This may seem like a trivial read for those of you who have a handle on horsemanship. For first time horse owners, or those who have not studied Natural Horsemanship, this may shed some light on why you may be having issues with getting your horse's respect!
When you lead your horse where is he? Does he push past you? Or does he stay behind you, or by your shoulder? So many horse owners feel if they have a tight grip on their horse's head they are good to go. Not so! If you are used to holding your lead at, or near, the end of the halter you are bound to get bumped, pushed, or worse, jumped on!
Think about it this way, if you are leading your horse and something spooks him from behind or on your off side, where do you think he could end up? On top of you! If you learn to lead so your horse is behind you, by at least 18 to 24 inches, you will be safer.
If he needs to jump he has plenty of places to go other than on top of you. You should be able to feel where you horse is and correct him with your lead. If he is looking off to the right, correct him and get him facing the direction you are going. If he decides to drop his head to try to eat, bump him up with the lead. This is why it is a good idea to use rope halters. The control and feel you will have of where you horse is will be much greater than with a regular halter. You can pull on your horse all day in a regular halter and he won't be phased one bit. Correct him with a bump of the rope halter and you will get a response. Now let me say here again, you need to learn to use this tool properly. I do not mean you are going to yank your horse around like a rag doll. You need to learn to use the correct amount of pressure. Do some studying if you have not been shown the proper way to use a rope halter.
What does your horse do when you enter the paddock or stall with hay, how about when you put his grain in his feed tub? He should get out of your way! You should teach him/her to back up or at least move out of the way so you can put their hay or food down. I have heard of people losing fingers because the horse grabs for their hay while the person is carrying it. Not only does the horse get a bite of hay, they may take a finger with it. By teaching your horse to wait until you put food down, or make them back away until you put the grain in the feed tub, they will see you as above themselves in the herd. Creating respect! Think about your dog, do you let him snag your sandwich out of your hand while you're eating? I bet you would correct your dog. Then why would you let your horse grab food out of your hand?
What about focusing on you? When you are leading your horse is he paying attention to you, looking for his buddies, or is he trying to snag some grass while you are walking? If he is doing anything other than focusing on you it would be a good idea to do some work with them. When I lead horses out of the stable they need to be paying attention to me. If I stop they stop, when I move they move. When I get to the gate they need to stand and wait, not try to reach for grass or rush past me to get into the paddock for their hay. One thing that I will not tolerate is a horse pulling his head away when I am taking off the halter. They need to stand and wait for me to let go of their head before they can walk off. The horse will be calmer when they leave if you teach them to stand and relax before you will let them go! They are also less apt to spin and kick up, putting you at risk of being kicked, if they leave while they are relaxed.
These are just a few things you can do with your horse to build a better partnership, and gain their respect. Luckily for us most horses will catch on fairly easily, but it is up to us to be consistent! You can't do one thing one day and something different the next day. If you want a horse that is polite and that you can enjoy being around, it does take some effort on your part. A few minutes each day can make a lifetime of enjoyment with your horse. Like the saying goes, "The horse knows when you know, and he knows when you don't know"!
Donna Mori is a certified instructor/natural horsemanship trainer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.