"It's the thought that counts!"

"It's the thought that counts!"
Samantha Harvey & Taylor to Perfect
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Ask the Trainer: Difficulty Leading Horse & Respect on Ground

Topic_Info: Leading My Horse

Website_Info: searching online
Location: CT
Date: January 27, 2011

Say that I am taking my horse out of a pasture (through a gate) or leading my horse around. If the situation arises where my horse becomes spooked or just misbehaves, (bucking, kicking out, rearing, and running ahead of me, hard to control) what EXACTLY should I do in that situation? How should I control my horse? Should I turn them in a tight circle or back them up? I am clueless!

Note: I do not own my own horse/ride often, this is a bit of a beginner question, but this happened to me a little bit ago and I was clueless on what to do. Thank you!
First you are going to need to offer your horse a "clean slate" and assume she knows nothing. Second you're going to need to raise your level of awareness and sensitivity. The time to influence a horse's brain and then movement is not in the moment when you most want them to stop what they are doing, but rather ahead of time. A horse never randomly does something, so you'll need to become aware of the first signs your horse displays that she is having a problem, AND believe her when she shows them. Something has obviously been missed in your horse has been educated and communicated with and she has resorted to "protecting" herself by taking over and fleeing.

Most people work with horses and are hopeful that the horse will figure out what is being asked of them. Instead you will need to offer black and white clarity towards what behaviors your horse offers that work and those that do not. You will need to establish clear communication when using the lead rope from the ground. When you do something it must MEAN something.

Your horse's defensiveness towards you (her fleeing or bolting) is her way of showing her lack of trust and her insecurities. You will not be able to force yourself upon her. You first need her to just want to be near you without fear or worry before you add any level of "real world."

Right now your horse is "making" the decisions because there is a lack of mental availability towards you. You need to get your horse's brain to slow down and address you, and then she will physically comply. Your goal should be to influence your horse's mental and emotionally availability in order to create a physical change. You will start to see how little an action can create a positive change in how your horse reacts as he begins to trust and respect you will. This will be the beginning of you working WITH your horse, rather than each of you tolerating one another.

Timing, awareness, energy, sensitivity and clarity are all things you will need to establish in order to start seeing positive results with your horse.

There needs to be a clarity of physical communication (because when leading her you are using a lead rope, so this a physical way of influencing her,) she needs to understand your energy and literally match that, if you want to move out in a big walk, she needs to too, or if you would like to "creep" along, she needs to make that adjustment to remain "with you." When you stop she needs to respect your personal space and stop immediately, rather than to "fall" into a stop.
Most times when people catch a horse the horse goes "brainless" on the end of the lead and is literally drug around. The horse may be physically complying but is mentally resistant. The day will come that if there is enough stress presented, if the person working with the horse does not have enough "tools" in when they use their lead rope and clear communication in how they use their rope, the horse will get just as "big" on the rope and as in your case, bolt.

You should be able to ask your horse to first stop and think, then look and then step in a designated direction (left, right, forward, backwards, sideways, etc.) You should be able to do all of this without having to lead your horse or "drive" her (with a whip, stick, etc.) in order to get an attentive, light, mental and physical response.

Remember the goal is for your horse to ask "what would you like?" instead of tolerating being told what to do every step of the way. The more confident she feels that you are listening and helping her when she is having a problem the more she will turn to you rather than coming up with her own way of avoiding (bolting) what you are presenting.
Once you can ask your horse to first look (to address what you are presenting) and then literally take one step at a time towards whatever you have presented you will then begin to establish the necessary tools to help your horse address what you are asking.

For example let's say that you are presenting walking through the gate in your arena. Before you ever get near the gate you need to see how focused (mentally) your horse is on you. If you ask her to stop, back up, step forward and so on is there a delay in her response, does she step into your personal space, and is she walking forward but looking somewhere else? These are all things you will need to address and clarify if there is any delay, lack of understanding or resistance from your horse before you present an obstacle.

Remember that the more you can break down crossing the gate into baby steps the more confidence he will gain in "trying" to address what you are asking. The more she believes she can "get it" (it being whatever you are asking of her) right, the more she will try when you present new things.

By the time you present the gate, grooming, standing tied, etc., you will have enough tools with just using your lead rope, if you can ask your horse to walk up to the gate and stop and address it (smell it, look at, etc.) Then you would imagine that you are presenting an imaginary line that you would like your horse to follow as she crosses the gate. First she has to be looking at this "line." In most cases if she is worried or insecure about the gate she'll try and avoid it by looking at everything EXCEPT the gate. So you'll need to address helping him focus using the aid of your lead rope by being able to establish looking specifically at the gate. She will not cross the gate with a "warm fuzzy feeling" until she decides to literally look at the gate.

Once she looks at the "line" you want her to walk on, you increase your energy (probably using the excess of your lead rope - but NOT driving her or chasing him) across the gate, literally one step at a time. You do not want your horse to "survive" crossing the gate, rather you want him to think and feel confident with each step he is taking as he crosses the gate. As she is on the gate you want to feel that you could stop her movement or pick a specific place that you would like to have her move.

After you successfully help her address and cross the gate from both directions (with plenty of breaks and rests in between) you might ask her to focus on something else and then present the gate again later in the session. The slower you can have her think about what you are asking, the better the quality of her performance will be.

Remember, your safety is a number one priority, if you hear that little voice in the back of your head telling you not to do something, listen to it. Too many horse related accidents occur because people are "hopeful" that it will all work out.
Good Luck,

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