The Art of Discipline: An Early Start
One of the best ways to start disciplining the horse is to begin when he is young. Be a part of his life, and in a soft, natural way. Each day you show him what is acceptable and what is not. Through routine and consistency, you become a leader your horse can follow and without pain or fear.
It’s best to start this work gradually. When I first handle a horse as a foal, weanling, yearling, or 2-year-old, the philosophy is the same that I use when working with any horse: Make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy. I make the wrong thing WORK and the right thing RELIEF.
I have to recognize when a horse is trying and reward those efforts. An example might be when I’m halter-breaking a foal. As I work with the young horse, I don’t want to pull on the lead rope to teach him to lead. If I pull, the horse’s natural instinct is to pull against me. I want to just hold the lead with a light pressure. As soon as the foal gives with the smallest step, I release. That little step becomes my building block. I do not ignore those small steps. I build on one step at a time.
Picking up a horse’s feet when he’s young is another good way to start building understanding and respect. As a good leader, I don’t ask for too much, too fast. I pick up a foot, but don’t hold it too long. I’m willing to put it right back down and know that this is a good start. From there, I build on that progress a little each day until I’m able to pick up each of his four feet and hold it. This simple technique is a great way to begin to develop a great relationship with a young horse. It’s the little things that make the biggest difference in the end.
Your horse has a good memory. You might not think you’re teaching, but your horse is always learning. Be sure you’re teaching your horse something good. Building respect is like building a house. Without a good foundation, the house can never last. If you start with a good, solid foundation of training, you develop a horse that doesn’t require constant correction and discipline, and one that becomes a willing partner and a joy to ride.
When you discipline a horse, you are always looking to gain that horse’s respect. If a horse gets pushy and tries to get in your space or nips at you, it’s important that you discipline him. If he tries that with another horse, he either gains dominance or learns respect. You don’t want your horse to be dominant over you, so you must have his respect.
Remember: Horses fear predatory behavior. You want to be firm but don’t want to make your horse fearful by overdoing your discipline tactics and scaring him or causing him to become head-shy. You don’t want to punish the horse. You want to discipline him in a way he understands.
With a pushy horse, I use my hand to block his movement toward me. I take the palm of my hand and bump the side of his face. I use firm, steady pressure; I never hit him or slap him. The horse tells me how strong or light that discipline must be in order to be effective. If he doesn’t respond, I keep bumping until he steps away from me. Once the horse moves his feet away from me, I know I’ve succeeded. That is the physical “give” that I want.
It might take more than one session to remind your horse, but consistency pays off and your horse learns to respect you. Don’t nitpick at your horse. That just makes the problem worse. When your horse makes a mistake, correct him and go on. That’s how you become his leader and his friend.
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This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 8, Issue 9-10