Dealing with a pushy horse
Every human has an area of personal space. It's roughly an armslength all around you in size, and you can 'feel' it when someone you don't know or don't like comes inside that circle. You feel itchy.
Horses in groundwork work very close to us, and sometimes get too close and start to become a little crowdy or pushy. The thing is not to see that as an attack or an aggressive (dominant!) move, but instead a small misunderstanding that needs to be cleared up:
- you have to tell your horse that this specific behavior is not
- you have to tell your horse why
it is not allowed
- you have to tell your horse what alternative behavior is
The bad thing when you don't clear this misunderstanding up, is that it will put stress and negativity on both parties: you will feel a bit annoyed and also a bit threatened and limited in your movement, and your horse will sense that his/her presence causes stress in you and that her presence with you is also felt like something negative.
There's no need for violence or force or loudness in order to teach the horse to move out of your space. See it as a little misunderstanding about how big your personal space is. In fact it's very much like with Greeks. One year during my study a Greek student came to Holland to study at our university. And Greeks have very, ver tiny personal spaces around them. When they talk to you, face to face, they don't mind if their face is only 20 centimeters away from yours even when you have never met each other before. While in the Netherlands everybody who doesn't know each other has a space of at least an arm length around themselves. Instead of beating this Greek student up for being disrespectful or making ourselves bigger all the time, or walking backwards away from him to enlarge our personal space (well, we tried in the beginning, but in the end there will always be a wall blocking you, and he just stepped forwards too anyway), at one point we just explained to him that you can't stand this close to people you don't know in our country and that it makes people feel unsafe, or at least a bit funny. And we showed him how large a personal space would be generally (just as much as with horses), and that when you don't know someone, you place the edge of your space against the edge of the space of the other, and not overlapping your two personal spaces just yet. And without us having needed to whip or threaten him or force him backwards, he decided to just go with that, because he had never meant to annoy us and still wanted to talk to us.Method
As your personal space is the size of your arms lenght, you can easily give your horse these three messages by swinging your arms around you. With that you tell him that being too close now isn't allowed (when swinging around, your arms will get in contact with his body as long as it stays in your personal space), you tell him exactly where
he shouldn't be (exactly that arms length all aroudn you that he can see because you swing your arms around you), and you tell him where he can be (outside that personal space, and you can actually reward him when he moves out of this!).
A lot of people just lap their arms around at fast speed or flap them up and down, which is not only annoying, but also hard to read, because you still aren't very clear where your territory is as your hand flap around at different distances from your body. It's hard to help you through the computer (just standing next to you we could do it within seconds!), but I'll try to explain in steps and I hope I'm clear enough!
1. Stand up straight:
a lot of people send out mixed messages about their space by just standing with hunched shoulders and a bent back. Try this: bend forwards and now try and swing your arms around you: you will only have a small space right under your upper body, and no space whatsoever in front of your head or behind your back, because your arms cant reach that.
2. Stretch your arms (lock your elbows) and hold them stretched horizontally at shoulder height next to your body (when you would look from above and down on you, your arms and shoulders form one straight line from hand to hand)
3. Now lower your arms untill your hands are at navel-height - still with stretched elbows!
4. Now slowly turn your hands around you clockwise: while the left arm is making a part of the circle forwards and to the right, the right arm is making a part of the circle backwards and to the left. Turn your shoulders with your arms, and when your left arm can go anymore to the right without losing his stretched elbow (and instead curving against your body). When you can't go further, go anti-clockwise back: your left arm now moves to the left towards and behind the back, while the right arm moves forward around your body to the front. If you can't go any further without losing your stretched elbows, revert to clockwise again.
5. Swing your arms clockwise and anti-clockwise like this, and do it slowly. Your power is not in your speed, but in your strenght. If you keep your joints and back straight while turning like this, your arm will feel very hard if it encounters anything on the way forwards or backwards (for example a nose of a nosy horse ). It will actually be harder when you go slower, because you can stretch your arm better. Amaze yourself by turning only one arm around like this, and holding your other arm in the path of the turning arm (and keep that elbow straight and locked!!!): feel how much power is behind that arm when you hit the other. Now do the same when you don't stretch the turning arm, but just have it loosely swinging around: you wil notice that this arm will give as soon as it encounters something and flex around it. And that's exactly not the message you want to send out. Now straighten the turning arm again, and repeat this to discover how your power is at different speeds of turning around. If you find it difficult to hold one arm still while turning the other, then just place the edge of a door, cupboard or table in the path of your swinging arm. Just be aware that it will be bruised quickly.
Find that speed of turning around where the centrifugal powers keep your arm lifted in the air a bit, and keep that untill your horse has moved out of your space again - then reward him.
The good thing about standing straight, with straight arms and a relaxed turning around isn't just that any contact with your arms is quite powerful, but much more it's good because your horse can clearly see what you doo: an arms that's just flashing around, up and down, is hard to follow. While you want to send out a very slow and clear message: This Is My Space A slow, conscious and precise movement just shows it all, and enables the horse to prevent the active correction of having your arms bumping against his body.
Actually I've never experienced a horse getting aggressive because of this, or annoyed or scared. They tend to try four or five times if you really mean this and if they can't go back to their old behavior, but they realise that you're not being annoying, unreasonable or aggressive, but just telling them that this is your space, not theirs. And because you use such a calm and clear posture and movements to point this out, they can really think this over and decide not to bump against you again - instead of being forced or driven or annoyed out, with you think about territory and they think how annoying and aggressive you are.
By the way: with a slow moving or more polite horse, you can hold your arms somewhat lower when asking him not to be in your space, and with a bigger, faster moving or less polite horse you can raise your arms up to shoulder height, giving you a bigger territory. The most important thing is not to be aggressive. Don't direct your emotions or thoughts against your horse. Don't think 'get out of here! you shouldn't be here!', but instead think 'I feel the need to now stretch my shoulders by swinging my arms around myself in a calm and powerful way.' Actually you could do that any time you want, as it's your territory anyway. It's just that sometimes your horse reminds you to do that, by placing his nose or shoulder too close. Just think 'Good idea, I should really go and stretch my shoulders!'. And as an added bonus it's really very nice for your shoulders too.Being consequent?
For some reason horsepeople sometimes seem to have the idea that if you're not very consequent, your horse won't understand you and get entirely out of hand. This would mean that according to this idea you should always keep your horse out of your personal space. Which would be a bit sad.
With Blacky and Sjors: yes, of course they can come in and stand next to me or in front of me, or bump their buttocks against me with the message 'scratch here, I'm itchy'
, but sometimes when I don't like that, I can tell that to them too without them getting annoyed or angry with me or feeling confused about it.
Indeed, I'm not being consequent (because then I would never accept any closeness coming from their side, only allowing it when it was on my command) but as I'm also not making a big deal of it when I don't want to be crowded, they just accept that because they still want to play with me. If they wouldn't, they could just leave as we're working at liberty anyway. I'm not a rigid dictator with subjects who are only allowed to do exactly what I tell them to. I'm communicating with the ponies, and because my messages aren't violent or forced on them, they're willing to listen to them.For a somewhat different approach, also within the AND framework, see: Encouraging politeness