I’ve been through he programmes that tell you to “make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard”. I’ve tried making grazing on the trail a sharp “NO!” I’ve blamed my crappy leadership for the reason my horse won’t stop eating when he’s with me. I’ve sweated, and yelled, and whined for hours because my horse won’t stop grazing.
If you relate at all, then read on – because I think I’ve finally understood something that rids us of this problem altogether.
There is no magic formula to get your horse to stop grazing on the trail. This isn’t a failure in your training or a flaw in your horse’s personality. Horses are naturally programmed to eat when there is food to be had. In fact, their stomachs actually need them to eat constantly throughout the day to keep a healthy gut. The first thing people usually do when they find out about this, is give up and let their horses do whatever they want. I am not advocating this.
In a herd setting, horses are always snatching bites as their leader pushes them forward. Depending on the urgency of the situation, it’s perfectly acceptable to graze on the go as long as no one holds up the line. So I thought, why not adopt the rule: “You can eat as much as you want, as long as you keep up!”
This method encourages the horse to keep up with his ‘herd’ instead of telling him harshly to STOP by yanking on his head. It’s less of a punishment and more like guidance.
It’s really simple. Anticipate his movement towards the grass and encourage him to keep moving forward by ‘scooping him up’ from behind using your whip or stick. Don’t yank on the rope, and don’t get angry! If you do, he will associate your partnership with his needs being ignored. He needs to feel the freedom to meet his needs even in your leadership.
This works well on the ground as well as riding! Get a partner to help you from behind so you don’t have to be an acrobat; or if you’re skilled, carry a whip in your outside hand to guide him along with you when he falters for grass.
Instead of feeling offended or argumentative, Storm became more connected to me. Instead of focusing on the problem – grass – I was focusing on his connection to me. He snatched at the grass less and less frequently and there was no slack in his pace whatsoever. I think I’m getting somewhere!
Quite honestly, I don’t want my horses to deny their natural instincts when they’re with me. It’s not a positive message in our relationship. But that doesn’t mean giving in to their every desire. There are ways to work with their instincts in a way that works for you!