How to Teach Your Horse to Lead... with R-E-S-P-E-C-T

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Is your horse "the boss of you"? If your horse is a pushy brat - here's what to do to gain their respect.
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Is your horse "the boss of you"? If your horse is a pushy brat - here's what to do to gain their respect.

"I Get Kicked When I Lead"

QUESTION: My horse seems to be growing a very unpleasant habit. When I lead him, if he wants to break away, he kicks me sideways to make sure I let go of the rope as he rushes forward. Up to now, he hadn’t touched me. This morning, he got my left arm (fortunately, I think he only hit muscle).

I know what you and John say about biting: you can’t let the horse get away with it so the point is to make yourself very unpleasant for 3 seconds. But how can you apply the “3 second kill” to a horse that’s bolted? By the time I get to catch him (which is easy enough since he usually stands still once he’s reached the place where he wanted to go), it’s been a good 2 minutes since he’s kicked. So I guess any kind of correction is pointless. On the other hand, it seems pretty obvious that he’s found the way to get rid of me when necessary and that he’ll do it without the slightest qualm.

Any piece of advice will be welcome… 

ANSWER: Your horse doesn't think you’re the boss. Doing something disrespectful, something he wouldn't do to his mother is a clear sign of this. Obviously, we can’t fix this “in the moment” because, as you said, it happens so quickly. You need to A) look for other moments when the horse isn't paying you your due and take immediate and decisive action. You also need to B) proactively fix it. I absolutely guarantee (as evidenced by your predicament) that this horse is dissing you throughout other parts of the day. I believe you've previously told me that you have one of the breeds that’s pretty famous for getting cozy with its owner – and a horse that wants to hang out very, very often begins taking advantage.  

I’d also hazard a guess, no disrespect intended, that your ground training is a bit sloppy. Make sure that every movement you ask from your horse is done sharply, with no hesitation, with no head raised and the body relaxed. 

Regardless, I'd address "A" and "B" with the following: 

A)  Be on the lookout for disrespectful moments: He’s looking off to his buddies when the little voice says he should be “on you,” he runs away when you take the halter off, he won’t turn to you politely when cued (they can often turn to you like a bratty teenager with an impatient/annoyed “what?” look on their face), he doesn't move his shoulders away if you try to cross “through him,” he won’t move away out of your space when cued, etcetera. Those are only examples, of course, you definitely have something there you can find. Wake him up in these moments and get his feet moving, do something objective, any ground exercise that you both do well, back him up for a city block or three, etc. The first time he does this, back him for a minute, the second time (in the same training session) back him for ten minutes, the third time back him for 20 minutes.  

B) Go on offense. Make time - and add to your training schedule - exercises that teach your horse that you’re the boss in your herd of two. Case in point, in the horse world, whoever causes the other to move is the boss, so try backing him up:  

Back the horse (a lot) each day and each time he pulls some nonsense. It won't matter if you back it immediately or a bit later (should it need to be caught as you mention) because backing up isn't punishment any more than moving his shoulders to the left or swinging his hips to the right is punishment; it’s bettering his performance and - germane to this discussion - it's teaching him you’re in control. Punishment would be smacking him, or screaming or taking away tonight's episode of "Mr. Ed." Sure, he won’t make a connection between all the backing and his most recent transgression – but he will gain respect for you as a leader and be x-percent less likely to lash out at you the next time you want to go left and he wants to go right.  

Backing is great because it talks to the horse on its own level. Backing away is a simple, subservient act they understand. It's also you causing their feet to move (rather than the other way around) in a direction you've chosen; it's them reacting to you. (Your horse keeps track of how many times you react to him versus him reacting to you. In his mind, this might eventually add up to a coup.)  

Backing is also a good tool to use because you can always keep up with a backing horse. If the horse were moving forward through some exercise, he might pull away -- and you'd get left in the dust, teaching him that he can evade your authority. (Be careful to only back the horse at a speed he can handle -- losing your temper and asking it to back too fast will cause it to resist and maybe even rear up and lash out.) 

You might also try: 

Lunge him with lots of turns (to your left one moment, to your right the next).  

Ask the horse to move sideways as you stand just off to the side, waving the lead, etcetera.  

Practice leading and purposely throw in a heck of a lot of abrupt turns and back ups. “Abrupt” like a drilling soldier, not “abrupt” sloppy. 

Load and unload him into / out of a trailer 350,000,000 times or until you note an increased willingness to get along. 

There are plenty of things like this you can do - but the above should get you started. Do nothing but “I’m the boss” exercises until you've obviously gained its respect.  

If you have my book “What Is Wrong with My Horse?," see the first three chapters. Better yet, my book “ Crow Hopper's Guide to Buck Stopping” spends the first section covering pretty much what I outline above, (it's got lots of ground work designed to get your horse's "mind right"). 

Please vote YES below if you think this guide was helpful - I'd really appreciate it! 

Copyright 2014, Keith Hosman
John Lyons (L) and Keith Hosman, Parachute, Colorado
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About Your Author:

Keith Hosman, Utopia, TX  USA 

John Lyons Certified Trainer Keith Hosman lives near San Antonio, Texas and divides his time between writing how-to training materials and conducting training clinics in most of these United States as well as in Germany and the Czech Republic.

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Fixing Problems DIY & Step-by-Step: "What Is Wrong with My Horse" by Keith Hosman, Certifed John Lyons Trainer
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Fixing Problems DIY & Step-by-Step: "What Is Wrong with My Horse" by Keith Hosman, Certifed John Lyons Trainer


"What Is Wrong with My Horse? 
Fixing Problems DIY & Step-by-Step

"Most useful horse book I have!  Fabulous! I can look up a subject and apply it immediately." 
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A book full of solutions for the horse owner. In three parts.
  • Section I: "Fright" in it's myriad forms.
  • Section II: Neglect your lawn, get weeds. Neglect your car, break down. Neglect your horse... collect trips to the ER. Here's what you need to know to keep your horse tuned-up and out of trouble.
  • Section III: Step-by-step fixes for the most common problems faced by horse owners.
By Keith Hosman, a John Lyons Certified Trainer and Gadabout Town 

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