We can chalk it up to energy or antics or high spirits or poor manners—whatever it is that might be the “cause,” being pulled around by our four-legged friends is not necessarily fun, and it definitely isn’t safe. If you can’t nip this habit early in a horse’s training, it can become difficult and dangerous as a horse becomes larger and stronger (and more set in his ways). In her book The Horse Agility Handbook, International Horse Agility Club founder Vanessa Bee gives us a very simple technique for changing this behavior so walking beside your horse is a pleasure…not a pain.
Any behavior in a horse starts as a thought; then tiny signals appear to you as he gets himself ready to carry it out. If you can deal with undesirable behavior at this transition point, it will never grow into something you can’t control. Though it takes time to learn, the horse always gives you some warning that he’s brewing an idea—so the key is to deal with it then so it’s defused and done with!
When I deal with a challenging horse, the owner often tells me how well behaved her horse is with me. It’s because I read the horse and nip any trouble in the bud. I’m not always instantly successful. Even as I get to know how the horse thinks and how he “signals” his intentions, I may miss a few small moments, but all the time, I’m watching for them. Look after the small misdemeanors, and the big ones will go away.
Occasionally you can meet a horse that thinks it’s just fine to pull his handler along. Don’t blame the horse; somebody taught him to do this by not being consistent in leading exercises during the horse’s formative years.
When you feel a horse put the slightest tension on the rope, that is the beginning of him pulling you around. If you deal with it when it’s “small,” it’ll never get to the stage where you are “grass skiing” behind a horse that is totally oblivious to your existence.
So let’s say you’re walking along with the horse, and you feel him beginning to get strong and pull you along. What do you do?
1. Turn away from the horse very firmly and sharply, and walk back the way you came. He’ll now be behind you.
2. If he again starts to pull in front, turn away again strongly and sharply, remembering not to look at him.
3. If he still pulls you, change direction (you’re actually taking charge of his feet) until he gets the idea that he’s not supposed to pull.
This is amazingly successful if you catch the moment when the “pull” is just a thought in the horse’s head. By the time you’re “skiing” it’s too late—you missed the moment!
This excerpt from The Horse Agility Handbook by Vanessa Bee is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com).