Question of the Week: Crowding
How do I teach my horse to respect my personal space?
Q: I just purchased a three-year-old gelding. Whenever I walk him on a lead, he crowds me. He's still getting used to his new home, and he tends to spook sometimes. I'm afraid he's going to run me over! How do I get him to respect my space without making him afraid of me?
A: Great question and such an important topic. I like that you are concerned with getting respect from your horse but not making him afraid of you. That is key.
Horses are born followers and need good leadership. One of the reasons that your horse is so spooky is related to him pushing in on your space. When horses see you as a friend, they will run toward you for safety. This, as you’re well aware, can be very dangerous. The horse needs to be shown that he can still look to you for comfort and leadership when he spooks, but just not jump in your lap. The good thing about this lesson is that when you solve the space issues, you will also drastically reduce the amount of things your horse finds spooky. He will now trust that he has a good leader, and wherever you go, he will be safe. In other words, your horse will focus on your movements and not on distractions that he’s been spooking at.
First step is to create a personal space around you that your horse can’t enter unless he’s invited. Start by bringing your mental awareness and focus to a personal bubble space around you, measured by stretching out your arms and making that bubble boundary at about the end of your fingertips. This is your personal space. I know what you’re thinking — and yes, there’s always a time when I love to have horses close to me and come in for a nice rub. However, if I feel like having the horse close to me is an invasion of my space and disrespectful, then I will ask the horse to back away.
It’s important to start this routine when you are in quiet area with some room to practice. Begin by asking your horse to back away from you in a few different ways. Start with putting backward pressure with your hand on the horse’s nose or halter lead and yield him a few steps back. Try to stay still (don’t move your feet!) so the distance between you and your horse increases to the end of your fingertips (your personal bubble space). If he comes right back into your space, simply do it again. This is about leadership, and he will surely test your resolve about not being pushed around. You will need to show him that you can’t be pushed or he’ll just continue running you over, looking for another leader.
After you can get your horse to stay out of your space while you’re standing still, then start walking around with him in the area where he’s most comfortable. Go from a walk to a stop and then back him up a few steps to finish the task with your personal space re-established. Make sure you do lots of this each day in the areas where he is the least spooky and animated. Then when you’re in an area where he wants to look around and focus on everything else but you, ask him to stop, back up, go forward, go faster, go slower and a variety of things that will cause him to focus on what you’re doing and not what’s ‘out there.’ When you feel his attention come back to you, be sure to relax the stimuli (release any pressure or request) and just walk normally or stand around quietly (without asking him to do anything) for a short time.
As you get better at preventing your horse from invading your space, you will have automatically gained more respect from him. In addition, you’ll be safer and have more of his attention on you. Take your time. Think of every time you lead your horse as a way of asking for just a little more attention and respect.
Good luck, be safe and I hope this helps you.
For more information about Jonathan Field and his program, visit www.JonathanField.net.
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Question of the Week: Crowding