Connected Horsemanship teaches ground work skills to students At Connected Horsemanship we recently went to help an owner whose horse was biting. He bit constantly. Twice he had bitten her so badly that she had been scared, once on the chest and then on the leg.

People were advising the owner to get rid of the horse, saying that he was bad. The owner knew this was not the case as she had bred and reared this horse. As a youngster he had never shown any signs of aggression. He had never been a particularly pushy foal and he had been taught basic manners early on in his life.

The owner had three other horses who were well mannered, she was a competent rider and had lots of experience handing horses.

The problems with this horse began when he came back from being started. She said “It’s like he’s had a personality change”. The horse that had stood with his head over he gate, ears pricked, waiting to greet her had become sullen, ears back and unfriendly.

The owner couldn’t really understand what had happened to the horse but over time things started to get worse. At first the problems were isolated to the ground but gradually they crept in to their ridden work and the owner was at a loss as to how to fix things.

The owner was upset that her horse had returned like this. As a result she was super nice to him to make up for his experience. This is very understandable but this was not what he needed either. What he needed was fair and equitable leadership to redress the balance and make him feel secure once again.

I introduced myself to him and immediately the horse proceeded to bring his body into my personal space. I immediately disallowed this. I explained to the owner that horses give each other a clear idea of where they can and cannot go, largely set by boundaries of space. To ignore these boundaries is to risk a penalty, to enforce these boundaries confirms the horses superior ability to dictate boundaries and movement to another horse and convinces the other horse of that horses ability to assert himself over the other. She as the handler had to begin to be a lot more aware of own her “personal space” This in terms of the horse and his language defined his idea of her in terms of the leadership she was able to offer him. i wanted her to be able to control where he was able to go but also to be able to invite him into her space when appropriate.

I worked with the horse in the stable and in the arena. I set consistant boundaries especially for his head which was the most invasive part of him, he continually messed with the reins tryed to bite them and me.

I ask him to move around the stable in a specific manner. Initially he messed, then he tried being downright aggressive but when he saw that I could not be dissuaded from my objective of moving him quietly around he changed quite quickly (it is often quick with this type) becoming calmer, the biting lessened and eventually he was able to stand still, calm, head low. I don’t think I have ever seen a horse yawn as much. I gave him two breaks in the session and each time I went to him he was better than before.

I then worked with the owner so that she would be able to maintain the relationship and hopefully go on improving it so that they once again could become a partnership.

I am pleased to report that she phoned me three days later to tell me things were going well. She really felt there was hope once again.

Guidance Notes for the owner

Attitude

You need to think of your horse as a winner and both of you as the perfect partnership.

Adopt a mental image of you both running around with rosettes pinned on him.

Hold this image close to your heart.

You need the power of positive thinking to take you through.

Simply remove yourself from people who give you negative vibes!!

Hold on to those feelings when the going gets tough.

Leadership

You have a sensitive horse with which it is crucial to be polite. By polite I do not mean wishy washy.. I mean firm but always asking for things in a polite manner, with softness in your heart. Doing things with this thought uppermost in your mind will help you give him the right kind of leadership.

Other things to remember to help you offer him good leadership:

Politeness

His opinion of you as leader starts from the minute he sets eyes on you. When you approach and he turns and looks at you, acknowledge this, pause for a second before continuing. If he turns away it generally means you have come in to his space too quickly and he is letting you know. Go to him as if you were entering a friend’s bedroom…you would ask permission or knock.

When you get to his box, put out a hand and wait for him to sniff it. When he was away training he probably had all manner of people barging into his space as if he was an inanimate object.

Boundaries

When you open the door, do not go immediately into his space but be aware of defending YOUR space and YOUR boundaries. If he crowds you, move him back out of your space politely and if he moves back let him be there for a moment so he knows he made the right move. This way you are respectful of his space but you also gain respect from being aware of your own space.

He may turn his head away from you at his point, just wait till he turns his attention to you again, then approach his SHOULDER, remember to alternate sides. You are less of a target for his mouth there and you are not crowding his head area which he finds invasive.

Halter him as we did together by asking him to bring his head around to you. Never pull his head, ask with your hand at the girth and wait.

If he tries to invade your space with his mouth BLOCK, don’t go into his head area, just defend yours.

The best way to keep his teeth at bay is to keep him busy doing things.

Consistency

Make sure everyone who comes into contact with him is knowledgeable and adheres to the way you would like him to be treated. Always be consistent yourself in dealing with him. Set a standard for behaviour and adhere to it. Right now this is particularly important when it comes to boundary issues. Never get annoyed by his attempts to mess. See it as a game.

Attention

Always get his attention before you ask something. Do this by touching him gently in the girth area. If he is looking away to the right, bring his head and attention back to you by touching him on the left flank and vice versa.

Safety

Work with your hand or a small crop if you are at a greater distance to do this, just a tap is all that it takes. You may have to do this many times as his attention wanders to something that he THINKS he should be paying attention too…for his safety. You have to become his “safety lookout” as if saying: “no need to look over there, I am here and I will attend to the things in the distance and tell you if there is cause to worry”. In effect you are saying,,,let me do the worrying, I am the leader.

Try to avoid pulling him by the head to get his attention, go in to his body to get his head. This is the way another horse would do it.

Pressure

Always start with the lightest of pressure whether this is when you put your hand on him directly of whether you are at the end of a rope. The only way he will ever respond to lightness is if he is asked in lightness.

When you ask him to do something you can use steady pressure or rhythmic pressure or even a combination of both but it must always be brought on gradually.

Rhythmic pressure should be just his, in a rhythm, always start small. If you have to get bigger in terms of pressure that’s ok too but at your next request start small again.

Don’t poke your horse to get his attention simply use increasing and steady pressure. Using the thumb in the girth area works well.

Release

He needs to know when he gets it right. Do not be too critical and look for perfection. At this stage you especially want to be rewarding his slightest try. Spend time doing nothing when he gets it right (if he is head down, calm, not fidgeting.) You want him to fall in love with the endorphin state. It is in the doing nothing that the horse learns. You know what this calmness looks like now. Remember there are many ways to offer your horse the release he needs.

Stop doing what you are doing, walk away, take your core off, turn away, bend down, breathe out and many others.

This release is crucial for your horse.

Processing

If he’s blinking, chewing, eyes and lips twitching and especially if he’s yawning, let him have this and wait. The amount of yawning he did in our session was massive. It is a sign that he is coming off adrenalin and chilling out.

Ignore

The constant nibbling, even if he grabs the lead rope or your scarf in his mouth ignore it and just get on with your plan.

He will soon capitulate, drop the rope and go with your idea, IF he feels it is better than his.

Don’t get after him about it, that’s what everyone else did, just give him something to do.

Have A Plan

Have plan before you start but be ready to change it up if he has difficulty.

He will feel whether you have purpose of not.

Set Him Up for Success

Try to use his ideas and shape them. Give him enough to do that stops him having ideas of his own but don’t make it something either of you are having too much difficulty with.

He needs, quickly, to feel he is right.

This will give him the motivation to “connect” with you mentally and emotionally.

Purpose

Give your ideas purpose; don’t merely do things for the sake of it. Remember we played “put a certain foot on something.” Your focus on this exacting task requires his focus on you and on the task. You are then engaging his brain.

Tasks

Getting things done is not as important as how they are done. Never repeat things unnecessarily, this will bore him and he won’t see the point. A horse like yours will quickly develop his own ideas. Collect lots of objects that you can do things with, be creative.

Work On Your Focus

Two factors:

a) Your ability to focus on WHERE you are going.

b) Your ability to focus mentally on the task in hand.

The second is especially important and means you have to block out all extraneous happenings that you may formerly have thought might distract your horse. They have to no longer exist. There is only you and him doing what you are doing.

The “Life” In Your Body

You should work on this on the ground so that when you get in the saddle your horse will already be attuned to it.

When you have an expectation, i.e. please trot, the life in your body should reflect this request.

When you want your horse to stop, your “life” should reflect this.

Life down is not just a physical state but a state of Zero expectation for the horse

It is one of the ways we offer the horse “release”.

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