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My Thoughts on Dominance

I’ve tried to write this blog quite a few times and really I could just write one sentence and leave it there....


I REALLY don’t like horses being described as ‘dominant’ when it comes to training. There, I’ve said it!


Whilst I am not in any way suggesting you become a push over and allow your horse to walk all over you I just don’t believe that the label ‘dominant’ is productive.


Firstly it implies that we have to dominate the horse! Personally I’m interested in a positive interaction with the horses that I meet and that we both gain something from it, rather than trying to win over each other.


Of course there are times where for safety’s sake you have to insist that your horse responds to you but I don’t think about it as trying to win over them.


Secondly describing behaviour as ‘dominant’ implies that there is some intention behind it, that the horse is ‘trying to get one over on you’ when they just don’t plan like that 🤷‍♀️


Horses simply learn the responses that give them a release, if that happens to be a defensive or playful response then it often gets labelled as ‘dominant’. What I usually find is that the horse has been taught this response, usually by mistake 🤭


So let me explain this a little more with an example...


I was asked to help with a horse a while back that had learned to pull away when he was on the lunge. When you asked him to go out on a circle, even very quietly he would take off as fast as he could then try to pull away 🐎


If he didn’t get away he would then come sideways towards you and try to kick out - he was really fast too!!! The combination of these two manoeuvres usually meant that he would get away or that the owner would stop trying to lunge (don’t blame her!!!) 🙈


So isn’t this behaviour dominant? It certainly sounds like it I hear you cry! No, it’s not...

The horse was scared and on adrenaline, so the first thing he tried to do was get away!!! When he realised he couldn’t escape he felt trapped 😱


When they get scared horses have 3 main responses

  1. Flight 🐎💨

  2. Fight 😡

  3. Freeze 😬

So as far as he was concerned his only option was to defend himself - fight!!!


In this case because the owner stopped asking the horse to lunge, in his mind the request stopped, he got release and rest so this response was the right one!! 🤓


We resolved the situation by staying safe (by moving) but continuing the request to go out on a circle until the horse walked calmly about 1/4 of a circle at first, then we would give him a short break, ask again, 1/4 of a circle, then rest 😊


In the first session, we got him to do that 3 times then rewarded him by quitting for the day. We slowly built that up until he could do 1/2 a lap, then 3/4 and finally a full lap. After about 3 sessions, he was lunging nicely 🔄


Horses have no idea about right and wrong, they only learn consequences to their actions, both good and bad. The more careful we are to reward the good responses the more of them you will have 😇🦄💕


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Before trying any training technique it is important to rule out pain or discomfort. Saddle fit, teeth, back, hoof balance and lameness issues should all be checked by a qualified professional before applying any training.


If you have questions or need idea's to help with a specific problem feel free to get in touch with me on lylacansfield@hotmail.com


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Lyla has been helping riders and their horses in the UK, USA and Europe for over 15 years. She has prepared horses for crowds of over 6,000 people with no calmers or ear plugs for venues including Birmingham NEC, Aintree, Bury Farm EC and Hartpury.


Lyla specialises in horse psychology and behaviour problems with a specific interest in dressage and has worked with horses from grass roots to Grand Prix across the UK and Europe including international competitors and Olympians from Spain, the US, Canada and the UK.


See www.lylacansfield.com or email lylacansfield@hotmail.com for more details.


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All training techniques discussed are from experience only, it is impossible for to accurately advise on horse/rider combinations without seeing them live. Lyla Cansfield & Equine Mind & Body Training strongly advise anyone considering using any of the techniques discussed to get live help and can take no responsibility for the outcome of applying any of the techniques discussed without supervision. Riding is a high risk sport.

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