A polite horse is safer to handle so Horse magazine's Nicky Moffatt asked the experts for tips to improve your horse's manners.
1. Safety First
It is important to always wear the correct equipment such as a hard hat, gloves and proper boots when doing groundwork with your horse. If you can, use a long rope or lunge line attached to a headcollar so you can create more space between you and the horse when necessary.
2. Use touch
A horse should allow you to touch him all over- it is a sign of trust and will make him safer to handle. Begin by touching him in areas he is happy with and find his ticklish spots so you make it a pleasant experience. Look out for him lowering his head and softening his eyes, this indicates he is enjoying it.
3. Introduce scary objects
The last thing you want when you are riding is your horse bolting at the sight of something scary so prepare him for anything. Introduce things like walking over tarpaulins, objects that flap in the wind, and noisy things slowly. If he gets scared move further away from the object until he is back in his comfort zone and build it up again.
4. Avoid titbits
Horses are not motivated by food so don't use titbits in training. If your horse is greedy and bolshy avoid titbits altogether to make sure you don't encourage ill manners.
5. Be consistent
The most important tool in training a horse is consistency. If you have a horse that is prone to nipping and some days you correct him and other days you don't the horse won't know what is allowed. Make things black and white and give your horse a clear chance to learn.
6. Spend time together
Quality time with your horse strengthens your relationship. Spend some time grooming him, scratching his ticklish spots or grazing him in-hand.
7. Make it fun
If you can make training fun you will both enjoy it more and your horse will want to progress and work for you. Happy people make happy horses so if you are in a bad mood or in a rush leave training for another day. Every session should be relaxed, fun and easy.
8. Make the whip friendly
Horses should learn that the whip is not something to fear, because it should never be used as punishment. Build up gradually being able to touch him all over with a whip, starting with the handle end and then doing the same with the longer end. If you need to go back a stage because he gets worried, do so.
9. Work in company
Horses need to get used to others coming and going so ask friends to come in the school while you are doing some ground work and leave before you. If your horse is upset when others leave, ignore his behaviour and continue with what you were doing. Once he learns he is safe with you it will become less of an issue and you will be safer on his back in the same situation.
10. End on a good note
Have an aim for every training session and make sure you break it down into manageable chunks. For example if your goal is to get him leading politely, aim to keep him walking alongside you nicely for half a circle in one session. When he has achieved this give him a kind word and a pat. Then in the next session you can aim for a whole circle and keep building on it.
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