Before you start, it will be very beneficial to figure out what kind of horse you are working with. Knowing this will determine where you start because it makes a difference even when you are just going to hang out with them.
If you have a horse that tends to be pushy and wants to be close to you in a detrimental way, we’d like to get them to where they prefer to stay away from us (Don’t worry, this will not ruin the connection you are going to be building).
If you have a horse that tends to ignore or want to stay away from you, we’d like to get them to where they want to hang out with us.
This is all about the draw/drive balance. If you had 100% drive, as soon as your horse saw you from a distance, they’d run away. If you had 100% draw, as soon as your horse saw you, they’d run up to you, into you and possibly over you. This is a sub-optimal interaction when dealing with an animal 10x your size.
We’d actually prefer to have a horse that doesn’t want to be anywhere near you than one that wants to run over you. Horses are prey animals and it is perfectly normal for them to wish to maintain a distance from a predator and totally abnormal to want to run up to and push into a predator. So if your horse doesn’t want to be anywhere near you, that’s perfectly normal horse behavior. If you can’t get your horse off of you, then an integral part of what makes a horse a horse, is missing.
In a herd of horses, the only horse who is allowed to lean physically on another horse is the foal who is allowed to lean on his mother. Other members of the herd will allow the foal to have less awareness of their personal space until it becomes weaning time. Then the mother (and the others) will start to make the foal aware of their space and this is actually a part of the mental & emotional maturation process of the foal, and is a concept ethologist Lucy Rees calls “Collision Avoidance”. We have seen many horses that are led by humans in a way that allows the horse to push their shoulder into the person while being led (similar to how the foal will push into the mother) and not only does this condone this juvenile behavior, but also is the cause of a lot of other juvenile behaviors that people wish to solve.
Not only does Collision Avoidance help horses to be more self aware and self confident, it’s what allows a herd of horses to move together without jostling each other, like a flock of birds or a school of fish. They want to stick together without running into each other, which I imagine is about a 50% draw and 50% drive ratio. As mentioned earlier, this is the goal, but not usually the starting point for most people, as they are dealing with one that wants to be too close, or one that wants to be too far away.
You will learn about Collision Avoidance in this course – it is made up of Leading With Energy and Focus & Bend exercises.
The exercise I reference in this video will be the first one you try – but not today! We still have some other things to figure out before you go out with your horse.
A reminder how to use this course: click on Mark Complete below and you will be taken to the next topic.