Teaching horses to follow your feet is a very common method of Groundwork training. You walk, the horse walks, you stop, the horse stops, you turn, the horse turns too. Many people get a se se of satisfaction when doing this. They are now "connected" with the horse "hooked on" or "in sync and harmony", you might say. But are they really? Let's take a closer look at this concept ...
"Personal space" and the handlers using their feet moving as the cue for the horse to move are both popular concepts amongst the natural horsemanship enthusiasts amongst many others that follow today's popular methods. But let's pull this apart and take a closer look. If you really think about it carefully, does it make a lot of sense to train horses to follow your feet and then ask for personal space as a result of the horse doing what you initially taught him to do - follow you? And as they stop moving forward and come to halt, the handler will often ask the horse to step out of their "personal space". This command is often reinforced with a jerk on a halter or the bit, swinging the lead rope or some other frantic effort to stop the horse from coming to their space.
You may want to reconsider this method. Firstly, if you think about it, horses are natural followers. To get them to follow you around isn't actually involving that much effort as they do it instinctively, anyway. There's not a lot of point training it as a standalone event with the purpose of it being the foundation for ridden horse training.
Secondly, it pays off to think about this; as part of the initial training, you will tie your horse on a rail or load him onto a trailer and walk away. Or you want him to stay still whilst you groom, rug or mount him. Or walk around him to trim his feet. At this moment, the horse can no longer follow your feet, the very cue you have just taught him, now means NOTHING. That's because you made an exception. Only problem is that your horse hasn't got the capacity to grasp the concept of an exception. Remember, that your horse can't reason or plan ahead. Therefore, you have now created an inconsistency in your training.
Typically, as a result, the horse may start pawing, calling out to his paddock mates, kicks the float, scrambles and so on. Many issues associated with separation anxiety are now triggered and the horse gets confused and starts desperately seeking the company of other horses.
From evidence based perspective, it makes much more sense to teach the horse to go forward and to stop by applying a lead rein aid and a whip tap where your leg would sit whilst mounted - THE VERY SAME CUES - that you apply when you ride. This creates consistency and clarity in training. Horses with established cues for stopping, slowing & going forward on the ground will have no problem staying in that one spot ( and out of your space! ) in a calm and relaxed manner until asked to do otherwise. This is called a Park - the horse stays immobile. It will now make much more sense to the horse to stay still when rugged, groomed, mounted, loaded into a trailer or tied in a rail etc - all without getting anxious about it. This in turn will effectively also solve issues such as separation anxiety.
The CONSISTENCY is obvious here
- Lisa Croft, Equine Awareness -