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Article #3:  Don’t Forget the Ground Manners!

by Wil & Beverly Howe

Equestrian Connection, 1988


   "A good attitude developed in a horse through proper ground work must be established first for better results when riding."

   It is a simple but very important theory of basic horsemanship. In understanding your horses more fully and keeping the perspective of your role as the leader, you must be kind but firm.

   We are all trainers when we handle our horses. They learn and pick up behavioral habits from what we condition them to, right or wrong. A person can make a mellow horse uneasy and jittery or a nervous horse calm, just by their actions. Horses can be very sensitive to one’s vibrations. A person’s hidden fears of a horse often cause a horse to act up, while an uninhibited and confident individual can instill a calmness in the same horse.

   There are three basic ways horses will respond when we attempt to gain their control and respect:

  1. Resistant respect with an element of fear when forced.

  2. Resistance with no respect when coaxed.

  3. Respect without fear or resistance--our behavioral goal.

   From here we can develop and nurture the trust it takes to communicate well. This type of response can be attained through a consistent give and take method, offering an obvious comfort zone for the horse.

   Every living creature looks for security in one form or another, a comfort zone or a path of least resistance. We have found when we handle our horses it is easiest to communicate with them if we make it simple, showing them in black and white. The behavior we seek will be easy for him and the behavior we do not want will be difficult. But a consistent program is needed to get solid lasting results in a horse.

   When trying to communicate with any being you must first have their attention. When you have their attention, it means you have control from the beginning. This is what you must realize and relate to when handling your horse. When we have our horse’s attention, our goal is to create and maintain a willing and cooperative attitude in the animal according to the individual’s ability.

For example, regularly tying your horse up teaches him to give to restrictions and limitations without arm wrestling you. Let them arm wrestle themselves. It has never hunt a horse to stand tied. In the olden days, all they had were tie stalls! A horse that has never had the discipline of standing tied usually has a fit when required to do so all day at a horse show. Why not let him throw his tantrum at home rather than in public? It makes for a submissive and friendly horse who wants to be your buddy.

   It is very important to become aware of our actions around horses. Every action should have a specific purpose and response from the moment we approach the horse until the time he is released.

   Too often we blame our horse for something we could have prevented if we had just noticed that our friend was not paying attention. Whether haltering or mounting, our horse should be listening to us.

   Some of the most common problems people have with their horse are a direct result of confrontations, which will only get worse if ignored or left to compromise. Take the time to keep your horse correct during the ground work. This emphasis on ground manners can be the whole basis for an enjoyable riding horse.

   Here are a few basic horsemanship tips to remember:

  • When you handle your horse, be aware of what you are doing. Move smooth and easily but with confidence.

  • Get your horse’s attention and keep it throughout the session. Always look for and encourage submissive and cooperative behavior.

  • When catching your horse, insist that he acknowledge you, look at you, and not turn his rear to you. Remember their limited vision we talked about and approach your horse at the point of the shoulder rather than his head.

  • When haltering your horse, insist that he hold his head low and not look off while you halter him. Keep the animal’s attention at all time.

  • Lead you horse on a slack rope. Do not drag your horse around, and make sure the horse does not lead you! He should follow the leader!

  • When grooming your horse, make it a pleasant experience. Always use a soft brush on a horse’s head, ears, and legs. A soft rubber curry that you can rub harder with is easier on the animal than a scratchy sharp curry, if it seems to bother him.

  • When tying a horse up for discipline, tie him to a stout hitching post or tree. Tie the rope about 5 feet high and not too long, approximately 18 inches, so he cannot hurt himself. Use a strong nylon rope halter and lead rope with a quality bull snap.

   When we fail to maintain the animal’s control, we lose control, respect, and the willing attitude we have worked hard to create. Everything is hinged together in horsemanship. Remember to always go back to the basics. Find the root of any problem and start there. Safety and enjoyment with horses can be a reality if you have a good foundation of basic horsemanship.

   To learn how to get your horse's attention,  order Video #1.  

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