Often I get asked the question, what’s the idea with “the corner” (the safe haven – read more under “the five Pillers”) in my training method. Here’s the answer:
Like everything I do in my horse training, my method derives from my studies of wild horse behaviour in the USA. When I was observing the wild horses’ method of communication, it was obvious that the leader horse used the corner to regulate the other horses’ behaviour in the herd.
If a horse was behaving inappropriately, the leader horse took its stand and pushed the horse into a corner. Often just a few steps away, but enough for the horse to understand the leader horse’s message: “You are not acting appropriately, therefore you´re endangering the herd. That’s the reason you can’t be part of the herd right now.”
During my observation of the wild horses, I have never experienced a leader horse start a battle with another wild horse in the middle of the terrain. A corner, or a restricted space was always used by the leader horse.
Tame horses act the same as wild horses
When I returned to Denmark, I started working with tame horses. I observed the same pattern of behaviour where the leader horse would maintain his hierarchy in the herd by sending another horse out of the herd. In our small paddock, this often involves the leader horse sending the other horse to the most faraway corner or the other side of the paddock.
You don’t necessarily have to use the corner of the field, it works just as well by using another part of the field. Or, you can in principle just settle for walking towards the horse and making it back up a few steps when the horse is not following your instruction. The method works for me because its faster in calming the wild horse.
When I offer the horse a corner as its own domain, it’s not meant as a form of punishment but rather a safe place of refuge for the horse. The horse quickly understands that the corner or the side of the field is where it has to go to get a break or peace for a moment during my training. And the horse always retreats to this place if what I ask them to do is too hard. It’s a place where it’s not going to get stressed, but a place in which it still gets the offer to follow me. It’s a place where the horse gets care and peace, a place of constant safety during the training.
My method also provides a clear opportunity for communication. It becomes obvious which part of the training the horse likes and accepts, and which parts it finds difficult. If the horse follows, it’s a yes to my offer and if it says no, it turns around and goes to its safe corner.
In nature, horses don’t run around with a bag of carrots and, they don’t reward each other by doing something good and fitting in to the hierarchy. Horses aren’t born with a halter and rope. They are free animals who arrange themselves into a hierarchy without the pressure of a rope around their necks.
That’s why I use this method, and it’s completely natural for me to start every training by releasing the horse and letting it be completely free.