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Step 0: Before Training, You Need Respect

Back to Intro    Next to Step 1: Hip-Over, Disengaging the Hip

Editor's note: This article is part of a multi-lesson training series.

My 12 Step training program for you and your horse makes certain assumptions about your relationship with your horse that I would like to outline here. These 12 Steps are useful on ANY horse with ANY issues, but my program is written and built around horse owners who already have some adequate relationship with their horse and can safely move around and ride them. If you're trying to do these 12 Steps on a horse you don't know, do not have a relationship with, or already know is unsafe or dangerous, then we need to first consider RESPECT.

Without respect, you have nothing; no relationship, no trust, and ultimately, no communication. And without communication, you cannot teach a horse, or even another human being, anything at all. Your horse cannot process anything you're trying to teach him unless you already have open communication, and you'll achieve communication as part of gaining the horse's respect.

Before we discuss that, understand that respect is EARNED, and like trust, it's earned over TIME. It may take only a day to gain that first real step towards having your horse's respect and starting communication, but to have complete respect is an on-going process. Any horse will always test you and question if he should continue to respect you again each day — it's the normal behavior in the herd to constantly test and challenge each other's authority and rank. Mares are best at this since they naturally tend to want to rise up and be the leaders of the herd. Yet, for every mare I show you that's sweet and complacent, you can show me a gelding who'll try to break down your authority every chance he gets. That's why I never type-cast a horse until I actually see them in action in their normal, comfortable environment.

So, we're back to the real question: do I have my horse's respect? If not, how can I gain it?

The 4 Quadrants of the horse are Head, Shoulders, Hips, and Feet. If you can consistently take control of all 4 Quadrants, you gain control of him and he'll respect you for that. That's because he'll need to submit control of his body to you and submission means a responsive, respectful horse that keeps you safe.

All of the exercises in the 12 Steps work off one or more of the four quadrants. If you can consistently set your horse's head at the level you want by picking up a rein; if you can always get your horse's feet to go, stop, and control the speed; if you can move the shoulder by rein or leg in either direction and do the same with the hip, you have control of your horse, and thus, his respect. You can also gain respect in a round pen by sending the horse away (punishment) and allowing him to come to you (reward) after he shows submission (head lowering, chewing, looking at you).

You will LOSE that respect anytime your horse does what you ask and you punish him, or you ask him too firmly to do something you could have asked for nicely, such as yanking his head around to turn when you could have just bent his head smoothly in the direction you wanted. You also lose respect when you ask for something, he does it, and you don't give a release. He will no longer trust that when he responds to you, he gets rewarded. These types of bad human habits cause horses to become "hard-mouthed" and "dead to our leg".

If you don't feel you already have your horse's respect, then work on getting it or get a trainer to help you. If you have a disrespectful horse and try to do some of the training steps, you may end up getting kicked for tapping his hip, or rearing when asking for a "one rein give" to the bit. You don't want to get hurt, so make sure you know that communication is open and flowing between you and your horse before trying to teach him anything.

Back to Intro    Next to Step 1: Hip-Over, Disengaging the Hip

Jennifer Goddard has been training horses of various breeds for over 20 years using her natural horsemanship methods. She has also ridden and shown in multiple disciplines and is owner of Levaland Farm, a 30 stall horse farm in Massachusetts. Jennifer has a degree in Finance and Entrepreneurial Studies from Babson College, and is also President of Equine Business Solutions, a business specializing in the starting and running of equine businesses.

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