In an earlier post, I introduced you to the four miniature horses and their pet Belgian I'm handling. At the moment, Sundance is my project mini. He's the most healthy and sturdy of the herd (besides the Belgian). When he was purchased, he came as part of a pair to pull a cart. Apparently, his training has been long forgotten. He's not even reliable in halter. So, I'm starting fresh with him.
Our first lesson was in respecting my space. His preferred method was to drag me along and turn me when he felt the desire. He'd bulldoze into me whenever he felt like it. Initially, I tried to work with him in his cotton webbing halter, but it's been years since he's been required to give respect to a human. Add his lack of respect to my weak arm and we had trouble brewing. To combat this issue I located a training chain and wrapped it around his noseband. With this configuration, the chain wasn't biting into his nose, but the pressure points were a bit smaller, giving me a little more control. Control of both pressure and release was my main priority as the key to horse training.
My first goal was to get him walking properly beside me or a little behind me on a loose lead. With the addition of the chain on his noseband, his response improved. When he'd charge ahead I'd first give him a tug with the lead to ask for a better pace. Every time he'd continue charge ahead, I'd speed up to get in front of him and start pushing him into circles. Not only was this a workout for me, but also for him. We were both soon sweaty and out of breath, but eventually he and I reached an understanding. He would walk beside me as I wanted, but he would still try to push me around.
Since he's typically a kind animal and used to a small herd situation, I decided To see if there was something *I* was doing to cause him to bump into me. I soon discovered that every time I'd tug on his lead, I'd pull him into me. I started thinking about it and came to a conclusion: leading a miniature is a bit different than leading a full sized horse. Your hand is in a different location relative to the horse's nose. A well trained horse won't give you much trouble regardless of size, but if you're starting from scratch or refreshing one, you may run into this problem as well.
To solve our bumping issue, I decided to do a little more Natural Horsemanship with him on the lead. I set off away from the barn with him on the lead line. Since he's not as interested in going away from the barn, I had no trouble staying in front of him and guiding him without tension on the lead line in some gentle serpentines. When we got to the end of our work area, I stopped and stood facing his neck. As a non-natural horsemanship trained mini, Sundance just kind of looked at me. So I walked toward his neck. At first he tried to turn his head away to let me go by, but I wasn't going away. Finally he gave me a half step sideways, so I let my body language pressure off of him. I kept this exercise going for a while until he understood he was to yield his forehand to me like he did his hindquarters.
Then we had to head toward the barn. This is when he really put on the steam and was determined to drag me. I had to run to get him turning away from my body language pressure and stay in front of him. We spent more time going in tiny circles. He still wasn't behaving the same as a big horse. He could just duck his head and scoot around/under me or act like I was attacking him by throwing up his head. Neither of these responses were preferred, so I had to brainstorm again.
So I used the trick of swinging the end of my lead line in a circle, like a propeller, in front of us as we walked. At first he continued throwing his head up, but once he realized it was moving with us, not at him, he was ready to charge forward again. Then it happened, he walked into the twirling rope. With that he stopped, looked at me and once again tried to walk through it. When it hit him again, he gave me a startled glance, but stayed by my side. Throughout this period of trial and error for him, I tried to maintain neutral body language and a smooth motion to the twirling rope. The latter was the most difficult as he tried walking through it. Yet, it only took a few tries before he decided standing even beside me or even slightly behind me was the best choice. With that, we ended our session.
I hope you enjoy the original artwork above. It is a drawing from the game Draw Something2 based on a Bob Langrish photo.
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