We've all seen horses crowd, drag, or push their person when being led. I chuckle sometimes when I see folks follow the pace set by their horse as they are dragged along. I frown when I see them yank on the lead and yell at their horse. I feel sorry for them when they get stepped on, because neither of them knows where they are supposed to do, or their job. It simply does not need to be.
We are responsible for setting boundaries. Not by discipline or heavy handedness, but by simple politeness, consistency and thoughtfulness. Horses do not violate boundaries because they want to be bad, unruly or "pushy." The violate boundaries because their caregiver never set them, politely.
If you think about it pushy horses follow exactly the boundaries set by their person. If each time a horse is haltered and led it drags their person, dances, steps on their feet and pushes them through the gate, well, when the halter goes on and they set out the horse has to think, "Okay time to drag, push, dance, and I gotta be sure to try for her feet." It's never the horse's fault, they are well within the boundaries set by their person.
|Kessy demonstrating the polite way to halter.|
I once asked a friend, "Do you know why your horse holds her head so high when you try to halter her?" She replied, "No, tell me, I hate this." I said, "That's how high you can reach." – Think about it seriously, any horse can lift their head higher than we can reach. If they can learn to hold their head at our highest limit, as they've been taught, does it not make sense they can also learn to hold their head waist high for halter and bridle? Sure it does. Our horses happily learn everything we teach them. They also learn from us to be rude, and pushy, just like us.
Now let's talk about the pushy horse on lead. Easy to fix, politely, in one lesson. I like to work on the off-side whenever I'm fixing anything, or introducing something new. It heightens a horse's attention. Remember, we can never control any horse by the halter and lead rope. Ever. So forget about that. The halter is simply a gentle guide. I don't like the word control, anyway, so let's talk about guiding the horse, into their space, into our pace, and into softness and politeness.
For this exercise, which will become an all the time exercise for a really long time, you'll need a light dressage wand, or the new popular light bamboo wand. Not a crop, which is too short and stiff, or a lunge whip which is too long. I don't recommend the carrot stick, which is great for a lot of things, but for this they are too long and too heavy – the heaviness will tighten your arm and shoulder and alter your body language.
|Kessy and Saturday help demonstrate leading. The wand sets the boundaries, the halter is just a gentle guide.|
Stand on the off-side, between her ears and shoulder; hold the lead rope in your left hand, your hand just about a foot or less from the halter. Hold the wand in your right hand, across your middle to a few inches in front of your horse's chest. It is important to stand square, shoulders and eyes looking where you are going, not at the horse. It is sometimes helpful to practice this stance, position and walk alone with the rope and wand, just to master the feel of it before trying it with a horse.
Ask your horse to, "walk on," and start walking, holding the wand a few inches in front of her chest. Eyes straight ahead. Your left hand is light on the rope, no pulling, or constraining, the wand and your thoughts send the directions ... You may need to, ever so slightly, tap her chest, not hit it, until she figures it out. Stay soft. In time, usually not much time at all, you'll need only to hold wand the in front of her chest and never touch her. The pushy, rude horse will never again be seen. As long as you clearly, gently and respectively set the boundaries. And remain consistent.
One last thing, most horses become pushy because they are heavy on their forehand. Leading this way, every time, all the time, helps fix that. I suggest you also master the, "Rock Back," and add it to your daily routine ... Stand beside your ground tied horse, facing her, and very gently touch her chest and ask her to, "rock back." Not to take a step back but to simply shift her weight to her hind end, where it belongs. If she steps back, she'll stay on her forehand. Be soft, look for only a tiny movement at first. After a few days she'll get it and you'll wonder where this polite, light footed, soft and confident horse came from.
|Kessy loves the "rock back" - just a gentle touch on the chest to shift her weight off her forehand. It creates proper body carriage, sure and light footedness, and promotes overall sound health.|
So there you go an easy way to help your horse understand boundaries, and correct body carriage, politely. Kessy and I hope you have fun with it. Remember consistency works like magic.
Giddy Up ~ Dutch Henry