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Alpha Natural Horsemanship

‘Ask with lightness, encourage without forcing, correct with softness’
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Respect, Trust, Confidence & Leadership

 




Where Do You Begin?  From the Ground!

Prior to embarking on this journey with your horse it is imperative to evaluate and do a diagnostics of; who your horse is?  What it know and offers?  What it needs?  Where your starting point is?  Use a generic step by step, progressive training plan and focus on the Natural Survival Instincts all horses are born with.  If you objectively assess what both you and your horse’s capabilities are at the present time, you can then easily gauge your successes as you progress through this training program I look at four things when evaluating a horse; safety, respect for the handler, overall confidence and skill level. When you work with a horse that has issues, is being retrained, limited handling or is just being started, he will score low on the diagnostics evaluations on these attributes. If your horse has or has not Foundations of Ground and/or Mounted training, you will be in a better position to identify what areas need work and refine a generic Training Plan using an implementation strategy that will be specific to your based on the evaluation!  

If you have history that the horse was abused or suspect it was; please read;

Abused/neglected horses – rehab Parts 1 & 2.

There is no such thing as a short cut in the world of proper horse training! Training is all about commitment, working consistently to produce the required emotional, mental balance and physical development of the horse and it all starts with ground training. During the evaluation it also enables the horse and us to become better acquainted and for the horse to build his trust and confidence in us, to realize that we are no threat and mean no harm. This we do asking the horses to respond to cues from our body language and exercises as well as working with the natural survival instincts it was born with and energy contained in the human and equine body.  How your horse sees you on the ground indicates exactly how he will behave under saddle. It is also why I do a few minutes of ground work whenever I handle or ride my horse until he is mature or is a horse of a thousand miles.  Ground work begins the moment you go to get your horse from the paddock or pasture and ends only when you turn him loose again. It gives you regular opportunities to enhance the partnership with your horse, as well as the chance to make sure your horse is sound, he is focused on you and he sees you as the leader.


Training
You cannot rely on just a few techniques when working with horses. “You need to think on your feet and be able to adjust what you’re doing to what the horse needs, accepts and responses to.  The fundamental components of successful horse training and horsemanship are; Respect, Trust and Confidence so the horse willingly accepts your Leadership. A respectful horse is one that does not invade your space without your permission. Gaining a horses respect is the key first step in establishing a safe partnership with your horse. With patience, consistency and fair but firm leadership, you can teach your horse to respect you by focusing on the Foundation of Ground Training!  It’s difficult to over emphasize the importance of Foundation Training and the impact it as when you are in the saddle!  This is the most important training the horse will first learn and will determine how successful the rider will be in the saddle.  The big secret to interacting with horses is communication, allow the horse to make a mistake then correct him, adjusting to the horses personality, be firm but fair.  Sure, we can have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to training techniques and horse handling, but first and foremost we must bridged the horse-human divide and learned how to communicate with our horse.  Do not become focused on the technical aspect of horse training when first starting out with horses, because that is akin to not seeing the forest for the trees.  All that knowledge, while helpful, will mean nothing until you learn how to communicate with horses.  Given the horse’s natural instincts, whether it responds or reacts during training on the ground or in the saddle depends on how we communicate our intent.  How it responds or reacts or likes or does not like what we ask of our horse offers us a wealth of information about whom we are being while interacting with our horse. 

trust each other.

Distrust is common Distrust is widespread and common in relationships of all kinds including horse-human. Horses learn to brace, resist, ignore or explode, run away and avoid all in the name of distrust. Of course this lack of trust can be masked as or referred to by other adjectives such as fear, sensitivity, dullness, hard-mouthed, spooky, hot, etc. The list really goes on and on.  Three valuable tips to earning a horse's trust and respect


  •  Set up learning situations that benefit the horse as well as yourself
  •  Make sure the learning situations are well within the horse’s capability to learn quickly
  •  Allow the horse to have some degree of choice in the situation and if he make the wrong choice DO NOT PUNISH instead     allow the mistake and correct it.


Respect
Respect is crucial because it opens the door for trust and building a safe, mutually enjoyable partnership between you and your horse.

    •  "Gaining Respect must be begin to be established from the very first day you work with your horse,. "He should be respectful of you, and you should be respectful of him. It’s a two-way street. Respect is the foundation of control; without it, you won’t be able to control your horse and he won’t be any fun to be around.  "Unfortunately, respect is nontransferable. "That means you could buy a well-trained horse, but if you don’t establish a respectful partnership with him, he won’t stay well-trained for long. Just because I have earned a horse’s respect doesn’t mean I can hand him over to you and he will respect you the same way. Each person is responsible for gaining each horse’s respect.”  "If I sold you one of my well-trained horses and you took him home and didn’t gain his respect by asserting yourself as the leader and moving his feet forward, backward, left and right, he would go from being a safe, obedient horse to being a disrespectful thug that pushes you around,”  "In order for the horse to continue to use the thinking side of his brain and remain respectful, you have to constantly remind him how to use it by moving his feet forward, backward, left and right and always rewarding the slightest try.
    • Step by Step to Respect Horses learn best using a step-by-step system. "They’re smart creatures, but they can’t process too many different things at the same time.”I once realized that if I took the time to break a lesson into steps and introduced each step to a horse separately, he caught on to the lesson a lot quicker and progressed through his training at a faster rate.”  "You earn a horse’s respect by moving his feet forward, backward, left and right and always rewarding the slightest try,

Trust 

If you train the horse to trust you then it is the base for all future training. It is the fundamental foundation of your relationship with your horse.  Trust is absolutely crucial when working with horses. You need to trust your horse, and your horse needs to trust you.  If your horse doesn’t trust you then you will end up with refusals, skittish behavior and unpleasant experiences. If you don’t trust your horse then your horse won’t learn to be responsible, he won’t like you because you are too controlling and predator like, and you won’t develop a relationship where your horse wants to work for you.  You can only get the best out of your horse when you can both trust one another!  Building trust is vital, and isn’t something you attain once and then never think about again. Maintaining the behaviors that your horse sees as trustworthy is imperative.  If there’s one thing all horses need; particularly an abused horse needs, its consistency and behaving the same way under each situation.  Inconsistency in humans is very damaging for horses, especially when the human wavers between the extremes of being buddies with the horse and later getting so mad or frustrated that the horse is yelled at, hit or worse. Our inconsistency results in a horse that becomes very distrustful and can lead to some very unpredictable behaviors. Being dependable really helps them start to trust humans. For wild and abused horses, and especially for those that are pretty far around the bend mentally, this absolute dependability is very important for them.   Began by feeding, watering and cleaning pens at the exact same times every day. Then over time, handle the horses in the same consistent way.

 

    • Set Rules     Just as it’s important to move on from the past, it’s crucial to establish expectations for what is allowed and not allowed.   Just because a horse had a tough past doesn’t mean it can push on us, step on our toes or walk over the top of us. ”I think a lot of people get abused horses and then make excuses for behavior because of what they’ve been through.  The person thinks that making a correction will be overwhelming to the horse,” Maureen Fredrickson-MacNamara says.  She adds, “The real issue is how you will respond if the horse doesn’t do what you ask. Will you become totally unglued, unpredictable and punish or scare the horse?  No, you’ll just quietly ask again that the horse stand still or pick up his foot or whatever, without anger and without taking it personally.”

    •  Establish your Boundaries How do you feel about people you encounter who have zero boundaries with those around them? Do you immediately come to trust them, or instead do you find that you put up a bigger wall than you would around other new people you meet? I fall in the latter category and prefer to be surrounded by those with clear and healthy boundaries. In part I move away from people with hazy boundaries because my experience is that they expect those hazy boundaries to go both ways, and in allowing everyone to traipse across their boundaries all willy-nilly they feel it is okay to do the same to you without permission. They may even become upset when you tell them otherwise!  When horses are taught early on that boundaries are hazy, or non-existent, it makes it very difficult to build trust in those horses later on. They’re in your personal space whenever they like, and when you tell them to respect your boundaries they get upset! The longer you put it off the harder it will be to set and enforce the healthy boundaries for yourself. But this isn’t a one way street and it is vital that while enforcing our boundaries we also respect the horse’s boundaries in return.  Instead, identify what your ideal boundaries are – even if you aren’t very good at communicating them to your horse yet. Are you comfortable having your horse run all over you or would you be happier and more trusting of your horse if he stayed two feet away from you unless you ask otherwise? Next, identify your horse’s present boundaries, see any correlations? If you find yourself struggling to successfully communicate to the horse your boundaries stay open to trying alternative means. If you want your horse to keep a distance when leading and holding him back with the lead isn’t working you might try reinforcing with your voice or halting and asking him to take a step backwards when he invades your space.

  • Respect the horse’s Boundaries But how do we respect the horse’s boundaries?! When the horse shows that he is upset or uncomfortable with you touching him somewhere or being in his space, moving too quickly, etc – respect it! That doesn’t mean you’re planning for a lifetime of a head-shy or impossible to catch horse… It means that you acknowledge the horse is uncomfortable and you proceed at THE HORSE’S pace, not your own. If the roles were reversed you wouldn’t have it any other way so why force your horse to acclimate at a speed that doesn’t suit him? Don’t because it’s counter-intuitive and will create other problems down the road.

  • Trust our horse But don’t forget that we also lose trust in our horses! Unfortunately for us, the only way to repair our own lost trust is to work in gaining the horse’s trust rather than looking for a horse to build our trust. There are definitely horses which help boost our confidence, but without working through our own trust issues we’ll eventually see that confidence weaken and our old trust issues come to the surface again. Much better to be proactive!
    • Inconsistency In humans is very damaging for horses, especially when the human wavers between the extremes of being buddies with the horse and later getting so mad or frustrated that the horse is yelled at, hit or worse. Our inconsistency results in a horse that becomes very distrustful and can lead to some very unpredictable behaviors. 

 

    •  Protect Your Space The most important step in building trust with your horse is to protect your personal space. I often see humans wanting to snuggle up with their horses, except the horse ends up rubbing too hard and causing the human to step backward – or when its time for the snuggle session to stop the human backs away instead of the horse.    A horse is supposed to see you as a strong and great leader that can keep both yourself and the horse safe – but if you can’t even protect your own space, then how on earth are you going to protect your horse from the scary wolf that hides in the arena, or the alligator that is waiting to jump out from behind the rock on a trail?  People often don’t fully understand the massive impact that protecting your personal space can have. In general, you need to be more aware of your feet….. DON’T move your feet! If you are done with your snuggle session, you back the horse away – but you DON’T move your feet.  If the horse is standing with you while you are waiting for something, grooming, etc and he gets too close for comfort, you move your horse – but you DON’T move your feet.  The second part to this is making sure that you don’t move your feet when you go to back the horse up either. Instead wiggle your rope, flap your arms (do the chicken dance!), etc to get your horse to back up out of your space – but you DON’T move your feet.  You only move your feet when you decide its time to move on or to ask for something different…. or if the situation would be dangerous if you don’t get out of the way.

  •  Standing Still Teach your horse that he has to think and get your permission before he moves a foot: this means "stand like a statue,” not "stay approximately in the same place.”  If you stand facing your horse, your body language suggests you are standing your ground and the horse should not come into your space. Only if you relax your posture and invite the horse in, should the horse come to greet you. 

  •  Protect Your Horse While protecting yourself and your space, you need to protect your horse. This means protecting your horse from any human, animal, or objects that could hurt him.

 

Confidence 

Build Confidence in yourself and your Horse!  Some horses are naturally braver than others and some horses tend to be fairly skittish and flighty.  Horses lacking confidence are more likely to buck, rear, run away and shy. Horses that haven’t had a proper education do not know how to respond to your cues, which makes them dangerous to ride and difficult to handle.

 

  • Acknowledge, encourage, wait, praise and revisit

    When we use a proper step by step teaching process if we encounter something our horse is concerned about; acknowledge, encourage, wait, praise and revisit they can become more confident when they are properly exposed to many different objects, environments, sounds and situations.  Horses associate positive experiences when we use a step by step approach by allowing them to smell, touch and walk over different objects is one way to build confidence. Provided the horse doesn’t get hurt or intimidated during the experience.

    • Our Mindset is Key

    When I present my horse with challenges and obstacles, I make sure I’m in the mindset to build confidence in my horse as we complete them. For me, it is  about building his confidence so that he could trust me when he might be leery of something. Our mindset is key; that recognizes that it is not about the obstacle itself. There will be plenty of situations where the purpose will be real and there won’t be extra time and why it is important to set up these situations when there is time. Creating artificial situations is a special time I dedicate to each horse to build him up, so that when it is “for real,” he will be ready to say: “Yes, and how fast?”

    •  Change is good, change builds confidence

    Once you have introduced your horse to a variety of things, it is important to try and give the objects a purpose or make them part of your play.  This is where you get to be creative and think of ways you can incorporate your ground and riding cues into challenging games that can test your communication, build confidence, and ultimately build a better partnership.

    ·         Give your horse the benefit of the doubt

    When your trust in a person is still fragile, something as simple as being given the benefit of the doubt can make a lifelong impression. On the converse side when you aren’t given the benefit of the doubt and instead openly accused, blamed or ridiculed your confidence and trust can be easily trampled.  How often do we ask our horse to give us the benefit of the doubt; when we accidentally kick him in the butt while swinging our leg over the saddle, pulling back on the reins when we’ve lost our balance and almost took a fall, etc. And yet when he misunderstands us, is concerned something might eat both of us or gets frightened and pulls back on the cross-ties; are we as quick to give him the benefit of the doubt?



    Leadership is earned  

    Although some trainers often use the terms “alpha horse” and “dominance”, horse owners often misunderstand these terms. Some believe it means bullying the horse and demanding absolute submission. How many of us would trust a leader who treated us that way?  When horses have been with people who use a dominant style of training, where demands must be carried out immediately and without question, and they are later placed with people who are less demanding and less consistent, their potential for explosion is much higher. This means you are a partner, not a dictator to be feared.  Does your horse ever bump its head into you? Has your horse ever pushed you out of its way with its body? Does your horse pin its ears when you approach it? How about tried to run right over you when you are leading it through a gate or when it gets spooked? If so, then it’s very likely that your horse doesn’t have enough respect for you and knows that it can dominate you.  To be a happy and successful horse owner you can take action to prevent these situations from occurring by showing your horse that you have the ability to be the leader.  


                                                                                  Positive reinforcement methods encourage positive attitudes

    Negative reinforcement methods breed negative attitudes

     

      • Forego Dominant Training Methods

    Although it’s decreasing, I still hear the comment ‘you’d better be the boss, because if you aren’t your horse will take over. That’s an attitude of creating submission that I think can certainly be abusive, and it’s sad because it’s not necessary. When we communicate with horses and give them a chance to understand what we want of them and we’re clear, they will be responsive to our request.  Once our horse respects us, is confident in itself including us the relationship develops in trusting us to be their leader.”  Experience tells me that another source of abuse is this trend nowadays of some people labeling an animal as dominant.  In the study of animal behavior, dominance is a rank; it’s not a behavior. Dominant animals use dominant and submissive signaling, but often when you label a horse as dominant it’s giving people permission to be more coercive than they should be.

    • The best way to do Earn your leadership

    Is to use a horse specific, step by step Foundation of Ground training plan to gain; Respect, Trust and build Confidence and earn leadership.

    • Redirect mistakes, don’t punish them

    Mistakes are often self-realized, we don’t need someone following us around telling us our mistakes let alone punishing us for them! But it is very easy to do this with our horse. He doesn’t respond to the legs immediately and gets a whack with the whip. He hesitates at a jump and gets smacked on the shoulder with the whip. He’s not sure about being caught from the pasture so we chase him around until he’s dripping sweat and begging to stop.  If you were punished every time you made a mistake, how easy would you find it to go back to work immediately and not only focus but be flawless as well? Curbing any tendency to punish and replacing it with redirection can not only improve your horse’s trust but also shorten the learning curve as you minimally disrupt his ability to concentrate
      • Test your relationship and leadership
    By exploring new objects: introduce tarps, balls, clippers, massagers, plastic bags, tossing lead ropes over the horse, go over poles, cross bridges, stand in water, stand on a pedestal, use stuffed toys, hula hoops, and whatever you can think of! Keep it safe, keep it interesting.  You can also change up the scenery in your arena/play area by posting signs, hanging drapes/curtains in different areas, moving different things around like barrels, jumps, etc. Your horse should be comfortable in a changing environment so try NOT to always store your jumps in the same corner, or always park the gator in the same spot, or always have the mounting block in the same corner, etc.
      • Provide a Focus
    You provide the focus, trust your horse to follow your focus, and you correct your horse politely if you need to. You are patiently persistent at correcting your horse until they understand and follow your focus.  As a protective and great leader, it is also your job to provide a focus to your partnership. Everything you do should be because you provided that focus or goal. Your focus can be as simple as ‘lets graze,’ or more complex things like ‘lets perform flying lead changes.’  No matter what you choose for your focus, you need to know what you are doing, and your horse needs to know what is expected.  For example, if you are standing in the barn grooming you can provide the focus for the horse is to stand still. If the horse starts to move around then you continue to provide the same focus by correcting your horse back into the same spot for grooming – and then trust your horse again to stand still (don’t stay tight on the lead rope).
    Another example, if you are riding and you want the horse to follow a circle pattern. You can start riding the circle pattern and try to ride using your body, if your horse isn’t following the circle pattern then correct with the rein until the horse is back on the circle and then allow the horse to follow the circle pattern without micromanaging with the rein.  Remember to keep your focus reasonable – if your horse doesn’t usually come in to be handled it might be unfair to ask the horse to stand for an hour while you pull their mane. Instead ask for 10 minutes of standing, then have a break, and then ask for 15 minutes and then have a break, etc. Or if your horse is only just learning flying lead changes then just ask for one lead change and then a walking reward break.  Remember to be open to your horse’s ideas – they might be trying to follow your focus but offer something different. For example you might be asked them to go sideways over a log but they might jump it. In these situations it’s usually best to smile, thank the horse for trying but then ask them to try again making sure your communication is clear.

     

    Predicting the Future?
    Are there any fail-safe ways to figure out a prognosis for a mishandled horse and discern whether he will recover to become a useful member of equine society? Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. 

     

    What Are the Expectations?
    While a horse may not be able to do what he was originally trained or bred to do, perhaps he can be happy and successful doing something different.   I think successful rehabilitation depends on the situation. For example, if you have a horse that’s extremely noise sensitive, and he’s in a suburban area [with an inexperienced handler], he may not do very well. But if he can be placed in a quiet rural area with an experienced, quiet rider doing primarily trail riding, he probably could be saved.”   
    For me, as long as there’s try, you’ve got hope. It’s when the horse is shut down to the point he isn’t interested in even trying to work with you that the situation doesn’t look so good.

     

    Are You the Right Person for This Horse?
    Many of us can only have one or two horses due to time, space or money constraints. If a particular horse isn’t working out, there’s no shame in admitting that. While this horse may be able to be helped, it may simply be that you’re not the right person to train it.   
    “I think it’s good to remember that we are not always the best person for a particular animal. “We like to think we are, but sometimes another person will have exactly what that horse needs in terms of experience, personality and interests. It’s not personal, it’s just life.” 

     

    Not all can be trained
    Sadly, some horses can’t be aided back into productive members of equine society. They may have such horrific pasts that they will always be unpredictable, not trusting, and usually dangerous as a result. Or they may have permanent soundness issues.  
    “If we’re dealing with physical issues and the horse is unable to be ridden, he may be able to be pasture sound and can be a wonderful companion or pet. Other options are retirement on acreage, preferably with other horses. However, don’t assume that a horse wants to be turned out and forgotten. Many horses still enjoy positive human interaction, and they want to be valued. Turning them out with no contact can be torture for some horses.  In some cases, horses truly are mentally unstable. If this is the case, and the horse is also dangerous on the ground or with other horses, we must take a hard look at the life we can offer the animal and what sort of life he is likely to have. Sometimes, the most compassionate outcome is euthanasia.

     

    Moving Ahead 
    Rehabilitating an abused horse is a long-term project but can be extremely rewarding. While physical issues can be resolved relatively quickly, emotional and behavioral traumas will take time to overcome.  
    “Over the years, I have trained horses that I thought I’d never get through to.  They were so shut down and so afraid. But often in several weeks using Natural Horsemanship methods with them, I would notice a positive change; softening of their eyes, more calmness and more responsiveness.

    Success depends not on the amount of times but the quality time you can spend with horses and giving them the attention and praise they need for the smallest try.

    If you can be consistent, trustworthy, true to yourself and the horse.  Also say what you mean and mean what you say, your horse has a good chance of recovering and being fine..