Often in other forums, you see questions about how to address a situation with a "pushy" horse - or a horse that runs into you, or dances around you, or gets nervous and forgets you are there. How to make them stop pushing, if the horse is always right? I would like to suggest that you don't MAKE them stop, but you don't ignore the situation either. Provided that one's personal safety is addressed (ie, don't put yourself into a situation you where you will get run over), then I would like to start a discussion that would address this issue, with specific things you can try to help overcome the problem of a horse that "forgets" you are there, tries to rush past you, or runs into you, or worse, runs right over top of you (been there! done that! OUCH!).
I'm paraphrasing, but someone once said that if you have a horse that is afraid of being eaten by a cougar (or a lawn mower, or a bit of paper that blows by, or the wind, or a stick on the path) you don't have to desensitize a horse to cougars - you just have to convince the horse that you are a cougar-eater.
That means, that as long as the horse is secure in the fact that you will not let anything bad happen to him/her, he/she will not be jumpy, and they will look to you for protection and security, rather than looking past you for an escape route which may, in fact, be right over your head. If a horse will look to you for safety, they will take their cue on whether or not to run away, or to stand firm and calm, from you. Their leader.
So how to get this leadership?
Well, you can force it. If you do though, you not only get a horse that is calm, but you get one who's spirit is broken. You get a deadened, apathetic calm rather than interested self control.
So another way to get it, is to experience the world with your horse, and through slowly showing them that any frightening thing is something you are not concerned with, then they come to trust your judgement. Within that trust (which must never be broken!!!), comes calm awareness. They no longer rush around you in a panic, they no longer push past you to get away from something, and they no longer choose to run over top of you to escape the situation. You are exploring together, but you are leading the exploration.
You will see in my diary of Tamarack, that I will explore many strange objects with him. I will find something he is unsure of and I will endeavor to show him through my relaxed body language and feigned disinterest, that it is nothing to fear. Whether it is a large ball, an innertube, a hula hoop, a barbeque, a strange building covered with a tarp, a puddle, a large wooden box to stand on.
With the box, I showed him that I could stand on it. I suggested to him that if he wanted to, he could stand on it too. With the tarp covered building, I stepped inside of it and sat down so he could see that I wasn't afraid that it would swallow me whole. When I knelt down, I did not look at my horse...I looked around me at the object and acted very comfortable. I invited him in by clcuking to him to ask him to come forward, but I did not pull on the line. I did not say he HAD to come in. I simply told him it was safe, so give it a try.
I do not force him (or Cisco) ever to confront something. I confront it first, with him behind me, then when I say it is safe (and I make darn sure it is), then I suggest that he could check it out as well.
When confronting a scary thing for the first time, your own safety is assured (pretty well), by keeping your body between your horse and the object. If the horse is going to bolt, he will run away from the object. So the safest place to be is closer to the object than your horse.
As you approach the item, allow your horse to hang back as far as he needs to, in order to feel comfortable. If you are staying close to your horse, or beside your horse, then stop when they stop. Keep your body relaxed, and keep your energy low and confident.
Keep your eyes on the object. Do not turn and stare at your horse as you approach the object. By doing so, you direct energy and uncertainty at the horse. In essence, by staring at the horse, I believe you are asking the horse whether either of you should approach the object or not. That would be a mistake. The idea is to show the horse that you can make a sound decision for both of you - confidently, like any good leader can.
If the horse hangs backand does not want to approach too close, do not pull the horse closer. Simply stop, stand relaxed for a moment, then gently ask the horse to back away from it. Do not turn and possibly put yourself in harms way (with the horse between you and the item). Backing slowly is best, but if you must turn the horse away from the object, make sure you stay between the horse and the object.
If you back or turn away, then go for a walk. Walk around and relax. When the horse is relaxed, turn and approach the object again. Keep up with approach and retreat, approach and retreat until you can calmly get right up to the object.
If it is a small object that you can pick up, then do so, and carry it with you. Walk on with the object, study it in your hands as you walk. Show interest in the object, but again, do not look at the horse. You may stop and play with the object, but all play must directed away from the horse. You may kneel down and look at it on the ground. Turn it this way and that in your hands and be increasingly interested in a very relaxed way. Be sure always to maintain a relaxed body posture. If the horse is relaxed, you may toss the item ahead of you, away from the horse. If at some point the horse wishes to see what is so interesting, allow him to check it out. Again, be careful to keep yourself in a safe place. A horse may put it's nose on something, then spook himself at the contact, and jump back. Make sure you are not in the way. As the horse checks it out, again, do NOT watch the horse's face. Use your peripheral vision only to keep track of the horse's postion and response.
If you can not get right up to the object, get to the closest point where your horse remains calm and relaxed with you, praise, and end it there. You can get closer on another day.
Each time the horse relaxes, there should be praise. A kind rub, a cookie, and gentle and soothing word. It doesn't matter if it is right at the object. What you are reinforcing is a calm and relaxed response from your horse.
As your horse becomes more convinced in your good judgement, he will become increasingly secure in your leadership and be more relaxed.
This is how I choose to become a "leader". Not by showing my horse I can make his feet move. Not by waving my arms and making him move away from me. Not by forcing him to submit to being near something he may see as terrifying.
We do it gradually, over time, proving myself over and over again to him. That I am calm. I am aware. I have good judgment. I am trust worthy. As he becomes more secure in that, he becomes more aware of where I am and he is less likely to ever feel the need to rush past me (or over top of me) to save himself.
When my friend Paul Dufresne introduced me to this concept (he calls it "Training for Courage"), that is when my rocky relationship began to change with Cisco. That is where I truely discovered that Cisco never trusted me before. That he never saw me as one that worthy of being followed. I was not a leader he trusted.
It took a long time. It did not happen in a two day clinic. We had a teeter-totter bridge that took me several months to get Cisco to even stand on it calmly, let alone walk over it. I spent many days just getting Cisco to trust me enough to put one or two feet on it and to be relaxed while doing it. Under saddle, it was like starting from scratch. I had to convince him all over again that I was worthy of leading him through perceived dangers from his back.
Tamarack is naturally more brave than Cisco, so it is going easier with him. But I nevertheless have to prove myself to him, too, and I will take all the time I need to do it gently.