The number one component of a great partnership with your horse is having healthy boundaries. This is especially true when training young horses. We set boundaries to find our place in the hierarchy and keep ourselves and our horse safe. This doesn’t mean that you have to push or boss your horse around. It’s more about having your horse respect your personal space because horses can understand your personal space or bubble. The horse will learn to understand to only come into your personal space when invited.
This tool will teach your horse that you are essentially equivalent to the “boss mare” in the herd, and if you are consistent with this lesson, you will find you build a stronger, more relaxed and respectful partnership with your horse. How you teach your horse your boundary line doesn’t have to be forceful or mean. Consistency and body language is far more effective than using force.
There can be some conflict around this idea of boundaries. I have found that people tend to go one way or the other. If you are too assertive with your horses to the point the horse becomes fearful, you could lose your connection and relationship with your horse. Or, on the other end, you are afraid of hurting your horse’s feelings, and instead, your horse walks all over you and pushes you around.
Maybe your horse coming into your space when not asked doesn’t seem like a big deal to you. But once your horse has established that it can come into your bubble and make you move your feet, they have control. This kind of behaviour can be detrimental to further training and being in control in new environments and situations. It can become even more significant, especially when your horse gets nervous or scared. Everything is amplified, and when your horse is already on edge and not paying attention so you can make the situation extra challenging to gain control and help your horse work through it. But if you have already established control and your horse looks to you as a leader, it makes the process much easier to work through with your horse.
I always tell people how to be like an electric fence. If the horses approach the fence and touch it, they get zapped. The “zap: could look like waving hands, a bump to the chest, a slap on your knee, or a shake of a rope. There are many ways you can “zap” your horses without hitting or scaring your horse to the point it doesn’t want to be around you at all.
Setting boundaries is the first phase in building a lasting partnership with your horse. So you need to make sure that we start with those healthy boundaries because we both need to feel safe with each other. We both need to have respect for each other. And we both want to have that level of comfort with each other. Whether you ride horses, work with horses, or have horses as pasture ornaments, this should apply to everyone and every discipline.
Make sure that if you’re moving, it’s because you want to move, not because your horse is pushing you out of the way and allow yourself to clear some space around you to have that arm’s length of space. And it’s okay to ask your horse to step back so you can have that space, even if you have to ask ten times in a row. You can repeatedly do that until they get the message.
So with that, I hope this has given you something to think about having healthy boundaries and do a little reflection with the horses in your life and ask yourself. Do I have healthy boundaries? Do they respect my guidelines? Do they respect that personal space? Are they safe in my space?
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