Every day I am reminded again and again how every little thing counts to the horse. Horses want to get along with us. They are watching us closely for signs of meaning behind the things that we do. Right or wrong doesn’t enter into it. In fact, it is safe to go by the assumption that the horse is always Right. When I say that I mean we can be sure that from their point of view their actions make complete sense based on what we did. So, if we want a change in their behavior we have to see how what we are doing might be entering into the equation.
A most excellent ‘for instance’ occurs frequently when doing groundwork in a halter. I have observed how some folks struggle to get the horse to walk a circle around them. Seems like a simple thing. It is, but it isn’t always so easy because of those little things that count to the horse. Here are some examples of little things that can ruin your ground work session.
I find that horses are much happier when we allow the rope to drape over our open hand rather than clenching the rope with a hard fist. Horses are so sensitive that they can feel the difference between an open hand and a closed hand. As soon as you close your hand the horse will perceive this you as pulling him in toward you. If you have a horse who you have a hard time getting to go out on the circle check that your leading hand is open.
Another common reason why the horse is falling in on us is because we are walking backward and thusly pulling the horse toward us. Marry that with the clenched fists and now the horse is being given two signals to come in rather than stay out. It is crucial that your feet walk in a circle going forward. The circle may be small, about the size of a trash can lid or even smaller, but you must walk forward on that little circle.
Chasing with the popper
One of the hardest things to wrap our head around is the idea that we must cease acting when the horse is acting. If we don’t the horse has no idea what is supposed to be meaningful and what is just ‘white noise’. So, if the horse is moving his feet, then be still –I mean, stop twirling the rope!! You do need to keep walking though. Walking forward. Then, when you stop your feet and close your hand the horse will do what he is supposed to do and that is stop!
I know from working with folks on resolving these very issues that these can be very hard habits to break without someone on the side reminding you again and again to Open your Hand, Walk Forward, and Be Quiet. But, once you do the improvement in the horse will be nearly instant so you will get a big reward for it.