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I take care of a 20ish year old mare 2-3 days a week. She had her left eye removed due to illness years back and she is used to it. We still lead her on the left side though since that is what she was used to. I do not want to change sides when leading.

The problem is that she is rather impatient and when it is about meeting friends or getting to food but sometimes also just for no apparent reason it is hard to stop her when leading. Now I get that she might not see me stop but even when I put my hand on her head or chest she will often not stop.

So far I have tried walking around the arena with her stop and loudly say "Stop" and wait for her to stop. She usually gets that after the third or fourth attempt and stops with me then. But when I try it the next day it will take the same time for her to get it again. It also never works that well outside the arena.

I want to work with positive reinforcement and I do praise and pet her when she stops. I have not worked with treats so far, should I try? Is there something about my behaviour that I can change to make it more clear to her? I get that she is rather old and has habits, am I wrong to assume that she can still learn this?

  • Is this a new behaviour? Has she been able to stop previously? I’ll add an answer for both just in case. – SimplyRedAppaloosa Mar 4 at 10:49
  • Ive only known her since August but I assume its always been like this. But adding an answer for each scenario might help someone with a similar question – SerenaT Mar 4 at 11:52
  • why don't you want to change the side? To give her comfort since you are a buffer between the unseen and her, or is there yet another reason? – kaiya Mar 8 at 12:26
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Groundwork, herd hierarchy, pressure and release

This requires some vigorous groundwork to fix and can be fixed quickly.

You need to reinforce your dominance as herd leader. The herd is a hierarchical structure and the lower horses always listen to the higher horses. The higher horses determine and reinforce their dominance by getting the other horse to move their feet. Meaning that in any encounter between two horses, the horse that is forced to move is the lower horse.

Understandably, you want her to stop when you stop, but the reason she's pulling and ignoring you, is she is not fully regarding you as having a higher position.

To achieve this, it's important to make the horse yield to pressure. This is done during all our interactions with the horse. Not just while leading, but when in pasture with them.

This is a link (I move her backwards) and this link (in this part I move her sideways and backwards) to a parts of a video where I show how to push a horse back. This video shows (the first three minutes and it was a correction that was overdue) more aggressive pressure on horses in s herd that need to move. It's the middle of the night here, I'll create and upload a video demonstrating some of the techniques and link it in here.

To assist with leading, it's helpful to take the horse on chaotic walks, do not walk in a straight line and make it unclear where you are heading. Chop and change direction and if the horse pushes into you, use an elbow (gently) to push them away. If the elbow doesn't work, use the lead rope to force them to move out of your space, by twirling is in a circular motion. They don't like it.

I should add, as she is blind in the left eye, put your arm across in front of her chest when you stop, to help cue her. If she doesn't stop, correct her, a sharp tug on the lead rope should do it.

If a horse pushes on when I'm leading them, I will pull them up and make them do a circle, in a serious manner. They know when you are not happy with them and it is the same when a high horse corrects the infractions of a lower horse. Higher horses teach lower horses to listen to them. We must do the same. I've found that the best way to improve leading is to establish myself as herd leader within the herd and the leading isn't a problem.

There should be no need to use voice commands to stop the horse, the horse should learn to be respectful and stop when you stop, which is will if you have asserted yourself sufficiently and continue to do so. A horse that senses it can walk over a person, will.

Whatever training you do in the arena, also do it in the pasture with other horses.

From Horse and Hound:

How to teach your horse to lead politely

Groundwork exercises to help with leading a horse

The first thing the horse needs to learn is how to yield to pressure, one of those basic skills that should have been taught when he was halter-broke, but, as Amy points out: “It is often a bit of a training hole.”

Push on any part of his body; as soon as he yields, stop pushing. With your hand, you put a little pressure on his nose or his poll, and as soon as he drops his head, release him.

Amy explains: “An easy, and important, one is to grab the top of the lead nearest the head with one hand, thumb towards your horse’s chest, and gradually apply pressure towards the chest until the nose drops in.”

Once you’ve trained him to give his head, add a little more pressure until he offers to back up, then release. Now you’ve trained him to back, which is important for the next step.

Once he’s quickly and consistently yielding to pressure, it’s time to take a walk.

“Decide how far behind you your horse should be and walk to that distance ahead of him while he stands. Take a few steps with the horse following behind you, then stop,” says Amy.

If the horse does not follow, put a little pressure on the rope until he does, or if he sneaks up behind you, nearly crashes into you, or tries walking past you, reverse him several steps, then ask him to stand quietly for a minute.

The next few weeks of your life will be spent walking everywhere this way: short bouts of forward, with corrections when the horse gets it wrong. But soon enough he will be following at whatever distance you decide, and you can practice varying the speed, using the same techniques of stopping and backing to reinforce the idea of matching your pace.

Keep the lead rope slack

An important note - do not walk a horse on a tight lead rope. Allow plenty of slack, 2 to 4 foot for the horse, depending on the horse. A short tight lead rope puts pressure on the horse and if the pressure is never released the horse will not understand what it needs to do to remove the pressure.

The only time the lead rope should be taut is if the horse isn't following. As soon as the horse moves, release the pressure on rope to teach the horse, the thing you need to do to relieve the pressure is follow me.

Resources

A video by Rick Gore, I swear by his horsemanship.

How to lead a horse without a lead rope; Rick Gore Horsemanship; www.thinklikeahorse.org

Another great article:

A Pleasure to Lead

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  • 1
    Good answer. I do not get why you see no necessity in voice cues. I actually like to work with voice cues a lot for several reasons: 1) Giving the horse cues on different canals (audio, visual, tactil) to help them understand your intent undoubtedly. I've seen lots of people who gave their signal so indistinctable that even an abserver could not tell what exactly they want (which will frustrate the horse and make it stop listening). 2) If working with voice cues teaching a horse to ride gets so easy it's almost like riding a well-trained horse – kaiya Mar 8 at 12:31
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    3)If my horse listens to my voice I don't need to move myself and 4) This horse is missing its visual canal to the left, so that leaves tactile and audio stimulation for communication. If tactile-visual is the default, I see a good point there to replace it by tactile-audio. One can still minimize signals after the horse learned to follow doubled cues safely and reliable, usually that is something that you don't even have to work for once worked clean with "double-cues" ;) – kaiya Mar 8 at 12:34
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    @MelissaLoos a verbal cue is ok, but there's no need to be loud when you're beside the horse. The main issue is teaching the horse to stop when you stop, to listen to your body rhythm so you're not need verbal cues. My friend has a horse that is missing an eye and you do need to be considerate. – user6796 Mar 9 at 1:21
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    ah, no I never meant in terms of being loud. There is no sense in being loud, even not for humans I suppose. I considered the state with the missing eye and this is why I recommend to use verbal cues as we only notice 10-20% of what we perceive, that highly raises the chance the signals "come through" in means of the horse notices them (with not noticing not being the same as willfully ignoring). I myself find myself often not listening to several cues without wanting to not listen and can understand any horse that has problems with attentiveness, so that double-cues are meant for fairness ;) – kaiya Mar 9 at 8:16

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