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Tiny Steps = BIG PROBLEMS
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Tiny Steps = BIG PROBLEMS

Does your horse crowd you, stick its head in your face, or push you around? Chances are these very noticeable signs are the result of tiny steps your horse took before you noticed they were fixing to stomp on your foot.

Horses are opportunists. Maybe not by nature, but over time we create these "beasts" with ill manners simply because we are not paying attention, or have become lazy in awareness of our personal space. It's a simple fix, that may or may not take more time to correct and that starts by reestablishing our personal boundary and not allow the horse to enter into that zone unless invited. The deal is, he has to wait to be invited. He has to be respectful of our personal space. 

No matter what kind of behavior your horse exhibits, whether it be rubbing on you, pushing against you, or head tossing while you're free walking out in the pasture it can all be fixed by going back to the start of training. Anytime your horse can make you move your feet, it gives them incentive to continue and become the alpha between the two of you. Eventually, if let go long enough you will be unable to control your horse and in extreme cases over a period of time, your horse will be chasing you out of the corral or pasture. 

Begin by lunging or round penning your horse. Establish direction. If your horse is pretty well trained, you won't have to work too long on the lunge or in the round pen. When you point and ask your horse to move off, they should do so without hesitation. Point, cluck, spank if necessary. Then, change directions by having your horse turn in to face you, give you two eyes, then reverse. New side, new brain. Moving their feet motivates their thinking. When you get several good changes of direction with your horse turning in to face you, stop and give them a rest and catch their breath. If they come in on you, make them back up and stand still. If they continue to move their feet, then move them around the pen again. The horse is a lazy creature so when they do something good and right, you rest them. They eventually learn to do it right the first time so they can stand still. 

Then attach a lead rope if you're free lunging in a round pen, a shorter one if you have a long lunge line. Grab a whip, like a stick and string or stock whip. Then have your horse back up by gently tapping the lead in rhythm of a 4-second beat count - 1 thousand, 2 thousand, 3 thousand, 4 thousand. If at any time during the count he takes even 1 step back, stop tapping and stand there a moment. Horses learn by the release of pressure. Then begin again and tap 4 beats again. Repeat this until he consecutively backs up at least 10 footfalls. Release the pressure and reward by walking to your horse and rubbing on him. Rub him with your whip, rub him with your hands in circular motions. The key in when it is time to quit is when his head lowers, he blinks often, licks his lips, maybe cocks a hind foot in a resting manner. 

These simple steps will help improve and reinforce your personal space and boundaries.  If at any time when you release the pressure, your horse steps forwards, make him back up more steps. The next step to regaining boundaries is to wiggle and wave. Begin by wiggling the lead rope and if your horse doesn't step back, wave your hands in a big sweeping motion in front of you from side to side while stepping forward towards your horse. If he still isn't moving backwards, tap him firmly on the chest until he steps backwards. Release the pressure when he steps, wait a moment, then begin again with the wiggle, then wave, then firm tap on the chest. If at any time during these steps he backs up, release the pressure and begin again. You're wanting your horse to back up just from the wiggle of the lead rope without having to add those other steps. Release of pressure takes timing and catching your horse doing the movement asked. Reward all "tries". Then when he's backing up good with the wiggle, standing still when you've released the pressure and not coming forward, rub him with both hands and the whip or stick. Let him know he's a good boy and he did a great job. 

When you get to the point where you can wiggle the rope and he backs up several steps, that would be a good place to quit. Always stop the lesson on a good note.  When you remove then halter from your horse, he should stand there. You should always be the one to walk away.  

(For the sake of this article I used "him" in referring to your horse just to give a general rule of thumb)

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Photo is from my personal collection. 

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  1. jst4horses
    Great article Rene. Hope a lot of people read it and follow your advice. You are so right about letting the little disrespect go and then having big disrespect to deal with. I like my old horses because they have come to the place where we can lean on each other, and rub heads and it is a share, not a domination attempt on their side. I have had a couple of alpha mares who do a LOT of work for me, kind of like Cesar's Daddy and Junior who help him train dogs............but from time to time they would start little steps here and there and try to think they were going to over boss me. We had to have a conversation and then they would behave for a year or two, and then try it again.................:)
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    1. Rene Wright
      Rene Wright
      Thank you. I see so many people saying, "HELP" my horse is behaving like this or that, and I see my own horse doing that because I didn't catch it when it was beginning to happen. I hope others will realize that this is what is happening and how they can fix it. It's a completely different thing when you invite them in, than it is for them to invite themselves and push you around. lol. I think though you've got to know the difference and be aware. :)
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