it’s a common mistake among horse owners: They think that if they treat or train their horses with a passive hand that their horses will reward them with affectionate obedience. And they often think that other owners or trainers who require obedience and respect are harsh.
But, almost always, the horse interprets that softness, that intended kindly handling, as anxiety or as weakness, and the horse takes over. The result is that the owner?s kindness is ineffective in training the horse, on the ground or on his back. And it can even make an otherwise solid horse anxious or obnoxious, even dangerous.
Here’s an example of a horse owner handling her horse with excessive kindness, instead of engendering respect, and paying the price:
A woman owns a large-bodied, bossy mare, who seems extremely sensitive and flighty to the owner, often spooking and over-reacting to sights, sounds and movement. So the owner spends her life trying to reassure the mare, patting her on the neck and telling her, ?it’s OK.?
This clever mare is actually bluffing?trying to act big and strong to disguise her own anxiety. What she really wants is for someone else to be in charge, namely her owner. SHe’s only taken over the role because her owner hasn?t. The mare becomes dramatically calmer and more obedient when a new trainer handles and rides her in a confident manner, telling her, ?I’m in charge, and if I say you’re fine, then you’re fine. Just do what I tell you.?
Lack of Respect. A horse who lacks respect for an ineffective owner or handler?a horse who thinks He’s in charge?could potentially become a dangerous animal, a hazard to himself, to other horses, to his owner and to other humans.
We’re talking about a horse who runs you over in his stall or when going through a gate, a horse who won?t stand on cross-ties, a horse who can’t be led without bolting or biting, a horse who tries to savage other horses, or a horse who becomes combative when he refuses to be loaded into a trailer.
All of these problems can develop with any horse because of legitimate causes, and you should first rule out any physical issues. But a horse that is not reprimanded or disciplined for this kind of behavior and becomes a chronic offender is a serious potential threat to everyone around him.
Yet we often see owners consoling these undisciplined horses, stroking or patting them after being run over or when they’ve refused to load in a trailer. What they?re inadvertently telling their horse is, ?That’s OK. You?re a good boy.? Without being penalized for bad behavior, and without being shown how to behave correctly, he does it again, and again, and again.
Determined resistance when riding is often related to problems on the ground, where the obedience of the horse must always be required. The central question (?Who?s in charge’?) should never be open to debate. If it is, then you?ve got a problem.
People who are over-mounted often magnify the situation. Basically, they have inadequate skills for riding the horse they have, and then they make the situation worse by being unable or unwilling to take command and instill discipline.
Captain of the Ship.? We’re not at all suggesting that training must be about winning a series of battles or that it should always require manhandling, loudly reprimanding a horse or worse. The best trainers work in a quietly insistent manner and reward the horse for correct answers, 95 percent of the time, as they direct the horse to do the desired exercise or task. That can be something as simple as standing calmly to be groomed or as difficult as performing a Grand Prix dressage test.
But that other 5 percent of the time, they?re fully capable of reminding a horse (forcefully, if needed) that they?re the captain of the ship and that the only allowable answer when they figuratively or literally order the horse to ?jump? is ?yes, sir.?
That’s why our mantra is, ?Your aids should be as light as possible but as strong as necessary.?
In other words, whether you’re doing dressage, jumping jumps, going across the countryside or just hand-walking, your horse should respond willingly and quickly to your correctly applied aids. But if he doesn’t?whether it’s because He’s spooking, because He’s unsure of the question you?ve presented to him, or because He’s being just plain disobedient?check to be sure you’re aids are correct and clear and ask again, more insistently.
Whatever the reason for the disobedience, you must respond with an appropriate level of intensity and make it happen. That’s what training is all about.
Almost all horses respond positively to human leadership and poorly to human diffidence. Human leadership gives them comfort because we’re defining the boundaries and giving them direction, especially in new or unnatural situations. These situations can include anything from walking into a new barn or loading on a trailer, to performing in a competition.
If you watch a herd of horses, You’ll notice there are leaders and there are followers, and it doesn’t always depend on size and age. Whenever you enter the ?herd,? you must establish yourself as a leader. Establishing command with an alpha horse can be tricky?he or she may be accustomed to leading the pack, and their devotion to that duty will vary. Some are eager for you to take over?it’s probably a relief. But others will resist, requiring you to make it more of a partnership?you choose the direction and a destination, but sometimes you let them get there in their way.
The Punishment Must Fit the Crime. Instilling discipline does not always mean hitting the horse with a whip or yanking on a nose chain, although both can be required at times to encourage discipline. The horse can be 10 times heavier and stronger than you are, so sometimes you need fire power to make sure he doesn’t know that.
Whenever you need to reprimand a horse for an undesired or dangerous action, here are four criteria with which to judge your response:
1) Your response to an undesired action (biting, kicking, rearing, refusing to move) must be immediate, so that the horse associates his action with your response. You cannot wait a minute or two and then reprimand him. If you do that often enough, the horse will just become confused by your actions and become a constant jerk because he can’t tell right from wrong.
2) Your response must appropriately match the intensity of his action or inaction. If He’s sulky moving off your leg, a tap or two of the whip is an appropriate reminder. But if he reaches over and bites you, rain hell down on him.
3) Avoid anger or emotion in reprimanding your horse. They cause an inappropriate response on your part that won?t have a training effect.
4) Your reprimand should be followed by a release, softening or other reward when the horse’s behavior changes in a positive way. Don?t just keep ?yelling? at him with your aids when He’s already responded to you.
Bottom Line.? The need for a horse’s immediate obedience to a rider?s or handler?s aids covers a wide spectrum, from the relatively undemanding requirements of safety to the immediate requirements demanded by any type of international competition. it’s the immediacy of the response to your commands that to a great extent defines the increasing demands in the higher levels of any sport.
But harmony and safety are paramount when you’re dealing with the large, powerful and inherently wary animal that is a horse. The horse’s happiness and the human?s safety (and happiness too) depend largely on the horse’s respect for those handling him. He needs to accept that you are confidently in charge, and sometimes that isn?t easy to accomplish.
Consider This. . .
??? ?A horse who lacks respect for an ineffective owner or handler is potentially a dangerous animal.
??? ?The best trainers work in a quietly insistent and rewarding manner, but they?re able to wield discipline when needed.
??? ?Almost all horses respond positively to human leadership.
What Type of Horse Do You Have’
Some horse owners can’t be drill sergeants. They have quiet or unassertive personalities, so they require a horse who won?t walk all over them, for their own happiness and their safety.
Generally speaking, horses fall into three personality types:
Type 1 is a horse who never pushes against human boundaries, even when they?re green or young. In for-sale ads, these horses are often described as ?kid-safe? or ?husband-safe.? Because of generosity or laziness, they?re happy to let you be in charge, even if just barely.
Type 2 is a horse who will regularly (even every day) push against the wall of boundaries you set, to see if there’s a loose brick that will let them get away with something. The range of temperaments and ability is vast here, but they?re usually otherwise reliable and are usually lovely performers.
Type 3 is bossy, hard-headed or even belligerent?but often brilliant. Sometimes they?ll argue over everything, and they?ll require constant vigilance from experienced riders and trainers. They can be fabulous athletes and performers, but they require a drill sergeant to constantly remind them that they?re not in command.