Young Horse Series – Establishing Space Boundaries

Your young horse has progressed through being caught and handled, he leads well, he is comfortable with his feet being picked up and he can stand tied. The next lesson is establishing a personal space boundary. This will help keep your horse from pushing on you or walking over you. This lesson is also important for the trailer loading lesson that will come next.

For this lesson you will need a halter, a long lead rope and a small whip or flag.
The focus of this exercise is to teach your horse to respect you personal space. We will establish an invisible line between you and your horse that should not be crossed by your horse without an invitation. This line is established and adjusted by blocking your horse when they have reached the line.
How pushy your horse is will dictate how firm you will need to be to enforce this line. There may be times when quite a bit of pressure is needed to convince your horse that crossing the line uninvited will get him in trouble. When reprimanding a horse I believe that it is better to be firm and only correct him once than it is to be too soft and correct him constantly. With constant corrections your horse will learn to ignore you and possibly become pushier.
When starting this exercise it is important to have “intention and focus”. Know what you want him to do and concentrate mentally and physically until it happens.
Hold both hands directly out to the sides of your body with the lead rope in one hand and your flag in the other. Ask him to start to follow the feel you are offering with the lead rope. Use the flag directed towards his rib to push him forward into the feel of the lead rope. If your horse is confused and moves backwards DO NOT STOP asking for forward until he moves his feet forward or at least sideways. If he is going sideways make sure you are still offering him a feel to follow. If your horse takes even one step forward stop pushing and pet him as a reward. If you reward small efforts your horse will be encouraged to try harder the next time you ask. Ask and reward until your horse is comfortably moving forward.
If he refuses to move forward increase the pressure you are using directed at his ribs. Do not be afraid to tap your horse with the flag. We push on his ribs because that is the same area that your legs will bump him when we start to ride. It is a forward motion cue that we will transfer to the saddle.
As your horse moves forward into the feel you offer pay attention to where he moves his feet. Do they walk out and around you or do they walk towards you pushing you out of the way? This is when we will start to establish our space boundary. As you push your horse forward your flag is at his ribs, if he walks out and around you move the flag to his shoulder to keep him out. If he walks into you use your flag much more firmly to swat him on the shoulder to push him out. How pushy your horse is will dictate how much pressure you apply to his shoulder. To effectively establish that you will not be pushed you must always meet the amount of pressure your horse is using and EXCEED it slightly. When your horse is pushy you will be pushier. When your horse is giving to pressure you will decrease the amount of pressure so you are softer that he is.

When your horse will walk forward out and around you it is time to have him change directions. Slowly bring your hands down in front of you and change hands with your flag and lead rope. Bring your arms straight out from your body which effectively changes the direction of your feel and blocks the movement of your horse. When he stops his feet direct your flag back to the ribs to have him follow through with the transition. Do this slowly the first few times, each time pay attention to where his feet move. The same corrections apply if he enters your space with his feet.
If your horse is extremely pushy raise the flag up higher towards his neck to push him out. The higher your flag is the more assertive it becomes. Have him change directions until he is starting to become consistent about moving his feet out and around you.

Make sure you take the time to reward him for his efforts even if his form is not that good. Horses need encouragement to learn comfortably.
This lesson should help to establish that you are in control of your horses movement. The more subtle you can be in asking for movement the stronger your horse will think you are. Make it a personal challenge to see how light you can be. You should be as heavy as you need to be but as soft as you can be.
© 2004 Will Clinging