Of all the Problem Horses that I have met, there has been
a predominant common link to that of various forms of ignorance and
resistance in the ground manners. Of the various forms of ignorance in
ground manners, the cause has been the manner in which the owner has
simply led the horse.
When a horse learns to pull, lean, push, fail to
give to pressure, climb up the owner's legs, invade the space of the
handler without permission, fail to get out of the handler's way, fail to
tie up, refuse to come forward, knock your hat off your head and so on, they build up an attitude of
ignorance, which translates to the whole pecking order thing that gets
back to the foundations of respect within the herd.
Quite frankly, this subject is my pet one and I cringe
every day of my life when I see horses being made ignorant after the
Breaker has made them light.
Why should it matter how we lead a horse? If the horse gets from point A
to B with you, arrives safely, despite any battle or ignorance en-route,
then that is good enough. Right?
Well that depends on what you want out of your life with horses, how
successful you want to be and whether you want to be a “normal” person or to set higher
boundaries and strive for excellence in horse ownership and training. The
choice is simple, you can be a part of the majority of around 80% in this
country who spend their lives “skull dragging” horses around on the end of
lead ropes or you can join the growing trend of understanding and
implementing a sophistication of ground handling and leading that has an
effect upon the whole of your relationship with your horse. From the
ground to the saddle!
Now, lets look at the history of teaching in Australia, that has brought
about the current situation of at least 80% of people leading horses the old
fashioned way and 20% of people following the “New Age” of understanding,
that of “Natural Horsemanship.
The old fashioned way came to Australia from England and was largely
brought about by the influence of the Racing Industry and the Mounted
Police. That then, influenced Pony Club and Instructors down through time
have carried the same teachings forward, right up to this day. So we have
a situation where the spin off from Pony Club teaching and the Racing
Industry, have combined to teach the current system of. “How to lead a
Horse” Things don't change much because those in charge of our Teaching
Institutions in Australia, don't think about such things. Mainly, that is
because they probably don't know about such things as there is a certain
type of person who gravitates to those jobs and they don't normally come
from the performers'. They mean well though.
PONY CLUB AND RACING INDUSTRY SYSTEM OF LEADING A HORSE
Use a conventional leather or webbing halter and six feet long cotton lead
Take hold of the lead rope about 100mm below the halter, arm outstretched
and hold the excess rope in your left hand.
The reasons behind this teaching are:
If you hold the horse right up close by the halter, you have the maximum
amount of control AND, you can stop it treading on you whilst you move
along. That is because you are stronger than a horse.
MY OBSERVATIONS OF THAT SYSTEM
I have been very lucky to have lived in both era’s and to have had a
completely open mind. I have therefore used the Racing system for 15 years
or so, spent 10 years changing my own way or handling horses simply
because it didn’t feel right and 14 years adopting the Natural
Horsemanship method. I have therefore led thousands of horses within each
system and here are my observations and learning of each and arguments to
support why I feel so adamantly that the old system is TOTALLY WRONG.
UNDERSTANDING THE HORSE
What happens if you push on a horse?…..It pushes back.
What happens if you pull on a horse?…..It pulls back.
Force meets force. The horse is stronger than humans'. The horse becomes the
dominant partner through strength. That equates to the horse being the No.
1 and we being No. 2. (If not in reality, at least in the horses mind)
RACING/PONY CLUB SYSTEM
Considering the fact that the strength of a horse is massive compared to a
human and therefore, we have no chance of competing, why in earth would
you even want to try.
But that is exactly what this system sets about proving. It sets up a
competition between, the strength of the horse, the will of the horse
versus the human and luckily, because of our superior mind, we normally
win, albeit shoddily and without style. Especially where kids are
concerned. Remember the strength ratio?
Then here is what happens when a
Pony Clubber tries to control a fractious horse.
Just say a pony suddenly shies to the right, away from the kid. The kid
receives rope burn, the kid falls over putting itself in a position of
receiving a kick in the head as the pony leaves.
The Pony escapes anyway. Strength wins every time.
Now, what happens if a pony shies towards the kid? Kid attempts to
stop pony, using stiff straight-arm and pure strength. Pony is stronger,
kid is weaker, and kid either falls over or pony jumps on kids feet or
legs or both.
What happens if pony rears?
Kid uses strength to restrain pony. Superior strength wins; kid gets
dragged beneath pony, pony jumps on kid or strikes it.
And so on through any scenario you like to think of….. We needn't think
about Warmblood horses.
HOW DOES THE BROOD MARE DO IT?
Then considering the fact that the brood mare doesn’t have a rope and
lead, how does she control the foal as if she has it on a string?
Well, she uses a system of training that “Natural Horsemanship” was
derived from. Those who developed Natural Horsemanship over many
generations did it by observing the interaction of the control that a mare
has over its foal and the control that the Alpha mare has over the herd. A
system of body language, pressure, assertiveness, applying pressure and
giving reward and relief for capitulation to all levels of threatening
looks, body language or actions.
THE NATURAL HORSEMANSHIP SYSTEM
Now, I am not going to attempt to boggle your mind with PPPPPPPPP or to do
what a true Natural Horsemanship convert would do if writing this, get
“Paralysis of the Analysis. I am extremely privileged to be always able to
take the middle ground in teaching and have never nor, will never, get
“One eyed” over any training system. I will attempt to keep to the debate.
I will therefore, not go into the training side of arriving at a Naturally
The Naturally trained horse is taught the following:
To above all, to never invade the space of a handler unless requested.
To be led on a loose rope, normally around three feet from the horses
To be haltered with only a rope halter due to the fact that leather and
webbing halters caused ignorant headed horses and rope halters have the
To give to pressure, be light in the head and to move away from the handler
at all times. (Even if the handler turns to the right.)
To immediately give if a handler pulls on the lead rope
To react to the body language of the handler.
THE DETRIMENTS OF THE RACING SYSTEM
When a handler holds a horse up by the jaw, they have no option but to be
constantly and intermittently fighting and pulling with a horse’s head.
This causes a thing called, IGNORANCE.
It is a fact that ground manners translate directly to manners under
saddle. An ignorant horse on the ground will most likely be ignorant under
saddle. Even worse, an ignorant strong horse on the ground will most
likely have a diminished quality of mouth (brakes) due to the following:
Contrary to commonly held belief, you cannot teach a horses mouth
anything. Why? because the mouth does not have a brain.
If we teach the horses brain, the mouth follows.
Therefore, if the ground manners of a horse are heavy, ignorant and
resistant, the mouth is inevitably detrimentally affected.
There are a number of reasons why the OTTB has the worst mouth in the
world and the direct link to a total lack of ground training is one of the
When a horse is led and held up by the halter, the horse has no option
but to be invading the space of the handler. I call them “Leg Climbers” It
is never the horse’s fault; it is a trained thing, even though that
training was never meant to happen in the first place. Many horses even
become psychological dependant on standing almost on top of the handler
and when commencing their re-education, they simply cannot handle being
away from us.
I have not met an ex-racehorse that can handle being sent out of my space,
and, if they are, they immediately have to creep back in to be standing on
top of you. They have been latently trained to be in your space and they
simply cannot handle not being there. The other reason is that due to
their success of manipulating, hip and shouldering handlers and basically
leading them instead of being led, they are smart enough to know that if
they have the space of a human, due to strength and size, they have the
great advantage. There is more to it of course.
THE BENEFITS OF THE N/H SYSTEM
Lightness of the horse on the ground and therefore, under saddle.
Relaxed, happy horses that know their boundaries and do not have massive
conflict going on inside their head. Horses that do not invade your space
lead you or attempt to choose the direction of travel and above all, safe horses to lead!!
When we get right down to it, rope halters get horses attention better
than others and demand lightness. Leather and webbing ones are all too
wide and comfortable on the enormous bony head of a horse. 12 foot lead ropes also give more leeway and available freedom to move
when controlling horses, where as the six foot one gives very little room
for error and are almost always too light, are like elastic bands and lack
substance. They do not transfer signals along them to a horse.
A classic example of this is often seen at Halter Shows where the young
colt of the Thoroughbred or Warm blood breed (with height) rears up and of
course the lead is simply snatched from the handler's hand because the
distance from handlers hand to horses halter or chain is simply further
than what a six foot lead rope can handle. Stallion is immediately loose.
Now that’s dangerous and dumb.
OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH & SAFETY
Fighting with horses on the end of a short lead rope equals danger. Horses
invading your space and being within striking distance equals danger.
Horses escaping from handlers because of inadequate leading and strength
skills equals danger to horse, handler and others in the immediate
vicinity, including horses escaping onto roads, traffic etc, not to
mention injury to horses. All of this can and does lead to Legal Action in
these dangerous times and above all, IMHO, could, in the future, equal a
possible justification of Negligence in handling.
ON THE BIT
Recently, I had it put to me by an Educational Institution Lecturer in the Racing Industry, that
handlers within that Industry, are taught to lead horses in such a manner,
in order to have horses “On the Bit” and to make them want to race. Here
are my answers to that statement.
IMHO, there is no connection at all to the manner of leading a horse,
ground manners and the desire to race. I believe Thoroughbreds have had it
bred into them for long enough now to have it firmly imprinted.
Quarter horses all over the world are involved in racing and are “On the
Bit”, and yet they are led in the western way. The richest horse race in
the world is a Quarter Horse Race and the fastest race horses in the world
are Quarter Horses.
Racehorses end up on the bit as soon as they are ridden by track riders as
these riders do not and cannot have, “Leg On” They hang off the horses
mouth as part of their balancing mechanism and just as the saying goes,
“You pull, they pull” they grab the bit.
As soon as a young horse experiences faster work on a track, with other
horses, they grab the bit immediately as do Pony Club Novelty Event horses
and for the same reasons
If you ride a fully trained western horse, one that
has never experienced being on the bit ever in it’s life, on one Hunt Club
outing, it will be “On the Bit” and require major re-education to get it
off the bit again.
There are many more arguments.
So, which system of leading the horse has the most control and safety? I
know and am willing to prove it to anyone, that the Natural Horsemanship
system, even without any prior training and even on the Racehorse, has a
tenfold amount of control and safety under all circumstances.
As the Racing Industry is almost directly connected to our Training
Institutions, it should become more open minded in all things
“Horsemanship” This subject is arguably the most important of all in
Equestrian Sports and yet it is the one most lacking in the Racing
Industry, the Pony Club and our Training Institutions. It must also realize that a large percentage of trainees will
not go into the Racing Industry and a lot go simply to add to their
knowledge in pursuit of other disciplines such as dressage etc.
Employers and Workplace Trainers in alternative horse sports will not
accept their horses being dragged around by the chin because of the damage
it does to established training, the dangers it causes for workplace
safety and the risk of escape and serious injury to valuable young stock.
Not to mention not being able to reach some warm blood horse chins.
So if you are entering or are a member of the Horse Industry, seek to aim
higher, join the new age world of horsemanship, do your horses a favor.
Set your goals higher and dare to dream. Remember, as Pat says, 80% of the horse world
is “Normal” and “Normal” is what everyone else does around you, so you do.
Normal changes every 50 kilometers across the world, depending what normal
is in that part of the world at the time and what everyone else is doing
around them, in their part of the world. or which Guru has just been
through Town. heheheh
17th March, 2002