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Ryan Gingerich - Ask the Behaviorist: My Horse Keeps Crowding Me!

May 4, 2009
Ryan Gingerich.
Ryan Gingerich.

QUESTION: How can I get my horse to stay back out of my space when I’m standing beside him and have hold of his lead rope? Sometimes I just want to stop and talk to a friend while leading my horse from the barn, but when I do, my horse moves into my space and crowds me. Occasionally, he’ll even push his nose against me. I suppose I’m not very good at disciplining him, but I just hate to hit my horse. Do you have any ideas for me?

ANSWER: First and foremost, don’t hit your horse; that’s not going to solve anything. You don’t want your horse to be afraid of you. That will ultimately cause other bad behaviors to pop up.

When the horse gets into your space, it’s not a matter of disrespect — it’s a lack of training. Some trainers use the term “disrespectful” (an anthropomorphic reference) which they then think gives them license to be aggressive with the horse, often causing the horse pain, fear, and anxiety.

I’d rather view this issue of the horse crowding you as a learned response and that we simply need to train him to not do that!

Training
Put a halter on your horse and attach a leadline. Make sure you’re using a regular web halter, not a rope halter. Rope halters cause pain to the horse’s face and the poll, which are very sensitive areas on the horse. Also, a lot of rope halters fit poorly, which can cause miscommunication when you’re trying to cue the horse. Rope halters are also fairly dangerous and very painful if the horse pulls back while tied. There are a lot of different reasons why I don’t use rope halters, but that’s for another discussion.

You’ll need to teach your horse to get out of your space: to back up, go forward, and to stop on cue with the halter and lead rope. To get him to stop, take the lead rope and put pressure on it toward the point of the horse’s shoulder. Ask the horse to step back and stand still (this is part of my basic program; details can be found on my DVDs). If the horse comes forward without your asking him to do so, simply ask him to step back again by putting backward pressure on the lead rope.

Continue practicing this on both the right and left side of the horse. If he moves his hips left or right, get him to stand square and not move. (In my DVDs, there are specific exercises, like the “connection clock” where you get the horse to move forward and back and also on the diagonals.) This will help you get more control over the horse’s feet so that when you ask him to back, he backs immediately.

How the horse backs is important, too, because you don’t want him to push his nose out and brace against the halter pressure. He needs to back with lightness, so that when you add pressure to the halter you get a light and immediate response, not a delayed response.

Continue with this process, moving him forward and back, forward and back, until he moves with very little pressure.

Now work on leading your horse forward. He should only move when there is pressure on the halter; he shouldn’t move just because you’re moving. Teaching your horse to move from your body language is often confusing to the horse and may lead to other behavioral issues. It’s much easier and much clearer to the horse if he only moves when asked from direct pressure. So, until you actually cue him to move forward, he should stand still, even if you walk a few steps ahead of him.

So, to sum this up: Don’t hit your horse. Teach your horse to move forward and backward from direct pressure and to also stand still. Don’t allow the horse to move as a response to your body language. The horse should only move when direct pressure is applied.

From boyhood on his grandfather’s farm to his first job as an equine trail guide, Ryan Gingerich had a special relationship with horses. His desire to make horses his life’s work led him to complete a national horse training certification program, and then study with one of the world’s top equine behaviorists. Years of further study helped Ryan, who is now deemed “The Behaviorist,” to develop his own training program, Connective Horsemanship. At his National Equine Behavior Center in Missouri, Ryan continues to hone and expand his knowledge, which he shares weekly on his RFD-TV show. When not at home, Ryan travels the country, helping owners and their behaviorally-challenged horses. Visit Ryan’s Web site at www.ryangingerich.com.