Leading - horse/human separation? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 9 Old 03-31-2010, 01:32 AM Thread Starter
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Leading - horse/human separation?

Short version: when I walk my horse, she wants to have her right shoulder just touching my left. I think - and my knowledgeable friend agrees - that there should be some separation, enough to keep feet and hooves apart. So how do I teach her to keep that distance? Or is it something I need to teach myself?

For a bit of background: I've been going on trail "rides" with the friend for years. I put rides in quotes, because she (and various friends) ride horses, while I'd walk/run or sometimes ride a mountain bike. She kept nagging me to get a horse, so last fall I finally gave in.

Ellie (the horse) is a 17 year old Anglo-Arab mare. She hadn't been ridden for several years, but friend knew her, said she was good horse for beginner, and the little I rode her last fall seemed to confirm that. However, over the winter she started having hoof problems from weather and incorrect trimming, but she's improving and now needs to be walked to get her back into shape for riding.

The problem, as above, is this touching thing. When we walk in an open field, I'll be trying to keep a foot or so of space, she constantly keeps inching back, I move over to keep distance, and so we wind up going around in a big counter-clockwise circle. She doesn't push at all, you understand, it's like she just wants that contact. She'll often do the same in the corral: move to stand so her shoulder's just touching mine - but my friend, and friend's not-really-a-horseperson husband, can walk her with a good separation. So I can't help but wonder if it's something I've inadvertently done, or not done, that got her to do it with me.

Any suggestions as to what should I do (or look at) for training? I expect to be walking her a lot, both for her rehabilitation and later on the trail (because I'm honestly not all that thrilled with the idea of just riding all the time. I think I'm too big for her, and I'd miss getting the exercise), and I really don't need a half-ton of horse stepping on my toes
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post #2 of 9 Old 03-31-2010, 01:34 AM
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Every time she wants to get close to you, give her an elbow in her shoulder. Also work on being able to move her forequarters away from you.
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post #3 of 9 Old 03-31-2010, 10:58 AM
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One of two ways...carry a dressage whip in your opposite hand and make it parallel to the ground, and so the butt end protrudes past your inside shoulder. Every time she inches over it'll jab her in the shoulder.

Carry a driving whip in your opposite hand and when she creeps over, reach it behind your back and tap her on the girth to move her over.

Of course, both of these require that she understand to move away from pressure. If she doesn't then you need to go back further and teach her how to move away from pressure.
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post #4 of 9 Old 03-31-2010, 11:11 AM
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The reason why she's doing is is because she doesn't respect you or your space. What I do when a horse tries to invade my space while leading is I use my shoulder or both of my hands and put all of my weight on the horse so the horse moves over.

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post #5 of 9 Old 03-31-2010, 01:01 PM
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OP, am I reading correctly that you are leading from the right hand side of your horse? In this case she might just be a little insecure having you over there and you might get better results from leading from the left as most horses are taught and respond better on the ground from the left side. Regardless of what is actually going on I agree that she should lead from both sides and respect your space but I think we should start you where you're both more comfortable.

If you are leading from her preferred side or side doesn't matter with her I would start with your body position and then add other things like elbows/whips/etc to move her over. You want your shoulders square, your toes pointed forward and your eyes looking forward. Don't turn your body towards her to lead, don't look at her, just walk. Sometimes novice horse owners lean in and look at the horse the whole time which makes some horses think you want them closer. So make sure you aren't confusing her with your body language before you correct her. The other thing to think about is the length of your lead from shank to hand. You want AT LEAST 2 FEET of leadrope between her head and your hand. If you have a short lead that is going to bring her shoulder closer to you as she will yield to your pressure and want to get away from it.

If you are doing all of this and she still leans on you then I would start turning INTO her when she leans on you. Turning her in circles towards you is just going to make the behvaior worse and encourage her to move towards you. If you turn her AWAY from you everytime she gets too close then the minute you turn towards her she will step away from you eventually. Then when she learns where you want her she will just comfortably stay there.

You don't want to really shove on a horse that leans and doesn't run you over because they will get confused and either lean back or want to be even closer to you as you are kind of her security blanket. You can as Mercedes suggested hold a small whip and tap the shoulder or poke her shoulder or tap her behind the girth when she gets too close but that takes good timing and posture. Even if your posture is a little hestitant if you turn into her and tap her shoulder with your hand or whip until she moves away she will get the picture in a hurry. Once you get her thinking AWAY from you is ok, you can refine it with the elbow/whip/etc to teach her exactly where you want her to lead from.

Good luck!
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post #6 of 9 Old 03-31-2010, 01:48 PM
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It doesn't seem like she's pushing you over, but that's basically what she's trying to do...she's testing you to see how you'll react to her invading your space. When you move out of her way you're showing her that she has some degree of control over you. I like to walk horses on both sides so they get used to it, but it's true she may be unaccustomed to being lead from the other side. When she walks into you turn to her and send her back out of your space away from you. When she's standing quietly at a respectable distance, cue her to keep walking. If she runs up on you, do it again. And if she doesn't back out or keeps trying to come up to you without your say-so keep backing her up-she'll eventually get the picture. You could also just give her a jab in the neck with your elbow when she gets too close.
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post #7 of 9 Old 03-31-2010, 02:42 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by NittanyEquestrian View Post
OP, am I reading correctly that you are leading from the right hand side of your horse?
Oops! My mistake: I did mean that I'm on her left - the usual leading/mounting from side - so her left shoulder touches my right. I've always had a problem with that right/left stuff

I think you may have hit on a couple of the causes. I do tend to keep looking at her. Part of it is that she's just so darn gorgeous (yeah, so I'm prejudiced ), but it's also partly situational. She needs to walk on a smooth, soft surface, which means the field, but she's not supposed to be eating the new grass. (Apparently her system reacts badly to it.) So I've been watching and keeping a short hold on the lead rope so as to catch her when her head starts down for a nibble.

Beyond that, she does react well to pressure (as best I can tell from my limited experience): just a light hand touch, or even body attitude, gets her to move around her area. As for respecting space, maybe that's where I need some training, since I've never really thought about the concept in relation to horses.

You don't want to really shove on a horse that leans and doesn't run you over because they will get confused and either lean back or want to be even closer to you as you are kind of her security blanket.
I've thought that, too. Between changing wraps for the hoof abcess, vet visits, and a bunch of corrective trimming & shoeing, she's had a bunch of probably not very pleasant stuff happening to her these last few months. I'm usually there holding her head & talking to her while other people are doing the work, so maybe I have become her security blanket?

Anyway, thanks to everyone for the suggestions.
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post #8 of 9 Old 04-01-2010, 11:54 AM
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You should decide just how far you want your horse to stay from you and always enforce that distance. Most horses will need this reinforced from time to time. Keeping her at that distance doesn't have to be dramatic. The elbow nudge will work. The whip tap will work. So will swinging the end of your lead rope in a vertical plane between the two of you as if you were creating a wall (don't hit her with it). Just be consistent about it. You are allowed to enter her space, but she's not allowed to enter yours, unless you invite her by actually pulling on the lead rope or giving her a verbal command.

Expect her to need more reinforcement when there are distractions like other horses, kids running, green grass, passing the grain room. . . So be aware of those before she is and you won't have to get in a fight. It sounds like she's well trained, so the hardest part will be reminding yourself to be consistent!
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post #9 of 9 Old 04-01-2010, 01:30 PM
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Originally Posted by Rule of Reason View Post
You are allowed to enter her space, but she's not allowed to enter yours, unless you invite her by actually pulling on the lead rope or giving her a verbal command.
Excellent post I thought, I just wanted to comment on this statement.

I think it's prudent in a lot of circumstances to reciprocate the respect you expect from the horse. So, as a general rule, I usually ask for permission to enter my horse's space, just as they must ask for my permission to come into my space.

Naturally, there are times when I've just got to go into it then and now, but I really try and show that respect back.

For those that may not know, horses have 'two' bubbles of space around them. The first one is several feet around them and this is the bubble you must penetrate first. Too much pressure on this bubble is what causes horses to be hard to catch. It's also pressure on this bubble that moves a horse in a dance, say for instance when you see someone working with a horse in a round pen.

The second bubble only protrudes a little distance from the body. This is the same bubble that people have. You know when someone gets too close to you, talks right in your face...that's a person who's inside that bubble and honestly, we don't like that. UNLESS, it's a person we're attached to...like a loved one, OR, a leader of a herd. Those people we don't mind having in our personal space. There's comfort and reassurance at having them so close.

The horse has that same bubble. Dominant or insecure individuals can get quite upset when a person bursts into that personal space and that's when you'll often see horses strike.

So just be aware of that as you build the relationship with your horse.
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