Just a few thoughts on Training Horses
Albert Einstein once said:
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
I am in Ontario, booked for a one-on-one with a lady for a couple of hours. She wants to work on laying her horse down. I call to confirm the date and time, she confirms and then says, “So, you will teach my horse to lay down while you are here, right?” I am a bit taken back. I have never met this lady or her horse; I have no idea if the horse even walks on a lead. I have no way of knowing what either is capable of. I am pretty certain that two hours is not enough time.
This is something I run into on a regular basis. People seem to think their horse is a four-wheeler. Leave it in the garage for 6 months, then get on and expect it to be perfect. When we teach an animal something new, it is not a package like a suspension system. We do not just bolt it into place and tear off.
People think in a linear fashion and horses do not. Linear is a direct line, if I want to walk to the door I go straight to the door. Horse wants to walk to the door; it will cover the entire area and get to the door when it gets there. They are not on a schedule.
People have a bad habit of blaming the horse when things do not go well. “I came in last in the class because my horse acted up.” It is not the horse’s job to set the pace, it is ours. If our horse does not do what we want when we want then we have not done our job. Horses are horses, sometimes they will be off, and this is the joy of having a horse versus a four-wheeler.
We have to learn to set up our horses and ourselves for success. If I want to do well at a show, I work at it prior to the show; I work at it at the show and always in a calm fashion. I don’t worry if everyone is watching and my horse is not right on the money. I tend not to go to the shows anymore because I hate seeing people punishing their horses. People are whipping with their reins, laying on the spurs or crop, yanking on the bit. I just cringe: for whatever reason the horse is not right, neither punishment nor anger will fix it. We must stop what we are doing, figure it out and make it right. This is what Leaders do, unless they are the Canadian Government.
I often wonder if people would be so quick with the whip if it was a 2 to 5 year old child. That’s about the mental ability of the average horse. Yes, they are much bigger than a child, but we don’t expect more from large children than we do from small ones. Inside that huge head is still just a small child’s brain.
Nor do I agree with treating my horse as a big cuddly teddy bear or projecting human characteristics on it. A horse is a horse and that’s amazing enough. Don’t read human emotion into them then get mad because they respond as a horse.
We set our own destiny, and that of our horses, the least we can do is put forward the effort. I often hold demonstrations working with difficult horses; I get a huge response as the horses I use for demonstration get a free hour of training. But many of the people who wanted help with their horse choose not to attend if their horse isn’t selected for demonstration. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but many times it is not the horse that needs the training, it’s the owners. Be proactive, get out there and learn. There are so many ways to get information – really, there are no excuses.
Not all horses are created equal: 90 % of horses will respond in a way referred to as “normal.” But about 10% do not respond to “normal” training. This does not mean the horse is no good, it means we have to change to help the horse become what it needs to be. This is no different than the school system, set up to teach the masses. But what about those kids that are just a bit different? Do we throw them away; blame them because they cannot learn like all the others? Horses are no different, some just don’t learn like all the rest. Beating them will not make them learn, getting frustrated will not help. We must learn to step back, be honest with ourselves and assess the situation for what it is not what we think it should be.
In closing, the message I am trying to get across is rather simple. Train your horse with your head, not your emotions. Be calm, persistent consistent and assertive, always. Treat your horse with respect, but treat it like a horse. When things don’t go as planned, don’t blame your horse. Step back, reassess, and do it again and again till you both get it.