Everything means something in the horse's view of life
The little details matter
It's important to your horse in their view of the world that you pay attention to little details, because if you don't notice them be sure that the horse will. Be aware of their Attitude. Like how they go past you when asked, or how they lead, are they pushing just a little into your space maybe with their shoulder? Who is really leading who? Are they giving you the respect they would another higher ranking horse? Do they stop when you stop, or do they take an extra step? It's easy to let it go, say to yourself they were not paying attention. You may think it doesn't matter. That's where you would be wrong, you are most likely losing a tiny bit of respect in your horse's eyes; and those little things can add up, until one day you may notice that your horse has started making faces at you, or moving into you, and it isn't an accident, it never is with horses!
Ignoring the signs, the little details, is also losing a big opportunity to create, nurture and maintain that respect, and to have the rapport and partnership that the best horseman have. Not through fear, not through mastering and manhandling, or micromanaging, but through mutual politeness and respect. That is how it works in horse world. Because if the horse believes you merit respect he will do anything for you. It really is that simple. It may look wonderful and magic how the spectacular equestrian trainers like Lorenzo or Jean-François Pignon can perform with multiple horses but it all starts and rests on this.
So these are the little things that you can correct without giving offence to your horse and that make a bigger difference than you might imagine.
If like me, you check the groundwork every day, and before riding, test the responses, ask for a forehand and hindquarter yield on both sides, note any difference or blocking, maybe ask again for a little more effort or less resistance. But it should start before that, the moment you approach the field. The way in which you approach the horses. How you halter them. Before even talking about how you ask them through the gate. You get the point.
Like looking through the wrong end of a telescope.
Take any of these as an example:
Going through the gate.
Who goes first? You do, you're the leader. I teach my horse to wait while I open the gate, then I pick up the lead rope and invite her to follow. I may stop to adjust the gate, if she doesn't stop I ask her to.
Look out for that extra step.
When walking or leading your horse, does he take an extra step when you stop? Do you correct this, always, sometimes or never, or don't need to because he doesn't do it? Or maybe you haven't noticed.
Start to notice, because your horse will, and it means something to him. One day it starts with a little step, barely noticeable; next day it might be two steps; then one day there will be a big bang and if you wonder why, start thinking about the little signs you may have missed, before you blame the scary corner or the flapping plastic.
Everything means something to the horse, to some more than others but only in what they do with the knowledge. So allowing your horse to make decisions may be useful in some situations, but in others it just tells your horse that you are not an effective leader, and that belief or perception of you can lead to their lack of confidence in other situations.
So next time you lead, notice if your horse takes the extra step. If so, ask him to take that one step back. Quietly, not as if it's a big deal. And do this every time you stop and he doesn't, and do it occasionally at any time, to reinforce the principle, that you are the leader and you decide when he moves his feet and who goes through the gate first.
Of course, you will be doing this, as you do everything, quietly and without emotion, assertive not aggressive, and in my view without complicating it with vocals or treating. This is a basic respect issue.
So observe and don't ignore or underestimate those little signs; take care of th edetails and the big picture may take care of itself.
A small step for you, a big step for your relationship, and maybe your safety.