3 Leadership Activities

JulieGoodnight.com Logo

By: Heidi Melocco with Julie Goodnight

Top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight gives you three fun activities designed to enhance the bond you have with your horse and solidify your role as herd leader.

During cold winter months, you likely trail ride less frequently than you do in warmer months. You might even turn your horse out on winter pasture. And all year long, there are times when you just can’t get out to ride as often as you’d like.

You can take a break from riding, but you still need to keep your horse tuned up so he maintains his respect for you as his herd leader, especially if he’s pastured with other horses.

As a prey animal, your horse instinctively looks for safety and comfort in a horse herd. If he doesn’t also feel safe and at home with you, he’ll feel unsafe, insecure, and alone when you pull him out of his herd.

“Unless and until you can replace those feelings of safety and comfort that your horse gets with his horse herd, he’d rather stay with his buddies,” notes top trainer/clinician Julie Goodnight.

“Your horse will leave with you only if he thinks you can give him safety, security, and comfort. You have to be a herd of two.”

If your horse doesn’t feel safe with you, he might become herd-bound, barn sour, buddy sour, and even appear to forget his training.

It may be tough to ride your horse every day, especially in the winter. But you can make sure that each interaction you have with him is meaningful and shows him you’re his herd leader.

“It’s all about relationships,” says Goodnight. “You have to consistently work with your horse to maintain a good relationship. Some horses need to be handled every day. The good news is that helping your horse feel safe with you can be fun.”

Here, Goodnight will explain the importance of tuning up your horse’s training all year long. Then she’ll give you three fun activities designed to foster your relationship and bond with your horse so he’ll look to you as his trusted leader.

 

Tune Up His Training

First, understand how your horse thinks. He understands authority and leadership. He’s always testing you. If he finds he doesn’t have to follow the rules with you, he won’t.

Every time you handle your horse, you’re training him to do something, either acceptable or unacceptable. Over time, tiny inconsistencies can erode your authority with him, but you might not notice that you’re no longer the leader until something big happens.

Consistently keep up your horse’s training, whether you bought him trained or trained him yourself. If you allow him to break the rules, and abandon the structure and routine he’s learned, his training is likely to unravel. He’ll lose his respect for you as the herd leader, and may even resist leaving the pasture.

For instance, let’s say you’ve trained your horse to stand still during grooming. Over time, he starts taking a step or two toward you as you brush him. You don’t bother to correct him. Then one day, he takes three steps and actually bumps into you.

You thought those small steps were little infractions not worth correcting. But your horse took your inaction as a sign that you’re not in charge and not even worth noticing.

Teach your horse to respect your personal space. Every time you lead him, make frequent stops and starts, requesting obedience. Remind him where he should be. Don’t allow him to get ahead of you. Make sure he stands still when asked. Correct him if he bumps into you or takes a step away from you.

Another example: You’ve trained your horse to ride out alone. But then you start allowing him to turn his head to look back toward the barn. Left uncorrected, he soon attempts to turn back toward the barn, and balks when you turn him toward the trail.

To keep up your horse’s training, correct him with confidence every time he looks back toward the barn. He’ll remember that first-trained skill.

Goodnight says that in her experience, middle-aged horses, no matter how well-trained, are more likely to become herd-bound than other horses. There are variables in personalities, but that’s a time to make sure you interact with your horse and maintain your leadership.

Five minutes of training here and there can go far to help you maintain your relationship with your horse, especially if the relationship is firmly established.

And the more you spend time increasing your leadership and enhancing the bond with your horse, the more relaxing and enjoyable your trail rides will be. When your horse trusts you and sees you as his herd leader, he’ll more readily follow your cues, and you’ll have a more productive and relaxing time in the saddle.

Following are three short, fun activities you can do with your horse to help keep up his training and enhance the bond you enjoy with him.

Activity #1: Find His Sweet Spot

A fun activity to do with your horse as you groom him is to rub and scratch his “sweet spot.” When something feels good to a horse, he’ll pucker his lip and even raise or stretch out his neck to show you his appreciation. This reaction is related to allo-grooming(mutual grooming). When two horses stand facing one another and groom one another with their teeth, they’ll pucker when the other horse has found the “sweet spot.”

Only horses that are bonded will participate in mutual grooming. In that pair, one is still more dominant; the dominant horse will start and stop the process.

To find your horse’s sweet spot, start at his withers, and rub in a circular motion up his neck with a deep massaging or scratching motion. When you find the sweet spot, he’ll move his lips or even stretch out.

Scratch your horse’s sweet spot after you’ve asked him to perform a maneuver, such as stopping, backing up, or taking a step to the side.

Be aware that you’re working to maintain your leadership within the herd. By initiating and stopping this routine, you’re showing him you’re the herd leader.

Sometimes horses that are allo-grooming will bite each other, so you’ll need to thwart any mouthy behavior. Your horse should never put his lips on you. If he does reach out to groom you in return, acknowledge the kind gesture, but gently push back his nose back to stop him.

And don’t allow your horse to become rude or demanding of the grooming or reward. If he becomes demanding, be demanding back, and tell him that it’s not the right time. Never reward this behavior.

Activity #2: Play the Bravery Game

Ground work builds your relationship with your horse. One fun groundwork activity is the “bravery game,” which teaches him to replace his flight response with a calm alternative.

This is a great skill to have when you’re on the trail. If your horse sees something that scares him, he’ll know that he’s brave enough to stop, turn, look, and draw closer to the scary object.

For this activity, you’ll work with your horse’s instinctive behavior. By nature, he’s investigative and curious. If he sees something new, and he’s unafraid, he may seek to touch the object with his muzzle and even lick it. Your horse is also instinctively a flight animal. However, he can’t act on both of these instincts at the same time.

Here’s how to replace your horse’s flight instinct with investigative behavior when confronted with a scary object.

Step 1. Find a novel item. Once a week or so, find a novel, noisy, visually stimulating item to present to your horse, such as a pinwheel, pom-pom, or plastic toy with moving parts. Place the item behind the barn or next to an out-of-the-way building, where it’ll surprise him.

Step 2. Lead your horse. Outfit your horse with a rope halter and training lead at least 12 feet long. Ask him to walk obediently beside you, stop, back up, etc. Then lead him past the item.

Step 3. Ask him to face the item. As soon as your horse sees the item, ask him to stop. If he moves, correct him with the lead rope. Then ask him to face the item.

Step 4. Praise him. As soon as your horse stops and faces the item, praise him with long strokes of your hand and with your voice. Such praise will calm him. Just relaxing near the novel stimulus will help eliminate his flight instinct.

Step 5. Ask for a step or two. If your horse stays calm, ask him to take a step or two toward the item, then ask him to stop again. If he stays put, praise him for his bravery. Continue to ask him to take one or two small steps forward, but don’t let him walk far. Stop him after he goes only a short way.

Step 6. Encourage investigative behavior. The moment your horse pricks his ears forward and shows forward interest, ask him to walk another step, then stop him again. Going slowly and stopping him piques his investigative instinct, and gives him a chance to take in the new stimulus. It also gives you a chance to praise him and help him to stay relaxed.

This activity is a game as well as a training session. It’s fun for your horse, because he wants to be told he’s good. He doesn’t like being afraid, so when you help him replace fear with bravery, he feels good.

The ultimate point in the game comes when your horse reaches out and touches the item with his muzzle. He wins! Praise him copiously with long strokes of your hand and your voice

If you only have five minutes, do a shorter version of this activity. Place a piece of noisy plastic in your pocket, then take it out, crinkle it, and show it to your horse. If he stays relaxed, praise him. If he becomes nervous, ask him to calm down and face the item.

You can also do the bravery game while you’re riding — even when your horse is accidentally startled. Simply follow the same steps you performed on the ground.

The more often you do this activity, the more often your horse will stop and look instead of thinking of bolting. He may still be startled, but he’ll learn to turn and look instead of taking off.

Activity #3: Ride With Friends

If you make small efforts to constantly improve your horsemanship, you’re horse will be happier, because you’ll learn how to better communicate with him. To keep on a regular schedule, set aside a dedicated time, and include your friends.

One way to do this is to start a once-per-month riding club. Rotate the leader who’ll prepare a lesson that’s fun and educational.

The leader needs to be aware of every member’s skill level so he or she can design exercises that are meaningful for all involved.

The leader will first show the rest of the group what to do. Then everyone else will follow. Afterward, you’ll all talk about what worked, what didn’t, and why.

If time is short, perform ground work, then hold a brief contest. For instance, see whose horse will ground-tie the longest. Give a fun prize to the winner. When you have time, serve after-lesson refreshments.

For more information on equine behavior and trail-riding tips, see Goodnight’s Guide to Great Trail Riding, with bonus DVD, available at Shop.JulieGoodnight.com

Trust Is A Two-Way Street

JulieGoodnight.com Logo

Trust is an elusive thing, both to give and to get. You cannot force or implore someone to trust you, you can only earn it. If you feel as though you have been wronged by someone else, unjustly criticized, punished or lied to, it’s really hard to give them your trust.

Lately, I’ve been working with a lot of people, in my clinics and in my Interactive Academy, who list developing trust from their horse as an important goal in their personal horsemanship journey. It is a good goal, maybe one of the best. Because a horse that trusts you and wants to please you will jump the moon if you ask him. But trust is a two way street.

Although the clients I work with don’t often state this goal (never that I can think of), I often find myself telling riders and handlers they need to develop trust in their horse. I know it’s hard to do, especially if the horse has done some scary stuff in the past, or when the rider/handler lacks confidence. But if you do not trust your horse, why would he trust you?

By and large, horses want to do the right thing. They are willing animals that seek out acceptance to the herd, respect the hierarchy and obey the rules (wait your turn, stay out of the boss’s way, be a good citizen of the herd). Horses recognize strong and fair leadership; they crave it more than anything else in life.

The greatest motivating factors in a horse’s behavior is to feel safe and comfortable. He feels safe knowing he is accepted into a herd, that there is a strong leader watching out for his safety, maintaining order, making good decisions. He gains comfort from having the security to rest, socialize and relax in peace even though the world is full of predators.

I want my horses to give themselves over to me completely and to trust me enough to follow me wherever I go and do whatever I ask. In exchange for that huge gift, I promise to be fair, make good decisions and trust him to do the job I ask without me second-guessing and doubting him. When it comes to trust, it has to be a two-way street.

Can Your Horse Trust You?

Horses can spot a strong leader a mile away, because in their minds, their very life depends on it. I always say, if horses could vote, we would not have the mess in Washington DC that we have today. It’s easy to fake leadership to humans, especially since our lives don’t depend on it—we are far too eager to believe the words coming out of the politician’s mouth, disregarding his actions and judgment. But you cannot fake leadership to a horse; your actions speak louder than your words.

A true ‘Alpha’ horse is propelled into the leadership role by the other members of the herd. I remember a leadership quote that reminds me of horses; “Leadership is borne from the needs of those who follow.” The leader of a horse herd is responsible for the safety of the herd, motivating the herd to flight when necessary, leading the herd to food and water and maintaining discipline within the herd. Horses worship their leader because she’s fair and consistent and gives them a sense of safety and comfort.

To lead, one must have good awareness of the environment, its hazards and its opportunities; plus have the ability to foresee and steer clear of danger. The leader defines and enforces the rules of the herd and disciplines unruly herd mates when necessary. A true alpha horse is not a bully; she’s strong and firm, but fair. I see people fall down on these obligations all the time, with little awareness that they are eroding their horse’s trust in them.

People are often on their own agenda and totally unaware of the environment, so they ask the horse to do things the horse perceives as dangerous, like passing between the wall of the arena and another horse. From the horse’s point of view, that’s highly dangerous, it could result in injury to him and if he questions the rider’s judgment, he gets punished for it. The erosion of your horse’s trust in your leadership ability begins with little things like this.

I’ve seen riders and handlers from the ground both, cueing a horse to back-up when the horse knows there’s a fence or another horse behind him. He perceives the danger of what they are asking of him and he starts to doubt their leadership ability. Same thing with circling and longeing in an arena with other horses—it’s quite easy to end up on a collision course with another horse but the human doesn’t see it. The horse does see it and now he’s pretty sure your judgment cannot be trusted anymore.

People get tunnel-vision and stuck on their own agenda and forget their responsibility to be aware of danger and make good decisions. Then we wonder why a horse challenges our authority and questions our leadership.

Sometimes riders give conflicting messages to horses that leave them not only questioning the rider but feeling confused and frustrated too. How many times does a person have to lie to you before you won’t trust anything coming out of his mouth? One of the saddest examples of this occurs when a reluctant rider asks the horse to canter, then at the moment the horse begins to canter, the rider freezes on the reins and the horse hits the bit hard. The horse feels like he’s been punished for doing the very thing he was asked to do (and he was) and the rider is left wondering why this stupid horse won’t go into the canter anymore.

The same contradiction occurs frequently when a rider asks the horse to go, then pulls him abruptly into a one-rein stop because he was going too fast. Riders are constantly asking horses to go more forward, then punishing him in the mouth when he does. Or asking the horse to turn or flex his neck to one side, then hitting him with the outside rein when he does. This starts feeling like a trap for the horse, not only eroding any trust he may have but also leading to an adversarial relationship.

If we can begin to think from the horse’s point of view and what makes sense to him, then it’s easier to see the mistakes you are making. If a horse is constantly challenging your authority, it’s likely he does not view you as the leader because you are not always acting like one. Rather than looking to change the horse, we must look within to see how we can change and be a better leader to the horse.

Can You Trust Your Horse?

I’m not saying horses are always perfect and never try to get away with anything, but for the most part, they are kind, generous, willing animals that want to be good citizens. But I’d be willing to bet that most everyone reading this article thinks of themselves that way too—a good solid citizen. Yet occasionally we drive a little over the speed limit, run a yellow light or call in sick to work because we want a play day.

Although horses occasionally try and get out of work, for the most part they are willing to do what we ask. Horses prove again and again that they are willing to let you ride them, willing to stop, go and turn when you ask. Any horse is capable of ditching the rider at any moment, yet they not only let us ride, but a horse that trusts you will try and jump the moon if you ask.

On a daily basis, I see riders taking a death-grip on the reins, micro-managing every move that the horse makes—asking him to go, then restricting his ability to move forward with the reins; asking him to turn, then impeding his ability to bend his neck with the outside rein. I see handlers from the ground so afraid the horse is going to leave that they are holding onto the horse’s face with a tight lead (or worse, clamping on the reins, putting his mouth in a vise grip). These are constant ongoing messages to the horse that you do not trust him one little bit.

When a rider/handler does not trust the horse to do the right thing and begins to micro-manage, it sets up a very bad dynamic that leads to frustration and aggravation from the horse and a co-dependency of behavior. An obedient horse goes in the direction the rider dictates and the speed the rider requests. He’s perfectly capable of maintaining whatever direction or speed the rider wants without constant interference. When the rider tries to hold the horse in a direction or hold the horse in a speed, it absolves the horse from any responsibility and tells him that you don’t trust him to do the right thing.

Once I’ve asked my horse to do something for me, I trust him to do it, I give him the freedom he needs and I let him do his job. I praise him and let him rest when he does it well. I correct him if he makes a mistake and ask him to try it again. But I never try to prevent him from making the mistake. If I ask the horse to trot and he misunderstands and takes a canter instead (because I was not clear), I don’t get mad or hold him tighter, I just clarify the cue, correct him and move on. Just like us, the horse learns from making mistakes. But the next time I ask, I have to trust him to do the right thing and let him do his job.

When the rider lacks confidence or has reason not to trust the horse (maybe the horse has bucked or spooked or done something to frighten the rider), it’s really hard to let go and give him the chance to do the right thing. But when the rider sends a constant message through the reins, through her posture and through her actions that she is afraid and thinks the horse is going to be bad, you can see how the horse might have a hard time accepting the rider as the leader.

On the other hand, it’s amazing how willingly a horse will follow your lead when you trust him and treat him as if you are 100% certain he will do as you ask. Horses are incredibly keen to your level of intention, determination and trust, be it high or low. When we doubt ourselves, the horse sees it and begins to question our leadership ability.  When you doubt the horse, he feels it and starts questioning if he really does have to do what you ask.

Think of it like raising children. We educate them and teach them how to follow the rules and make good decisions but at some point we have to give them the freedom to make their own decisions, right or wrong. By making mistakes, we learn to have better judgment. If you are afraid to trust your horse and you never give him a chance to do the right thing, he cannot learn from his mistakes and he is reliant on you forever to tell him what to do.

The End Game

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about developing trust in horses and it’s something I’ve worked hard for all of my life. I’ve made plenty of mistakes with horses—we all do—but realizing the mistake, owning it, and learning from it so that you never make that mistake again, is the important part. Realizing and understanding the mistake in the first place is the hard part. You have to know you are making a mistake before you can own it. On a daily basis, I see people making inadvertent mistakes with horses that they have no idea they are making.

Most anyone who has been around horses for very long comes to see that 99% of horse “problems” are rider-induced. Yet we as humans have a never-ending capacity to always blame the horse, “my horse has a problem with his canter leads.” Really? Last time I saw him running out in the field, he took the correct lead every single time. Maybe the problem is in your inability to communicate the lead you want to the horse.

When the rider understands that as the true leader, she is not only responsible for her own actions but also for the actions of those who follow her, then real progress can be made. What am I doing that is causing this response in my horse? How am I falling down on the job of leader and causing my horse not to trust me? If I can recognize my own mistakes and take responsibility for my own actions, not only will my horse trust me more, but my horsemanship will drastically improve too. When the rider/handler improves, the horse always gets better.

Horses Living Alone

Julie's herd

I first started riding horses more than half a century ago. I was a shy and introverted kid, so growing up on a small horse farm was like heaven to me. The horses in the pasture were the only friends I needed and I learned a lot about their herd life from my tree fort, in the shade of a towering live oak tree in our pasture—a favorite hangout of the herd on hot days.

That was way back in the day when kids were left free to climb any tree that was climbable and play outdoors without supervision, as long as you were home by 6:00 for dinner. It was also only a few decades removed, one generation really, from the time when horses were work animals—beast of burden, helping to pave the way to civilization.
The human relationship to horses was much different back then and I have seen my own philosophical outlook change through the decades, as horses have acclimated to new societal norms wherein horses fill a much different role in our society.

Just as our knowledge of human psychology, the brain and human behavior has grown exponentially in the last half century, so has the study of animal behavior evolved. It wasn’t long ago that behaviorists believed that animals did not feel pain and suffering, or that animals may share the same emotions as humans—like happy, sad, angry, bored or frustrated.

It’s only been in the last decade that some behaviorists have begun to accept the idea that animals can form friendships—defined as a reciprocal altruistic relationship between two animals of the same species that are not related by blood. A friendship based on, “I’ll get your back if you get mine,” or benefitting others at a cost to yourself. Not all species demonstrate this kind of relationship, but research has shown that horses do. This comes as no great surprise to anyone who has been around horses a lot.

Thirty years ago, if you asked me if it was okay to keep your horse at home alone, without the companionship of other horses, I would’ve said, “Sure, he’ll get used to it.” Today, my answer would be much different.

Horses are incredibly good at adapting to their environment and to changes in society. They are the most sensitive domesticated animal and the most easily DE-sensitized. They can adapt rapidly from a hot climate to a cold one; they can get used to the most disturbing stimuli in minutes. Over the millennium, their relationships with humans have evolved from a source of food, to transportation, to mechanisms of war, to sport, to entertainment, to items of luxury, to powerful tools of therapy.

Today, our use of horses is much different and our understanding is much greater. Plus, we have the undeniable luxury of not being reliant on our horses for surviving and thriving. We can afford more perspective on the horse’s well-being.
Indisputably, horses are herd animals. They get great comfort and security from the herd and they are very tactile animals—rubbing and massaging each other, nipping and biting, providing shade and tail swishing to each other.

Their herd behaviors are very distinctive and the structure of the herd is quite complex—rankings within the herd, cooperative behavior, bonding. Seeking acceptance into the herd is a huge instinctive drive of horses and banishment is the ultimate punishment. Simply put, horses are happiest in the herd, where they can touch other horses, push each other around and give each other comfort.

There’s safety in numbers and all horses know that. He feels safest when other horses surround him and he may only lie down to sleep if another horse remains standing. He relies on the senses of the other horses in the herd to help keep him safe, so that he does not have to be hyper-vigilant at every waking moment.

I’ve known horses that have adapted well to living alone. I’ve also seen horses that are frantic or severely depressed. Often, circumstances dictate the living arrangements for the horse and not ideals. Not all horses can run free 24/7 in belly-deep grass with a herd. Many horses are separated from the herd for their own health or well-being. Some may be separated because they are aggressive or dangerous. Often health and nutrition, as well as daily usage, means that our horses are separated part or most of the day.

Location and logistics sometimes limit the choices we have, but what most horses want is life in the herd. So how would I answer the aforementioned question today, about whether or not it is okay to keep your horse alone? I’d say, you owe it to him to provide some sort of 24/7 companionship, even it if cannot be another horse.

A companion horse is best—they share the same behaviors and motivations. An older horse that needs a home, an infirm horse that can’t be ridden, better yet, a friend’s horse that will share chores with you or off-set your costs. A miniature horse is perfect, since they don’t eat much, but the upfront cost may be high. A miniature donkey can fill the bill as well.

There are lots of options to fill the horse’s need to live in a herd and deciding what is right for you and your horse may be challenging. If all else fails, get a goat, a duck or a pig. I’ve even seen horses bond with barn cats, but a similar species is best.

Goats have long been used as companion animals for race horses that are kept in stalls. To help keep the racehorse calm in his isolated stall, you give him a goat for a roommate. The term, “Get your goat,” refers to the nasty trick of stealing your opponent’s goat the night before the big match race, thus leaving the horse frantically pacing all night and exhausted on the day of the race.

The biggest downside to horses living in the herd is their undying mission to stay with the herd. This is an instinctive behavior of horses, but highly inconvenient and sometimes downright irritating to us humans. Barn sour, herd-bound, tantrum throwing, nappy horses are a drag. Fortunately, not all horses are that bad.

To me, the ultimate honor my horse can bestow on me, comes with his willingness to leave the herd with me—happily and voluntarily. To do as I ask, take me where I want to go and respond to my signals, because I give him the same sense of safety and security he gets from the herd. To get that kind of relationship with your horse, you must give him fair and strong leadership, give him the comfort, the structure, the praise and the discipline he deserves. Once again, horses make us better people.

But in his free time, let him be with other horses as much as you can. As much as I want my horses to look up to me and work hard for me, I know I can never replace the contentment he gets from being a part of the herd.

Work Ethic: How Your Determination (And Your Horse’s Consistent Work) Leads To Dreams Fulfilled

A strong work ethic ensures an individual’s success—for both horses and humans. Whether you are bussing dishes or doing brain surgery, a good work ethic will make a difference in the rewards you reap and how far you will go in your career. For horses, it is no different.

Horses do better when they are gainfully employed and regularly worked—useful, fit, skilled and purposeful; healthy and gratified, they would even show up for work on their day off if you asked. Like humans, when horses are instilled with a strong work ethic from an early age, they strive to work hard and reap the rewards of a purposeful career and their individual talent is developed to its fullest potential.

I’ve never known anyone that was inherently lazy to be successful with horses—it’s a lot of hard work! If you have horses at home or have been in charge of a stable full of four-legged friends, you know that working with horses is a dusk to dawn, seven day a week job. Holidays don’t matter; horses still have to be fed.

The Human Drive

I’ve known the importance of a strong work ethic since I first started my career–over 30 years ago. The importance is magnified when you work for yourself. Working with horses is the only job I know of where you normally work six days a week–but you only get a day off if you pay someone to cover for you.

I first started into business as a young, independent trainer, starting with an initial capital investment of zero. I opened my doors with a dozen or so horses in my barn. Some were boarded, some in for full training, but they all had big mouths to feed. It was during that time that I worked the hardest—but also learned so much.

I was going through a ton of hay per week but I couldn’t afford to buy in bulk or get it delivered. So every Saturday I would coax a friend to come with me to help stack 30 bales precariously on my over-loaded truck, drive it back to the barn and unload it. I went through a lot of friends.

It was a year before I could afford to start buying hay by the semi-load and from that point forward, I vowed to always get my hay delivered and stacked, no matter how much more it cost– a promise to myself that I have kept. The horse business entails a lot of hard work, dedication and persistence but the rewards are great.

I am one of four siblings and all of us are blessed with strong work ethics. I’ve long known that a huge part of my success being self-employed, has to do with my work ethic and I’ve often wondered what is it about our upbringing or genetics that has led us all to this trait?  We were raised on a horse farm where we knew that lives depended on the chores we were assigned to do. We were taught from an early age that there was time for play, but that taking care of the animals came first.

Within the chores we had to do, we knew there were consequences for not doing the job correctly. If a gate was left open, horses were in danger of getting loose (and they did). If a gate that should have been open was closed, a horse may not have access to water (thankfully no one died).

We saw our own parents have dreams and business goals that they regularly tended and saw through to fruition. There’s no one parenting strategy I can point out, but I know a combination of teaching showed me that there was a benefit to my hard work. My parents taught us that we should love what we do and enjoy life to its fullest every day and that if we wanted something, no matter how far-fetched, it was within our power to make it happen, even though it may take a while. And that fairness and a sense of objectivity are very important in all matters.

As parents, we think about these things—how do you help a child learn a good work ethic in today’s culture of instant gratification and risk-averse attitudes? I believe teaching young humans about horses is one step we can take to keep the term “strong work ethic” in the vernacular. I am a huge fan of the “Time to Ride” initiative, http://timetoride.com/ designed to help introduce horses to the younger generations. Not only is it critical for the growth of our industry, but it is important to our youth because of the life skills that working with horses brings.

Horses and Work Ethic

While we as humans need to be dedicated to our horses and have a strong work ethic for our riding and horse goals to flourish, it’s also important to think of the horse’s work ethic. While horses definitely need turnout time to “just be horses,” I have found that most horses do better when they have regular and purposeful work.

In my long and varied career training horses, I have found that it is best to teach a work ethic when a horse is young, just like teaching a toddler to pick up his toys. A mature horse that has never been worked is a challenge to train– like training a 30 year old man, who had never had a job, cooked a meal or picked up his dirty clothes off the floor in his life to be a good husband. Sure, it’s possible, but brace yourself because you may be in for some resistance.

Learning a good work ethic starts with learning good manners and how to follow the rules—that you will be rewarded for compliance and that noncompliance will not be tolerated. This is kindergarten for horses. Well before a horse is started under-saddle, he should learn to respect authority, be careful not to infringe on his handler’s space and to look for the cues that tell him what he should do. As a yearling and 2 year old, he’ll also learn to stand and wait patiently while tied, knowing full-well that he could be there all day, so best make yourself comfortable. Patience and stick-to-it-ness is a virtue.

As the young horse progresses toward being ridden, at some point he must learn the cold, hard facts about working for a living—that sometimes he has to work when he doesn’t feel like it, to do what he’s told and to meet certain expectations that his job requires. But that he will always be rewarded for his efforts.

This is easily taught to the horse while doing ground work and the horse learns to go where you direct him without argument, at the speed you dictate, until you tell him to stop. I can teach this on the lead line in one session by setting rules and boundaries for the horse—you cannot get in front of me, you cannot crowd me with your shoulder, and you cannot drag behind me like an anchor. That there are rules I expect to be followed, ramifications if you don’t and comfort when you do. That it is your responsibility to know and follow the rules and I won’t remind you or count to three. Oddly enough, horses learn these things quickly and they take great comfort in knowing the rules.

When we advance to the round pen or circling on a long line, I’ll teach the horse that I expect a ‘yes mam’ response when I ask him to step out and that he should keep going until I ask him to stop. This is a critical stage in training a work ethic, both on the ground and in the saddle—a horse must learn that once I tell him to do something (like trot at this speed), he must continue on his own (without prodding, pleading or pedaling) until I give him the signal to stop. I run across horses every day in my clinics that have never learned this lesson (or actually been taught the opposite) and stop or take off whenever they want.

By nature, horses are an incredibly impulsive species. Take the flight response, for example—clearly a react-first, think-later behavior. Imagine if horses could do whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted while you were riding them. Lazy horses would go nowhere and do nothing. Energetic horses would go faster and faster. Nervous horses would spin and bolt whenever their fancy struck them. A cranky horse might kick or bite you just for getting in his way or break in two bucking at the slightest provocation.

 

Horses and Humans

No matter what their default behavior type, all horses can learn to work and it is critical to their success—be it a world champion or the best trail horse ever. Learning a good work ethic and that there are rules to follow, ramifications if we don’t and certain expectations of our behavior, is a critical stage of training in horses and humans both—best taught at an early age! It’s also about learning the great satisfaction and reward that comes with working hard and a job well done. Even if I have to stack a ton of hay again someday, I know I’d be satisfied when I was finished at the tightness of the stack and the good workout I got!

Why Are Horses So Spooky?

JulieGoodnight.com Logo

Question:

Why are horses so spooky?

Answer:

Before we can ever hope to understand, let alone control the movement of a horse, it is important to know the various behaviors that motivate a horse to move in the first place. Being a prey animal means the horse’s first reaction to danger is to run, hell bent for leather, away from the perceived threat. React first, think later.

Everyone knows that horses are flight animals; in fact, horses are the very definition of flighty and depend on this behavior for survival. What is often misunderstood about horses is, how deep the flight response goes in a horse’s nature and that every movement a horse is capable of and every step he takes has some significance. Everything about the horse is linked to its flight response. Crazy as it sounds, even their laziness is related to the flight response. By nature horses are generally lazy, for the sole purpose of preserving energy in case it is needed in flight. In the current trend of natural horsemanship, far too much is sometimes made of the predator-prey relationship, since horses, after all, have been domesticated for thousands of years and don’t really think of humans as carnivorous predators. However, it is important to understand that the prey instinct is the origin of the horse’s behavior as we know it today and it is what motivates their movement.

Horses are herd animals, again related to prey-dom, meaning their survival is dependent on the herd. There are safety in numbers. Herd behavior is another important motivating factor for a horse and is present in our everyday dealings with horses, more so than is often recognized. Again, every movement a horse makes has meaning and when given a choice, the horse will always move toward the protection of the herd. These are fundamental and deep layers of horse behavior and the subject could fill many volumes, but the one thing we can deal with here, is to develop an understanding of how we can control the movements of a horse in our presence.

The first thing to understand is that the horse feels safer when he is moving his feet, and the more nervous or uncertain he gets, the more he wants to move his feet. Yet there is nothing a horse likes better than to feel protected enough that he can snooze, standing or prone, knowing that the herd leader is watching out for his safety. The herd leader, a/k/a boss mare, is responsible for the safety of the herd and with a second’s notice, must be able to motivate the entire herd to flight. She earns the respect, admiration, obedience and, most importantly, attentiveness of the herd by dominating every move they make and by controlling the resources of the herd (you’ll recognize the boss mare easily, she’s the one standing in front of the water trough, playing in the fresh clean water and slowly sipping until she is satiated, while the rest of the herd stands in line, thirsty but patient, awaiting their turn in the pecking order). The boss mare controls the actions of each herd member through her body language. When her head is down in the grass and she is quietly munching, her herd mates will be relaxed. When her head comes up, ears prick forward and her muscles tighten, the rest of the herd knows to prepare for flight. They will follow her anywhere on her signal.

Just to make sure the horses all pay attention to her in times of stress, the boss mare will periodically push the herd individuals around a little so that they are in the habit of responding to her. When she directs her gaze at an individual flattens her ears and takes a step toward him, the subordinate horse knows to immediately move away. If they don’t respond quickly enough, she might leave some teeth marks on his rear end. Subordinate herd mates will quickly learn to watch the body language of their leader at all times and to respond without question to her movements.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have that kind of relationship with your horse? If you have the opportunity to observe a herd, you will learn to recognize the subtle communications that constantly occur. For instance, a frightened horse will elevate his head, tense his ears, stiffen his tail and hold his breath; all of these actions communicate an outside threat to the other horses and they will instantly act the same way and look in the same direction. A relaxed and safe horse will lower his head (the lower it goes the more relaxed he is), relax his ears, lick his lips, chew, drop his tail and take a deep sigh.

Horses communicate with their body language, with the head position, ear position, facial expressions, feet, tail, mouth and nose. Horses receive communication from us in the same way, whether we know it or not. The desired relationship between horse and human is that of a herd of two. According to the laws of the herd (the only rules horses really understand) the hierarchy is linear, meaning each and every individual of the herd is either dominate over or subordinate to each and every other individual. In your herd of two, your choice is clear: you must be the dominant member, the alpha individual, the “boss mare.” You must earn this respect, admiration and obedience by controlling the space of your horse and the “resources” of your herd (if your horse is frisking you for treats, HE is controlling the resources).

The first step in controlling your horse’s movement is to control your own body language. Your horse will notice your posture, eye contact, your foot movements, the elevation of your shoulders, the tone of your voice and the rhythm of your breathing. Be aware of the actions on your part and know that you are constantly communicating with your horse through your body language.

If your horse takes a step toward you and you back away, you have just told him he is in charge. If you get scared, tense your muscles and hold your breath, your horse will mirror your actions and instantly become frightened. All horses, no matter how high in the hierarchy, will gratefully accept the leadership of another individual, as long as the leader has demonstrated their commitment to controlling and protecting the herd.

For a horse to accept a human as leader, that human must be able to control the horse’s space and must never betray his trust by causing him fear or pain. Once they have accepted the individual (horse or human) as leader, they will be relaxed, compliant, obedient and happy. In natural horsemanship, we use ground work (round pen and lead-line) to control the horse’s space so that he becomes subordinate.

Beyond just controlling his space, we learn to communicate with the horse through our body language, to develop a strong bond and trust between leader and follower. The horse must be treated firmly but with kindness and above all, your interactions with the horse must be consistent so that he can learn to trust them. This kind of relationship with the horse is the ideal, but one that many horsemen find illusive.

To have a horse that is happy, respectful and obedient, who willingly does whatever you ask and responds to your most subtle cues, you must first become his leader and earn his respect. Learn to control your horse’s space and communicate with your own body language in a way that he understands, and you will not only earn his respect, but admiration as well.

–Julie Goodnight, Clinician and Trainer

Establishing Dominance

JulieGoodnight.com Logo

Question:
I tend to be a big softy when it comes to dealing with my horse. Now I have created a horse that knows this and takes advantage of me, especially when doing groundwork. He pushes me and tries to pull me when I am leading. He does not do this to my husband, so I know he accepts him as the leader, but not me. What are your suggestions?

Thanks,

Pushed Over

Answer:
Dear Pushed Over,

I can tell you already know what the cause of your problem is: you have indulged your horse and through your lack of leadership he has become increasingly rude and thinks he is the boss of you. This is natural horse behavior in its finest and purest sense. And the solution involves natural horsemanship, and its logical and sensible approach. Natural horsemanship is simply knowing and understanding the horse’s natural behavior and using that information to train him in a language that he understands.

Horses are very communicative animals, communicating largely with non-audible language. The horse uses sign language with every part of his body: head elevation, ear position, nostril and mouth gestures, nose movements, front feet, hind feet, tail position, plus a few distinctive audible calls. It is an intricate language and a very distinctive one; once you can learn to ‘read’ the horse, you can understand his emotions, motivations and behaviors.

Horses are also very physical in their communications within the herd and even the most novice of horse people can watch any herd of three or more horses and see the bossiness, pushing, shoving, kicking and screaming that goes on in the herd. Horses are very demonstrative and make their emotions, directives and intentions known.

Horses are also very happy, serene and obedient in the herd when there is a kind but strict benevolent leader in the herd. That’s your job in your herd of two. They are also instinctively gregarious animals and they yearn to be with a herd mate that makes them feel safe, secure and comfortable; not unlike humans. It is your job as herd leader to make your horse feel safe, secure and comfortable, but you’ll never get there by indulging and babying your horse.

Only two factors are involved: resources and space. The resources of the herd are anything that the herd values, such as food, water, shelter, and companionship. The dominant horse always has first access to the resources; therefore one of the easiest ways to determine the pecking order of a herd is to throw some feed out and look for the sharks.

The second factor in establishing dominance is spatial. Spatial issues are constantly at work within the herd setting. The dominant horse controls the space of the subordinate horse. A subordinate horse would never think of invading the space of its superior; if he did, he would probably lose some hair and possibly some skin over the deal. In NH, we strive to be a kind and benevolent leader for our horse. This involves setting parameters and ground rules and giving fair and consistent leadership to the horse. Spoiling, pampering and coddling the horse will only lead the horse to disrespect you and search elsewhere for leadership.

If you are interested in improving your leadership to the horse, with the added bonus of teaching your horse good ground manners, to respect you and want to please you, you must learn to set boundaries and enforce good behavior. There are articles on my website about doing this kind of ground work with horses and my DVD on Lead Line Leadership available at http://www.juliegoodnight.com/products.html explains this process in an easy to understand, step-by-step process, showing three totally different horses move through the process.

The good news is that it is never too late to make a change and with the right approach, your horse will turn around immediately. If you get educated and learn to treat your horse as the herd leader (I know it sounds very cliché, but it is true), you will have the relationship with the horse that you want. Besides, doing groundwork is fun and rewarding!

Take the first step, make a change and you will be rewarded by your horse. Good luck!

Julie Goodnight, Clinician and Trainer

Nurturing The Try In Your Horse

JulieGoodnight.com Logo

I have lived with and worked with horses for more than half a century. And the older I get, the more appreciation I have for horses and their willingness, generosity and ability to forgive. It never ceases to amaze me how they tolerate some of the crazy things we humans do and how they will keep on trying to please.

Over the decades, I have learned that horses thrive on structure, consistency, praise and discipline. They crave leadership and authority and they feel safe and content in its presence. Leadership is very black and white to a horse and he knows it when he sees it. There is no faking leadership to a horse.

In domestic herds, groups of horses that are forced together, sometimes there are unqualified horses in the alpha role and the other horses know it—they agree to the terms, but do not have respect or admiration for the stand-in. Being a bully does not make you a leader and although a more subordinate horse will defer to the space of a more aggressive herdmate, he does not respect the bully as his leader and certainly does not like him.

A true herd leader is not a bully, but is willing to dish out discipline when it is needed. The true leader of the herd is responsible for the herd’s safety and for insuring that all the herdmates are good citizens of the herd—sometimes that means disciplining an unruly horse.

Horses recognize true leadership—fairness, courage, authority, confidence, intelligence, honesty, responsibility. When horses find a true leader, they have the highest respect and deference for and come to worship the ground their leader walks on. They trust and want to be with their leader and are always on the lookout for ways to please—to stay in the good graces of the one in charge.

To me, this is the ideal relationship to have with a horse and it makes me a much better and stronger person to live up to the ideals of my horse. When your horse thinks of you as the supreme leader, he will go anywhere with you, trusting you to look out for his well-being, having faith in your decisions and knowing you have his best interest in mind. He will work hard to please you and will get his feelings hurt if he thinks you are unhappy with him. But that attitude comes at a price—you have to earn it– and it is easily lost if you fall down on the job.

Once your horse recognizes the qualities of a true leader in you, it means that he trusts you to be fair, consistent and protect him from anything that could hurt him. That trust can be lost in an instant by asking the horse to do something that causes him to get hurt or frightened. This is an important obligation of the leader and should never be overlooked.

Horses are herd animals and as such, are instinctively drawn to the herd; but membership into any herd is not a guarantee. In the domestic setting, a new horse introduced an existing herd will automatically be shunned and treated harshly, as if to say, “We do not want you—go away!” Once the new horse shows a certain amount of contrition and a willingness to respect the hierarchy of the herd, he will be allowed provisional membership. But he is treading on thin ice and knows that if he is not on his best behavior, he could be once again banished from the herd.

Acceptance into a herd means that you are willing to abide by the rules of the herd and be a good citizen to the herd. Horses are very good at learning and following rules and as long as rules are clearly defined and consistently enforced, horses will follow the rules religiously.

There are many important lessons for us to learn from life in the horse herd. To be accepted as the leader, you have to establish authority right away and not worry about being liked—that will come later. You have to take charge, establish the rules and demonstrate your willingness to enforce them. Then your horse will come to accept your authority, feel safe in your presence and be eager to please you.

You cannot bribe or pamper your horse into thinking of you as a leader. That is not within his frame of reference. If you start out your relationship by begging him to be your friend, you automatically put yourself in the subordinate position. Horses crave authority, not pandering.

If you are the leader in your herd of two—you and your horse—then it is up to you to set and enforce the rules. Always. You lead—he follows. If your leadership skills are inadequate, your horse will step into the leadership role and start making all the decisions, like where you both go and how fast you get there. In that case, sooner or later, your horse will make a decision you don’t agree with.

It is a hard thing for some people to accept, but horses thrive off both praise and discipline; he gets a lot more of the latter in the herd. Praise is only meaningful to the horse if he has earned it and if he thinks of you as his leader and someone he wants to please. And without discipline, rules have no meaning and the horse will not make an effort to please you. If there are no rules, there is no leadership.

Discipline and praise go together and the horse needs both. If you constantly shower praise on a horse, without him making any effort to earn it, why should he keep trying to please you?

Your horse needs to know when you are pleased with him and know when you are not. Often just a stern word is all it takes, especially when the horse has an attitude of wanting to please you. But just like a child, the horse needs structure and rules to follow and ramifications to be meted out if he disobeys a rule. Otherwise, you end up with a very unpleasant animal—whether it is two-legged or four.

All of my horses, selected by me largely for their temperaments, fall into the category of very willing and eager to please. That does not mean that they are always perfect, never make mistakes or never misbehave. Since humans have been breeding horses more for pleasure and recreation than for beasts of burden for nearly a century, as a rule, horses are much better tempered than they used to be.

But this eager and willing attitude can turn into the likes of a tantrumming toddler in the presence of inadequate leadership. Recognizing when a horse is trying his best, when he is goofing off and when he is blatantly breaking the rules, is the first step in nurturing the “try” in your horse.

When I issue a directive to a horse, it is not his actual response or performance that matters—it is the effort he makes to do the right thing. If he tries, he gets rewarded and praised. If he doesn’t, he gets scolded and put immediately back to work. He doesn’t have to be brilliant, but he does have to make an effort.

Although praise is a great motivator for horses and scolding is a great dissuader, the best motivator of all for horses is comfort. When my horse puts out a good effort in response to something I have asked him to do, I always acknowledge it by whispering sweet-nothings to him, rubbing him on the withers and leaving him alone for a moment to let him rest and think about how good it feels to be a good horse. When he cheats me or doesn’t try hard enough, I put him immediately back to work. When he makes an exceptional effort, I might just stop what I am doing and immediately put him away.

Equine behaviorists have long known that safety and comfort are the greatest motivating factors of a horse’s behavior. Often people are surprised to learn that it is not food, as it is with dogs. Horses can find the food on their own—they don’t need a leader for that.

Horses only feel safe in the presence of a strong and committed leader who is fair, in-control and makes all the important decisions. Horses are comfortable when they are allowed to take it easy and have the satisfaction of feeling appreciated. Pampering, indulgence and a lack of rules and structure can turn a good horse bad in a matter of hours.

If you watch for and acknowledge the try in your horse—his effort to do the right thing or to please you– and recognize and reprimand when he is disobedient or distracted, he will work hard to stay on your good side and he will feel safe and content to be with you and to do your bidding.

All the money in the world cannot buy this kind of respect and devotion from a horse—you have to earn it by being a strong leader and recognizing your horse’s effort, be it good or bad. This is a tall order—that’s why horses make us better people.

Enjoy the ride,
Julie

Overcoming Fear: Instilling Confidence In Young Riders

JulieGoodnight.com Logo

Question: I need advice for my daughter and her horse. My daughter is 10 years old and very interested in riding, however she lacks confidence in riding. Her horse has come to figure this out. Cheyenne is a very sweet and gentle horse and a tad bit on the lazy side. I would like to find out information or suggestions on how to teach my daughter to win her horse’s respect and have him respond to her commands. When she asks him to walk he refuses. He cocks his back leg and stands there no matter what she does. Also once she does get him to move he begins to pull her in the wrong direction and when she tries to bring him back he resists her. When I ride him he does perfectly. What can I do to help her? She is very frustrated and so am I.

Answer: Horses are herd animals and the social structure within the herd is known as a “linear hierarchy.” The definition of a linear hierarchy is that each individual in the herd is either subordinate to or dominant over every other individual in the herd. Since this is the only way that horses know to act, it is also how they relate to their human herd members. We need to think of the horse and its rider as a herd of two. So we have a choice, we can either be the dominant member (or the leader) or the subordinate member (the follower). There is no equality in a horse herd.

Clearly, in the case of your daughter’s horse, she is subordinate to the horse, while you are dominant over the horse. The horse has already made up his mind that this is the way it is and there have probably been countless little things that has lead the horse to this conclusion. So how do we change this? Well, I can think of a few options.

Only your daughter will be able to step forward and take the leadership role with her horse. You riding the horse will not affect the relationship between horse and daughter, as clearly the horse does not question your authority. I do not recommend that your daughter take an aggressive approach (do this or else), because in the situation where the rider has a history of being subordinate, a challenge could prompt the horse to be fractious and start bucking or worse. Instead, your daughter needs to get inside the horse’s mind and learn to control ALL of his actions.

First, your daughter will need to make up her mind to resolve this situation and accept the fact that it may take some time. She will need to have a assertive, but patient attitude. I recommend that she address the issue of respect on the ground first. She needs to have a sense of awareness of her horse and she must take control of every move he makes. That means, when he is tied to the hitch rail, he should stand exactly where she told him to. If he steps sideways or back or forward, she should gently but firmly put his feet exactly back in the spot that she first asked him to stand. The horse should learn to respect her space and yield to it. She should be able to walk, trot and halt the horse at halter, back him up and disengage his hindquarters (make him cross his hind legs). All of these are examples of controlling the horse’s space and when the horse does these things without question, he is respecting her leadership authority. Disengaging the hindquarters is really important both on the ground and mounted, because it forces the horse into a subordinate frame of mind. When his hind legs are crossed, his number one line of defense (flight) is taken away from him, so subconsciously he becomes more dependent.

Your daughter must learn to only ask what she can enforce and ALWAYS enforce what she asked the horse to do. So for now, that probably means backing up and enforcing her control in areas where she can be successful. So often, I see people ask something of their horse, lets say to turn right, and the horse resists and refuses, so the rider caves in and lets the horse turn left. The rider thinks that she is winning because she got the horse where she wanted it by circling it all the way around to the left. But the horse sees it differently. He does not have the capability to realize that the rider got him where she wanted anyway. All the horse knows is that he didn’t want to turn right, he wanted to go left and if he refuses, the rider will cave into his wishes. To us humans, these little battles seem unimportant, but to the horse, the littlest things have big meaning.

Every time the horse gets his way, he scores a point and is further convinced in his mind that he is in charge. It sounds like your daughter’s horse has scored a lot of points. What your daughter will have to understand and commit to is that she has a lot of points to score, before she pulls ahead. She needs to realize that the tiniest things count toward this score: the horse moving around at the hitching rail, not trotting on the lead line, the horse taking a step toward the person, the horse nudging the person with his head, taking one step off the rail in the arena, or not going when asked. The rider that is dominant and in control is the one that controls every movement the horse makes. The more she can make this horse yield to her, the more points she will score. But start small and build up to the big issues. If she can gain some respect from the ground, it may be a little easier for her.

To address the specific problem in the arena, your daughter should look for the areas that she is still in control and focus on those and reward the horse when he responds. If the horse is balking, the issue is to get his feet moving. Usually the easiest way to do this is to turn him in a tight circle (this has the added advantage of disengaging the hindquarters). Be sure to reward him when he responds (even if he responds reluctantly) and immediately take control of the situation. How? As soon as she gets the horse to move, she should ask him to stop. Why? By doing this she has accomplished two things: she has rewarded his response by asking him to stop (which is what he wanted to do), but more importantly she has taken control by issuing a command and getting a response. It does not matter that the horse wanted to stop anyway, because he stopped on her request, not his. By successfully getting a response to a command, she puts the horse in a responsive frame of mind. So, she will get the horse to move (by turning a tight circle if she has to) and once the horse has taken a few steps, ask him to stop and reward him with a pat on the neck and leaving him alone for a few minutes, then ask again. Initially, when the horse had responded a few times, find a good stopping point and put him away. Gradually build on what she asks the horse to do.

It is critical that once she has asked something of the horse that she insists upon his response. This does not mean that you kick or hit harder and harder, but that you continue to apply the aids until the horse responds. Sometimes children do not have the strength to keep legging the horse until he moves and the horse learns that the rider will get tired and give up before he does. If this is the case, she might need a stick or spurs. HOWEVER, use these artificial aids with caution because this could drive the dominant horse to more drastic and fractious responses. Whatever aids she is using to make the horse go (and it should be all of the aids), she should continue to apply them until the horse goes. Not necessarily harder and harder, but with persistence. Eventually, the horse will learn that the only way to make that annoying action go away is to move forward.

A couple of more thoughts, if you or your daughter feed treats to this horse, stop immediately. Chances are, the horse has become demanding and rude and this has contributed to his dominance. When horses are subordinate (whether to you or another herd member), they will always yield to the space of the dominant individual. When people feed treats, the horse learns to move into the space of the person and thus you are yielding to his space, therefore he is dominant. Every treat that is fed, reinforces his dominance.

And now having said that, I have one more thought that seemingly contradicts what I just said. There is a form of training called “clicker training” that is being used on horses although it was originally developed to train marine mammals. It uses a clicking device as reinforcement and the first step is to make the horse associate the clicker with positive reinforcement (grain). Then, just like in Pavlov’s Response, every time the horse hears the clicker, he associates it with good thoughts (grain) and knows he is doing the right thing. I have seen this training method used specifically in the same situation that your daughter is in, with good success. So it might be worth looking into. You would have to do the clicker training and then would be able to use the clicker to control the horse’s mind while your daughter is up. The clicker and grain reinforcer just gives the horse a different motivation for doing the right thing.

My personal preference would be for your daughter to establish herself as the leader of their herd of two by doing the groundwork and gaining her horse’s respect. But the clicker method might be worth looking into.

Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.

What’s The Difference In Longeing And Lead Line Circling?

JulieGoodnight.com Logo

Question: Julie,

I purchased your DVD, Lead Line Leadership and I have been searching your library and need some basic clarification. What is the difference in lead line circling (from Lead Line Leadership) and longeing? What/when is an appropriate use of each and can you please include what is the proper equipment for each?

Thanks,
G

Answer: Good question! This is a subject I talk about at every groundwork clinic that I do, but I have not written much on the subject. So thanks for asking!

There are actually three kinds of circling work that you might do from the ground with horses—each for different purposes and with different technique and equipment. There’s round pen work, done with the horse at liberty in a confined area, for the purpose of establishing herd hierarchy between you and your horse and getting the horse to “hook on” to you. Then there’s circling work done on a training lead (12-15’ lead line) as is covered in the video you mentioned, for the purposes of refining your relationship and developing a line of communication with the horse. And also, there is longe line work , done on a 25’ or longer light line, primarily for the purpose of exercising or conditioning the horse or for training purposes such as bitting, teaching voice commands or working on transitions; or for performance ends, such as vaulting or longe line obedience competitions.

For round pen work, the equipment needed includes a small area of confinement with a high, sturdy and safe fence to discourage the horse from trying to jump out and to protect his legs if he gets them tangled up in the fence. The purpose of the confinement is to simply level the playing field between you and your horse, so you aren’t chasing him over 40 acres; it doesn’t really have to be round, it’s just easier if it is (otherwise he constantly gets hung up in the corners as you are driving him around). A 60’ pen is ideal for groundwork and allows just enough room to ride the horse at a walk and trot as well. A smaller pen of 50’ makes the circling work easier for you but harder on the horse and it may get a little crowded if the horse cops an attitude (and it’s too small to ride in effectively).

For round pen work, the horse should be at liberty (no halter, lead or bridle) and the handler should have a flag or stick or lariat in hand in order to direct the horse and defend himself if the horse should become aggressive or charge. Ideally the horse should wear protective leg boots, like splint boots or sports medicine boots, to protect the legs in hard turns and accidental collision with the fence. It’s also not a bad idea to wear a helmet when doing ground work with horses since it is not only possible, but likely that the horse will kick out, strike or become defensive.
As demonstrated in detail in my groundwork video called Round Pen Reasoning, the round pen process involves herding the horse, controlling his space and thereby establishing authority over the horse. It is accomplished in five stages: driving the horse away, controlling his direction with outside turns, controlling his speed, changing directions with inside turns and allowing the horse to hook-on to you as his herd leader.
Lead line work is also done in part on the circle, driving your horse away from you in a fashion similar to longeing—but for different reasons. With lead line circling, your goal is to refine the relationship with the horse that was begun in the round pen; to not only assert greater authority over the horse, but to establish a line of communication where the horse is focused on you and looking for each and every directive you issue. For lead line circling, you’ll also drive the horse in a circle, control his speed and do lots of changes of direction using subtle gestures. It has nothing to do with exercising or tiring the horse; it has to do entirely with relationship building and communicating—once you get the response you want from the horse, your job is done, regardless how much time it took or how many circles you made.

The ideal equipment for lead line circling is a rope halter and 12-15’ training lead. My halters and leads are specially designed for this type of work, with the halters made of a high-tensile and slightly stiff rope of moderate diameter (the narrower the rope, the harsher the pressure) that does not stretch. My training leads are made with a heavy yacht rope that is pliable and comfortable in your hands and heavy enough to give good feel between you and your horse. I prefer not to have a metal buckle attachment to the halter since it may bruise the horse’s chin if the rope is jerked hard. The handler should also have a flag or stick to direct the horse and prevent him from coming close enough to kick or strike you. The same protective equipment for you and your horse as outlined for round pen work is well advised. My video, Lead Line Leadership, explains the different exercises you can do on the lead line, including circling work.

Longeing is more simplistic and has more to do with the number or circles your horse makes and the distance he travels. You’ll probably want to use a halter that maximizes the horse’s comfort, like a padded nylon-web or leather halter or a longeing cavesson, with or without a bit in his mouth (depending on your purpose for longeing). A longe line is usually light weight and 25-30’ long to allow the horse to make the largest circle possible, thereby covering more distance and reducing the stress on his joints. A longe whip is generally used by the longeur to help cue and motivate the horse; it is extra long and has a long lash. Although a horse that is properly trained to longe will respond to visual and audible cues from the longeur, there is not as much dialogue or relationship-building between horse and longeur as there is with round pen and lead line work.

With my extensive travel schedule, I don’t get as much ride time on my horse as I’d like and therefore he gets longed each day, simply for the exercise—so he stays in reasonable shape for me to ride when I am home. He is well-mannered and obedient and does not need the ground work for relationship purposes; even if he has not been ridden in a very long time, I would not feel the need to longe him to “get the kinks out,” as many people do. I am not a big believer in longeing for that purpose, because I think it could be an indication that more ground work is needed to bring the horse into a more obedient and compliant frame of mind. Although having excess energy could be a reason for a horse to feel exuberant or energetic, it is not an excuse for disobedience.

There are numerous articles in my training library that relate to the different ground work techniques and specific issues that arise. Thanks for your astute question—it is always wise to think about why you are doing certain things. The more you understand, the greater the chances for success.

Good luck!
Julie

Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent. Backlinks are allowed.