R – is for ROME
As it is with every creature in the animal kingdom, from children to grandmothers, from chickens to chimps, there is a pecking order which is established by one thing: territory and who controls it. Whether it is a favorite toy, a bargain on the sale table, a juicy fat worm or a bright banana, someone is going to yield. Your horse is no different. Every time he lifts his head just out of your reach or hits you with his shoulder or walks in front of you or leans on that foot you are breaking your back to pick up to clean, he is controlling his territory.
Sometimes it is obvious and other times so very subtle it may go unnoticed by you. But to be sure, it is
very deliberate on his part. And when we let him use us for a scratching post, we just dropped down so
far in the pecking order that even the weanlings are laughing at us!
Before you start on your territorial campaign, keep a few thoughts flashing in the back of your mind.
1) Be Believable: your focus is to convince your horse to trust you, not fear you.
2) Be Brave: your focus is to be honest, not perfect
3) Be Patient: your focus is the process, not the product.
In my view, these are the three most important tools you can take with you to the barn.
They build confidence, courage, and self-control in you......... and your horse.
Unlike people, horses don't care where they are in the herd's hierarchy, as long as they know where they are. It is important to note that while it may not look to you as if the pecking order amongst your horses hasn't changed in the last five years, you can be certain that their positions are re-established daily. That is why your horse will continue to 'check' and see if you are still 'herd leader' today like you were yesterday. He will actually find new and creative ways to test this regularly, to which you must be prepared to answer consistently every time. How?
Move his feet..take his spot of turf, literally.
You can begin with this basis exercise to train your horse to respect your space. Start first by yielding his head. Now, if you just push him away he will think it is a game and he'll push back. So, use two fingers to press behind the jaw until he moves his head away. When he does, immediately stop the pressure and look away. You will probably have to repeat it many times until he believes you. Don't quit. Challenge yourself to outlast him. If the only lesson today is to just move his head over willingly, then let that be the lesson. With his belief in your commitment, comes respect and with respect comes trust. Incidentally, if you don't feel comfortable using your hand, you may certainly use a training stick. Just remember, whether hand or stick, the pressure is touch-press, never POKE.
Once you have the hang of it, hold the pressure behind his jaw
longer and wait until he takes one step to the side. Congratulations!
You have just earned your first bit of territory! Practice over and over...pressure,
release, pet. Now, when I say 'pet', I don't mean so much affection
that his brain turns to oatmeal. Just stroke briefly and a smile, to let
him know he did what you asked.
At first, allow your goal to be just one step to the side. The next day, two steps. Use only as much pressure as it takes for him to learn. Decreasing the pressure gives him a sense of accomplishment. And you, too! Ultimately, you want him to do a 360 degree turn without you touching him at all. He will simply move out of your way as you take that space. Always, ALWAYS practice on both sides. It might feel awkward for you on one side or the other, but make yourself do the hard side first. When your horse finally believes that you are going to be consistent, he accepts you as herd leader and becomes a willing partner based on trust, not fear.
In Rome, we learned that to gain respect you must conquer some territory.
What does it take to conquer anything?
Confidence, Courage & Self-Control..... and good old-fashioned Aggression.