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Making your horse a “Good Citizen”

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Does your horse evade you by raising his head when you’re trying to bridle him, or give you a dirty look when you tighten the cinch? Does he walk into you, step on your feet, push you around while trying to scratch his head, refuse to let you pick up his feet, or pull you over to the next patch of grass against your will?
If you answered “Yes!” to any of the above questions, then you need to ask yourself why you are accepting this behavior. If your honest response is something like, “He’s so good at everything else!” or “He really didn’t mean it,” or ” It’s the only thing he does wrong!” then you need to know that you can and should expect more from your horse. Good manners are an important part of any partnership, included the one between the two of you. Improving his manners while you feed, groom, lead or saddle your horse will “trickle up” and improve his performance under saddle, whether on the trail, or in the show ring. Your horse can learn that you expect him to pay attention to you whenever you are around him!
For example, teach him to drop his head on cue and accept the bit willingly. You can accomplish this by putting your hand on top of your horse’s head (the poll), and adding just a tad of pressure. Do not release the pressure until the head comes down (any downward movement should earn a release in the beginning, even one sixteenth of an inch). Eventually as you touch the top of his head he will lower it down to where bridling becomes easy.
There are similar “fixes” for all of the rude behaviors referred to above. Our horses should always know where we are, and should never walk into us, try to run over us or step on our feet. These disrespectful actions can be stopped primarily by convincing our horse that we are higher in the pecking order than he is. If a horse in the herd challenges the lead horse, that lead horse will chase the challenger away (most often without a fight). In effect, the herd leader makes the other horse move on command.
So if our horse commits any one of the aforementioned “challenges” we must act as the herd leader would and make him move. We can send him into a circle on the lead rope at the trot, ask for changes of direction and then back him ten to twenty steps. Consistency is the key; any display of bad manners must always result in an immediate period of sustained work. This becomes a cause and effect lesson, wherein the “cause” (i.e. walking into us) immediately has the “effect” of having to work for ten or twenty minutes.
Disciplinary action also works sometimes, but may result in a loss of trust in us as a fair and honorable leader. On the other hand, clear and consistent expectations communicated to your horse, combined with praise for polite behavior and correct responses will enrich the quality of your partnership.
Our horses draw their consistency from us. If we expect more from him in the way of manners, we shall get more. On the other hand, if we accept less, this is just what we’ll get. So keep your expectations high and communicate them clearly while you have fun with your horse!

©Two as One, LLC 8/07

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