Teaching a pushy horse distance (claiming territory)

I’m sure we’ve all been around the horse who pushes into us, nuzzles our pockets and is generally a nuisance. Unfortunately, pest behavior can become dangerous.

Little Girl doesn’t respect human boundaries. When we met LG at her breeders I noticed that all of the horses crowded into our space. Once LG came to my place, I also could see some of this was being a baby (‘hey what are you doing!?”) curiosity about people, compounded with the fact that LG is obviously a dominant minded filly, daughter of a dominant minded mare.

Naturally, the first thing I would try is using my energy to claim my territory: a circle around me about 1-2 arm lengths around me. This works with most horses – when they see you jumping up and down, waving your arms, or jumping towards them, they stop with a WT? expression on their face, and the more sensitive ones skiddaddle.

With each horse you have to judge their sensitivity to you and not overface them. You want to use just enough to get your point across and NO MORE. Overusing pressure/force/energy is just as bad as using punishment and is just as non-productive in the long run because the horse gets confused.

However, with LG you have a horse that simply doesn’t respond to this method. I can do all the “right’ moves – using energy, voice, body posture, arms etc.. (have even tried waving my coat) and this filly DOES — NOT — BUDGE. She just looks at me like, “I know you don’t really want me to leave you, ever, and ever and ever!” I’ll have to get this on video so you can see exactly how unflappable she is.

Thinking this over, I made a plan and implemented it last night and today. I was walking through the 4 acres to check on Big Guy in his shed. Little Girl obviously was curious and wanted to be with me. I didn’t want to discourage her interest in me or her curiosity but it was also necessary to make her understand that this close following behavior, nose in my back, and sometimes placing her butt to me in a defensive, prepping for a hind strike, behavior was not going to work for me.

Using my long dressage whip, I whistled it around me as if I was cutting off the tops of the grass. LG blinked her eyes mildly at me but still didn’t move off. She knows a back command so I kept moving towards her, claiming the territory and asked for back, which she reluctantly gave me.

Once I got that, I clicked, then walked towards her, treated, and walked away, back on my trek to see Big Guy. As long as she kept the length of the dressage whip away from me, after a few strides I would click (to mark the desired behavior) and then walk towards her, treat, and move away on my path again.

She did pretty good so I stepped up the exercise (literally). Calling out the word trot, and then stepping high and faster, I waited to see if she would mimic me. It took her about two tries, before she caught on that I was wanting her to “trot” parallel with me, maintaining the distance. If she did this, I clicked during the desired behavior, walked towards her, treated her, and then returned the distance between us.

A couple of times she trotted when I did not ask her to do so, and that did not get clicked or rewarded.

She must have kept by my side for at least 30 minutes before I ended the play. It was very exciting to have her work so closely with me in Liberty, but yet also feel we were doing it safely. I can’t wait to see where we can go with this!

Post-thoughts: If you are dealing with an aggressive or dominant horse, this “game” could get dangerous very quickly. Be sure to work in a very large area where the horse can leave the game at any time. Also, carry a whip.

This entry was posted in Carolyn Resnick, Liberty, Z and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Teaching a pushy horse distance (claiming territory)

  1. Pingback: Pushy Horse behaviors (part 2) « Common Sense Horsemanship

  2. Pingback: Pushy Horse: Behavior (pt. 2) | horseideology

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