REV.: 8/10/12

KBR Horse Training Information

Exercising Body AND Mind

Behavioral Factors when Training Feral, Unhandled and Problem Horses

A little riding au natural on Teego
Horses are social animals. They are naturally drawn to other animals that they don't fear. Horses can become close friends with goats, dogs, cats even a chicken. The horse will generally accept the presence of the human who makes a concerted effort to be non-threatening. Once accepted, a careful handler will trigger the horse's curiosity, the horse will check out the handler and record the handler as being either "OK" or "NOT OK". Thus it is not so strange that a horse and human can become friends.

When your new horse arrives he has a strong instinct to join a new herd. In the wild the new arrival will usually be challenged by one of the more dominant horses in the herd who keeps him at a distance. Eventually one of the lesser ranked horses will check out the newcomer and they may become sympathetic pairs.

Horses derive social pleasure from such things as ambling around together and reciprocal grooming. Hand walking and brushing by the human emulates to a great degree the social activity between "friends" in a herd.

You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours... A sympathetic pair engaged in some reciprocal grooming

This relationship becomes important when the handler and the new horse explore his new world. Most horses are intensely curious and so long as the handler isn't dragging him around, the new horse should enjoy this "learning" process and he should adjust to new things relatively quickly. I don't mean to say he won't spook when something surprises him, but he will be less likely to lose control of his emotions since his confidence in his human companion and himself will be high.

The "introducing" of the horse to new things and new people helps place the handler in the role of "mentor". Before long, the horse should be able to read the handler's emotions pretty well. If the handler appears relatively unconcerned but curious about how the horse will accept some new thing, the horse will likely be less concerned and more curious. If someone or something around the barn annoys or upsets the handler, the horse may likely adopt that attitude toward the object, person (etc.) also.

We call this portion of gentling "emotional grounding," since the handler, who is more familiar with the environment, will be laying the foundation as to how the horse is going to cope with his new surroundings.

CJ showing young Scooter "the ropes".
Within a couple of days CJ had shown Scooter everything on the ranch.
Emotional grounding pays dividends for a long time. This is Corey, a mustang, on his first trail ride - relaxed and enjoying himself.

Horse herds have specific social orders, otherwise there would be chaos in the natural equine environment. Thus, every horse has a scorecard and ranks every other "horse" in his social circle. This is important since if Leader #1 disappears for some reason, Leader #2 needs to quickly take over without a string of arguments ensuing among all the horses as to who is now in charge. Horses are generally comfortable being around superior beings as it is less work to be a follower than it is a leader. However in the absence of recognizable leadership, the horse's instincts will drive him to take control. It should be noted that selecting social buddies, the creation of "sympathetic pairs" and the ranking of horses as leaders are altogether independent issues.

The trainer, who may be different than the owner or adopter or handler, must establish himself as a higher ranking individual in the herd order than the horse which he is training. While he may otherwise be able to "make" the horse do something, it will be accomplished with some degree of reluctance or perhaps out of fear. In order to get the horse to respond, the handler has to first earn the horse's respect. (How to accomplish this is discussed later.)

Most horses instinctively test the social order on a regular basis to see where they stand. Much of the time these tests will be subtle. If the owner or trainer develops good, steady leadership skills, these tests will never amount to much. If the handler is not consistent in his leadership "appearance," these tests may manifest themselves in refusals, crowding one's "space," nipping and other annoying habits to which the handler will have to turn up his "domination volume" in order to reestablish his former stature and position in the "herd".
Horses can carry on multiple relationships at the same time.
With their herd leaders on their backs, they can still share a moment of reciprocal grooming

As the horse views the various humans in his world, he may score some of them highly on the leadership scale, but not appreciate them as much as his reciprocal buddy, or with the scorecards reversed, the horse could view the human as a walking carrot dispenser who brings pleasure but deserves no respect. Obviously the human who scores low on both counts is in for a hard time and the human who can top the charts as both a leader and buddy should find the going comparatively easy.

Continue to Part 2; How to establish yourself as a leader

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