Sunday, July 04, 2010

Personal space

One of the hardest things I've run into--besides the ground, of course--is teaching Bar about maintaining personal space.

All the reputable trainers (and even some of the disreputable ones) insist that to start to get a horse's respect, you need to teach them to maintain a set distance between them and you. They all insist horses don't really want to be that close to you, and this is all related to safety on the ground as well.

Nobody seems to teach racehorses this rule, nor have they been told snuggling is not horse-like behavior. The concept is completely foreign to them--someone is always there, holding their head, often giving them lead ropes to nibble to occupy their busy little minds and mouths. Now that's okay, nobody needs to teach them this ridiculous "personal space" concept--it's not necessary for them to do their job and do it extremely well.

It does present challenges for those of us who come afterward, particularly when you are in the way when something spooks your ex-racer.

Now, Lena is very good with maintaining "the bubble." Mostly, she doesn't want to be in your space and merely facing her backs her off a few steps.

Bar, well... not so much. He will back off the full length of the lead rope without too much commotion--because I've asked him to--then stare at me with worried eyes, as if he can't understand why I am not right there next to him, keeping him safe.

I admit, I don't push on this issue like I probably should. He does watch out for me now--more than he did when I got him--and he will absolutely back off when I ask for it, but he is much more relaxed when I'm within reach of his nose. The trainer's answer is to slowly expand that safety bubble and I'm sure we could work on that. I'm sure we should work on that. I also know I love hugging my Thoroughbred.

It may be a tough sell on both sides.


Joy M. Drennen said...

Do mustangs in the wild insist on personal space? And since you're the Alpha--plus he's a retired racehorse--isn't it natural for Bar to want to be closer? I'm not sure where that leaves Lena, but I suspect it has something to do with being bred as a cow horse.

How awful for Bar with the nails going into the inside of the foot.

And I'm not completely horse-illiterate any more. (Probably still close, though.)

Care to come teach Junior about personal space? Boots seems to get the idea.

Love, Mom

Dave (aka Buckskins Rule) said...

This is a tough one. I think the key is remembering that their physical size, combined with the fight or flight instinct, places us within a fraction of second of serious injury when we are close to them.

With that said, I think it's a judgment call. I'm more likely to allow Smokey into my personal space, because he has earned that trust. With horses I don't know, or don't trust, I will not allow them within my space.

I like Clinton Anderson's techniques for ground work. They establish this space, and control of the feet through respect, not intimidation.

Dane Jane said...

The trick is to have the horse respect your space and not intrude without permission. This is a safety and respect issue--you always have to be in charge, and that means the horse doesn't get to crowd you! But it means that WITH PERMISSION, they still get their cuddles. Cowboy gets to practically climb in my lap, but he has to ask first, and he has to back off if I ask him to.

Congrats on your Horse Journal article!

Rising Rainbow said...

While I think personal space is important, I also think the size of that space is one of preference. As long as a horse is respecting the space you ask, even under duress like spooking at mud puddles or the like, that's what matters.

A horse that understands it's never ok to go over the top of you is what you want. How you get that is an individual choice that will work if you want it to.

Jessica Boyd said...

I love all these comments, thanks!

My gut agrees--forcing Bar out and away to some arbitrary distance seems, well, arbitrary. And if I think it is, so will he and he does not do well with arbitrary.