In my last article I wrote about how many horses are developing different behavior patterns because of the affection and lack of effective discipline that they receive. I have been pleasantly surprised at the number of people that I have spoken to that also recognize that their horse fits into the scenario that I presented.
Recognizing the problem is the first step in resolving it.
There are a few things to keep in mind before you attempt to change the behavior of your horse should he behave in a way that is unacceptable. First of all horses are constantly pushing boundaries, and are usually very intelligent. Many of us do not give them credit for their intelligence and their ability to rationalize. Do not take this factor for granted, their intelligence is the only reason that we can change their behavior.
Do not start something you are not prepared to finish, it not about winning or losing but about finding an acceptable resolution to a conflict. That does not mean the problem is fixed. It might only mean that the conflict is less intense. You will not convince a horse in a few lessons to change behavior that has developed and been accepted for a lifetime. It will take time.
Do not take your horses actions personally, he is not behaving the way he is to pick a fight, he is trying to prevent one. Horses are defensive by nature not aggressive. That does not mean that he won’t act defensively aggressive. Even though you may feel you are not threatening him, you are.
Do not be afraid to be physical when correcting your horse. This is the part of all this that causes much of the problem behavior that we now need to change. Many of us as people enjoy horses because they are kind animals. A horse can perceive too much kindness as weakness, and horses do not have much time for weaker horses. Horses are very physical when they correct each other. You are not strong enough to hurt your horse unless you are using a weapon.
Give him responsibilities and let him figure out what his options are. His responsibilities are to pay attention, think about what I have asked of him and come up with a decision about how he should respond. My responsibilities are to keep his attention, give him time to think and let him make up his own mind. He may be wrong most of the time but so what. It is more important for him to know that it is his job to figure things out for himself. Do not punish him for being wrong or he will stop trying, or he will try too hard, either one will lead to the lack of success. You must make sure he is successful, maybe not to the level you would like but incremental success will lead to ultimate success. He will soon learn what his options are, and which ones are ineffective. When he learns what does not work he will start to look for different options and this is where if we are paying attention we can start to encourage him to keep looking. Eventually he will be correct or nearly correct and then it is time to stop asking. Don’t fall into the trap of repeating a correct action over and over and over again. Once he takes responsibility to do it a couple of times give him credit for having learned what you asked.
Like children they need to have consistent boundaries set and enforced. Make up your own boundaries, many people have unclear expectations for the behavior of their horse. If you are not sure what you want, make yourself a list of the things that your horse does, good and bad. And ask yourself do I like it when he behaves that way. If you do not then you should do something about it. If you do like the way he behaves you should let him know that you appreciate what he is doing for you.
If your horse has learned to ignore you and takes offense when you get after him for misbehaving the earlier you address it the easier it will be to change. This does not mean it will be easy. The more established the behavior, the more confident the horse, the harder it can get. This means that he may change his behavior for the worse before anything is resolved. If you are not prepared to see this through to a satisfactory conclusion then do not start. Things are likely to get very intense, so are you prepared to go where he might take you?
It is very important that you are able to remove emotion from any request or correction that you may use to get your horse to perform. Emotion causes unclear thinking. Fear, anger, frustration are all debilitating when trying to teach, or learn. If you can not remove the emotion from the equation it will be difficult to clarify things to your horse, because your horse will feel the same fear, confusion and even anger.
You must always be looking at the things that your horse tries to do for you rather than dwelling on the things that you think that your horse is trying to do to you. I know people that have seen their horse rear up not be able to get the vision of their horse rearing out of their mind. They expect the horse to rear again and they have already set their horse up to fail. Use the power of intention and positive thought to help rather than hinder the process.
Never look to punish your horse for any action however extreme you may think it is. Correct him absolutely but NEVER punish. Perhaps it is just a difference in definition but correction is methodical and deliberate, punishment is emotional and reactive.
Do not be afraid to hurt your horse’s feelings, he will like you more after this is resolved.
When trying to change behavior there are stages I use. The first stage I will call “conflict”. I need to cause enough conflict that I cause the poor behavior to be expressed by the horse. I will do my best through methodical correction and reward to have the horse look for better options in dealing with me. This can sometimes set the horse up to anticipate that the next lessons are going to be as intense as the “conflict” stage.
The next stage I will call “clarify”. In this stage I will not be the cause of the conflict. The horse will anticipate enough conflict that I won’t need to initiate it. I will just make requests quietly and deliberately like I know he will be successful. He will often overreact and I will just quietly let him work himself through the conflict stage and clarify to him that he is doing fine. Correctness is unimportant but encouraging him by asking less of him should help him learn not to overreact.
The third stage I will call “support” From this time on I will expect the horse’s behavior to be much improved. Each and every time the horse reverts back to previous behavior I will support him by resolving the issue that comes up. I do not want to look at this as a lesson rather I look at it as life. In his new life he is expected to behave well and he will realize that if he decides to behave badly that there is a consequence. On the other hand life in general is much more enjoyable because we are not dealing with conflict every day.
© 2008 Will Clinging