Life is much harder for horses who have been taught to move through boundaries. Horses who have learned to push through people’s space, pull on lead ropes, lean against legs, pull back when tied, and any other number of mixed signals create not only a more dangerous horse, but a very confused one. This horse is more liable to receive rough and punishing treatment from vets, farriers, riders, and even sometimes other horses. Horses who blow through barriers with people can frequently be seen doing it to other horses as well, and are more likely to be bit or kicked by other horses.
It’s much kinder and easier to make these barriers understood in a clear, consistent and gentle way from the beginning. When a horse has learned to move through drive lines and boundaries, they have an unhappy life ahead of them. Even a “spoiled” horse who is well fed and treated with love can be extremely frustrated – even if we don’t notice their frustration.
How does a horse learn to push through boundaries? There are several ways –
1- we don’t notice or don’t remain disciplined in our daily interactions with them. How we pet, feed, saddle, lead, or handle. Does your horse move into your space? Do you reward them for pushy behavior? Do you stop petting after they push, fidget, shove? You’ve taught them to move into boundaries. It isn’t their fault or even “naughty” behavior. They do what works, and they don’t differentiate between “good” and “bad” behaviors.
2- they were pushed too far, and forced to resist. This happens with trailers, wash racks, vet appointments, you name it. We want the horse to do something, they show fear or worry, we try to keep making them do it; their fear grows until they are forced to pull back, run you over, escape. How do you avoid this? Prepare them way ahead of time for what you want, teach them in tiny increments, reward the tries, release, don’t get greedy; try again tomorrow. It doesn’t have to happen in one day.
3-we give conflicting signals. We pull the lead rope to make them lead forward. Why would we want pull to mean go forward, when pull under saddle means stop? Why would you want to teach the horse to resist going forward or recieve punishment for going forward in the first place? Our aids are conflicting – we kick with the leg, but restrict with the hand. We push the horse into blocked doors, and they either tune us out, or do exactly what we asked – if pull means go, we have some big problems ahead.
Think about your daily interactions with your horse, under saddle and on the ground. How does your horse perceive their meaning? They don’t “know better” – because if they knew better, they could do better: the responsibility is on us.