Join-up, respond to herd behavior
The join-up is a way of gaining a horse’s trust and putting yourself in the leader’s place in the herd. It is an exercise used in the Natural Horsemanship method developed by Monty Roberts.
In a join-up, the behavior of the leading horse is simulated to show who is boss without physical violence. It is a way that is used in the Natural Horsemanship for breaking horses and correcting problem horses. With a join-up it is possible to quickly access a horse without creating fear or suspicion.
The American horse guru Monty Roberts was the first to announce this method. When Monty was young, methods such as Natural Horsemanship were not actually used and horses were ridden with quite a lot of violence and little understanding for the horse itself. Monty saw these methods around him and decided to develop a new, nonviolent method, which he called join-up.
A join-up is a great start to work with anxious or traumatized horses. But it is not only the so-called problem horses that benefit, for every horse it is a nice method to clarify the ranking and to build a relationship with its owner. Often we think as a rider that we are in charge, but in fact the horse only listens because they know they will be punished differently, not because they have actually built up respect for humans.
To understand the behavior of horses and how the join-up works, you will first have to study the herd behavior of horses.
A herd consists of a group of mares of different ages with foals, stallions up to and including two years old, a lead mare (alfamerrie) and a leading stallion (alpha stallion). Colts older than two years old are rejected from the herd and look for their own herd. The alpha stallion has a floating position at the back of the herd. His duties are to protect the herd from danger, warn of danger and get the mares pregnant. The alpha mare is usually a somewhat older mare and will run ahead of the herd to determine where the herd is going. This makes her more of a leading position than the alpha stallion. The join-up simulates the leading mare. If a (often young) horse is annoying, it will be thrown out of the herd by the alpha mare as punishment. There is no worse punishment for a horse, a horse cannot live without its herd. He cannot survive without the protection of the rest of the herd. If the alpha mare thinks the punishment has lasted long enough, the horse may return to the herd. The alpha mare is therefore also responsible for the education of the young horses.
The join-up in theory
The join-up actually mimics the situation above, a horse that is thrown out of the herd and that is asked back into the herd after signs of submission and surrender. So the human takes the position of the alpha-mare, the horse becomes submissive. This is a natural way of commanding respect, the horse acts instinctively.
The join-up in practice
The join-up and follow-up explained in steps:
Take the horse into a closed, not too large space. Preferably one lunging circle, but you can also deposit a piece of a container (no larger than 20 x 20 meters). Make sure there are no other horses in sight, the horse’s attention should be on you.
- Stand in the middle of the room and get your horse moving. Do this by moving a lead rope or lunge line towards the horse’s hindquarters, but don’t touch it, don’t hurt it. Make sure you also focus your energy on the hindquarters yourself. Let your horse trot or gallop, keep him moving.
- Continue to keep the horse moving by adopting an intimidating pose. Shoulders straight, take long strides and keep energy in the hindquarters. You chase the horse now ?? in his language ?? from the flock. Also have him change hands a few times by throwing the rope in front of the forehand instead of to the hindquarters and cutting him off with your body language.
- Now you can start looking for signs of surrender. First, pay attention to the horse’s ears. The first sign he will give is turn his earpiece towards you. He is saying that he wants to rejoin the fold and focus on you.
- The horse will now lower its head. This is a new sign of surrender, but also of relaxation. Keep the horse moving.
- The final sign is that the horse is going to chew and lick with its head down. The horse now indicates that he really wants to be with you. As soon as he does this, stop the buoyant and intimidating position, throw your rope to the ground, and turn away from the horse.
- Now you stand with your back to the horse. Stand like this, with your shoulders low, gaze on the ground. The horse will now stop. Stay standing until the horse walks towards you and stays behind your back. If he is behind you, go for a walk in the lunging circle. The horse will most likely follow you now, this is the follow up.
- If the horse still follows you after a few minutes, the join-up is successful. Then turn around and pet the horse so that he knows he is back with your herd.
- After the join-up, put your horse on the pasture or brush him a little longer, but don’t let him do any more work. A join-up is emotionally tough for a horse, so give it a rest afterwards.
What if my horse works against you?
Don’t be very disappointed if the horse doesn’t chase you after one time. In that case you have to go through the process of drifting away, keeping it moving and reading signs again, sometimes several times. Is it still not possible after about three times? Then it may be that you give the wrong signs yourself or that the horse has lost its confidence in such a way that it cannot be remedied within an hour. Be patient at all times and hire a professional if you don’t remember yourself.
It is important that you can properly read the horse’s behavior. One horse reacts faster than the other, or needs more pressure. With too much pressure you can get a panicky or aggressive horse, with too little pressure the horse often does not understand what the intention is and will refuse or turn towards you. So know how much pressure to apply, always use just enough pressure.
Always stay ?? not only in the join-up, but in the handling of horses in general ?? quiet and assertive. Only then will your horse start to see you as a leader that he feels comfortable with.