does, release the pressure. If he doesn't, gently increase the pressure, but never pull or yank on the rope to get him to move.

This isn't a short process, but taking the time to teach your horse to give to pressure will really pay off in the long run. I'm always hearing stories of horses who have greatly injured themselves by spooking whilst tied to a trailer at a show. If your horse has learned to give to pressure, instead of pulling back, he is much less likely to injure himself or damage something.

My friend's horse, Indi, recently spooked whilst tied up outside his stable. He's a big, strong horse and somehow managed to get himself stuck on something. He panicked, pulled back and pulled his stable door clean off its hinges and ripped a piece of wood off the front of the stable, nails and all!

Luckily he wasn't hurt and we were able to repair the damage relatively easily. But next time he might not be so lucky and we've already started taking steps to teach him to give to pressure. Better late than never!

In my next post, I'll introduce you to my young horse, Skye. I'll explain a little about her training and how she's developed from a yearling to an amazing ridden 4 year old.