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Published: 10/7/2015
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Respect for Human Space Leads to Respect for Other Horses and Fences

Editor's Note: Amy Skinner is a regular guest columnist and a horse gal since age six. She runs Essence Horsemanship, rides and teaches English and Western. Skinner has studied at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Spain, with Buck Brannaman, and many others.

Read more about Amy here.

Read more Journals & Journeys here

By Amy Skinner

A horse who is habitually taught by humans to crowd into their space, not only becomes a safety hazard for people to be around, but that horse will learn to disregard and disrespect lead ropes, reins, and body cues.

In this article I'd like to take that concept a little bit further, and explain how crowding leads to much more. It leads to an unbalanced mental attitude in horses, and a disrespect for fences, trailers, stalls, and even the space of other horses out in the field. So, before you hand out that next apple, consider the effects across the board of teaching a horse to crowd into your space.

Over the past few years, I have taken in training about a half dozen horses that knew quite a bit about crowding. I found it interesting that these horses were often the most banged up in the pasture by their fellow herdmates, because they lacked respect for other horse's space. They didn't know when to yield to another horse and their behavior often resulted in a few shiners.

These horses also had come from places where they'd been running through fences. When I'd pick them up, they'd bang around in the trailer, pawing and kicking. From my truck it'd feel like I was hauling a wild zoo beast. It was often hard for me to see how the novice owners who sent me these horses could handle them at all.

With time “rehabbing” these mentally unbalanced horses, they got along better with their pasture pals and stopped pushing on my fences (although I do advocate a nice electric wire to help keep you from having to make constant repairs on your fence, or even worse, chase the suckers down the road when they get out).

Horses build on experiences, good and bad, and a horse that learns to get along with other horses and to get along with humans as a civilized member of society, generally gets along or learns to avoid trouble with other horses, fences, lead ropes, etc.

But a horse whose education is based on getting away, pushing on people, other horses, bullying and being bullied, escaping, has a hard time unlearning those behaviors. A horse who learns how weak your fences are, how weak your resolve is, how bad your timing is, and how undisciplined you are will have a hard time getting along, not just under saddle, but in the human world.

A word about humans crowding horses:

It's best to spend most of your time out of your horse's face, to the side of his shoulder on either side or farther back. Many people who spend much time directly in the horse's eye find their horses to be irritated or rude, and sling or bob their heads.
A horse's head slinging my way is not my idea of fun or comfort, and horsemanship is supposed to be fun. To respect their space, I try to stay out of their face for the most part, and expect them to oblige me in the same way. That means I don't invite them into my space with treats fed from my hand, teaching them to put their lips and teeth on me.

Of course, there are times you have to go up to your horse's head, such as putting on the halter or the bridle, checking his teeth, tying him in the trailer, but be polite and don't stand directly in front of his head.

So, do your horse a favor and put that apple in a bucket and slide it under the fence. It'll still taste just as good and he won't love you any less.

Teach him to lead with slack in your rope – don't drag him around or let him drag you around.

Your horse can only be a reflection of your self-discipline. If you're looking for a real relationship with your horse based on two-way respect, lightness, and usefulness (because let's face it, maybe not everyone is interested in developing a light, educated horse. But every horse deserves to feel safe, confident, and understand what's expected of it at trimming time, vet time, and whatever else it has in store for it.)

Start at the ground, in the every day things, because your horse will build on it.

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"Those who look down eventually get there" - Kip Rosenthal