Thursday, February 17, 2011


Manners is a term often bandied about by horseman when referring to a horses behaviour. As in, a horse should have good ground manners, Your horse should be respectful, your horse should be polite...yadda yadda. Yet no one thinks to mention that manners is a two way street. The question no one seems to ask is " Am I being polite to my horse?" Answers to this question run the gamut from eye rolling distane to cavalier choruses of "why, yes! yes, I am."
Maybe I should start by clarifying what manners toward your horse are. In a world where the horse must submit, get on board, deal with,obey,and just do( cause we said so) simple common courtesy is often not even considered. Manners toward your horse are as simple as speaking softly to him as you approach to using brushes and brush strokes that he or she likes. More thought and mannerly behavior on our part will carry over into say something like warming a bit before putting it in your horses mouth. Many times some manners are incorporated in what I call the honeymoon phase of horse training/ownership. This is the time where horse and person are getting to know each other. Where the problem begins is when the person feels the horse should have these things learned. Then manners go out the window. How many of you have seen a horse in cross ties, being "groomed". The horse is fidgety, hollow backed and high headed, in some cases his ears are pinned and he might even kick out. The person is either oblivious or can be down right vengeful. Then there are those horses tough to bridle, again horse signaling that bridleing is difficult, uncomfortable, scary even and person pushing on because the horse"needs" to be bridled. A break down of manners can come at virtually any point in our handling of our horses, with often undesirable results. Aside from being present and observant when dealing with our horses...that means check your bad day at the door and put down the black berry thank you very much....I often revisit two of my favorite Lyonisms: "Any time you are with your horse you are either making him better or making him worse." and "Go back to the point in his training where you can ask for and get the response you want." I find from feet handling to lead changes these two missives apply.
My little rehab mare is one such example of a horse who has been handled with a certain lack of manners, her first answer is generally "wait! what are you doing?" followed by either a reaction like balking or spooking or a response that is grudging and sour in appearance such as grumpy ears ,tense lips and drawn down lower eyelid. She is a very hard worker, and for praise/reward repeats behaviors with the tenacity of a terrier. Her rehab is causing her to have to adapt to a very unnatural living environment, the grace in which she has accepted it thus far tells me all I need to know about this little girl. Next time you are at the barn and your horse seems a little less tolerant of your behaviour take time to see if your horse manners are still intact. Remember, partnership is an agreement between two individuals. Setting the horse at ease is a simple as slowing down and taking the time it takes.....consistently.

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