Time – we never have enough. We multi-task our way through our days looking for faster and more efficient ways to achieve the results we want. And we do want those results fast! Instant gratification. Emailing, texting and instant messaging. We have become an impatient society. This mindset of wanting fast results and doing many things at once simply doesn’t work well with horses.
When asking about training for their horses, people often want to know how long it will take the fix a problem or get a specific result. My answer is always “it depends”. It depends on the horse. It depends on the handler. It depends on their commitment to change. It depends on consistency.
How quickly are you able to change a habit or learn something new? When people realize that in order to get the change they want in their horse, they are required to change their own behaviour, they often move on to the next trainer. They keep looking until they find someone who promises them that quick fix. The problem with the quick fix is that it generally only works in the short term. Quick fixes deal only with the symptoms but do not address the cause of the behaviour. Unless you address the cause, the behaviour will return or another behaviour will replace it. Stress must come out in some way, shape or form.
At a recent clinic, one of the participants had a 10 year old quarter horse mare who was “great to ride as long as she doesn’t rear when I get on her”. The mare demonstrated extreme stress in her body and posture as soon as she thought I was going to get on her. I began working with her to eliminate the stress response and bring her into a feel good shape while we both just stood at the mounting block. After 15-20 minutes of this work, I was able to stand on the mounting block and she was able to stand there quietly and relaxed. That is, until I lifted my foot towards the stirrup. I told the owner that this was the work the mare needed to help her resolve the stress she feels about being ridden. The owner needs to break the mounting process down into the smallest steps making sure the mare stays relaxed through every step – foot in the stirrup, weight on the stirrup, stepping up as if she was going to mount, and finally getting in the saddle. The owner looked at me and said “but, I don’t have the time for this!” I shook my head and said “you have the choice between living with the behaviour or sacrificing your riding time for training time to resolve the issue”. Personally, I have no desire to get on a horse who is so unhappy about having me on her back that she will rear. I prefer to ride horses that are happy in their work. After all, the horse has no choice in the matter. Most horse owners I meet profess to ride because they love horses. They have a vision of a special bond between themselves and their horses. Because the owner loves the riding, they assume the horse does to. But, it is the human that makes all the choices. The human decides what type of riding, when to ride, how long to ride, where to ride, when to walk, trot and canter.
Most adult riders bring their own stress and agenda’s with them to the barn and onto the backs of their horses. Their minds are not really focused on the horse. They want to go for a ride and get frustrated because their horse won’t stand still in the cross-ties, bites when the girth is done up, puts her head up high for bridling, won’t stand still for mounting , jigs on the trail or refuses to go forward in the ring. These behaviours are how the horse expresses his or her stress and/or unwillingness to work with their human partner.
Some horses have simply learned that “resistance is futile” and their “willingness” to do what the owner expects of them is really learned helplessness. They shut down and become stoic. They go through the motions but without any enjoyment of the time spent with the human. The very least we owe these magnificent animals that we profess to “love” is to take the time with training to ensure they feel good about what they are doing and how they are doing it. To eliminate resistance not through fear and dominance, but through creating a true bond made of mutual trust and trust. To have empathy for the horse and ensure he or she is benefitting from the partnership as much as we are. If we are not considering the horse , then we are creating an illusion to make our own lives better.
Good training that considers the horse takes time. Untraining existing unwanted behaviour takes even more time. Do you love your horse enough to take the time to give him or her what she needs? To put his or her needs before your own goals? As my mentor, Chris Irwin says, “Ask not what your horse can do for you. Ask what you can do for your horse.” In the long run, you will find that both you and your horse benefit and you will achieve that magical bond you have been seeking.