You’ve maybe already read my last post about the idea that often when people describe their horse as taking the…. The horse is in fact simply performing escape or avoidance behaviour in response to a stimulus that they find aversive.

But what about horses that consistently, persistently, quietly and without much fuss, walk all over the top of their owners, both literally and metaphorically? Surely they must be taking the….?!  After all they aren’t in a fight or flight state, are they?

The answer to this question is a pretty simple one. Horses will do exactly what we teach them to do. Perhaps you are more interested in protecting your toes than you are in paying attention to what your horse might be learning. The thing is, if you want horses to learn to move when and where you would like them to, and you’d like your horse to be self aware and ‘polite’, you have to train them! And to do that, you need to improve your own awareness of both yourself and them.

In this context, the horse is only behaving in a way that looks like they are ‘taking the….’ because they have learned that it is okay to do so, or never learned that it is not okay.

If the owner/ handler/ trainer who is being walked all over is given a crash course in how horses learn and taught to recognise what behaviour is being reinforced and how to change that, through a process involving a combination of what we call differential reinforcement and extinction, everyone is happy.

It is possible to do this with a focus on the use of appetitives, we don’t have to go down the road of escalating pressure to teach ‘manners’, thankfully, since much of the time, the people who are prone to being ‘walked over the top of’ tend to be people that lack confidence and would not be particularly keen on/ effective at using escalating pressure anyway.

So if you are told that your horse is ‘taking the….’ and ‘walking all over you’, perhaps it is time you learned how to politely, kindly and ethically teach them that it is worth their while not to!