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By Sheryl Lynde | Horsetrader columnist

A client whose horse I had in training some time ago returned for follow-up instruction. After watching me work with her horse for a few minutes, she made the observation that he respected me more than her. She said that when she took him home from training, he was attentive and respectful, but after a period of time, she lost it, Now she wanted to know how to get it back.

How do you get respect from your horse? You have to lead. What exactly does it mean to be the leader that your horse is looking for?

Well, let’s first take a look at the definition of leadership. To me, being in a leadership role means being actively present and aware of how to inspire and create a psychologically safe environment for each horse under your guidance so they will follow you willingly. Being in a leadership position does not translate to a dictatorship, it is about being a part of something that is bigger than yourself. You need to correct the unwanted behavior by providing options to allow the wanted behavior to come into being. You need to have a vision, a direction.

According to Simon Sinek, author of The Infinite Game , “A leader is one that takes the risk to trust first. A leader takes the risk to build the relationship first. A leader takes the risk to create the circle of safety first and takes the risk to go ahead towards the vision first. A leader undertakes the element of leadership first, they literally lead first.”

This definition of leadership has nothing to do with rank, but more to do with confidently and consistently leading first in a hierarchical relationship. A good leader is also a good follower. They are in service to something greater than themselves. They are subordinate to something bigger. For me, I am in service to the horse. I want to ensure they have a secure future in this life by bringing out their best qualities and providing clear boundaries so they become safe and respectful companions. In this type of leadership role, both the rider and the horse benefit and together they evolve into something bigger than themselves, a symbiotic relationship forms where both gives more than they take.

So where do you start? You start by being aware of both what your body is doing and the effect it has on your horse’s movements. You set the tone. As soon as you halter your horse, you have become the trainer. You are teaching him how to behave on the ground and in the saddle. If you don’t like his behavior, change how you ask. But if you aren’t aware of how, you ask, how can you make the change that will correct the behavior in question? Answer: by being aware.

I frequently hear phrases like, “my horse wants to do this” or “my horse doesn’t want to do that.” Always, my answer is: “What are you doing to either allow it or prevent it from happening?”

Where are your hands? Are they high in the air—and if so, how high? Are they tightly clenching the reins, are you balancing on the horse’s mouth? Are your reins even, are you pulling more to the left than to the right? How is your body positioned? Are you leaning forward, gripping with your knees? Are your shoulders tense and raised? Is your jaw tight, are you leaning in the turns? Are you looking where you want him to go? Where are your legs? Are you gripping with your knees? Are your feet out in front of the horse’s shoulders? Are you jabbing with your spurs or bracing on the floor of the stirrups? What is your energy like? Are you expecting him to move out without changing your energy? Are you expecting him to slow down while you are tense or bracing?

Are you able to answer any of these questions? Concentrate on changing unwanted body positions and you will change the response you get from your horse. Our body connects with the horse’s body. For instance, high hands create a high headed horse. A high headed horse has a hollow or arched back which prevents him from using his body efficiently. He is unable to engage his hindquarters properly. So, instead of stopping off his hind end (which feels smooth and effortless), he stops off his shoulders (which can bounce a rider out of the saddle!) When moving out, a horse that is using his hindquarters transitions into each gait smoothly without raising his head. A high-headed horse leaps into each gait. I once read that a rider’s hands are not to control the horse, but to feel the horse’s thoughts.

Through awareness, leadership is born.


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