Manners, Please

Ground manners

While the human population thinks that New England is still in the throes of winter, Zelda is pretty certain spring is around the corners. She’s shedding profusely and she’s in heat. This was never a huge issue in the small private barns where she’s lived. Freedom was always smitten by her, but she didn’t feel the need to show off.

Not so at the new barn. Yesterday, she objected — strenuously — to being removed from the paddock next to the boys. When asked to behave, she went all Clydesdale on the Barn Owner. In other words, she muscled her way through it, essentially knocking the BO over.

Not good. I’ve always had a zero tolerance for bad behavior on the ground and with Zelda, reinforcing manners is especially important. She knows how big she is and she’s an alpha mare, so when she gets an idea in her brain, the brawn follows.

So, we are on a mission to reinstall respect. And not just for me — she and I came to a meeting of the minds some years ago — she needs to have the same respect for all the humans who handle her.

I’ve read that to install a habit in your horse takes 60 repetitions. That’s a lot of asking the same thing and getting the right response.

Yesterday, we worked on leading etiquette and boundaries. We marched around, stopped, backed up, turned, moved sideways, then rinsed and repeated. Zelda needed to stay with her nose at my shoulder and never crowd me, never walk in front of me, and move backward or sideways easily when I ask. She was quite respectful and didn’t try move into my space (which is how a horse establishes dominance]. Of course, I was working alone in an indoor arena with none of the distractions of being outside. It’s a completely different ballgame when you’re out in the world with lots of distractions.

This was the first time I used the rope halter on Freedom. Since I wasn’t sure it was going to work, I used it in addition to his leather halter.

She aced her leading review for the night, so I did some work under saddle. She was pretty good with that, so I tried lunging her. That’s where her “Make Me” attitude showed up. I don’t lunge her often, but if you’d asked her, I’d never done it before. What? You want me to stay on a circle? And trot until you tell me to stop? These simple commands elicited a few squeals, some bucking, and a lot of trying to “join up” with me in the center of the circle. We continued until she showed me she understood what I wanted and was willing to obey, then she got lots of praise, half a candy cane, and a good grooming.

Next week I have a trainer coming to work with us who will give us more exercises to make Zelda safe for anyone to lead in any conditions. I also have a rope halter on the way as the design of a rope halter makes it easier to communicate cues to the horse and harder for the horse to ignore pressure. The nice thing about a rope halter is it also makes it easy to release pressure, so when your horse behaves, you can react quickly to reward them. I used a rope halter on Freedom when I took him for walks because he could be a very reactive horse and it helped him focus on me.

What have you found helps with horses who are pushy when being led?

4 thoughts on “Manners, Please

  1. I’ve worked with a lot of horses with bad leading manners, my own Bueno being one of them. What I found to be more effective than anything else is clicker training. Instead of telling the Horse don’t shove, don’t invade my space, don’t bite, etc., I tell them what I do want. Walk quietly, stay by my side, keep your head to yourself. It’s been a big shift in mindset for me, but it’s amazing how effective it is when done correctly.

    1. I love that approach. Would you be willing to write a guest blog on how to use clicker training? I know I’d learn a lot and bet my other readers would enjoy it, too

      1. Absolutely! Would you want one on using clicker training itself, or specifically how I used it to teach leading?

      2. I would love to do that! It might take a little while for me to get both of them made. I’d want to include lots of pictures and references to other resources. Teaching people about clicker training is one of my main goals with my online presence. It’s amazing what I’ve been able to accomplish, and I want to share that with other horse people.
        I have a lot of articles written and ready to go that are too long to fit on my social media platforms, but I don’t have one that’s a general overview of how to use clicker training or one on leading.
        If you don’t mind waiting a little while for them, I’d be more than happy to make those though.

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