Working with Horses I
Posted by Irina Yastrebova on Tuesday, December 9, 2008 07:22 PM
The questions on how to handle horses come up with my students on regular basis. I have noticed that most of the time
people want a particular tip or method on how to solve a problem. It is very hard for many to grasp the principles and concepts.
They want recipes. I was like that myself. It took me almost 20 years to realize that when you know principles it doesn't really
matter what exactly you do to solve the problem. That is why there are so many different trainers with different methods and all of them
succeed with horses. I would like to share with you a few basic principles that govern all horses. I encourage you to observe
horses and prove to yourself if I'm right or wrong. This will help you learn and use these principles in your work with horses.
Scanning the environment
Horses are prey creatures. They constantly and I mean constantly scan their environment for possible danger.
They always know who is where and what is he/she doing. On contrary, humans like to focus too much on the job
at hand and they do not pay attention to things around them. The comparison that comes to my mind is difference
between a horse and a human is as much or even more as a difference between a CIA agent and a regular person.
If you want to handle horses successfully you must train yourself to feel environment around you. Where is a horse you are
handling, how he stands, where he is moving or shifting his weight, where is his focus? Are there other horses, what are
they doing, are there vehicles moving, people walking, dogs running, etc. This ability does not come without practice.
You can work on it anywhere not only with horses. In a shopping mall, in a parking lot, grocery store, you name it.
You can imagine you are playing a game that somebody is after you and you want to scan your surroundings without
attracting attention. And you still try to do things you come to do - shopping or banking. That will give you some idea on
how horses live their every day lives.
This is related to the first one. Horses always know the space around them. Where are other members of the
herd and who can come close and who can't. Whom I give my space and from
whom I can take the space and so on. This is their way of communication. A handler's ability to manage space around
him/her will send a horse a clear signal on how to behave. You must take control of space around you and give clear
indications when a horse is invited in your space and when he is not. I give you an example.
Feeding time, I bring oats to the paddock. Horses are excited, running around. I come inside very confidently, walking in straight
lines, with open shoulders and swift movements. Everything about me speaks of authority and if any of the horses dare to come
too close I act quickly toward in a striking form, or shoot my hand out. I may use my voice to warn them to stay away from me.
They know and respect my space and there is no argument. However, I never let go off my guard. Any one of
them tries to find out if there is a breach I put them in place instantly. On the other hand, when I come in the paddock to spend time together
or catch one of them I do not move fast or go in straight lines. I walk casually in arcs, speak softly, slow down or stop before
I reach the horse and observe how he takes me. Everything about me is soft and pleasant as an invitation to come closer.
Other situations that show these two principles at work are when you are leading, grooming, etc. If the horse budges into
you with his head, neck, shoulder or hindquarters the horse has no idea he must respect your space.
Letting a horse do it and then punish him will not teach him much. Being aware of his first attempt to move into your space
and stop him every time he does it will show him his boundaries without making him afraid. If you are very aware of your environment
you will know something wrong before it actually happens. Horses usually shift their weight before moving, redirect their attention, etc.
Now lets imagine you have learned special exercises or movements to work on your horse's manners. However, when you are not working
on them you do not really aware of your horse and what he is doing so he is free to invade your space or forget you are even there.
As you can see it is not the method that is important it is how you use it.
Next time I will talk about body language and a horse's desire to safe energy.