Ground Manners - Your Horse Needs to Have 'Em!
Being a Groom can put us into some very serious situations with large beasts that operate under a “fight or flight” system. They have all sorts of different temperaments, can suffer from “bad days”, and some times have other ideas, such as food before work.
How can we work with our horses on the ground to improve their manners and make our job safer? Good question. I got in touch with our friend Kassie, from A-Schuerr-Thing Horse Training for some answers.
Here’s what Kassie teaches us:
Ground Manners are the most important behaviors you can teach your horse. (As a rider, these behaviors and respect will also translate in the saddle.) Here’s what you need to know about how horses think and act:
1. Horses are prey animals and their behavior requires them to either react out of fear and flee, or lack of respect for a heirarchy and become pushy.
You may recognize lack of respect from a horse when they don’t lift their head from hay to be haltered, when they decide to turn left when you need to turn right while leading, or when they refuse to lift their feet for picking.
2. Always be prepared with needed equipment before entering the stall. (halter, lead rope, stick/string, boots etc.) Being caught un-prepared will result in the horse maintaining dominance.
I recommend putting leg wraps/boots on in the stall so if the horse becomes pushy, you can take him directly out move his feet backwards.
The goal is to have the horse ready so you can take him out and hustle his feet. If they are easy to handle, it doesn’t matter which order you put the items on, but most Grooms start with the halter to be safe. If your horse is aggressive or a bully, put the halter on first and back them in their stall until they stand quiet enough to put the boots on.
Manners are required to stay safe when you are leading a horse - especially at a new location like a show!
3. The first one to move their feet loses. (You and your horse are playing this game, which means that your horse better move his feet first!) An exception is if you are in danger, otherwise make sure you keep your feet still and move the horses feet first.
Whoever moves their feet first is in regards to stepping into the horses space or them into yours. Most people will move their feet backwards or chasing the horses head trying to halter them. This is when the dominant horse is making the human move their feet while they stand still. If you are walking them, you are asking them to follow you (dominant horse leads the herd). If the horse walks before you are ready, he is being assertive and causing you to take steps backwards creating a moment that they are the dominant horse.
When I take a horse out of the stall, I first make sure they are facing me. If they are not, I move their hips applying pressure (stick string, lead rope) to the hip asking them to face me. I put the halter on and ask them to move their feet backwards, disengaging the hip, disengage the forehand, (which only takes about a min.) and then stand and the opening of the pen asking them to step out and face me. We do this a couple of times if they rush going through the gate. This shows the horse that I can move their feet from anywhere while keeping mine still at the gate. It also gets them listening to me and not rushing to get out.
Horses with good manners are a joy to be around!
4. Think like an alpha mare or gelding, YOU become the dominant leader for the herd. Be the boss!
I back my horses to the tie racks and send them through the gates several times to make sure they are listening and are respectful. One of the most submissive actions from a horse is moving backwards out of the way of the dominant mare.
Horses, like any animal that has a pecking order, will constantly “test the waters” to see if they can be the leader for the moment. It snowballs quickly from a small behavior to being a very out of control bully. If they get away with a slight head toss, they are throwing their head toward you the next time.
The horses should always be focusing on you as the leader, they are always looking up and checking where the dominant mare is throughout the day, because she can come over at any time and take what she wants from them, or demand grooming… Be the dominant “horse” that your horse is always checking on and loving the attention when grooming them..
You learn more, you can also visit Kassie on Facebook for lots of tips and tricks. You can find her here!