A horse that won't stand still is both a nuisance and a danger. He becomes easily distracted and completely ignores you, putting you at risk of being bumped into or stepped on. If you allow it, your horse will express his impatience with trivial distractions, constant wriggling and irritating pawing. Consider this: Your horse spends nearly his entire day in a stall or pasture just quietly standing there. Why, then, does he become such a fidget monster as soon as you tie him up?
The answer here is not that your horse has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Instead, your horse is actually exhibiting anxiety about being tied because he has a poor understanding of what he's supposed to do while being groomed and saddled. His job is not complicated, but he needs clear guidelines to follow in order to feel confident. Only then will he be willing to relax and stand quietly.
Most importantly, he needs to respect you as his handler by accepting you as the leader of his herd. Whenever you are in contact with your horse, you are relating to him as a herd member. That is your horse's only frame of reference when you and He are interacting. Don't be placated when he looks at you with his soft brown eyes--he's giving you the once over to determine whether or not you are dominant or subordinate to him, just as he would in a horse-to-horse relationship.
If your horse believes that he's in charge of the situation, because you have inadvertently or intentionally relinquished your authority to him, you become subordinate to him by default. Horses see things in black or white. Either he's dominant or you are. You can't have it both ways, and when you're handling him his behavior reveals who's really in control.
Any time your horse invades your space by moving toward you, he's expressing his superiority. This is a manner in which a submissive animal would never act around an animal that is undoubtedly dominant. If your horse crowds into you, you must quickly and deliberately let him know that his behavior is not acceptable in order to maintain your dominant status. A disapproving tone of voice and a firm smack from your hand or poke with the end of a grooming brush will dissuade your horse from moving into you again. Make sure your correction directly connects with the part of his body he is pushing toward you, that's the part of his body you want him to move away. However, remember not to smack your horse near his face or head, which can cause him to become head shy.
In order for your horse to fully comprehend the concept of giving in to you, you need to do more than stop him from crowding into you. Make him move at least one to two steps away from you in the opposite direction, again focusing on that particularly intrusive part of his body. If he doesn't back off by moving away from you, he has not completely submitted. If he does, it will reinforce that you have the final say about how he interacts with you.
Create a safety zone at the tie rail when you are working with your horse. This zone gives him the freedom to look around and make subtle changes in the position of his legs for his comfort, but it doesn't leave him room to move more than a step in any direction. If he stands quietly within the zone while you groom and saddle him, leave him completely alone, offering rewards of verbal raise and gentle pats on the neck and body. If he leaves this zone, either away from you or toward you, let him know you object with a disapproving voice and firmly move him back to the original place he was standing. It's important to make corrections without hesitation so that your horse makes an immediate connection that his behavior is inappropriate.
To enhance your horse's understanding, be clear and deliberate with your actions but avoid being harsh or abrupt. Conduct yourself in a businesslike, matter-of-fact manner. If you can convince your horse that you are in charge and have everything under control, it will improve his level of trust in you. It's all about having the right attitude. The true heard leader exudes unwavering self-assuredness and confidence.
Do's and Don'ts