With Understanding Comes SuccessBy Jeffrey Rolo
One of the reasons I strongly encourage horse owners to train their own horses rather than ship them away to a professional trainer is familiarity. Quite simply, an unfamiliar party will not understand your horse nearly as well as you, and this understanding of a horse is the backbone of any successful training plan.
This is not to suggest that all horse trainers are clueless individuals that bumble along hoping to do something right, because most professional trainers will take the time to understand a horse before ever thinking about saddling him and training him to ride. But all too often an impatient or inexperienced "trainer" will misread a horse's problem or intention and react incorrectly due to his lack of understanding. Too many of these incidents can prolong the training process (thereby costing you money) and potentially mentally scar your horse for life.
Far too many head-shy horses can be attributed to inexperienced or abusive past trainers and/or owners who lacked an understanding of the horse they were working with. Once a horse has developed this mistrust or fear of people it can take a good while to reassure the horse that another cuff is not waiting around the corner. And who can blame the horse? If every past exposure with a dog resulted in the dog biting you, chances are you would be very wary, if not outright panicked, by future exposures to canines.
To correct an improper action it is first important to understand the motivation that lies behind it. For example, let's say that you are training a young filly to walk alongside you to your left. Suddenly without permission the filly slams against your side, but being that she's still young it doesn't do much more than get your attention. What would you do?
- Ignore the behavior – no harm was done after all.
- Jab your elbow into the filly's shoulder and growl at her to remind her to respect your space.
- Take a moment to detect the reason why the filly brushed against you.
If you selected the first option, you chose wrong. Although your heart is in the right place in your willingness to "write off" a seemingly harmless action, eventually if you ignore these things they can compound to worse problems. Your filly won't always be so small and light!
If you selected the second option you might have reacted correctly if the filly was gently asked to respect your space previously and elected to ignore the request out of defiance. In such a scenario you would need to reinforce your authority lest she view herself as being the alpha leader amongst you.
But what if the filly stepped against you because the wind was carrying along a plastic bag that startled her? In such a case if you discipline your horse you do her a huge disservice because she's not trying to be defiant or challenge your authority – she's scared and she wanted your reassurance! If you start cuffing your filly for violating your personal space she will be like a deer caught in a car's headlights; the bag to her left and the handler to her right are scaring her and she'll either bolt or become paralyzed.
Had you understood the root of her concern you could have forgiven the invasion of your space and instead showed your filly the plastic bag was nothing to be concerned about. Such reassurances would have put her mind at ease, allow her to regain focus on the task at hand and hopefully become desensitized towards future encounters with plastic bags.
A trainer that believed in the "one size fits all" philosophy would probably have chosen option two in the above scenario since at face value that would be the correct reaction, but without understanding the horse or the motivation behind her action his "correction" would have further compounded the problem. It is essential a handler take the time to understand a horse's behavior before attempting to correct it since one size most definitely does not fit all. And who would better understand your horse than you?
In addition the training process does not have to be the stressful battle of wills that most of us initially believe it to be. Taken slowly, both the horse and the owner can actually look forward to advancing along the lesson plan. As the owner and horse work together, each will develop an even better understanding of the other's mannerisms, personality and expectations… and with understanding comes success.