Teach Me All Aspects of Horsemanship

I thought I would open a discussion on a particular aspect of horsemanship that I think is being sorely neglected in the teaching process.

Behavior issues/poor ground manners: I supposed this aspect of horsemanship is much tougher to teach a novice because you can’t quite “rely” on a demonstration of particular behaviors and maybe also because good lesson programs often have healthy, happy, well behaved horses so “teaching moments” would be few and far between . The kicker is, outside of this little happy bubble exists a real world where there are all sorts of instances where one might run into behavior issues or poor ground manners. Having been in a few different barns and worked with a fair number of different horses, I am growing my list of witnessed/experienced horse behaviors everyday! The good and the bad. And that is great because it is much more difficult to respond correctly in the moment when you’ve never experienced it.

I remember the first time I was in a stall grooming a horse that stretched down into a big old dog stretch I freaked the *&$% out. I thought for sure Buddy was going down for good, but he just groaned, stood back up and shook himself out. Luckily this is an example of a perfectly acceptable behavior that didn’t require me to do anything other than pick my jaw up off of the floor.

I’m pretty sure everyone remembers the first time they were bitten by a horse. Not snapped at, bitten. I can remember two particular instances where I was bitten by a horse and they both demanded a different response. The first time it happened I was just a youngin’ and maybe got a little careless one afternoon about remembering to keep my palm flat when feeding my lesson horse carrots… never did THAT again! But was it really the horse’s fault? No. The next time I received a “reminder” to be more vigilant it was from a therapy horse known for this particular behavioral issue. Ruger caught me squarely on that soft flesh of the forearm during a lesson one night. So here is the issue- what SHOULD have been my response? none? a swift whack? a tap with a crop? yelling something? Hard to say… seems like the camps are divided. I think, more than anything, that behavioral issues should be dealt with in a consistent manner but are the trainers out there helping pass those messages along to new students?


For me, firm, physical reactions are difficult, even though I know in some cases that is what is needed. My trainer will often say “I would have tapped him there” or “his response should be sharper, if he doesn’t respond, tap him” and I know in my head that I am literally doing him a disservice by not being more insistent in that moment because I am muddying the message. But it is hard for me- I am still learning and unsure. I genuinely want to do the right thing. Sometimes I wish I rode more like I drive 😉

I try to be a good observer and have picked up a lot by watching people interact with their horses. I know you can’t prepare for every possible situation and with such a big, powerful, flight animal, things happen so quick that you must often rely on your instincts. I trust my instincts but when it comes to behavior issues/poor ground manners I quickly feel in over my head. I read something that suggested you should deal with bad horse behaviors like you would deal with a young child- swift, firm, and then it’s done. Hold no grudge-there is no room for anger when working with horses. I  liked that idea a lot. Any hard and fast theories you follow when it comes to discipline?




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