-Written by request from another trainer. Nothing I am about to say is new, just hoping to provoke thought.
“He’s an in your pocket sort of horse.” It’s a description you see in horse ads sometimes and it’s probably the seller’s intention to say the horse is friendly. Maybe a bit too friendly- fussy, agitated, and shoving with his nose. Or doing a body search of your pockets for treats. Why would someone advertise bad manners?
Conversely, it’s a thing to beauty to see a horse standing quietly attentive to his human, with a slack lead rope. That vision of quiet confidence and relaxed, mutual respect always speaks volumes.
Requiring personal space, and giving it, is the foundation of all good things for your horse: safety, civility, relaxation, and most of all, self-confidence. And since horses emulate their leadership, it’s our job to raise the bar.
Being mugged by your horse is a not a sign of love, it’s usually an expression of his insecurity. Tension or confusion makes your horse fidget. His rudeness makes him dangerous.
More tense the horse is, the more we hold on, the more fussy he gets, the shorter the rope gets. The fidget/nag cycle gains momentum. Bottom line: the more we resist, the more they resist. Horses don’t like confinement. Compare your little bird arms to your horse’s neck. What are we training here?
Check the lead line, if you are holding tight by the snap, he may be resisting that pressure more than anything else. Is a tight, inflexible hold on a lead any different than a death grip on the reins from the saddle?
More often than not what the horse is resisting is the fight; it isn’t what we ask, it’s how we ask.
But by now the tug of war is in full rage and it doesn’t matter who started it. The nagging banter demeans the horse and the human. Someone has to show some positive leadership.
So let it be you- just stop pulling, pushing, moving your feet, manhandling. Just stop, let the lead slack and exhale. Let him hold his own self up and you do the same. If you must do something more, hum John Lennon’s Imagine. When your horse has nothing to resist, he will settle.
Release. Sigh. A release is saying thank you and I trust you. So don’t guard the rope, give a genuine release that doesn’t hold a grudge or expectation of failure.
Sure, you will probably have to ask again, and when you get that answer, give another thank you/release. At first, it’s about getting a response, not how long it lasts. Patience! If your horse gets a reward for positive behavior, he will continue giving it, eventually for longer periods. He won’t be perfect to start, but the shift from fighting to cooperating has started and your shared conversation has been elevated. He will choose trying over fighting, just because it’s a better result for him.
When you must make a correction for safety reasons, be really clear. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Horses don’t understand sarcasm or irony or passive-aggressive whining.
“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” -Muhammad Ali.
Speak in his language- correct him like his Horse-Mom did. Be blunt, quick, assertive, and then be done with it. (Humans could really take a cue from mares on this one.)
In your horse’s defense, be fair. If you stand close inside your horse’s space, and ask him to do a task- it’s a come close/go away double message. Kind of like putting a meatloaf on the coffee table and asking the dogs to go outside. Step back and give him some space to think, and then a reward when he makes the right choice.
Horses are such noble creatures. Training try and responsiveness is the kindest gift humans can give. In return, you will deserve his most precious trust. Partnerships are based in mutual respect.
“The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.” ~Alice Walker
Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.