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Archive for September 15th, 2012

I ran across this article recently on the Norwegian Fjordhorse Registry site. It’s a good reminder that even if we aren’t necessarily “training” our horse at a particular moment… we are! The author, Phillip Odden, gave his permission to reprint it here. Thanks Phil!

Reading your Horse;
Trust and Respect

When you are together with your horse either you are training your horse or your horse is training you. Often people are not aware that they are being trained by their horse while your horse is always aware that either it is being trained or it is training you. So you need to learn to read your horse.

Often people assign human traits, human reasoning, human motivation to our animal friends. As I see it horses is horses and people is people and dogs is dogs and fish is fish. Certainly we have motivations and responses in common but we are different. In a horses life the space they take up and the space they can control makes a big difference. It’s about how they make a living.

So if a group of horses is out grazing the one that can graze wherever it wishes to graze and whenever it wishes to graze is the top horse. The one that is lowest on the pecking order gets what is left over. Often the boss horse enforces special control even when it seems not to make any difference. It is in the horse’s interest to maintain discipline just for disciplines sake, just to make sure the other horse understands its place. While the horses further down the pecking order are always testing in small ways, then in larger ways to see if it is possible to move up the rank.

So horses are testing their people as well constantly. You might think they are putting their head in your space to be cuddled but if you did not invite the horse into your space the horse has taken space from you and it knows it. The same with its hind end. When a horse swings its hind end into your space it is threatening you to a lesser or greater degree. Horses bite and horses kick and they can strike with their front legs and they can run over you and knock you down or push you into something. These are some of the ways that horses hurt people when the horse does not respect the person’s space.

In the end I believe horsemanship has a lot to do with trust and respect. The horse needs to respect my space and I need to be able to trust my horse. I don’t like to get hurt. I need to respect my horse in its ability as to what it can or can’t do and my horse needs to learn to trust me in that I will never hurt it or allow it to be hurt. It needs to learn to trust me so when I ask it to do something that is not in its interest it will do it for me. If there is little or no respect from the horse for the handler the horse will evade or resist. And if it is used to winning these little tests it will win the big tests as well and the horse will be essentially useless as a mount or a driving horse. But the horse will still make good company as long as you stay out of its space. Just hand over the food.

The horse has trained you to this end by winning the small tests. Often the handler has no idea of when they are loosing the small tests. Either the handler is unable to read the horse or they choose to ignore the small things. And small things lead to big things. To turn the table and gain respect it is important to enforce discipline in small ways just like the lead horse in the herd. Spacial issues and giving to pressure are little things and big things. Sometimes you enforce seemingly less meaningful discipline, the small stuff, just so the horse fully understands who is giving directions and who is taking directions. If you are successful with the small stuff the big confrontations never happen.

When your horse understands what space it can feel comfortable in and what you expect of it the horse learns to trust you. And the horse is much happier, less nervous and more comfortable.

If you give the horse meaningful work to do it will be even happier since meaningful work is life’s greatest blessing for man or beast.

Phillip Odden

Goofy Becca who’s always testing.

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