GUEST BLOG: Utilising space

GUEST BLOG:  Utilising space

Shelly Newton Carter “Shelley is the founder of HorseSavvy, based in Perthshire. She says “this article is written by me with Ingela Larsson Smith and Carolyn Resnick influences in tuition Although I teach this and use all the principles in all that I teach it was these two wonderful ladies that brought me to this point so they need to have recognition for it

Her fb page is here:


Ok – here’s her article:

Utilizing Space


 How do I make non-personal, non-threatening requests to a horse? I do it using a mental image of moving ‘Space’ rather than moving a horse’s body.  Here’s how I try to think of space between me and a horse:


1) SHARING SPACE: This is where I ask a horse to be close with me on a shared mutual path. Sometimes this may mean the horse is following me, sometimes I am following the horse but eventually I have found that we start being together in a mutual dance of understanding.


2) PROTECTING SPACE: This is where I make sure the space I set up for us to be in is kept the way I set it up, whether that means the space between us as we walk or keeping the space that is around us within a herd situation.


If another horse comes up that I’m not working with I will protect the space me and my horse (or horses) is in from others and often when working with two horses at once I protect my space, the space of the horse to my left and also the one to my right individually so that there are no other herd dynamics going on between them and whilst they are with me they both know that I will protect their space so that we can all relax in a non-dominant environment.

If horses of different levels in the herd hierarchy are working with me at one time I let them know I am alpha and they are all then on the next level down but none of them higher or lower than each other, just me above only, that way they can relax and listen to my requests.


3) CLAIMING SPACE: This is used if the space I create to be with a horse is encroached upon I reclaim the part I have lost. I use this claim of space to ask for transitions so that with this I am not telling the horse to move faster ‘or else’, I am mentally claiming the grazing under their back feet and often then step onto that space and claim it as the alpha might do. Being aware of this all the time helps makes me mentally strong in a herd.


4) SHAPING SPACE: I try to get my own body to create a shape that I ask the horse to copy, once the space between us is understood a horse will very usually bend or move the way we ask and copy our own energy levels to remain synchronised in the herd ‘dance’. Working with this on the ground first helps both parties to create that shape and then recreate it when riding. Shaping space can get very refined, sometimes I ask the horse to just move one part slightly differently to create the shape needed for a move, such as moving the shoulder just a small bit away from me to create a better arc in the whole of his body to help with circles. This sort of shaping involves claiming the small area back from the horses bubble.


5) OPENING & CLOSING SPACE: I mentally open area’s that I would like the horse to go into and as those spaces open I close others mentally to shut off where I don’t want us to go. This can be refined and very specific in such things as gait, speed of gait, lateral moves but starts with just the basics of left, right, stop, forward, backup.


6) BLOCKING SPACE: I use a ‘block’ if a horse comes into my space without me asking or tries to take over Alpha by playing their own games then I will block that and ask my request again. This does not mean I don’t allow horses to play or have their own ideas but sometimes with some horses we need to re-direct their thoughts to something we’re trying to teach them or to block and protect our space if they get high energy at an inappropriate time.



When using space shaping techniques I make sure that I check myself often to see I am asking something of the horse that I am truly showing in my own body, thoughts and energy. Sometimes a horse needs me to be exaggerated in my requests as they don’t see the shape I’m making but that can quickly be refined into more elegant movements.


Also I use a mental image of me in a personal space bubble, the horse in its own personal space bubble but those bubbles are touching when we’re connected and I can change their diameter for draw/drive or to have the horse closer or further away. I know it may sound farfetched but if you work visually then having these kinds of pictures in your mind helps the connection as it defines the space you’re in better so that the horse can pick up on that intuitively. Once I’ve sorted this all in my brain it comes instinctually and I don’t have to mentally ‘think’ about it in such detail. My main thoughts would be on where we’re going, what gait and if we’re shaping correctly for the movement we’re doing.


Thinking on this ‘bubble’ connection we must not think of our horses running off if they have a yeehaa moment, they are always connected to us, our bubbles just have to extend to accommodate the space between us. If we think or feel disconnected it is US that has disconnected not them. They don’t realise we can’t keep up with them, sp keep mentally connected, recall them or keep the connection until you are closer to reconnect again. On that note you must remember to ‘disconnect’ when leaving them to go home.


Remembering all the time that an Alpha horse is mentally strong and very aware whereas a Beta is physically strong or dominant (NB. This sort of dominance is not to be confused with fear dominance brought on by a horse defending itself from a request or energy level it does not understand or like.) Our aim is to be a good Alpha.


It really is all about ‘Space’, how much is between us, is it mutually shared and taking and giving as much as claiming and shaping. Horses really do learn to read our thoughts as our thoughts shape our bodies without us realising it.



8 thoughts on “GUEST BLOG: Utilising space

  1. I’m sorry, but this is just so much BS that I don’t even know where to start. There is no such thing as “alpha” horses and “dominant” horses. Horse resource guard, yes, but that’s not the same thing. The whole “dominance” thing has been shown to have no use whatsoever in training animals. And this “taking space” junk is going to get someone killed.

    • Hi Laurie

      This is a guest blog and there are going to be times when the views and opinions presented in a guest blog do not suit everyone or in fact stimulate outright disagreement. I welcome this. I encourage you to respond with your own views to start a discussion as that is always a great way to influence readers. So please feel free to share your own views when they differ from the ones presented and of course the offer to write a guest blog on what affects their confidence, or what has helped their confidence journey for themselves or their students is open to everyone.


  2. I liked this, the idea of dance, of communication and connection, using the horse’s use of space and being a part of that world.
    To work with the horse as partner not slave, willing to play, that’s the relationship I want with my horse, where we can dance and play, and who knows one day maybe even to ride?

  3. The ideas expressed fit very well with what I see within the herd on a daily basis, and the invitations to interact that the herd members send us. This is new territory for me in horsemanship, but I’m strongly reminded of the advice I was given when learning springboard diving and trampolining, to mentally run through a manoeuvre before doing it, then to do the manoeuvre as I had visualised it.

  4. dominance is often viewed as a ‘dirty’ word so lots of people ‘fluff it up’ with the word leader, as do i. i had a phase of thinking i must be cruel to practice leadership with my herd and did a lot of soul searching to the point that i didn’t interact with them at all for a while.
    i have since spent endless hours observing my herd and watching films of wild horses. i couldn’t believe how brutal it sometimes looks out there, and some of my ponies have the ‘holes’ to prove it! they seem to move each other just for the sake of it at times which i find frustrating to watch. why, when there are 12 piles of hay available do they insist on moving a friend off theirs!?…….
    the only reason i can think of is dominance – or to fluff it up – because they can, the are constantly testing respect and leadership levels. but look at them 2 minutes later and they are grooming each other and sometimes even sharing hay. there bare no grudge or malice and i don’t believe i do in my horsemanship. there is a difference between leadership and cruelty. you can tell if you’ve turned into a bully as they wouldn’t want anything to do with you. i still get a massive buzz everyday to find them all waiting for me in a morning and that they will come and just hang out with me while i have a cuppa etc. yes, horses can be explained as being too forgiving, this is true. i happen to believe that with 7 acres to ‘escape’ into and a herd of friends to accompany them in their escape they would take this opportunity rather than spend time with me if i turned into a bully.

  5. Hi, the taking space principle is not meant to be dominant, I’m just taking the grazing under their feet in a passive way, ie, you can just walk there and stand on that space 😉 We have to remember that Dominant does not necessarily mean Dominance and from my professional work I’ve found most ‘dominant’ horses are often those that feel the need to defend themselves and are doing so out of fear. I don’t use dominance in my training. If you read the ‘claiming space’ section close you’ll see I use the words ‘mentally claiming that space’ and I find this much nicer to think this way than to think….’horse, move out of my way’, or ‘horse, move now, that way’. Horses play mental games with each other all the time, from my experience, I have a small herd and watch them at very regular intervals and we have an alpha horse, there is a dominant 2nd (doesn’t mean he uses dominance!), a dominant 3rd and an Omega 4th. Remember also that this is just my opinion and my training idea’s which work for me, they may not work for you and that’s fine too 😉


  6. A well explained blog that makes a lot of sense.
    The whole ‘space’ thing is very simple in reality, it’s how horses work with each other but also using this form of interaction with our horses teaches us to be much more in control of what goes on in our heads,, to be much more aware of our thoughts and our attitude towards the sessions we have with our horses. A less than honest or clear thought and our horse either gets confused or feels too much pressure and leaves, when that happens we can be fairly certain that the cause of that is down to us rather than down to the horse.

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