Take your horse’s nuances into consideration when testing his responses to create a confident, light partner.
By Kalley Krickeberg
With horses’ size, domestication ability and nature (a fight/flight specie), they can be a conundrum for people to understand—a dichotomy of sorts that can easily get a person off track and a horse unbalanced in how it interacts with a human. We see it a lot, for example, in horses that come in for training: either horses are flighty, untrustful or reactive to a human’s movements (too much “go”), or the horse has lost his natural sensitivity (fear) and gone past being accepting, confident and willing toward the human and instead ends up dominant or pushy (too much “come here”). Then there are the unfortunate cases, where a horse becomes aggressive toward humans, whether it’s an intermittent problem or a consistent one.
Human nature pushes us toward simple answers where we say things like “always” or “never;” while there are strong principles to stick by, a horse does better if we allow for a little individual nuance. Nothing is straightforward with horse training. I encourage people to envision their horse and his specific tendencies on some sort of sliding scale from “less confident” to “more dominant.” This helps you balance things out, no matter where your horse fits in.
The process of figuring out where the horse is on that sliding scale starts when catching the horse. I subconsciously ask myself, “Is he interested in my approach and allows me to walk up to him?” “Does he not care?” “Does he boldly walk up to me?” “Does he run at the sight of me?”or, worst-case scenario, “Does he posture or try to chase me away?” From this moment forward, I start working on balancing the horse’s mentality toward humans. Most agree they want a horse they can catch easily—one who neither runs away nor runs over them in the process; this takes a horse that is both confident and willing. To achieve this confident and willing attitude, the slidingscale concept lets you know if you need to be more assertive or more casual with the particular individual at any given interaction.
In this article, I am working with a horse that is usually appropriately confident but can be intermittently dominant when longeing or circling his human. But because it’s generally easier to chase a horse away—unless they’re acting dangerously dominant—I start balancing a horse’s “Come” and “Go” responses by bringing them forward (toward me) and testing their “Come Here” confidence, willingness and obedience (see image 1). Ideally, all I need to do is guide them with my rein or rope and maybe hustle them up with a whip or my stick and string, if needed. I want the horse to catch up to me so we can stand quietly side by side with no fear, no dragging and no pushing (images 2 and 3).
This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Fall 2021 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join