Does your horse walk all over you? Get him to take a step back and pay attention with advice from Warwick Schiller
If a person, even somebody you know fairly well, moves into your personal space without invitation, how does it make you feel? Probably a bit awkward and uncomfortable. So why is it any different when your horse does it? Horses encroach on our personal space all the time, so much so that we often don’t even notice them doing it. This is down to the way we handle them, but what may seem like your horse being affectionate could be undermining any training that you do.
Having a horse who respects your space and pays attention is the basis of all groundwork. It’ll encourage him to be more responsive and can even help with spooky behaviour.
Each of us has a bubble of personal space around us and it’s the same for your horse – research has shown that horses in the wild have a personal space of around one metre. In the same way that we’ll move out of the way to avoid bumping into other people, horses have lines of personal space that they follow. If one horse wants to enter the personal space of another, he’ll ask with either submission or aggression based on his position within the herd. The problem is that we blur these rules by wanting to be close to our horses all the time.
Handling horses correctly is a bit like dating. Most people try to go straight to the cuddly, intimate stage of the relationship with their horses, but that isn’t how horses naturally behave. They’re more like people on first date, wanting their own space, and it’s only after they get to know and trust you that they feel comfortable letting you any closer. It doesn’t happen immediately. Getting too close to your horse too soon shows a lack of respect and if you don’t respect him them he won’t respect you.
The sweet spot
When teaching your horse to respect your space, you’re trying to find the sweet spot. This is the safe place outside your personal space where he’s completely comfortable and knows that you won’t ask anything of him when he’s standing there. Although he’s allowed to relax there, his focus should be on you, waiting for whatever you ask next rather than switching off. He should stand there quietly on a loose leadrope and not move away or step into your space. You’re allowed to move into his space because you’re the boss, but he’s not allowed to step into yours unless he’s invited to do so.
How to do it…
Decide how big you want your bubble of personal space to be – I’d suggest about an arm’s length. Ask your horse to step back away from you so he’s outside this designated bubble. Do this first by using your halter aid and, if he doesn’t respond, back it up by flicking the end of your leadrope or a flag towards him, without actually making contact. Once he’s in the sweet spot, relax your aid and keep the leadrope loose, because he could take any pressure on it as an indication to move forwards. If he then chooses to step towards you into your space, you need to send him back to the sweet spot in the same way.
To discover the rest of Warwick’s technique for getting your horse to respect your personal space, pick up your copy of March Horse&Rider, on sale 12 January, buy your copy here