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.
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?