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Know your horse and become a leader that he or she will respect

I use affection and praise for the correct responses to build confidence, reinforce boundaries and establish leadership.

By Sheryl Lynde / Horsetrader columnist - March 19th, 2015 - Trainer Tips

SherylLynde_170pxAnthropomorphism is a term used to describe people attaching human emotions to animals. It’s something commonly found in the horse world, and it often creates stumbling blocks in training programs.

For example, an owner may interpret a horse’s habit of crowding their space as a way of showing affection, but if the owner understood the nature of horses, they’d recognize that the horse is attempting to establish dominance. In this case, as the pecking order goes, the owner is on the bottom and the horse on top. By not setting clear boundaries and correcting disrespectful behavior for fear of not being liked, you are on the way to creating a dangerous scenario because the severity of this behavior will increase over time if left unchecked. It’s important to be a leader that your horse will respect.

Dominant horses in the pasture establish clear boundaries by increasing the level of pressure necessary to get a desired response. They don’t beg or nag, nor are they troubled about being liked or not. Their concern is the order within the herd.

I have a dominant mare in one of our pastures that does an excellent job teaching younger horses respect. If a youngster gets pushy, the correction may increase from an ear-pinning to a charge with teeth bared. She will only escalate the request to the level that’s necessary to send the youngster away. She is fair in her corrections and earns the respect of the herd.

Whether you are on the ground or in the saddle, you are always teaching your horse. Are you teaching your horse to be respectful or disrespectful? Your training will be more effective by incorporating the natural behavior of horses into your program.

Let’s use the round pen, for example. If I am starting a young horse or working a problem horse from the ground, I want to establish leadership. As my training partner, Rick, of Rick Hoffman Performance Horses, says: If you do not have a commanding presence on the ground, you will not have it in the saddle.

I begin by moving their feet in the direction of my choice at the speed that I want. I change directions frequently to get their attention. If the horse wants to bolt or buck, I will turn them into the rail, directing them to make an outside turn. Outside turns have three advantages:
* stopping the buck or the bolt
* teaching the horse to turn on it hindquarters
* teaching respect of my space by sending the horse away from me — which replicates the behavior of my dominant mare when she corrects a disrespectful youngster.

If the horse continues to buck or bolt, I repeat the outside turns until he has given up the buck and is going in the direction I want. I am being consistent and as firm as necessary in my corrections in order to teach clear boundaries to eliminate unwanted behavior — just as my mare would do. Outside turns also help develop speed control and teach the stop.

If I’m sending a horse around and I’ve indicated by my body posture to make a speed change from a lope to a trot by relaxing and DECREASING the amount of pressure used, I expect to see a noticeable change. If the horse doesn’t respond, I will ask for an outside turn and change directions until I get the desired response. If I have a horse with “no go,” I will INCREASE or escalate the pressure of my request and reduce the amount of turns. Frequent turns will slow the horse. When in the saddle, I will increase my leg pressure until I get the desired response — I need to make a noticeable change in my cue. When driving a car, if you need to increase your speed, you will accelerate by using more pressure on the gas pedal until you reach the desired speed. Eventually, the horse will respond to lighter cues because they understand the consequences of increased pressure. By escalating my cue to the appropriate level I am able to SENSITIZE the horse to my cues. Nagging and begging the horse to respond only DULLS the horse to my commands; they won’t take me seriously because they know there are no consequences. If they are responding well to my speed changes, I will step back, release pressure, and ask for an inside turn and change direction. I can work on shoulder control at the inside turn.

By asking both inside and outside turns frequently, his attention will divert from outside the round pen to me. I use affection and praise for the correct responses to build confidence, reinforce boundaries and establish leadership. By understanding the nature of horses you will earn the respect and leadership you need to build a safe relationship.

Horsetrader columnist Sheryl Lynde is a John Lyons Certified Trainer who specializes in foundation training, colt-starting and problem-solving. She is based in Temecula. www.sheryllyndeclinics.com

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