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February 22, 2022 4 Comments
Actually, the title to this article is misleading. It's not just one thing horses hate, it's about a dozen things.
1. Don't let them rest
Usually, I don't have to coach my students to slow down or give their horse a rest. Occasionally, however, I see folks working their horse either physically, or mentally, for long periods of time, without resting or taking some time to simply bond with the horse. In my book, "Leadership and Horses" I talk about the 50/50 training/bonding ratio. If you do a lot of bonding without training, you make little progress, but if you do a lot of training, without bonding, you become a slave driver. Find the balance and give back to your horse for all he/she offers. If you rest often, you won't risk joint injury. If you rest often, you'll see the horse's physiology change and promote better overall health. If you rest often, especially after something challenging, you'll see them connect to you, more like a friend they can trust and enjoy being around.
2. Act frustrated toward them
A frustrated person looks identical to a predator in the horse's eyes. Curb your frustrations by expecting less. It's okay to hope for good results but to expect them is folly. Good leaders expect the worst could happen and plan for it. At the same time, they plan for the best. It's the riders that don't expect anything bad would happen that show the most frustration and ultimately take out the frustration on a confused horse. If you've ever said, "My horse knows this," you're at great risk of having your expectation being too high. Horses don't know things like humans do. They can remember things but often find themselves flooded with distractions of all sorts, both externally and internally. Don't assume so much. Play with what you've got rather that act frustrated.
3. Give up too quickly
Horses often question your leadership and start out most conversations confused about what you want. Many novice riders or trainers quit before the horse has a chance to figure it out, leaving the horse in a constant state of confusion and frustration around people. Stay a little longer. Learn about the 20 minute rule.
4. Put them in a small space for long periods of a time
Horses need space. In fact, there are four things' horses need to, not just survive, but thrive. Space, Social interactions, Stimulating experiences, and a Sense of purpose. Space is critical. A general rule of thumb is one full acre per horse. Not everyone can do that but consider this at least... To feel free, a human must be able to explore a full range of motion. It's the same for the horse. If he/she doesn't have the room to gallop full speed, even if only for a few seconds, he/she is limited in their range of motion and therefore, less free. Living 24/7 in small spaces is like living in a prison cell for a beautiful beast that's meant to roam free. That's the harsh truth. I know boarding barns that rely on small spaces to make money. In those cases, I encourage plenty of play time in large spaces, either in turn out, or in human interactions where the horse is allowed to truly explore their full range of motion.
5. Leave their halters on 24/7
Sometimes, in the beginning its easier to leave the halter on so you can train the horse to be easier to catch. But this beginning stage doesn't have be that way and in case it does, it only needs to last until your horse is open and trusting. If that hasn't happened in a few weeks time there may be something wrong with the relationship and it's time to dive deeper.
6. Take away all social interactions
Horses are family oriented animals. It's no surprise they hate being left alone. There are circumstances that require alone time, but they should be limited. If you really want to give your horse a natural experience. Give him some friends, even if all you can do is have horses on the other side of the fence. Make sure he has companionship.
7. Forget to feed and water them
Horses in today's world usually get a good deal of food and water but some are left without for long periods of time. Talk to a vet about how much food and water your horses need and make sure they get it every day.
8. Use heavy handed aids or signals
Many riders rely on big, obvious, heavy signals. I catch many riders holding onto the reins like their life depends on it while they attempt simple maneuvers in the ring. Horses are sensitive enough to feel a fly land on their skin. There is no need to use heavy signals except in safety situations.
9. Take them away from their mates
That doesn't mean you shouldn't take them away from their mates. Just recognize it's hard and don't be so hard on them when it doesn't go perfect for a while. Have some perspective for them.
10. Use tools that hurt
Sharp bits and spurs can be harmful to the horse. Be careful with the tools you choose. The truth is, any tool can be harmful, it's more about the hands that use the tool that matters most.
11. Ask them to do scary things
Again, there are things that must be done. Like loading into a trailer or crossing a stream. But have some perspective. Be slow, kind, thoughtful. Be a leader, not a dictator.
12. Don't give basic health care
Feet trimming, regular grooming, vet and teeth work, shelter, safe fences, etc. Can horses survive without constant care? Usually! Is it nice? No! Do they act as if they want all those things? Not always, but a child needs care even when they don't think they need it and that's what good care takers do. You're not just a friend. You're a steward, a leader, and parent, a coach, and you're a friend.
They love a partner who cares about their experience even if they have to do hard things from time to time. It's that perspective that's important.
They love space, social interaction, stimulating experiences, and a sense of purpose. They love playing games and learning. Scientists have studied the effect of stress hormones in horses that play with people and horses that sit in the field doing nothing. The horses that sit around, have higher levels of stress. Hmmm.. interesting, right?
They love food rewards. If you can figure out how to train your horse to be polite around feeding time and food rewards, you'll earn a whole other level of trust and try from your horse.
They love comfort. There is a false narrative out there that horses should be left alone to mother nature. The hard truth is nature isn't always better. Take a hard look at wild horses, their feet, their teeth, their injuries, their stress levels, their lack of resources, their predators, etc. Horses, primarily, need and want safety and comfort. We can provide it for them.
They love you! If you are really a horse lover, invested in your learning and a leader in the making, then they will love you too.
Take a deep dive into leadership training with horses in our "Horse Mastery University." Click the link, and for new students, get a free consultation worth $150.00 I look forward to meeting you!