I am an Equine Behaviorist and Trainer. I specialize on working with "problem" horses and their owners. Horses who have become lawn ornaments due to their violent, unpredictable, or fearful behavior. These horses have often felt a violent hand, and in turn, react dangerously around humans.
When I have a "problem horse" in the round pen, often boarders and guests of the barn I am visiting will clammer and hang onto the round pen which I am working in. I've observed a variety of particular behaviours in these horses in my years... the first being the scared horse.
A horse whose been dealt with in such a violent manner, that he fears humans. He's confined to a small area, and his predators surround him. He is told to trust and focus on me in the center of the pen, yet his instincts are screaming at him that any one of these "monsters" outside the arena could leap out at any point in time and cause him harm. It's happened before, so what's to say it won't happen again? The horse displays an uncontrollable urge to keep an ear and eye on the monsters which have surrounded him. He appears to lose focus on his trainer due to his concern over his scary on-lookers. Eventually the horse learns to trust me, and follows me as his leader. His fears are left with me, and I show him that I will not allow him to come to harm as long as he is with me. I take on the role as alpha horse. In the wild, their alpha horse leads them and protects them. While the end result is a horse who's dropped his fears for the predators around him due to the security offered by his new found leader.... I cannot help but wonder if a heightened level of adrenaline and fear is put upon the horse, simply by having curious onlookers viewing during his experience. Would a round pen with only the trainer and the horse, and no onlookers be easier for the horse? My guess is yes... but how do you politely ask onlookers to go away? In training the horse, you aim to teach the owner, and whomever else will listen. I enjoy and love that people watch and learn from my techniques. When a boarder comes up to me afterwards and tells me my work is incredible and that they've learned so much. I want this. I want to teach so that I can change the equine world to a much gentler one. But what effect is this having on the horse? And how can we win to gentle the horse, and educate the people at the same time?
The aggressive horse.
A horse whose been so violently handled, that he has become violent and vile towards humans in every action he takes. This horse is typically confined to a stall, and is prevented from coming into contact with humans. This one is easier, I can simply ask the audience to step away and go out of sight so that I can have one on one time with the dangerous horse.
The wild horse.
A horse whose had little or not contact with humans. He is unscarred, a dry sponge ready to absorb whatever is thrown at him. He is weary of his onlookers.... an expected fear of the unknown.. however his most direct attention is on this unusual being who's placed itself unavoidably in his presence. This horse quickly comes to accept me in the pen, and pays no mind to his onlookers.
The proud horse.
An Arabian, saddle bred, a stallion.... we've all seen the proud horse. He sturts and prances... he shows himself to all who will grace him with their eyes... Like a peacock displaying it's feathers... he pays little to no mind of his trainer, and even uses him in part of his act. This horse typically goes onto to show himself in circles as the trainer lunges him. Once he grows tired of his performance, he gradually directs his attention to his trainer. He may occasionally throw a defiant proud head for his audience, but his acts are harmless and graceful.
Would this horse display less if there was a lack of audience to perform for?
And so we are left with these questions:
Overall, does an audience cause an effect for the horse?
How do we ask an audience not to form?
Shall we contact the owner of the horse prior to our session and ask that we train alone?
Have you found this to be a problem when you are training a horse?