Get Along Better With Your Horse! Read Training Tips!

Get Along Better With Your Horse! Read Training Tips!

Submitted by: Jan Snodgrass
Phone: 540/364-7673
Email Address: excellenthorse(at)
Date Added: 2/24/2013

I am running a series of training tips on my facebook page! This training tip is about dominance. Dominance is a bit of a buzz word these days. There are some people who think that in order to train a horse, you must be more dominant than the horse--you must be "alpha". Of course, as we have already seen in these articles, that is just not true. I have worked with Linda Tellington-Jones for over 20 years and she never talks about using dominance as a training method. She just talks about getting horses to respond. But if you are going to work around horses, it is important to understand what dominant behavior is because, a) understanding it can keep you safe, and b) you can use it to your advantage.

You often hear people talk about alpha horses and alpha behavior without a true understanding of horse herd behavior. Enter Carolyn Resnick. Carolyn is an extraordinary trainer. I found her in my search to learn liberty training. Much of Carolyn's training method is based on what she learned by working with wild horses as a child. She writes about this in her book, "Naked Liberty." Starting at age 10, Carolyn spent three summers working with wild horses in their natural habitat. She got herself accepted as a member of the herd and eventually was able to ride the horses without any tack at all. She was able to do this by learning all about herd behavior by watching and interacting with the horses.

According to Carolyn, in horse herd hierarchy there are three types of horses, dominant, submissive and herd leaders. A dominant horse is not the same as a leader. And a leader is not necessarily dominant. A herd leader operates differently than a dominant horse. My horse, Harry is a leader, while Magic and Tommy are dominant . While a dominant horse may pick fights and be aggressive toward the other horses to keep or establish his position in the herd, a leader establishes his position in a different way. He or she will sneak up on an inattentive horse and chase him off a patch of grass. A leader always has the welfare of the herd in mind and that means keeping the other horses alert to potential danger. By running a horse off a patch of ground when the horse is not paying attention, the leader teaches the horse to be attentive and to keep an eye out for danger. This practice also keeps the herd members focused on the leader.

Though the dominance hierarchies seen in domestically kept horses today may be somewhat different than those in wild horses, they still influence how the horses behave around humans. It is important to understand how.

Here is a quote from Carolyn's book:
"If a horse sees a person's behavior in a specific interaction as a lead horse behavior he will typically perform what he is being asked to perform. If he sees a person's behavior as submissive horse behavior, he will try to direct you. If he sees a person's behavior behavior as a dominate horse behavior, he will almost always question your authority. The only time this is not so is once you have established a deep bond with a the horse and a commitment to accept your leadership."

That is something to think about!

Carolyn also writes about how much of herd behavior revolves around food. Horses learn this from the very beginning. A mare decides when her foal can nurse and when he cannot. Just the fact that we feed our horses gives us the chance to interact with them and to set up rules of behavior that will make our horses easier or harder to work with. This is where the importance of understanding dominance comes into play. If you feed a horse in such a way that the horse takes food away from you or decides when he can eat, you are inviting trouble by allowing your horse to use dominant behavior against you. But if, instead, you give food in such a way that your horse must wait and be polite about receiving the food, you will change the dynamic and open the door to a safer, more reliable and positive connection between you and your horse. Your horse will be more likely to listen to you in your interactions. Using dominance behavior is not about using forceful methods or challenging a horse's status. It can simply be about "mom" deciding when "baby" is going to eat.

If you want to understand more about how horses learn, check out my facebook page and read other articles on things like, operant conditioning, positive reinforcement, punishment and negative reinforcement and more.

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