People have an obsession with forcing horses to come to them. When a horse is hard to catch, trainers say you must make the horse come to you. They say you must be the alpha and the horse must submit. They say the horse must be lower in the pecking order. In other words, the human must be the supreme being. You must win. You must be number one.
Here’s a clue: Forget about pecking orders, submission or winning and losing. How about overcoming your ego and going to your horse and rubbing his head? How about always giving your horse the answer before you set any problem? How about using a halter and lead rope to teach your horse, so he doesn’t have to ‘work it out for himself’? How about showing your horse that you’re always good to be with?
And forget about round yards. A horse chased in a round yard has absolutely no idea what he’s supposed to do. He doesn’t know that he’s supposed to approach and follow the trainer. Some horses are just too frightened to approach. The more they’re chased, the more frightened they become. You can’t overcome a horse’s fear with more chasing.
To teach a horse to follow, start in a twenty foot square yard. You must go to the horse and give him the answer before you set the problem. The answer is for the horse to keep his head with you. Show every horse that it’s always nice, easy and pleasant to have his head with you by rubbing his head, neck and around his ears. This must always be the answer to his problem.
The problem for the horse is that life is slightly unpleasant when he doesn’t keep his head with you. I use a six-foot long stick to tap the horse’s rump when his head isn’t with me. With a halter and lead on the horse, I show him what I want and encourage him to keep his head with me. If he’s frightened, I go to him and rub his head to build his confidence.
With a few repetitions, a confident horse will work out that it’s easy and pleasant to keep his head with me. When I unclip the lead rope, he’ll follow me around the yard. The horse doesn’t submit and he doesn’t think I’m his leader. He merely works out that it’s nice, easy and pleasant to keep his head with me and slightly unpleasant when his head isn’t with me.
A frightened horse may need a few lessons to overcome his fear and build his confidence. If it takes two lessons or ten, it doesn’t matter. Horses can’t learn unless they’re confident and relaxed. Remember, no horse can learn if he’s frightened.
It may feel ‘magical’ to you when your horse follows. But there’s nothing magical about it for your horse. He simply learns that life is easy and pleasant when he keeps his head with you.
Yes, it does feel nice when your horse learns to follow you without a lead. It will feel even nicer for your horse if he isn’t chased and stressed in order to learn this simple lesson.