Is your horse missing some manners?
For the most part, the horses I am around are well behaved. They have a routine, they stick with it, no one gets in trouble. But today, one naughty pony decided he did not want to walk quietly alongside, he wanted to dart in front of me, try and swing his butt out, and try and shake me as he was headed to eat some grass. OH HECK NO. This got me thinking about all of the very good behaviors that make for a wonderful and safe horse to be around. I have a list. (You are surely not surprised that I have made a list. I love lists!)
Now, because it’s often futile and dangerous to use the words always and never, these “rules for good horse manners” must be taken on a sliding scale. All horses have a learning curve, all horses can “forget” to behave, all horses are ruled by a force that is out of our control. We also can’t expect perfect manners right away and always, and working with horses is a journey, as much for us as them. So, as you read the “very informal good manners list for horses”, know that every horse has strengths, weaknesses, and is in a different state of learning from every other horse.
-Your horse should walk alongside you politely, without hesitation, and without jerking, swinging into you, or yanking. It’s so easy to train this behavior with positive reinforcement, and equally easy to have a horse “forget” the training the minute you are distracted. You can learn more about hand walking safety here!
What a good pony.
-Your horse should not nip, threaten to nip, or even think about nipping. Same goes for stall kicking, striking, pawing, threatening to strike. Sometimes this behavior is reserved for telling other horses about the pecking order, not for telling you the human that your place is below him. And it’s rude, not to mention dangerous! If you need help for a horse that nips, check out this amazing piece of writing here.
-Your horse should stand quietly in the cross ties. This is for obvious safety reasons, and also to respect your space and boundaries as you work on your horse. If he does fidget in the cross ties, he respects your command to move squarely to the center of the cross tie and chill out. You can learn more about standing quietly in the cross ties here!
Speaking of being tied, it’s a bonus if your horse ties quietly to a trailer, a tie ring, and a hitching post. Cross ties are typically safer as your horse’s head has limited range, as all other types of ties allow for more movement.
-Your horse must easily load into the trailer. Period. Several times I have volunteered my time and my rig to help evacuate horses from the all too common SoCal wildfires. Every single trip I am faced with a horse that won’t load. Unfortunately, I am not willing to risk my rig, your horse, my hands, your limbs to get your horse on so I don’t even try. The owners usually confess that this is a known problem, and boy don’t they wish they had solved it before the wildfires. Hire a professional trainer, make your horse eat every single meal from the trailer, clicker train your horse, do what you have to do to make this a non-issue.
-Your horse must tolerate and remain calm and gentlemanly, or ladylike, in a stall. Every horse, at some point, will need to be in a stall for an hour, a day, a week or more. He better be able to deal. If your horse is injured, this is not the time to indoctrinate him to stall life, as he will already be stressed from the injury.
-Your horse must be able to have some sort of safe turnout. There are loads of ways to help your horse have a safe and enjoyable turnout. One day, when he is retired, wouldn’t it be nice for him to have turnout all the time? Try not to cultivate the horse that lives his entire life in a box. I find that this scenario is more rare than the horse who despises a stall, but it’s out there. This article has some ideas on how to make turnout safe and relaxing for your buddy.
-Your horse must stand quietly for the Farrier and Veterinarian. They are there to treat and maintain your horse, not teach it to behave. It’s unsafe for everyone if these professionals are risking their own safety to treat your horse. I understand that some horses have crazy baggage about their feet, or needles, or the Veterinarian in general. I also know that desensitizing your horse to these situations can take minutes a day if you practice every day.
-Your horse should be easy to catch from the field or even in his stall. The horse that runs away, plays games, and generally avoids being caught now has the power. He also has a greater chance of getting injured, as do you. There are lots of techniques to train a horse to be caught, and consistency of training is critical here. Make sure everyone who handles your horse used the same training techniques. More info here!
-Your horse must tolerate your hands on every inch of his body. This is Murphy’s Law of horses in a nutshell - he will be injured on the one spot that irritates him beyond belief. So, diligent handling on your part, every single day, can make safe handling and touching a reality.
Some of these manners are easily taught with a plan and some consistent practice. Others, like trailer loading, may require the help of a trainer that specializes in these situations. It’s totally acceptable and highly recommended that you get help if your horse’s manners are not what they should be. I can guarantee you that when the ground manners are good, your horse understands and respects the human-horse relationship. This translates into a happy and willing horse to ride and be around, and that’s the whole point. Any horse can have good manners - it’s up to us to teach them!
What have you trained your horse to do in the behavior department?