Horses are “FRIGHT-FLIGHT-ANIMALS”, classified as “PREY” in the natural food chain! It serves us to validate this fact and to understand its implementation into the horse’s behavior.
If we pay attention to the situations we expose ourselves and our horses to, we can avoid many of the challenges and dangers we regularly encounter.
Anything unfamiliar to the horse is perceived as threatening and harmful.
Several years ago I was told that horses are “afraid of their own hair”.
During the horse’s grooming, the wind blew his hair up and he spooked. Clearly, the horse never made the connection between himself and his hair.
This is only one of many stories explaining the horse’s way of looking at things.
A HORSE’S FIRST ANSWER TO ANYTHING UNFAMILIAR IS “FRIGHT” AND THEN “FLIGHT”.
It is something we can absolutely count on and, being aware of it, will allow us to help the horse become sensible and confident in our world.
When a horse is afraid, any pressure we add to the situation will only add to his fear! Frightful horses are unsafe and many accidents happen this way.
When we are afraid we cannot think!
When we cannot think, we cannot learn!
What that means is, that in our training approach, we have to take a moment and allow the horse to make his own sense of what he sees and, if necessary, help him change his mind about how he feels.
Patience is essential when working with horses.
Patience ultimately saves time.
If a horse feels he can trust, he will look to his human for comfort in a confusing situation. This is where true learning and a partnership begins!
It is no different than teaching children how to get around in the world. We do not punish children for not knowing, we help them learn.
It seems that horses mostly remember the “feeling” about a situation and not so much the situation itself. That feeling resurfaces every time they find themselves in a similar situation.
I suspect that most of us have found ourselves in a situation where our horse overreacted to something fairly ordinary.
I have worked with rescue horses who could not handle being around anyone wearing a hat or carrying a whip without feeling stressed, no matter how well he had learned to trust his person before his memory of hat or whip appeared.
I also know many horses who, having been started in a kind and validating environment, insist on that experience and memory for the rest of their lives.
We refer to those as “easy horses” simply because they are interested in working “with” us because they insistently search for that “foundation feeling”.
If a horse remembers his human’s support during training, and remembers walking away with understanding and confidence, he will trust and look forward to learning more, leaving both himself and his human feeling satisfied each time.
What we create is a mutually trusting and honest companionship.
When we dominate and teach through fear, discomfort or pain, we create a horse that has learned to distrust.
WE HAVE BEEN MOSTLY UNSUCCESSFUL IN BREEDING OR TRAINING OUT OF THE HORSE WHAT NATURE HAS CREATED IN ORDER TO PROTECT THEM.
Perhaps, the next time we work with a horse, whose attention is elsewhere and his demeanor seems protective, we’ll take the time to step back and re-evaluate our approach.
Perhaps, the most beautiful thing about our horses is their ability to teach us about ourselves and about life while we teach them …