Training falls into two categories for me. Technical and Behavioral. What do I see the most of? Behavioral. Because when a horse says “No” to technical training, It then becomes behavioral. I wont get into why a horse says No to technical training now because that is a whole other topic. I always tell people Technical training of a horse is easy when they are in a willing and connected mind set. I frequently say ” A horse is only as trained as he’s WILLING to be” We’ve all seen top competition horses flip out in the performance ring. Horses that were trained to the nines and then they just quit. That is NOT a training problem.
The reason I see more and more supposedly “behaviorally challenged” Horses, is because of the lack of Connection and Communication building work done with our horses. This work is the missing Link in training. It is one of my most valued tools in my tool box. It is interesting because I get horse after horse coming to me with the owners saying “I was told this horse was dangerous” I was told this horse should be put down” ” I was told this horse is a rogue” etc.
So far, every horse I have met that was introduced to me this way has turned out to be a great horse. Some took time and patience to overcome their physical and behavioral challenges and some were literally just plain misunderstood and very willing and easy souls. Some were not with the right human partner and some are now having great times with their human!
I say this all to say, That often, the problem is unseen boundary issues and inappropriate “corrections” that mean nothing to the horse. They only make them afraid or angry. Also people confusing Love with having no healthy, safe, boundaries at all. Now I love my animals in a profound way but part of my deep sense of personal connection with them is built on them understanding that I am fragile and how they must be gentle in my personal space. I want my horses to be close to me without fear of injury. My agreement with them is I will do the same in their personal space. I will try never to be thoughtless or expect them to tolerate my thoughtlessness without having an opinion. That is why we feel safe with each other and can be close and trusting of one another. That does not mean I ever forget how powerful and dangerous a horse can be in the blink of an eye. A completely innocent natural movement can injure us easily if not worse. In fact, it is because of the type of horses that find me that I am reminded of how powerful they are regularly. I think it’s a good thing. It keeps me present. Not afraid but present. That’s where mindfulness comes in. How many of you can say you are 100% present 100% of the time around your horses? I can almost guarantee you that if your practice this, you would be able to keep yourself safe around horses always. It doesn’t mean they would never do something dangerous, it means that you would have the presence of mind to think about how to make yourself (and your horse) safe in that moment. Whatever you have to do. It’s not just about being in connection to the horse. It’s about being connected to the moment.
So much of my rehabilitating of “Behaviorally challenged” horses is about setting boundaries and communicating what behavior is acceptable in my territory. That often is not a very loud conversation. Just one that never happened between the horse and any people who were handling him. It is astounding to me that often a “Naughty” behavior once explained in a quiet way to be inappropriate to some horses, is gone immediately. It’s as if they said “oh no one told me that was rude!” “I am so sorry, It will never happen again!” So your horse does something you don’t like and you say to yourself, trainer or friends “I don’t like that” But you never said it to your horse in a clear coherent way! So how do we Communicate healthy boundaries to horses? Well, I see it like people. If the horse is doing something I don’t like, I ask politely ” Could you please not do that?” That might mean calmly moving them a small distance from my space. I don’t want them to leave just learn. Then I want to let them experiment with what they just learned about me. What will the horse decide to do now? If he is Cheeky, he may try to do something again and I will say ” hmm maybe you didn’t understand what I meant'” I don’t like that behavior. If It happens again, I may claim the territory around me or where the horse is standing and tell them they can no longer be near me. Then I will see what their response is to that. It’s about the conversation and it being two way. I say something, then the horse says something and so on.
Do not fear that setting healthy boundaries will make your horse not like you. You want your relationship to be balanced. In our human relationships, it is not nice to have our boundaries pushed by a person all the time. This is equally important to horses. I don’t want to push my horses boundaries beyond reason as well. But we do it all the time. And them we get upset or injured or worse when they finally say “Hey! you are pushing my boundaries” I have seldom seen too many horses lash out at someone unless it was because their boundaries were being pushed too far. Then they get branded “Bad”. How do you feel about boundaries and do you think you have balanced ones with your horse(s)?