by Laura Schonberg
With a new mare that adores our geldings and hates being separated, we’ve been working on ground manners. After gaining more respectful behavior, we began to practice safely moving through gates. Poema’s inclination was to impulsively rush through, paying no mind to the human beside her. This resulted in an unsafe situation.
We started with walking and a focus on her moving with me. This takes very little time to practice, and has tremendous returns. It can be done in a few minutes, every day, and produces rapid results. Initially I exaggerated my body language when I was going to stop so Poema had an opportunity to respond. If she didn’t stop, she ran into the end of the rope in an unpleasant way. Soon she began to develop a feel for me, stopping with me and stepping back if I did. Once we had respect while walking and backing, we practiced going through gates.
This begins with following at a respectful distance. Since Poema is young and often impulsive, I made sure to walk a pace that is comfortable, but somewhat “perky” for her to help maintain that respectful space. When she demonstrated more feel for me, we built in a sequence of pauses after approaching the gate. These start as teeny pauses and become longer and longer.
After good practice approaching, pausing at and backing through the gate, we practiced sending through the gate. As in all the other ground handling, Poema needs to be aware of me—“feeling” of me. No walking over me or rushing through. In order to send successfully through a gate, the horse must be successful being “sent” through other open spaces such as a stall, loading in to a trailer, etc. While sending, Poema should be soft in the body, yielding her hind and rib cage in order to turn around once through the gate. She should then stand quietly and WAIT until I get through.
It is easy to miss training opportunities found in the simple ground handling done every day with horses. However, taking the time to establish safe and reasonable boundaries and expectations here will result in a respectful connection in the saddle. This is also a great exercise if I don’t have time to ride—doing something is better than nothing!
Laura Schonberg works for the Oak Harbor School District. Horses were what grounded her as a child and even as an adult she can’t seem to get enough horse. Now in her 40’s, Laura owns three horses she started herself and pursues several disciplines, including dressage and moving cows.