There’s a big debate in the horse training world about whether you should be the ‘alpha’ mare, the ‘lead’ mare, the ‘boss’ stallion or the ‘submissive’ horse.
Trainers have allegedly camped out in the bush for months on end to study the behaviour of wild horse herds. They say that observing horses in their natural environment has taught them how horses think and interact, and this knowledge can be used in training situations.
These trainers say that horses have a strict, unvarying ‘pecking order’ from top to bottom. They say that horses view humans as a member of their herd and will interact with you according to your rank. The human must be at the top of this ‘pecking order’. You don’t want to be at the bottom because you’ll be bossed around.
According to this story, you have to show your horse that you’re the ‘alpha’, then he’ll ‘submit’ and do what he’s told. If your horse doesn’t do what you want, it’s because he doesn’t respect you and he thinks you’re lower in the ‘pecking order’. So we’re told to establish our leadership. Chase the horse, rope his legs or maybe even tie him down on the ground to show him who’s boss.
All these stories miss the point. Last time I looked, I didn’t have four hooves and a tail. And if you’re reading this, you don’t either. You’re a human, not a horse and horses know the difference.
Anyone who’s tried to handle a three-year-old colt that’s been running in the bush and never been caught, will be under no illusion about being a member of any horse herd. Such a horse is terrified of humans and will try anything to get away. He won’t come anywhere near a human. Put the same horse in a paddock with other horses and he’ll go to them and interact quite happily. When a human walks into the paddock, he’ll run as far away as possible. Horses know the difference between horse and human.
The good news is that you don’t have to go and sit in the bush to learn to understand horses. You don’t have to act like a horse. You don’t have to be the ‘alpha’ horse/person. You don’t have to chase your horse or make him ‘respect’ you.
All you have to do is gain your horse’s confidence and teach him every step of the way. If he doesn’t do what you want, you must ask yourself what you’ve done wrong, rather than blame your horse.
Start by simply going to your horse and rubbing his head. Show him that it’s always easy and pleasant to be with you. Whether you’re an experienced horseperson or a complete beginner, spend time each day rubbing your horse’s head. This will be the start of a new and better relationship between you and your horse.
Neil Davies began training horses full-time in 1977. Over the next 15 years, he started more than a thousand horses under saddle and trained thousands of so-called ‘problem’ horses. [read more]
He is the author of Fear-free Horse Training – every step of the way.
Visit Neil’s website at www.fearfreehorsetraining.com.