Over the years I’ve come across many horse owners who want to learn how to keep their horse from being pushy on the ground. By a pushy horse, I mean one that is constantly in their handler’s space, walking all over them, and doesn’t respond when asked to back off and stand quietly. This is a common behavioral problem, but it can be fixed with just a few adjustments to your handling routine.
This problem usually stems from the owner or handler doing things to their pushy horse that might seem like a way to solve the problem but is ineffective and can sometimes just encourage him to keep messing with the handler.
If your techniques to get your horse to stop being pushy toward you are ineffective, you’re just encouraging him to keep trying, and he most likely sees it as a game rather than a learning moment.
The training technique that I’m going to go over in this article will probably be harder for the horse owner than for the horse at first. In this situation, we aren’t only going to be teaching your horse to leave you alone, but we’re also going to be teaching you how to leave your horse alone.
The first step of this process is for you to become completely relaxed when handling your pushy horse, not in a defensive mode. Your automatic instinct when your horse starts to walk all over you and become pushy is to push him off and keep him out of your space. Ideally, this is what you want; however, if you keep defending yourself and he continues to bypass those requests, you’re just encouraging him to keep messing with you and teaching him that what you’re asking doesn’t really matter.
So, start by standing in an enclosed space like a round pen, arena, or pasture with your pushy horse on the outside of the pen. He should be able to reach his head over the fence and see you, just not be able to walk on top of you because of the barrier. You’ll want to have him in a halter and lead rope and hold him how you normally do, just with the barrier in between you.
Next, you’re going to stand there and not let your horse affect you in any way—and I mean in any way. Your first instinct is going to be to pull on his lead rope and say, “Hey, stop that,” but your job right now is to ignore him. You want to show him that his actions have absolutely no effect on you, even if it is making you frustrated on the inside. You might have to stand there for two hours but keep your energy levels calm and relaxed no matter how hard he tries to antagonize you.
This might not be one of the most exciting training techniques, but the longer you ignore him, the more he’s going to realize that his actions aren’t accomplishing anything.
Interact the Right Way
Once you stay calm and ignore your horse no matter what he’s doing, he’ll start to feed off your energy. If you’re acting frantic and frustrated, he will too. But when he sees that you’re calm and collected, he’ll
Next, you’re going to start interacting with your horse again. The key part of this step is to interact the right way. You’re still going to keep your horse on the other side of the barrier from you, and you’re going to keep your body a few steps back from him. Then, you’re going to slowly start showing your horse some attention. This can be petting his neck or head, or letting him sniff your hand. This technique allows you to say hello to him without him being able to overstep his boundaries and become pushy toward you.
He’ll learn that this is the appropriate way to interact with you and with enough practice, he’ll understand this even without the barrier being in between you.
Make Him Move
For this portion of the exercise, you’re going to want to have a flag, whip, or similar training device to help you. Your horse is still going to be on the other side of the barrier as you and he will most likely be paying close attention to you now that you have begun interacting with him in the second step.
The goal of this step is to use your flag to move your horse over to the left or right. His first instinct might be to move toward you, but that’s okay because the barrier will soon make him realize that’s not what you’re asking for. Just keep gently tapping his hip or belly in the direction that you want him to move until he figures out what you want from him.
Once he moves over the way you’re asking, stop asking so he knows he did what you were asking. It’s important to communicate with your horse clearly during these kinds of exercises so you aren’t confusing him and causing him to become frustrated. Once he takes a few steps in the direction that you’re asking, move the flag back to your side and let your horse know you aren’t
asking for anything else.
Continue to work on this and ask him to move laterally up and down the fence until he completely understands what you want from him. Eventually, he should start to become aware of your body movement and be paying attention as soon as he sees your body presence move toward him. Now you should be able to move your horse up and down the fence off you, and you can introduce tapping him on the chest to back him away from you.
Remember to keep your body energy calm throughout this entire exercise. Don’t become defensive, angry, or run away from your horse. Just stay calm and keep asking until he does what you’re asking.
Once your horse is moving off your body presence, try leading him into an open space like your arena, and you’ll see that he responds to your body and the whip the same way even without a physical barrier in between you.