Jason Webb of Australian Horse Training is a renowned UK-based horse trainer with a passion for starting young horses, solving equine problems and teaching riders of all abilities and ambitions develop and strengthen the partnership they have with their horses. Here Jason gives a H&H forum user advice on how to handle her horse that "doesn't know the meaning of personal space"
Q: “My horse doesn’t know the meaning of personal space. I have a Welsh section C yearling colt who is an absolute sweetheart most of the time. He just wants cuddles and treats, but he walks in front of me and practically runs me over trying to get my attention. I try shooing him away with a lead rope but he just keeps coming back, plastic bags don’t work as he thinks there’s food in them. I would love to teach him tricks as I do that with my older horse but I need to get him out of my personal space first. He is not gelded and has not dropped yet. He will be gelded once the flies have disappeared. Do you have any ideas or suggestions?”
A: This is a quite common handling problem for horse owners. Most people love their horses, and the idea of being assertive in order to achieve a movement doesn’t always come naturally, but it is very important that you make sure you are a calm, consistent and decisive handler, particularly with a bold yearling.
You need to remember that if it takes longer than the magic three seconds for your horse to respond to your ‘ask’, it means you have turned your ‘ask’ into a ‘nag’! Your horse may well stop looking for answers and start to look to evade you or just walk over the top of you. We’ve all had a conversation with someone who talks and talks and doesn’t get to the point, leaving us either bored, frustrated or with our minds wandering; don’t be that person when you handle your horse! If he doesn’t respond to a gentle ask, you need to tell him assertively and once he has responded, leave him alone.
Timing is a fine art but be quick to see when your horse does the right thing, don’t keep asking when they give the correct response otherwise this will just make them switch off. The reward to doing the right thing is you leave them alone (you can give them a stroke too of course!).
Being able to control your horse’s movements is the key. If you haven’t already, I would invest in a good quality rope head collar and use this whenever you are handling him, as horses like this know how to lean on a traditional halter, which makes it very difficult to control their movements.
A good starting point is to get your horse to look at you with both eyes when you are working with him, as a horse can’t move past you or into you when they have to keep looking at you. To do this, at first you will have to use a ‘bump’ on the halter, rather than a steady ‘pull’ on the lead rope, which horses learn to lean against. Trying to describe movements in an article can be confusing, so here is a relevant video that I hope will help.
In your letter, you also describe him enjoying treats and lots of affection. I don’t give my horse treats unless I am using them specifically for training purposes, when they are given to the horse when he has performed a particular exercise after a specific cue.
If you’ve ever seen my horse Diesel at demonstrations he picks up a hat and even bows but this was taught with treats. Used in this way, they are particularly useful for trick-training, so I would advise you not to give treats to your yearling as you won’t be able to use this method when training tricks in the future. I am also a great believer in letting youngsters grow up without too much contact with humans as they can get over-familiar and a bit ‘cocky’ like your chap. Whenever you do handle him, treat it as a lesson, so you are more likely to handle him with more authority while still being fair.
To improve yourself and your horse you are going to have to practice and persevere. Give yourself challenges, such as my monthly ‘Your Horsemanship’ challenges from on my online training resource www.yourhorsemanship.com and don’t be afraid to get help at this stage with your yearling; it is best to get on track with him now rather than when he is big and strong! I wish you every bit of success with him in the future.
For more information on Jason Webb visit his online training base Your Horsemanship, where you can learn a foundation in horse training with online lessons in groundwork, starting, and ridden fundamentals