Fix a horse that pushes into your personal space by gaining control and direction over his forehand from the ground.
By Kalley Krickeberg
Horse training should always be balanced in every aspect—though we often encourage the horse to come toward us for catching or leading purposes, for instance, it is equally important to control the horse’s movement away from us wherever and whenever we deem necessary. This is a skill that must be taught to the horse. The importance of this functional response is threefold: for sheer safety, for the horse’s mental state (calmness and respect), and to further develop ground-schooling skills.
My term “forging” refers to any time a horse tries to move ahead of you or, worse yet, into your space inappropriately—that means he’s not following your lead. Bottom line, the horse is either mentally upset, annoyed or has a lack of respect for the handler—the situation can become unsafe in a hurry.
This is an “Iceberg Issue,” one that I see over and over again that plagues horse owners, trainers and enthusiasts alike. You’ve probably seen it before too: the handler has her horse haltered and they’re trekking somewhere, but the horse a) looks like a kite on a string, darting hither and yond at the end of a tight line, or b) is snubbed right up against the handler, with a chain over the nose in an attempt to maintain control and keep the horse from going faster and more forward, or c) continuously moves in little circles because the handler can’t stop the horse from going forward and around her. These dysfunctional behaviors have tons of variations and excuses for them; they’re like nails on a chalkboard for me: pure insanity for my eyes because there is no good reason for them to be happening.
Where I see a lot of people go wrong in these situations is, instead of making a mental change and teaching a horse what to do or how to be, they fall into a strength-on-strength conflict. This will always be a losing battle with a horse and begs the rhetorical questions: Where is the root of the problem, and how do we start simple?
For my training philosophy, it is a forequarter problem that has two parts. We are talking about the left and right sides of the horse in front of the drive line—you’ll recall, that’s an imaginary line just in front of the point of the horse’s shoulder that helps dictate which way a horse moves in response to pressure. If you get control of the forehand from the left and right on the ground, forging will no longer be a problem.
Where to Begin
I always try to follow my dad’s advice for approaching problems or issues: “Start simple.” When your computer won’t turn on, check the power cord first—you wouldn’t start by tearing the computer apart and replacing circuits. The same principle applies to training horses; the issue for most of us is learning HOW to start simple.
A horse has four areas: front half, back half, left side and right side. Those planes divide the horse into four quarters. The driveline is an imaginary line on all prey animals that determines whether the animal stops, turns or goes forward. Energy applied in front of the driveline will cause the horse to stop or turn, while energy applied behind it will cause him to move forward. The “front half” of the horse refers to the region in front driveline, and the back half refers to all aspects of the horse behind the drive line.
Three stimuli can influence a horse to move forward, backward, left or right:
• Auditory stimulus: clucking, smooching, swish of a flag, crack of a whip, etc.
• Tactile stimulus: stick & string, whip, crop, leg aids, seat aids, rein aids, etc.
• Visual stimulus: waving a flag, waving arms, etc.
To get control of the forehand on the ground, you need to be able to move and, more importantly, direct the horse away from you. We’ve got three ways to do that: moving directly left, directly right and backing up. You should be able to direct your horse left or right through a gate, into a trailer or stall, or on to a circle. You should be able to back the horse with you and while you are standing still; furthermore, he should back away while you’re facing him as well as when your back is turned to. Mastering these techniques puts you in the driver’s seat and in control. It also gives the horse a job to do while moving with you, which fosters calmness in a nervous horse and respect in a pushy one.
This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Spring 2018 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.