Thursday, April 9, 2009

The space, not ET's...

Continuing on the original problem-solving topic!

We've all had horses like this one, the one that bullies you and runs you over or leaps into your space when he's scared. When I hear an owner say "she's so sweet, she's just such a pocket horse"...that sends red flags up for me. Often it is simply a minor problem, but your "pocket pony" being in your space is not a sign of friendliness but rather a lack of respect for your space. It is not that a horse is not permitted in your space, but it should be on your terms - with you, as the leader, designating when, how, where, and why.

Horses enter our space for one of two reasons. One, they're scared. The safest place for a horse is obviously in the middle of the herd. If you are the only being around your horse, you are that herd. In this case, the horse will run you over in attempt to get himself into an area of safety. Short-term, wave your arms, make yourself big, to prevent the horse from bolting over top of you. A horse in right-brain, reactive mode is not thinking clearly - he's reacting, so you have to be very obvious, even jump in place while waving your arms. As soon as he backs off, stop and relax your body. Long-term, develop a partnership where your horse can trust your leadership, where he does not have to be scared of every little thing because he's following a calm and assertive leader in whom he has full confidence will protect him. Teach your horse games and patterns that develop confidence, that develop a calmer, smarter, braver horse.

The other reason a horse can invade your space is out of dominance. The least dominant horse is the one who moves his feet the most. So if your horse is moving into your space, he is doing so because he gave himself, as self-appointed leader, permission to be in your space. You move your feet to prevent from being run further cement that you're the submissive herd member. Short-term, don't let your horse in your space in the first place!! I find these horses are typically nippers too (another respect issue in this case) cut out treats until you've got a high enough level of respect. If you absolutely must give a treat, do not reward the horse until he is showing calm submission rather than dominance. This likely is not going to occur though if you're having an invading-my-space problem or a dominant-nipping problem. Use your arms as "walls" and yo-yo your horse backwards (see the Parelli 7 games) to get your horse out of your space - keep him out there at all times unless you directly invite him in. Be clear, be direct, be consistent, and be assertive (but never aggressive!). Long-term, work on increasing that level of respect. Play games with him that involve his moving his feet whilst yours remain still. Get him to work with snappy, respectful responses. Never confront a dominant horse, but challenge him in such a way that earns his respect.

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