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January 22, 2018 7 Comments
His name was buck. A fitting name, given his aptitude for launching riders from his back like a rocket set for space off the Florida coast line.
To say he hates people isn't completely accurate today. He doesn't hate people anymore. But he did for a time. And during that time, if he could speak, he would have said these words:
"I am a slave and you are my master. But you are not a good master!"
Many people disagree with me, when I say horses have the exact same emotions that humans have. How could a horse feel like a slave? However, thinking a horse is just a horse, void of emotions that we understand, is false thinking. A horse has all of the exact same emotions we have. They have joy, fear, hatred, excitement, and more. They dream of a future, and remember a past. They struggle to focus and hope for things they can't describe.
Sure, they can't talk, but when you learn the universal language of body posture, focus and eye movements, breathing patterns, muscle tension, and energy, you begin to see, and even hear what I hear. That's why they call me a horse whisperer. Not because I whisper to them, but because I hear the whispers they intend for us.
Buck wasn't whispering though. Buck was yelling at the top of his lungs.
"Get off me, get away from me, and free me from this prison!"
He wasn't always so saucy. There were days where he looked like any other horse. He'd eat quietly in his stall, he'd play and gallop along the fence with his nearby mates, when turned out and give a random passerby-er the impression he was a normal, happy horse.
But then came the human interaction time. Every time the human interfered and tried to influence his life, his mood shifted. His ears would go back. His muzzle would wrinkle, twist and curl, and his eyes would harden.
For most activities, he'd simply hold a grimace on his face. You could saddle him, wash him, and do just about anything to him. And that's exactly how he felt. People weren't doing it for him, they were doing it to him. He didn't choose his circumstances and he resented humans for it.
The people that cared for him, didn't know why he acted so poorly. They couldn't understand why he'd be quiet and suddenly react in a violent fashion. They couldn't see how to fix it and they were mortified by his behaviors. And that's where I came in.
"Number one," I said to his owner, "we have to change his name. Buck is a name that doesn't lend itself to safety and pleasant experiences. Any name you give an animal, or person for that matter, tends to linger in the mind of the observer. Each time you play with Buck, you'll think of his reactions and treat him without consideration for his namesake potential. If you named him, Shine or Teddy, you may have a better subconscious view of your horse and begin to treat him differently."
The owner wasn't too keen on the idea of changing his name. "Buck is who he is." The owner replied.
"And that's just the problem." I said. "His identity doesn't open doors for positive change. That doesn't mean that if he were a sweet and pleasant horse with the unfortunate name of Buck, that he'd learn to buck. But because he already tends to buck, and his name is Buck, the first thing you should do is change his name and start seeing him for his new potential instead of his problems."
"Number two," I continued, "is teaching him that he is more than a prisoner and a slave. Even though you feed a horse and brush a horse and trim his feet, he'll still feel slave or prisoner until you love the horse. You have to bond with the animal."
Naturally, safety comes first, I never recommend bonding with an animal that wants to bite your arm off. And certainly don't pet a horse while he's bucking you off. First you must set boundaries and clear directional control.
Once boundaries are set, however, you must prove to the horse you truly do care. A famous trainer named Pat Parelli, said, "Put your heart in your hand and touch your horse." I agree with him.
You have to care deeply for his well being and stop treating him like the motorcycle you pulled out of the garage to take out for a spin. And the word spin doesn't necessarily mean ride. It can mean doing something just for your pleasure, instead of a mutually pleasant experience. I've seen people pull their horse out to braid their mane and the horse is hating it the whole time. Which is still tough for horses. There are ways to bond with an animal through food, scratching, praise and rest time that lends to the desires and hopes of the horse. Finding those special bonding strategies will improve nearly all aspects of training horses, even Olympic performance horses.
"Number three," I continued, "is you need to consider not riding him until he can do simple things well. In other words... If you can't put a saddle on without him grimacing, don't ride! He doesn't want you up there. Teach him to saddle with a positive expression. Teach him that he shouldn't have that nasty look on his face by simply resetting his position (back him up a step or two, then bring him back to the saddling position.) Then reward his every positive expression with praise, scratching, and maybe even food treats. (be careful with treats)."
In time, any horse will change any behavior, given a positive and progressive training program.
To finish the story about Buck, I spend nearly an hour per day for two weeks, reinventing his behavior on a small scale. When his owners arrived, they couldn't believe his expression. They couldn't believe I was riding at the canter without being tormented by the fear of Buck throwing me away. They couldn't believe how easy he was to lead, saddle and circle on the ground, and how beautiful his expression was in every activity. After watching me work with him, they became believers.
So much so, in fact, that his name is not Buck anymore!
Also: check out the New Years daily journal. Mastery Horsemanship Journal
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