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September 08, 2020
Have you ever asked your horse to do something then wondered why he or she wouldn't do it? Even if you don't like chocolate, or peanuts, you should remember this acronym, always eat chocolate covered peanuts forever, because it's a fun, simple way to figure out why your horse doesn't do what you want. Think of it like a mechanic, looking at a car, wondering whether the fire, water, or air system is off line and determining a plan to get the offline system, back online.
The first letter in each word stands for an important part of the solution.
Always - A - stands for Alignment:
Horses often malign their body in relationship to the task. For instance: Your horse approaches the trailer then doesn't jump inside because his nose is looking to the outside and his hips are pointed at an angle from the point of entry. By simply re-aligning your horse's body parts you can see how this simple strategy makes a massive difference in your results. The same goes for nearly everything else. Alignment in the left lead canter vs right lead canter, alignment in your upper level half passes, alignment in your basic confidence building games, and more. Think about alignment, as your first solution to solving your next horse related problem.
In a deep dive conversation with the Horse Mastery Group we discussed the 5 types of alignment to observe and correct. You can get access to this deep dive session as part of your membership to the mastery group. Check it out!
Eat - E - sands for Energy:
Have you ever seen a horse deliver insufficient energy to complete a task and as a result not get the task done properly? Like when a horse doesn't put forth the energy to clear the jump and instead knocks off the top rail, or worse yet, plows through the whole thing. I once had a horse tip over backward after stopping midway on a steep hill from fatigue. Had she shown more energy to get to the top she would have maintained her balance. She didn't get hurt luckily and the next attempt was flawless.
Interestingly enough, it's not always the lack of energy that's the problem. Sometimes, the horse displays too much energy for the task and fails to coordinate their body and mind. Diagnosing an energy imbalance is an important part of reading the situation and the better you get at neutralizing high energy or raising the low energy, the more masterful you become with your leadership. We continue to deep dive into this conversation as well, inside our mastermind group.
Chocolate - C - stands for connection or concentration:
Distraction is the opposite of connection in this category. Have you ever asked a horse to do something only to get absolutely no response at all? Often this is a distraction issue. The horse is disconnected from you or the task, thinking about something else altogether. Learning how to regain that connection and influence in spite of the distraction gives you the edge to truly be a leader. Diagnosing distraction is easy. Your horse's head will be looking off to some other area. Sometimes, if it's not his head, it's a lack of response, that signals you he's gone internal, distracted by his own thoughts and emotions, and unable to respond to you.
Covered - C - stands for confusion:
Confusion is one major problem in horse training. For example, horses that seemingly know how to canter, can't do it on cue... why? Because they are confused about what we want. The horse has to literally read our body language and learn to interpret it in a moment's notice. When they get it wrong we often label the horse as a "bad horse, stupid horse," or we blame ourselves as "bad trainers." In reality, the most likely culprit to the reason your horse won't do what you want is he or she is confused and simply needs you to slow down, repeat the question, and all repetition and rewards to clear up any confusion. We can even take another leap forward with the concept of confusion. For instance: Why does a horse load into the trailer day after day and then one day decide not to? The obvious answer is because he's confused about what the trailer means. He thinks it's a human designed tool to take him to a slave driven workplace. My advice is to work with his alignment, and connection and energy, and get him in the trailer, but don't take him to work. Feed him in there. Travel to a nice place and graze him. Don't ride him. After a day or two of that, he'll start to see the trailer in a less confusing, more balanced way. It might seem like a stretch to call it confusion, but the only other option is to call it obstinate behavior. If you call it that, you'll treat him even more like a slave than before. Be careful. Be quick to call it confusion first.
Peanuts - P - stands for pain:
Pain is a major factor in horse training too. Did you know that horses often fail to do tasks because they feel pain when we ask them to do it? I remember one horse at a clinic in Vermont that would buck when asked to canter. For months and months, I guided this student to treat the problem as a behavioral issue and correct the horse for bucking. Ironically, months later, with the help of a vet, we diagnosed a severe nerve pain issue in the hind leg and hip. With treatment, she stopped bucking when asked to canter. If the treatment lapsed, she resumed bucking. She was literally reacting to the motion of canter because of pain. There was no fear, no ill intent. Just pain. Now, whenever I see a prolonged, insistent behavior, I seek out veterinary assistance to dig deeper into the issue and uncover any physical problems. If none exist then no time was lost and I can continue down the road to behavioral therapy and change. Never rule out pain as a possible component to the problems you see in your horse.
Forever - F - stands for fear:
Fear is the most obvious of all the six reasons our horses don't do what we want. The horse says, I can't. They pull back, then flip around, and try to go the other way. They snort and raise their heads up high to ready their body for escape. The signs are easy to see. Ironically, there are signs that look like fear that aren't fear and those are the ones you need to look out for. We dive into those signs in the Mastery Group. Fear is easy to treat. Simple approach, retreat, and repetition destroy fear and build confidence.
Now you've got it. Always eat chocolate covered peanuts forever. This is your diagnosis tool for uncovering why your horse is not doing what you want, which gives you instant insight into what to do.
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