Ground manners are basically how a horse behaves around you when you are working with him or standing next to him on the ground. They are a fundamental part of horse training, and so basic that most people don’t even notice ground manners until they are around a horse who doesn’t have them. A horse who has ground manners respects their handler and is therefore less likely to do things that might hurt the person. A horse that doesn’t have ground manners, on the other hand, can be dangerous to be around, particularly in situations where the horse is likely to spook or panic.
The basis for good ground manners is respect. Even though a horse usually outweighs his handler by four or five times, he needs to respect the people who work with him. A respectful horse pays close attention to his handler, obeys commands, and is careful not to do things that could hurt his handler. On the other hand, a disrespectful horse may frequently run into his handler or step on people’s feet, throw his head up to resist being handled, and mouth or bite his handlers. The latter horse’s behavior is not only rude and annoying, but also very disrespectful of his handler’s space and safety.
One example of good ground manners in a horse is the way he walks with his handler on a lead rope. A respectful horse walks a couple of feet away, so that he isn’t crowding his handler but is still close enough to follow directions. A respectful horse also pays close attention to what his handler is doing, so that he knows when to halt or turn. The proper horse training is important even for something as simple as this, because a horse that walks too close to his handler is in danger of running the person over if something happens to startle him.
Good ground manners can also be found in the simplest of gestures. For example, a horse who lowers his head to help his handler put on his halter or bridle is consider to be well-behaved. Respectful horse behavior is also displayed when a horse comes to his handler in the pasture, rather than running away and making the person catch him.
A common example of poor ground manners is a horse that frequently mouths his handlers. Just like in children, young horses can be very mouthy, exploring things with their lips and tongues. Unfortunately, if this behavior is not corrected, it can lead to an adult horse with a habit of biting when it doesn’t get its way or is demanding a treat. Horses also tend to become mouthy when they are frequently hand-fed treats, so owners should feed treats sparingly and immediately scold their horses for any mouthiness that crops up.
Poor ground manners are often learned when people, particularly inexperienced horse people, own a horse from the time it is very young. Young horse behavior can be very cute, even when it’s something that most reasonable people would not want a full-grown horse doing: habits such as standing too close or leaning on their handler, mouthing their handler’s hands or clothing, or rearing or bucking at inappropriate times. Unfortunately, if horses are not taught proper ground manners at a young age, these habits can be more difficult to correct later on.