Welcome back, and if you live in the US, I hope you enjoyed your 4th of July celebrations. If you have been reading my blog for some time, then you will know that I believe any relationship with a should be based on a deep heart connection. So before we even start to train a horse with traditional methods, I believe we should take the time to bond with him and shape his character and attitude to fit in harmony with us. My focus is on developing a personal bond and demonstrating appropriate leadership to build a “magical” connection between horse and rider.
The magic between the two happens when the horse instantaneously understands our intentions and there are no delays or discrepancies in the interaction. The team moves in unity, like horses move in a free running herd. A relationship with this kind of connection brings well being to both human and horse.
When a horse is not enthusiastic about what he is doing, it is very rare to get an exceptional performance out of him whether on the ground or under saddle, in competition or otherwise. However, enthusiasm can be easily built before long before the introduction of tack and round penning. Setting rules of behavior not only cause a horse to become responsible for his own proper conduct but also make him eager to learn. All of this will become clear to you if we go to the roots of these principles and understand how horses operate.
In nature, horses are herd animals. From birth it is the mother and then later it is the herd, through social interactions, that shape the character of each individual within the herd. This process, necessary for the complete development and well being of a horse, makes it possible for him to fit in the social order that exists in the community of horses. Because our domestic horses don’t live in a natural herd, they cannot receive this essential education. Often then, the horses that don’t experience this kind of social interaction develop an extreme personality, either dominant or shy, and struggle to fit in. Since it is we who domesticated the horse, it is our responsibility to shape his character.
In nature, the spectrum of the equine personality goes from “submissive” to “dominant” but at the top of the social order we find the “leaders”, one male and one female, who all members of the herd follow and respect. The strongest instinct in a horse is to follow a leader. However, when the horse perceives a lack of leadership, he has a natural tendency to want to lead.
Every horse is an individual and should be treated in a manner that suits his own personality. So for example, submissive horses need their confidence built and dominant horses have to acquire good manners and respect for humans. It is extremely important to keep their dominant nature intact but at the same time, teach them good behavior.
Lead horses normally need minimal shaping or none at all because they are the natural caretakers of the community. Working with them is often a pleasure because they naturally have the social skills and desire to fit in. In general, lead horses are looking for a job to do and for this reason, need to be handled with respect.
One constant with all types of equine personality though is their response to human aggression. If the horse is in an open space, this response is flight. If the horse is cornered, it is a defensive attack but then ultimately resigned submission, which you see quite often in round pen situations. Such an experience could influence in a very profound and negative way the horse’s nature and this can be play itself out in his behavior and performance.
When we reprimand a horse harshly, the connection between horse and rider is lost. At this point the training should be stopped and the quality of the connection re-established. If we look at the word dressage, it means to train a horse in the moments of harmonious connection. The correctional use of the whip and the spur would break that harmony. If a horse can feel a fly, he can feel an aid of the same lightness. Neither the spur nor the whip can help you step you into the magic with a light heart. By developing a horse’s character to fit in harmony with you, training and performance become a harmonious dance.
Does that make sense to you? I'd love to hear your views...