The notion of respect between a rider and his horse is constantly used in equestrian centers, but who truly knows why respect is so important in this sport? Why, without real mutual respect, can no amount of work be achieved? Here is the explanation.
Horses are animals that have always lived in groups and rely one another. There is therefore a hierarchy amongst them. Without that hierarchy, the group could not survive. We witness when letting a few domesticated horses loose outside, that a hierarchy is immediately set up. The dominating horse will usually eat first and the others will have a tendency of waiting and following.
With the relationship being built with humans, who are actually predators, the horse may keep his innate instincts including running away when it is scared, the need to own a space, and establishing a hierarchy. These actions can sometimes create problems with young riders or new owners. When one is not willing to scold a horse because he is scared of hurting it, the horse will have a tendency to become the dominant one in the relationship. If this should happen, it is very hard to reverse the damage done.
In fact, without your horse's respect, everything will be in vain. Why? Take for example this situation. You want to do some work with your horse on foot. When it is time for you to direct your horse in a circle, it refuses to move, turns its hips, and threatens to hit you. This sort of issue is common and is directly related to respect. In a group, the dominant horse will be the one to guide the others, the others will accept without complaining. If they try to order around the dominant horses, they will be punished in some way. This is why the horse may want to do the same thing to you. A dominant horse could also decide to charge you, invade your space, or even kick. The reverse rapport is built, and you are left feeling as though you cannot regain control over it.
Remember that this animal weighs approximately a half-ton. Its strength is unthinkable, even dangerous. This is why you must attain respect and domination from the beginning to prevent any future behavioral problems or hazardous incidents.
To avoid such a disaster, stay alert and keep an eye out for warning signs that things may be amiss between you and your horse. It is best to begin to correct these behaviors at the first incident so that you maintain a healthy relationship with your animal. Remember that losing your horse’s respect and becoming the dominated one doesn’t happen overnight; it happens through a series of small incidents that you may consider insignificant, but that end up having a negative effect and reserving the relationship.
What are these little actions that we need to watch for? For starters, if your horse enters your “bubble” without your permission, it is taking the dominant role. The only time this is permitted is if you want it to approach you, and the horse must listen when you want it to back off and leave your space. One of the most common way this may manifest is through your horse starting to scratch himself against your shoulder. Move him away unless you gave it permission to do so.
Another behavior to look for occurs when you are entering or exiting the horse’s enclosure. If your horse pushes you out of the way to get in, that could lead to accidents in the long run. A horse who pays attention to you would never run you over or push you out of the way.
As for gentle biting, a horse does that to show affection. You should never correct a horse for doing such a thing since it will be confused. Your horse will wonder why you are rejecting his affectionate actions. However, if a horse truly bites you hard with ears flat, and it hurts you, that needs to be punished immediately. Tap it on the nose and firmly say “no”. You do not need to hit it hard or yell at it. Stay calm and show it that you are in control. Same goes if your horse tries to hit you. A horse that bites is already starting to dominate. It is one of the worse warning signs it can give you because it is already reverting to violence. You need to act quickly in order to stop a habit from starting.
Do not let your horse search your pockets or your bags for treats. That will reinforce its role as the dominating one because in a group, the dominating horse eats in the other horses’ buckets without consequences.
Now that you know what the signs of a lack of respect may look like, it is also important to learn how to take charge without scaring your horse. This is something that can be cultivated over time. One exercise is to walk with your horse and teach it to walk at the same pace as you. If you walk faster, he has to match your speed. If you back up, you need to make him understand that he has to back up as well. If he does not listen, use the reins to back him up. If he does not walk fast enough, pull slightly on the reins until the horse catches up with you. Once your horse understands the slower speeds, do the same thing at trot and gallop speeds. Keep working with the reins until the horse understands well, then work with verbal commands. This is how you will manage to make your horse understand that you are the boss, and not him. It is the best way to earn his respect in the long run.
Another good exercise to try is to work with the horse when you are going or coming back from its enclosure. If your horse is continuously trying to walk in front of you, pushing you out of the way when going into the enclosure, make him understand that you are the one leading by pulling on the reins towards the back until the horse backs up. That way, he will eventually understand that you want him to walk beside you, not in front of you.
Respect between the horse and its rider is of utmost importance if you wish to have a good riding experience, and it needs to be mutual. You need to respect him as well!
Photo credit: flickr.com
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