Let’s Discuss: Miss Manners

I don’t like it when a horse has bad ground manners. Horses are large creatures, and there needs to a mutual respect between handler and horse that includes not getting trod on, shoved around, or generally bullied.

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Bad manners can apply to dogs too- like those that drag you down the stairs

Whenever I start working with a new horse, or even a foal, my view to instilling good manners doesn’t include coercing the horse into good behavior. Instead, I try to put the horse in situations where the behavior I want is the easiest and most obvious option for the horse to try.

Rose Under Saddle

Working with one of my babies, wearing a saddle for the first time

For instance (aside: yes, get ready for some of my own training theory- not like I came up with it all but whatevs), starting with cross tying a weanling. I don’t immediately go to the cross ties, as the stimuli associated with these might make the horse feel trapped, and it would be my fault if they gave the wrong response due to their flight instinct. So instead, we start with leading. Moving forward while being attached to a lead rope gets them used to the idea of being controlled by their head, but constant movement means that there is little sense of claustrophobia involved. Once leading is old hat, then we progress to standing with the leadline.

I don’t like to give babies treats, because I think there is some danger of creating nippy horses that way, so instead positive reinforcement comes with scratches, words of encouragement, and attention. Keeping the sessions short, once standing in place becomes a concept, then I will slowly introduce the cross tie- one side at a time. Always short, always rewarding, and always allowing the horse an easy way to choose the best behavior.

Rose under saddle 2

Another with Rose

Sometimes though, when working with horses, we inherit another person’s bad training, or the horse’s personal baggage, that creates for bad manners on the ground. I know I have seen plenty of horses that shove their humans around, using their head or shoulders, and these in particular are my pet peeves. I’d more easily forgive a horse who didn’t willingly pick its feet up, or one that didn’t take the bridle so easily, but that’s just me.

What are your pet peeves when it comes to ground manners? How do you like to approach teaching good ground manners? Have you ever inherited sticky issues with bad behaviors that you’ve had to solve?

19 thoughts on “Let’s Discuss: Miss Manners

  1. Eli did not come with ground manners when I first started riding him–I ignored a lot and redirected his attention away from things that seemed to set him off. He is much more passive in the cross ties now than he was and actually stands relatively still, although he still has issues. He’s been the weirdest for me to work with–pretty much all the other horses I’ve encountered had very minor faults or none. Although I did have a chestnut that occasionally had to be sedated for the farrier.

  2. I am a MAJOR stickler for ground manners. I do not want to be crowded, pushed, bitten, or bothered. It’s just something we work on every day to keep him tuned up and paying attention.

    I have a really hard time handling horses that are bad on the ground. They’re big. Lots of serious accidents happen on the ground, and a little consistency goes a LONG ways. Just do it, people.

  3. It makes me crazy when horses don’t have a concept for personal space. That’s usually one of the first things I work to correct with a new project if they don’t understand it. I shouldn’t have to pull hard on the lead rope/reins when leading to avoid getting walked over, because they should be paying enough attention to know when I am stopping or turning. A little tug is reasonable, but much more than that and we have a discussion.

  4. I really dislike it when horses think you’re their protector and therefore it’s totally acceptable for them to spook INTO you because they want to put you between them and the scary thing. My space is my space regardless of scariness. Intrusions will be severely disciplined. Nilla is a never-ending case of ground manner training. Every time I think we’ve gotten over something, she’ll revert back when I’m least suspecting it. Dijon and Shasta have great ground manners. I don’t know if Nilla will ever be easy.

  5. I am bad juju for ground manners. The polo mare came to us with polo ground manners, and over the last four months I have somehow transformed her into a wiggly, screaming banshee, though she always was one to try and walk off while you were putting on her bridle so at least I haven’t made that worse. I really struggle to draw the appropriate lines with the horses I’m working with — I’m a ‘get it done’ kind of person, so I’m inclined to just buckle and snap through the garbage and ignore all that stuff, which I realise is to my long-term detriment. I am slowly learning how to draw lines at the right time — okay, so you CAN’T walk past me when we are leading, but I will allow you to nudge me a little standing still because I know you are still working on that, for example — but it is hard. I need a personal life coach in this matter.

  6. my mare had pretty horrific ground manners when i met her, and did not tie at all. her manners now are…. more or less better in almost every aspect. almost. i call her the ‘space invader’ and she’s rude AF with her head (i’m kinda ashamed of it, actually), but it’s been a process of picking battles. for me, i needed to be able to control her feet – and to do so meant letting other things she does (like being pushy with the head) slide. so now she’ll stand and tie and won’t run me over… but it doesn’t always translate to other people. maybe bc she’s older and got away with it for so long? idk… so here i am, a quasi stickler for manners with a rude horse. figures.

  7. I grew up with a friend who honestly carried a stick just to tack her horse up-he was just that nasty. I will never be able to tolerate any type of biting, nasty behavior on the ground. Just too dangerous!

  8. Bad ground manners are the most annoying thing ever. I agree with your training program for sure. Although I did hand feed my young horses more than I should (and am now suffering the consequences of that decision!).

    • Even though I follow this rule with youngsters, I am absolutely guilty of stuffing Foster full of treats. So it’s probably my fault that he’s so orally inclined. XD

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