The bank robber sitting in jail today didn’t start off committing the crime he’s doing time for. Instead, he started off by just stealing loose change from his parents. Then he got a little braver and stole candy from the local store. Before he knew it, the thrill of petty crimes wasn’t enough so he started breaking into cars and shoplifting product out of stores. He didn’t immediately start his career as a criminal by robbing the bank – he worked up to that.
The same is true of disrespectful horses. Horses don’t wake up one day and decide to not stand still while you mount or take off at a headlong gallop down the trail. They build up to it. The problem is most of us don’t pay enough attention to realize that our horses are cheating us. That’s because they do it in small increments every day – they don’t make massive, bold cheating movements.
Maybe when you go out to the barn today, your horse will turn his head away from you when you go to halter him. Doesn’t sound like a big deal; most people would just reach over or take a step closer to the horse and put the halter on. And the horse says to himself, “That’s interesting. I just turned my head away from her and she came over to me. Tomorrow I’ll try stepping away from her.” Within a week the horse has his tail up in the air running away from you as soon as you come to the gate with halter in hand. It didn’t start off with him running away from you when you came to catch him. It started when you let him turn his head away from you. However, we don’t notice the horse cheating us until it’s turned into a huge problem.
That’s one advantage horses have over us, they’re excellent at observing every small little change. We humans aren’t so good at noticing little changes. For example, your horse recognizes the fact that you allow him to take a step toward you into your personal space without correcting him by backing him up. He notices that you walk around him to get to his other side instead of making him move his feet around you.
On the other hand, most of us don’t notice our horses taking a step away when we go to mount until the problem has escalated so much that we can’t even get near him. You might not notice your horse creeping up on you as you’re leading him until one day he runs over the top of you. Problems don’t show up over night. Rather, they get progressively worse, and because we’re so poor at being observant, we don’t notice until they blow up in our face.
Keep his behavior in check
If that bank robber’s parents from the example I gave you had caught their son in the act of stealing their loose change and corrected him, he probably wouldn’t be sitting in jail today. He never would have moved on to shoplifting and stealing stereos out of cars and robbing banks. The same philosophy can be applied to your horse. Correct the little signs of disrespect before they turn into major problems.
There are a number of people who watch me work with a horse and say, “That Clinton Anderson is picky. That horse just took one step toward him and he backed him up like there’s no tomorrow.” You bet I did, because if I let the horse think that he can walk into my personal space anytime he wants, I’m letting him get away with something. I know that if you let the little things go, they’ll soon turn into big things. One step into my space today turns into the horse running over the top of me two weeks from now. I believe that prevention is better than cure. I’d much rather curb my horse’s desire to inch closer to me when I’m leading him than have to deal with a horse that runs over the top of me and drags me around. I don’t want to wait for the big problem to develop. If you constantly keep your horse in check and don’t let him get away with being disrespectful, he’ll learn that you won’t tolerate that behavior.
Author note: Clinton Anderson is a clinician, horse trainer and competitor. He’s dedicated his life to helping others realize their horsemanship dreams. Learn more about the Downunder Horsemanship Method at www.downunderhorsemanship.com.
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This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 9, Issue 5