Wednesday, January 7, 2009


So we all know that to move a horse away from you, you need to "increase your energy" or "make yourself bigger" or "fluff your chi" or whatever phrase your favorite trainer uses. And we all know this concept works, right? Whatever you think of barbaric traditional methods or snake oil natural horsemanship, all the effective trainers are doing something that a horse understands to mean "get out of my space" or "you may come to me."

I try hard not to anthropomorphize my animals, and I don't believe they are psychic. I have a lot of trouble "making myself bigger," so I've been thinking and watching and reading to try to figure out exactly what the effective trainers are doing with their bodies to get the "get out of my space" result. I've completely nailed the "you may come in"/"no need to run from me" body language, perhaps because it's more explicitly laid out in most literature.

Feminist rant on the side: I have anecdotally noticed that men are able to do the "big scary" body language easier and women are able to do the "I'm harmless" language easier. This is really annoying for lots of reasons having to do with the semi-invisible oppressive patriarchy and lifelong gender conditioning which I won't go in to, because all seven of my readers will get bored and leave and because I'm really not that rabid of a feminist.

Anyway, for whatever reason, I haven't yet come across a practical detailed description of how to make one's aura bigger to move a horse. I have coped so far by waving my arms, cursing, stomping my feet, and generally pretending that I'm a drunk 20 year old man trying to get in a bar fight.* But I'm always looking for a better way.

*OK, I rarely have to do all of those things at once. I can usually get away with just standing up big and straight and raising my arms somewhat. If that doesn't work I will not hesitate to stomp my feet and cuss though.

I finally found something really interesting. It's from a dog training blog; I can't remember which of yall linked me to it but I suspect it was DP. Power in Herding Dogs talks about some of the key elements, one of which is which way the aggressive animal is leaning. If a herding dog is usually leaning toward a sheep (even to a small degree), the sheep will have a larger flight zone and be much warier. If the dog is making the right moves, but leaning and/or looking away from the sheep, the sheep won't move as fast or as far for the dog. I'm going to google around a bit, and I'm going to pay more attention to the way I lean and the reaction I get from my horses.


  1. Try herding ducks. No really! Ducks are far more sensitive than horses. The slightest change in the way you stand, weighting one leg rather than the other, leaning, looking, a shoulder more forward than the other, all those subtle little nuances affect them.

    Go ahead, try it. I recommend Runner ducks, because they'll make you laugh at the same time :-)

  2. Ducks! What a wonderful idea. There are ducks at the city park. I bet if I needed to lure them in I could feed them, then try to make them move off from me. Wow, thank you!

  3. hahaha! All seven would go huh!
    Funny Funder!
    Carry a big stick!
    For me,it is a training stick knock off- a hollow handled driver with a nice rope on the end. Much lighter to use than
    That is my motto..or long enough rope that can reach any horse butt I wish at any time.
    If the horse thought it could ignore me when I wanted it to move..they think twice about it the second time...most keep me in their sights but mine is the worst..she trusts me so much..I can lean and I can jump..but unless she thinks I mean it(I HAVE to follow through) she won't budge.
    Do think the horses personality does play into it all. I free lunged the 17 horses that were locked up during our blizzard snow crap and let me tell you...amazing responses...could tell if they were fearfull or social or aloof or agressive/challening by the way they reacted/or acted to me looking sideways as them!

    I think reading the horse has half to do with it over all your energy asserting!What works well for one will be difficult for another.
    With my mare I've eve used her language when she encrotched by squeeling and kcking her..that was shock for her but she moved!
    Ducks...try the ducks!

    Yea..I knew that Cavalletti stuff would shock folks coming from me!I do have it in me..I just won't work around our Troll trainer!It limits my indoor times.


  4. It wasn't me! Never even heard of that book. Glad you're enjoying it, though.

    I'm with Kacy on this one -- there is nothing like a for establishing and protecting your space. Or a rope. Or a broom handle -- if I am serious about making a horse move I usually have something in my hand. If I don't I have no problem making myself big with voice and body.

    People always marvel about my presence with dogs -- they sense that I am a no-nonsense alpha within seconds of meeting me, and they respect that. I think this is because I truly believe that I *am* alpha -- it's not the act that so many dog owners try to put on. It's just true -- I am someone who doesn't take bullshit from any dog, and I've only ever had one challenge me. Most dogs want a leader.

    And I think it has to be the same way with horses to some degree. You need to be convinced of your own hierarchical superiority before they will be. Of course it's harder with horses because they are much bigger than dogs, but I find that things go better when I have that mindset.

    Amy I rambling? Better go ramble on my own damned blog...

  5. Watch a dominant horse move another one. Their ears go back, they 'snake' their neck around and low, and look just pretty menacing in general.
    I tend to do the same with my own horses--I drop my head a little bit and glare at them hard, and then move towards them VERY POINTEDLY. You can't walk towards them and think they're just going to stand there (...because then they will!). And when they don't move, you do the same thing a horse would--you 'bite' by giving them a damn good smack on the rump with a lead rope. You only have to do it a few times and then they'll move without the rope. Works real well for me. ;)

  6. Here's what I was taught and what always works well for me. This is just when I want it to buzz off in the pasture or something, where I have no desire to have it around (ie: you're working with a horse on a lower rung in the herd):

    Get a nasty, gonna kill you look in your eyes. That look is sometimes enough on its own, or just waving an arm, especially if you've gone through the rest with the horse before. Make strong eye contact, and don't let it waver. Stand up straight, facing the horse, shoulders back. Move towards it with strong, sure steps, keeping your body completely square to it. If I have a halter in my hand, I'll hold it out at arm's length and wave it in big arcs up and down a bit, and for the really pesky ones I'll slap it across my torso. I'll also "shh-shh!" at them.If I have a lead, I'll twirl the end. If the horse isn't moving, I'll sometimes start running at them, all the time keeping my evil look firmly aimed at their eyes. Works every time and usually sends them away at a canter. :)

    I just keep building it up, using only as much as the horse needs to get its fanny in gear.


  7. I actually worked a little on this the other's icy here, and everybody needs a hobby...we did some "in your face training" to get her to back up. (my) Chin up, chest out, making "hard" eye contact while walking straight into her nose. She's big, but I'm annoying. She backed up. Then I'd relax my posture, stop giving the Evil Eye and step backwards on a loose lead rope, and she followed at pretty much the same pace. When I wanted her to stop, I'd stop and get the big, rigid posture again, and make "hard" eye contact. POOF! Instant stop. Good thing, she's a draft and could easily smoosh me...just don't tell her that!!

  8. All I want to say is...hurray for rabid feminism!! We need some more of it back in this world. :)

  9. Woah, what a great range of responses. One thing you all have in common: you all act like crazy people and no doubt get stares from strangers. ;)

    Really, I can make horses get outta my way just fine. I have room for improvement with gradual movement, like round pen / longe line work. I can get a canter or a halt without much trouble, but getting a working walk? Or a medium speed gait? That's hard, getting up just the right amount of energy!

    There's always room for improvement.

    edit - hahah, ROCK ON, MaybeMae!

  10. Good luck with the ducks -- let me know how it goes.

    I found that when Lakota shuts me out, or zinged off with attitude, it was because I was being too obnoxious and loud with my body. The less I asked, the more I got.

    Its actually fun to just get real quiet. Quiet your mind. Don't think about the grocery list, the bills, how much time you have, the argument you had on the phone with someone. Completely clear you mind, listen to the birds, the breeze. Then just shift your weight, turn your shoulders, stand bulging your center forward, or suck it back, and see what happens.

    If I stand in front of Lakota and stand with my core or center bulged out forward, she leans back, has her weight on her haunches, her head and necked turned to the side, and is ready to spin off the second I release her. If I stand more relaxed, with my weight and core more behind my verticle, her head drops about a foot and comes toward me, her eyes soften, she cocks a leg and relaxes. Very cool!


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