The question was, how do you ask the horse for permission to approach? Everyone is concerned about the horse respecting their space. I say that it is equally important for us to respect the horse’s space. That means we don’t just go invading the horse’s space without his permission. So, you ask, how do you ask permission? How do you know you have it.
You watch the horse for signs as you approach. If I walk toward a horse and the horse stands there and looks at me with a pleasant expression that is a welcoming signal, I can continue my approach. If the horse isn’t looking at me I will stop a little ways away and pat my leg. Just a way to say, Hello? I’m knocking. Horse looks up with a peaceful look that says, Welcome. If the horse turns away, not a good sign. If the horse walks away, hmm, definitely not a Welcome signal. LOL It is really pretty much that simple. The horse might let you get ‘so close’ and THEN walk away. Many times people will grab at the horse at this moment. Not a way to build trust.
Another thing I see a lot is the horse may let you stand close but will not let you touch his face (run your hand down the front of his face). When you reach for him, he pulls his face away. Don’t touch me–that is too close. But people insist on touching anyway. Ignore the sign. Funny how we think it is okay to ignore the signs the horse is offering that say, that is too close. And, then turn around and get mad when the horse does the same to us!
I won’t stroke a face that isn’t offered softly. If, as I reach up, he takes his head away I will back up a little and pat my leg, Hello? I’m knocking. I wait and keep asking, perhaps change my position, call the horse’s attention to me…can I stroke your face? I will persist but not force. When the horse accepts my approach then I might just run my hand briefly down his nose and walk away. I won’t over stay my welcome. In this way, I show the horse I’m not going to MAKE him put up with this for long. More and more, he stays longer. Then I can show how useful I can be with ear massage and maybe demonstrate I can be trusted.
In the same vein we might ask, how do I see the horse asking if he can approach? Well, I suspect that if we were horses we would have not been so sloppy and left the door continually open. So, many of our horses have gotten in the habit of not asking permission, just barging in! It is up to us to decide if the ‘door’ open or closed. When the horse ‘tries the handle’ it can either be locked or not. How do we lock it? We need to see the horse coming and tell him to stop right there when he gets to the ‘door’. Actually we really need to tell him to stop before he gets to the door. The ‘door’ is where ever we determine it is. It is the edge of your personal space.
If the horse is already standing several feet away we again must watch carefully. Before the feet move there will be a little shift of weight, perhaps a lean if you will, that indicates the horse is thinking about taking a step forward. That is the ‘ask’ from the horse. Right then, before a step is taken, you must be able to tell him, stay there. If you say nothing at that moment the horse will assume that the door is open and come forward. This is the same concept discussed in a previous post about inadvertently rewarding undesired behavior simply by allowing it to occur. For best results we must reward only behavior we want