It is a very interesting concept!
A relationship with your horse needs to be based on respect. Respect from your horse isn’t just about having control, manners and keeping him out of your space. It is developing a relationship with your horse involving mutual respect.
Like a recipe for a cake, getting respect from your horse is made up of a number of different ingredients.
“You have to earn the horse’s respect… you cannot demand it. ”
Demanding your horse’s respect is a way to get yourself hurt or possibly even your horse hurt. That type of demand comes from our ego. To be honest with you there is no place for ego in horse training. No one, not even horses, like to be ruled by an iron hand.
Respect comes from being a leader, by educating your horse, by showing them, by preparing them, and developing feel.
Let’s go over these one by one.
First, being the leader.
Being the leader means to lead… not to dictate. You are the leader of this team, but remember you are still a team. If you were constantly telling your team mate they were wrong, did not know what they were doing or could not do anything right…. how long would they want to be a part of your team. On the flip side if you allowed your team mate to do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted… how much respect would you be given as a leader…. absolutely none.
It is important not to allow your horse to get in your space, and walk all over you…. this is a process you must teach… which leads us to our next point. This is the difference between an active vs. a re active rider. We want to be active in our training… if they get distracted with a sound in the arena or another horse… rather than telling them to stop getting distracted by a kick, slap or voice… then you can ask them to practice something that will get their mind so busy that they do not have time to be distracted. Just like it is hard to chew gum, skip, pat your head, and rub your belly…. just keep adding things for the horse to think about until you have all of the attention away from the distraction..
Next, educating your horse.
Your horse needs to know what you want. It is also necessary that they received a step by step lesson plan to understand this. Horses were not born with a “How to behave around Humans” manual. Not only that, every humans expectations are a bit different, some of us allow our horses to use us as a scratching post, others think this is the worst thing you can do. Decide what is important for your horse and take the time to show them. The horse does not know when it doesn’t count… so in our teaching we must be consistent! If we spend time teaching our horse to soften in the bridle when we stop during our training session, and a friend comes in the arena and we ride over to talk to them, pull on the reins to stop the horse and their head goes up and their feet stop… and we do not take the extra 10-20 sec to follow through with our lesson, it will take a great deal longer for your horse to learn what is expected of them… they will always be guessing…. therefore not have as much respect for us.
When your horse knows what you want, there is less confusion and therefore your horse has more confidence. When there is confidence in what is expected, your horse feels good about you. When you educate your horse, you’re getting them to do a variety of tasks from ground work to under saddle in a step by step process that is easy for the horse to understand and builds one success on top of another… they will begin to look forward to seeing you. Next, showing them. This is much like educating them. Show them that you can be trusted. Control without pain will build respect. These are big animals… it is easy for us to believe that a whip and other tools will help teach a horse…. but in building a relationship if we use these to create pain so our horse will not “misbehave” we are missing the point! I am not saying that you will never use a crop or spurs… but do so with respect to help re enforce a lesson rather than just because you don’t know what else to do and out of frustration. Horses know the difference. Show them they don’t have to freak out over a plastic sack, or other things that can scare them… again going back to the first two steps of being a leader and educating them… figure out a way to get them to listen to you despite the distractions in a safe environment and continue building their trust, respect and confidence.
Preparing them is the next.
An example is giving them a cue before you ask them to do something. Don’t just demand it without a prompt. This is also called a pre cue…. we already have them. An example is when we are about to stop we use our seat and leg before our reins… be conscious of what we do before we ask for the cue so our horses have the opportunity to become lighter and more responsive. Preparing also comes in the form of warming up before exercising. We must prepare the horse physically for any activity we are doing so we keep them sound and happy.
Lastly, and very important, develop your feel
Timing is knowing “when” to ask your horse something. A good guideline is to have pressure on when your horse is not doing what you want…. this could be a variety of different things including rein or leg pressure. This will help the horse to look for the release, especially if you are consistent… the horse will learn to always look for the release.
Balance is knowing, for example, if you need to apply more pressure… or less. How much is too much? How much is not enough? Again a good guideline is to always start the teaching process with light pressure as to not hurt or scare your horse, once they start to understand the concept of what you are teaching and run into a downward cycle(totally normal in their learning curve) you may want to add pressure for a short time to help them understand. This also teaches a horse to handle pressure of different riders without fear. It is critical that you do not stay there, next go to less pressure so that you are “whispering” to your horse. By going to light after heavier pressure you make sure that your horse does not become dependent on heavy pressure and you will create a light and willing horse. Most of the time you will be somewhere in the middle, but it is important to go both directions to help your horse to always be listening.
Release is, of course, releasing the pressure so the horse seeks the release and therefore learns what to do. You always want to release when the horse is moving in the direction of what you want… let’s say you are working on the backup. You want 10 steps on a loose rein… but you can’t start with your goal. So at the beginning you ad pressure with the reins to ask your horse to back up and their head goes in the air and their feet do not move. Stay quiet and wait. Your horse will shortly take one step back…. RELEASE THEN! You will build to your goal. By releasing any time they make an effort in the correct direction you are saying thank you… you are on track.
This continues to build confidence and respect All of this will come with time and practice… find someone you trust that can teach you that is local, or you can check our online training programs that will help you learn what to look for and feel for in developing your techniques.
You are not alone, we are all on a journey to become better riders and trainers. The most important thing is that you start with respect for your horse in everything you do with them and you will see it be returned by your horse. Horses are loving giving creatures that truly want to please us. Become a leader in your team, guide them and teach them with love, respect and you will find that you will have a respectful, responsive horse that will provide you with many hours of fun, regardless of your discipline, or breed.