The one thing you should never do with horses is...
Assume they understand everything that is expected of them.
Many people think the horse knows what they want when, in fact, most horses don't have a clue even if they've done it a hundred times. I often hear someone say "my horse knows how to get it the trailer, why won't he do it?" As a result, of thinking the horse "knows" it, many people get frustrated and when a person looks upset, nobody wants to be around them, let alone, listen to them. When I say nobody, that includes horses too. To avoid frustration you simply need to know the real reasons why a horse won't do something.
Let me clarify. There are in fact, six basic reasons a horses wouldn't do what we want them to do for us, such as: get into a trailer or walk over a creek even if they've done it before.
Number 1. Alignment (the horse is not aligned physically for the task). It takes a keen eye to see misalignment issues but once you see them you can't NOT see them anymore and when you learn to correct alignment you can make immediate shifts in your horses behavior.
2. Energy (the horse doesn't have the right level of energy) It's either too much or too little for the task at hand. Once you learn to manage energy levels you get results like only the masters in the industry get results. It's absolutely amazing what you can do. I teach all about this in my book "Leadership and Horses"
3. Connection (the horse is distracted, focused on something else). Easy to see, not always easy to correct. Reading and addressing distraction takes practice and patience and a lot of re-aligning the horses attention, but with practice you can become a very effective leader for your horse.
4. Fear (the horse is genuinely afraid of you, the task, the environment, or her position relative to the herd). Fear is tricky and easy to misread which thing the horse is actually afraid of, but in time you can become an expert. Read my article on a guide to natural horsemanship.
5. Confusion (the horse simply does not understand what you want or perhaps why it's so important to you) Maybe he has done it before, that doesn't mean he understand in this very moment. When subtle changes take place in the environment, (even smells we can't pick up) your horse may act differently or feel confused. When you learn to see confusion pop up, you can address your horse with more clarity and simpler tasks with more rewards to help them see what you want.
6. Physical limitations (the horse is too unfit, uncoordinated, too tired, or simply too lame to achieve the results you want). Learning to read physical limits of a horse doesn't have to take a lifetime. You can learn everything you need to in a simple course with me. (coming soon - tell me in the comments below if you'd be interested) or go through the school of hard knocks and learn it yourself in a few years time. That's certainly what I did.
If your horse doesn't go in the horse trailer and you say "He knows what I want, he is just being obstinate!" You could substitute the word with "naughty, rude, disrespectful, etc." but the truth is... If he knows what you want and he's not doing it, he is confused.
but the truth is... If he knows what you want and he's not doing it, he is confused.
Let me clarify again. He's may not be confused about what you want. He's confused about "why" it's so important. He sees no value in it.
I know it's just like semantics, but words are important.
When you say your horse is being obstinate, you tend to get slightly frustrated and maybe even a little offended. When you're frustrated, you tend to add inappropriate amounts of pressure to a situation and end up compounding the problem. Or you just walk away from the situation and end up compounding other problems later down the road. The point is: FRUSTRATION LEADS TO POOR LEADERSHIP!
FRUSTRATION LEADS TO POOR LEADERSHIP!
When you say your horse is confused rather that obstinate, you being to see how you need to help clarify or simplify things to help him. You begin looking for more opportunities to reward. You also begin looking for ways to make the right thing easier and the wrong thing uncomfortable without giving your horse the impression that you are a complete asshole! Pardon my language.
Back to the top now. What's the one thing you should never do with horses?
Never assume he knows everything and anything related to what you want. After all, science has proven today that horses have the brain of a four-year-old human child.
I like that perspective. It keeps me slow, soft, playful, repetitive, rewarding, calm, and assertive in safety situations. It sets me up more like a preschool teacher. That's how all horse trainers and horse owners can learn to act around their horses. Not that they shouldn't go after higher performance. I think that's great too. Just keep in mind how horses learn along the way.
To learn more about the six reasons horses don't do what you want, get the book Leadership and Horses Simply click the link here or find it on amazon.com
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Don Jessop - the breakthrough guy