Relationship Riding Blog

Mar 13, 2018

March 13, 2018: Who's the Leader?

By Barbra-Ann King

Throughout this series of blogs, you will hear me talk a lot about leadership, more precisely about True Equine Leadership, as taught in the Relationship Riding method. This kind of leadership is based on horse psychology and behavior, i.e. what makes sense to them rather than what we believe leadership should look like.

Leadership is the one quality you must possess in order to have a safe relationship with your horse, one based on trust, honesty and respect. The reason for this is simple: horses need to know that they are safe and they will not willingly trust just any horse (or human) until they have proven themselves to be the best leader. In the wild, an equine leader's role is to provide food, water, shelter and safety to the herd. It is no different for horses that live in pastures, paddrocks or box stalls. Althoug we provide food, water and shelter, in a horse's mind, we do not provide safety (especially when we are using physical or psychological force on them).

The leader in your herd is not the oldest, prettiest or even the horse you like the most. It is the horse that stands up for its personal boundaries better than any other horse, without being dominant. That is how hierarchy is established. You cannot elect yourself the leader. In order to hold that position, you need to learn about boundaries (where are they on the horse, how are you pushing/disrespecting them, etc.) and how to stand up for our own. We will learn how to do this through a series of six exercises that mimic horse behavior when they establish their own boundaries.

Your horse will ask you "questions" in order to see if you are the better leader of the two. These "questions" may take various forms, but they are all based on how horses question each other every single day. Your leadership will be questionned everytime you are with your horse so don't expect to get it one day and think you no longer have to make any effort because you already have the position. Your leadership, once earned, will be tested every single time you are with your horses. Some days it will take longer to convince your horse that you are the leader, other days it won't. This is natural horse behavior. They just need to know they are safe, each and every time they are with you.

Here is a sample of how horses question us:

- they try to eat while we are grooming or riding them

- they walk away or ignore you

- they push into your space, crowd you or frisk you for treats

- when riding, they turn left when you want to turn right, change gait without asking, are herd/barn sour.

If you want an honest answer from your horse, do not tie it up. Work in an enclosed area or have a long lead line that you can hold or put on your horse's whithers.

Obtaining the status of leader is the ultimate tool for a blissful relationship with your horse. But it can also easily be lost, mostly if you disrespect your horse by "barging" into their personal space (i.e using physical force, pulling, yanking the head, standing in their head space, etc.) or by having a dominant attitude.

In the next blog, we will explore our first True Equine Leadership exercise. If you are way too excited to wait until the next blog, the book "Opening to Consciousness with Relationship Riding, Second Edition" is available on the website in paper and digital format.

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Enjoy the journey!