Horses normally live in a herd. That herd always has a pecking order. Behaviour associated with the pecking order within a herd you notice when you take the time to observe their interactions in the field or free-range stable. If a horse is drinking and another horse higher in the pecking order decided he (or she) wants to drink, the horse drinking will get out of the way. If not, they can expect a bite in the buttocks, a threatening stance with flat ears, or even a turn with the intention to kick from the horses higher up. I find it fascinating to watch those interactions within a herd. Once I have spent my sunny Sunday afternoon just watching the horses in the free-range stable.
We often humanize our horses and forget we as a human are part of their ‘herd’. You are the end boss (like the ones in the video games) when it comes to your horse, or you should be. We don’t have the same anatomy as our horses, but there a plenty of ways to interact and communicate with your horse. Horses are quite intelligent beings, often very willing to learn, which makes teaching them certain behaviouristics possible. To teach them the behaviour we want from them (or the things we do not want), consistency is key. A horse will always try to move up in the pecking order if you give him room to do so. He might after standing still for 3 weeks during tacking up decide the hay to his left is too good to ignore. If you let him, he will see room to rise in the pecking order. With being consistent I mean asking something in the same way every single time. So, if he ends up taking a step towards the hay, you say ‘no’ the way you always do (everyone has their own ways) since it is unwanted behaviour, and put him back in the same spot he was before he took that step. Don’t forget to repeat your order to stand still in that spot.
If you don’t want your horse pulling you across the entire terrain when walking him, you will need to consistently repeat to your horse whatever it is you do want (which in this case is not pulling) and reward him whenever he is doing it right, after correcting him. Your horse will make the association and with repeating it the same way over and over will eventually understand what you expect of him. You are his end boss and he will follow your instructions if you give them correctly in a way he understands. But that is a subject for another time.
Don’t forget horses also use several aids to communicate with each other. Ears, biting, kicking, subtle body language. We are able to flatten our ears, or bite to indicate what we want from them. We can however use our body language and energy, if necessary, with reinforcement by using rope and halter, arms or even simulating a ‘kick’. I do not mean using steel noses to kick them in the belly, or excessive whip use. What I do mean is when doing this in a responsible way without excessive force, but just to correct, the force you are using is way less than the horses use amongst each other. The point is giving the correct aid in the right way, so your horse links the action with a desired response. My end boss gelding walks into the free-range stable and the other horses make sure the path is clear. He has already established his position and sometimes needs to remind a herd member, but most of the time that no longer is necessary. That is the position you need to be in.
My horses often just stand untied when tacking up or down. More horses at our stable do which often gets bewildered looks. When it comes down to it, it is all about consistency and being in charge of your horse. Every time my horse moves, I put him back. The same way, every single time. When teaching this, you might need to put them back 30 times or more, even after teaching them, you sometimes have to put them back. But when reminding them there is no room for moving up that pecking order, the times you have to do that become less and less. Consistency and creating clear patterns remain one of the basics. Horses will always thrive on routines.
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