Training horses is not for the weak willed, easily offended or quick tempered. It’s easy to project human emotions or thoughts on a horse. But if you take a step back and look at the horse in a different light, you’ll see that horses don’t have bad motives. They don’t care about the things that we care about. They are prey animals and they think and act/react like prey animals. It doesn’t matter how long you train a horse, you’ll never get them to think like a human or have human emotions. They will always think and act like a horse. So it’s our job to set aside our human emotions and start training them from a perspective they understand.
Sometimes things get frustrating when a horse just isn’t getting it. It’s hard not to take it personally when something you have been working hard at with your horse just isn’t clicking. I would be lying if I said I never have those frustrating moments. It happens every day. But the thing I have learned is that when that happens, I need to take a step back and re-evaluate what I am doing. What could I do differently to help my horse understand? Who can I talk to that knows more than me? Is there any books or videos on the topic? Do I need to just give the horse a little more time or slow things down until they get it?
It’s normal for things to fall apart now and then. Those are the moments when the holes in your training show up and you have the opportunity to fill them in. I am always trying to challenge my horses to see if I can find those holes. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Keeping your horse in it’s comfort zone doesn’t do you any favors. It may seem like things are great, and they look great and feel great, but eventually you’ll find yourself in an unfamiliar situation and the holes in your training will be undeniable. Instead of waiting for that to happen, I go seaching for those opportunities.
For example, my four year old gelding, Elvis was terrified of flags, or banners or anything on the ground that was white. Knowing that, I went out in search of things that he was spooky about so that I could work him through it. Where I live I am surrounded by woods and trails so I spend a lot of time training on the trails, around trees and bushes etc. There is a spot in the woods where we have some old farm equipment and random things we don’t use anymore. As luck would have it there was a big scary white tarp flapping in the breeze when I rode Elvis out there. The wind kicked up and Elvis jumped and squatted low on his front end like a cutting horse. It had to be quite the sight to see because Elvis is all of 16’2 hands and I’m pretty sure his belly was on the ground! I immediately went to getting his attention by moving his feet, trotting circles, changing directions, doing stops and roll backs. Once he started paying attention to me again and relaxed I let him stop and catch his air for a minute. Pretty soon the wind kicked up the tarp again and of course Elvis spooked again, this time not so dramatically. Back to work we went. Rinse and repeat. Eventually he realized the tarp wasn’t going to kill him and he was going to have to work hard if he kept spooking. He walked away from that situation a little more mature and confident than he was before.
I’m so glad I had the opportunity to find that hole before I went to the jackpot last weekend. As fate would have it, there was a banner in the alleyway that came undone and was flapping in the breeze. I was fully prepared for Elvis to spook and freak out, so I was thrilled when he gave it a quick glance and walked right by.
I’m certain I will find more things like that to work through with each horse I train. That’s just part of it. And sometimes it all falls apart in front of everyone at a show. I’ve learned the best thing I can do for myself and my horse is shrug is off and go to work on that issue to the best of my ability. There is no sense in taking it personal with a horse. They really aren’t trying to offend you or make you mad, they are just being a horse and behaving like a horse is wired to behave.