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Personal Space
Boy, I wish I would've read these suggestions before my accident. About a month or so ago, I was trampled by one of our horses. It was during feeding time and I was merely trying to give the horse some hay. She got freaked out for whatever reason and bolted out of the barn. Of course, I happened to be right in her way and she just ran right over me.

I've tried to get back into the swing of things with feeding them and all, ...but I'm sure they can smell the fear oozing out of every pore in my body. I'm sorry to say this but my perception of them has changed significantly. I find that I'm going to have to work on those issues before I can really get back in there with them. However, that's another topic for another day.

The thing that really stands out with me is the one time I did try to feed them, they all seemed to give me no space whatsoever. I mean, I had some hay and grain and they were literally running me over again to try to get to it. I got completely freaked out because they were so close. All the pain and fear came rushing back and I basically dropped the stuff and walked away as quickly as I could. I was really surprised at how quickly they were just all over me and gave me no space at all. It wasn't like that before the incident. Now, I'm extremely reluctant to get anywhere near them.

One local woman told me I should take a little whip or something with me and basically carve out a three foot comfort zone all around me when they're around. She said that every time one of them violated that space to just give them a quick whack. I'm sure many of you can understand me when I say that about the last thing I want to do is piss off a 1,500 lb animal by giving it a whack.

I'm not even sure what I'm trying to say here except that I'm still freaked out about being around them and that I don't think giving them a whack is the answer. However, I'm sure they can all smell the fear coming off me when I'm around them. Is it possible to establish boundaries with a horse when they can tell you're that nervous around them? I feel like I should go to therapy or something to try to work out those issues before I can go back to being around them.


You can establish boundaries even while you're scared. Of course the horse will be nervous, sensing your nervousness, but that will go away AFTER they learn to give you your space and you then relax.

If you are going to use a whip, don't start with it on a loose horse: put him in a halter so you can keep him FACING you (do not let him turn away such that he can kick with rear legs) and only use enough pressure to keep him out of that 3-4 foot radius, and when he's out of that circle, drop the whip to your side and take the pressure OFF.

You gotta remember that horses are PREY animals. And they're big. So a little thwack (which is all you can possibly inflict with a little whip) isn't bigtime pain for them, and it would be extremely rare that it would provoke an aggressive response. It's perfectly appropriate to correct a horse that way, and they'll get over it in about four seconds. You don't need to terrify them or inflict any real pain, just a little signal to let them know they are not to crowd you. If you're not comfortable getting close enough to use the thumb-in-the-chest method, go ahead and start with a tool, like Clinton Anderson's "stick and string":

It is important to avoid making the horse afraid of the tool, so you should also stroke the horse with it, scratch him where it itches and let him know it's just an extension of your hand, not something that's out to get him.
Great advice from arenadirt. CitySlicker, I can understand your fear. I was out feeding when we first got our horses and they were scuffling among each other and one bumped into me. Unfortunately it was muddy and my foot was stuck in the mud and I fell over but my foot stayed upright breaking my ankle in two places. I was unable to work for three months, although I did not lose my job, it put a big hole in my pocketbook. I think if I had known then what I know now, that incident could have been avoided completely. What I know now is that my space is sacred and no matter how afraid or hungry a horse is, they are not to violate it. Also don't do like I do and once your horses understand where your personal space is, don't let down your guard. Even though you love and trust your horses don't think they won't bolt if frightened. I really have to work on that from time to time. I too often find myself standing directly in front of my horse playing kissy face and I could be severly injured if anything were to happen. Always stand at about a 45 degree angle from the shoulder so the horse will bolt past you instead of over you and pay attention to your surroundings at all times.

I hear people afraid to whack their horses say well, if they can feel a fly, imagine what the whip feels like. What they feel from a fly is a whole different set of nerve fibers from their pain sensing nerves. If you watch horses out in a pasture, the more dominant horses don't let the others into their space and will warn a horse then nip or kick at it. If you've ever been nipped by a horse you know it hurts terribly. My horses don't pay much attention and sometimes will go back for more even though their is hide missing. I think you would really have to whack a horse hard with a dressage whip or riding crop to inflict that much pain and as arenadirt says you will rarely make a horse mad at you for whacking it. Usually they just act like "Oh, mom/dad really means business, guess we'd better pay attention!"

Good luck to you and stay safe! I think once you start to establish some dominance you will feel much better around your horses and start to enjoy them again. Be patient with yourself though, building your confidence back up takes time.
City Slicker; You might want to go to "Horse Training" and check out the sticky "Horse Bit Me". What was discussed there can very well apply to training a horse about where your personal space is and when it's okay (or not okay) to come into it. The feeding problem is discussed there, too. I know that a horse crowding you isn't as serious as a horse biting or kicking you, but non of these behaviors should be tolerated in any horse. Please go to the "Horse Bit Me" topic and read it. I'm sure you'll find lots of good advice on getting a horse to respect your personal space either at feeding time or any time you are around the horse.

"God forbid that I should go to any heaven in which there are no horses"
--Robert Browning

Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don't walk behind me, I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.
-- Author Unknown
Kudos to you, Bethany, for being able to be in the stall with the horses at the same time. I haven't made it to that point yet after all that's happened. However, I would certainly agree that it's very intimidating being around any animal that is 1000 plus pounds.

One thing my trainer told me was that I should imagine myself 10 feet tall whenever I'm around them. He also told me to pump out my chest, to walk with my head up and "think" confidence at all times. I tell ya what, ...that's a lot easier said than done. I have a lot more practicing to do before I can feel comfortable projecting all that at the same time while hiding my inner fear. I know now that it'll come in time...and that's OK. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither was confidence around horses.
It was very unfortunate that you were hurt by the horse like that. I think you're doing a great job coming back from that experience.

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