A basic and easy lesson in horsemanship is how to safely move around your horse. Everything that you will ever do with, to and near your horse starts with this way.
It’s easy to remember that he’s big. Horses are powerful, can be fidgety, spirited, spooky – lets just say that you should keep aware of being around a living, breathing, feeling animal that is bigger and more powerful and much heavier than you are.
Learn proper horse handling techniques from the beginning and forevermore capture the love, respect and alpha role to your own special horse.
Wear boots when working with your horse
If you have ever had a horse step on your toe or foot, you already know why this is an important safety step when moving around horses. You’ll have no doubts about how heavy a horse is, how much it can hurt. You’re likely to shed some tears if he really nailed you. Generally, horses avoid stepping on you, but accidentally do somehow. There are a few that aim for your foot, for whatever reason. No matter, trust me and avoid getting your foot in the way. Boots will protect you more than sneakers or other footwear. (Later in the series, the boots issue will come up again because you should never ride without boots on your feet!)
Put a horse halter on your horse in his stall
Do not ever attempt to lead your horse out of his stall by slinging a leadrope around his neck. Your horse should have his own halter. Ideally it is right outside his stall door, and all you need to do is grab it and a leadrope to lead him. Always secure a halter on his head, and buckle it. Adjust it so it fits perfectly.
Put a leadrope on the halter in his stall before leading him out
Believe it or not, this is a very important safety step. Never lead a horse by the halter. Always, underscored with explanation point, snap on a leadrope. Here are several reasons: He’s a big horse, may spook or get it into his head he wants to go his own way and pulls back, or rebels by popping his head up, or bolts forward, or he plants all fours and balks, or he strikes out or rears. What will you do, oh frail little human at the halter? Why if you are lucky, he won’t step on you, strike you, run over you, lift you in the air, jerk your arm out of its socket – do you get it? Snap on the leadrope, be aware of the alive, thinking animal in your charge and do things the correct way.
Cross tie your horse correctly and whenever you work around him
If the horse is untrained to cross ties, tie him on one tie no shorter or longer than about 2 to 3 feet away from a solid wall. Use a quick-release knot and provide level, dry, non-slippery footing for the horse.
With a new horse or an unruly one, the tying lessons are best started in the confines of his stall in case he breaks lose. Having said, “Break lose,” do what you can to avoid him ever snapping his halter or bolting lose. The primary reason is that once a horse realizes his power and breaks free, he will repeat this quickly learned bad habit; then it becomes a behavior. Worse, it will be hard to trust him on any ties.
The tying lessons are really important and are always best accomplished calmly and kindly. An obedient, respectful horse that stands well and is responsive on cross ties is a joy to work around, and you will forever be thankful.
Never leave your horse unattended for any length of time while cross tied
This is a rule that primarily regards the safety of the horse. He may get bored or fidgety while fending for himself on the ties, get a leg over one of them, whatever. A lot of things can inadvertently happen, so supervision is advised. Also, there is always the possibility he can get himself turned around and then it can become dangerous to free him for both you and the horse. Finally, he could break free and then you could be in for another whole set of problems.
Be aware of your movements around the horse
Do not stand directly behind the rear of the horse or smack-dab in front of him either. Horses have blind spots and it’s never a good idea to be out of his line of vision or to pop in and out of the blind spot. Spook him because you don’t heed this rule and the kick that he could let loose will hurt. Seriously, your horse could startle for any number of reasons and let go of a kick. Take care to let him know you are there. What should you do? Why talk to him. I say talk up a “blue streak” – tell him he’s a good horse, the sky is blue, you aced a test – let him hear you and fall in love with your voice. I have my horses so well trained that they listen and obey many commands or convenience moves. They so very much want to please their favorite person.
Touch and/or talk to your horse as you go about your work
As you work on grooming or bathing or tacking up, you must move around the horse. Never duck under his neck. Never duck under his tummy either. Go around his rear from one side to the other, softly touching his flank as you talk to him.
If your horse has a tendency to let fly with his hooves, you’ll have to address this habit. I can warn you off beating, kicking or otherwise making him fear you. Instead, when he does something this serious, bellow out at forceful, fearsome “NO, Bad Horse.” Make him hear anger in your voice. This article is not discussing fixing problems but kicking is serious enough to discipline immediately. Always use the same approach when your horse makes a big, bad mistake. Just never beat him, make him fear you, or abuse him because, guess what, you’ll simply get another problem, or several more.
Don’t give treats while working around your horse on cross ties
Hold off giving treats until you are completely done. Instead, use soft, cooing voice to denote your pleasure when he does things right. If he has done something amazing and you really want to make a point, alright then slip him a piece of carrot or horse cookie and tell him how proud you are. But back to the rule – Don’t get into the habit of treats. The horse will begin looking for treats, and learn to nip or nuzzle for them. Instead, hold off with the treats until he goes back to his stall. Give him his treat in his grain bucket or give him his cookie then. He will soon learn the proper horse treat rituals.
Reinforce lessons learned
If your horse is young or needs more work, keep his lessons short and always end them on a positive note. Never lose your temper. By all means, if he does something wrong, let him know by voice inflection that he is naughty. Administer a correction as soon as possible after something isn’t done right or he misbehaves. Most of all, be consistent – don’t ignore something one time and make a big deal out of it the next time.
It is important to establish a pleasant and safe relationship with your horse from the very beginning. It beats pain, mishaps and even having to “unlearn” bad habits.
Heidi Rucki writes as The Old Gray Mare for www.DressYourHorse.com and her blog sites.