Leading Horses: TTEAM Tips
Leading problems can happen with just about any horse, from the top dressage horse to the newly caught mustang. We need to teach horses where, and how, we want them to be when we lead them. Teaching them this can help both horse and handler learn respect for one another and improve communication. You can teach your horse to be light and responsive, and you can learn to communicate your wishes quickly and safely.
Horses that swing their heads about, get ahead of you, crowd into you, and try to lead you can hurt you. Defining your space is an important first step in teaching safe leading, and in earning the leadership role.
With TTEAM, the Tellington TTouch Equine Awareness Method, there are seven helpful positions for leading that can be used in different situations (such as leading problems, leading around obstacles, and helping the horse learn to focus and develop eye/hoof coordination, balance and self-control). One simple TTEAM exercise to help the horse learn to stay in his own space is called “Fanning the Peacock”. This involves simply turning the wand (a four-foot white dressage whip with a hard plastic button end) so that the button end is up and slowly moving the wand back and forth in a steady rhythm, like windshield wipers, from just behind the poll area forward to between the eye and nostril. Doing this when the horse is about to enter your space will clearly define the area which is yours, to keep you safe, and sets up very clear visual boundaries for your horse. You can look forward as you walk and, with a glance, still see your horse's muzzle and eyes, and still hear his footfalls or 'feel' any changes he might be making in his body.
For the horse that leans into the handler habitually, or tends to pass or curl around the handler, you can use fanning to define a boundary line at your shoulder that the horse's muzzle should stay behind, as well as define the safe space around your body. This puts you in a safe leadership position where you are readily able to see what is happening all around you, and to direct the horse more quickly and easily. Our position in reference to theirs is key - many horses are unintentionally taught to curl around us and barge into our space. This is what we unintentionally teach them if we lead them with our body positioned at their neck and shoulder.
To help the horse be successful, I usually start with only a few steps, then a stop. If the horse cannot walk 7 steps without getting ahead of me, I limit our steps to 3-4 so that he can successfully stop when asked. I will do this often so that he learns to start when I start, stop when I stop, back when I back, and turn when I turn. It helps to do a lot of transitions from walk to halt, backing, turning, etc.
Horses do have a dominant side - like our being left or right handed - yet more often we have made them 'sided' from always doing things on his 'near' (left) side. You may find the horse to be more responsive from the unfamiliar side, where unwanted habits are not yet established. You could start teaching from that side, then teach from the other side. Learning to lead from each side is important; by changing the leading side, you both gain awareness and balance. It may feel awkward to begin with, and often we are not aware of how off-balance and one-sided we are. A balanced horse stops better too.
I have seen many horses go from being a 'chore to lead' to learning to be a focused and willing partner with whom it is a pleasure to work - in just a few short and easy consistent lessons. Remind your horse of your safe space when he gets close to entering it, every time you lead.
Keep in mind that horses are individuals, and there can often be more than one “right” answer to any question. Learning more about leading and handling horses in a safe, calm, and attentive way is certainly no exception. So that you have more tools at your disposal when you need them, visit http://tteam-ttouch.com and see what other helps are available for horse-handling problems.
Remember that we are all in this to have fun with our horses and to enjoy ourselves, and that is usually easier to do when our horses enjoy working with us and are cooperative.