Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Better Way

The other day, I was catching up on some of my favorite blogs. I came across something that Billie at camera obscura wrote that has stuck with me. She successfully helped someone convince a horse to do something that it was reluctant to do. She did is calmly and without any force. The horse’s owner responded by saying, “You can’t let them win these little battles”. It unsettled Billie, and I urge you to go read her eloquent response.

It made me think of some of the other common platitudes people say about horses that just drive me nuts. When I first learned to ride as a child, I was often told, “Show her who’s the boss! Kick her harder!” Now as someone who has owned horses for over 10 years and as a mother, if I hear my daughter’s instructor say that, I stop the lesson and look for another teacher. How ridiculous to think that this little child can make a 1200-pound animal do what she wants by kicking harder. Teaching anyone that this is the way to communicate effectively with a horse is the complete opposite of everything that I believe.

I bought Silk from a 16-year old girl, and when I asked the young lady if this horse was affectionate, she answered, “I don’t know. I’m the boss, so we don’t have that kind of relationship.” Her answer was one of the reasons that I own Silk. She used to have to lunge the horse for a half hour before she felt safe enough to get on her. I wanted to free this beautiful animal from a master/slave relationship. Today, Silk is my four-legged sister, and I never lunge her. She enjoys it when I ride her. Most of the time, she reads my mind, and does what I want before I even ask her. The last thing I would ever do is kick her.

“Don’t spoil them. That horse is just being a brat.” How many times have I heard someone say that? Unfortunately, it was often a trainer who was speaking. After my recent attempts at Clicker Training with Siete, I am overjoyed by the reaction she has had to “positive reinforcement”. The temper tantrums are over. I now have a calm, happy little horse, and I used treats not force to teach her to be respectful of my space.

We constantly face choices. I have a friend who demonstrates our options quite simply. She asks, “Would you rather do it like this?” and holds out her fist. Then, she opens her hand and extends her palm. “Or like this?” I’ve decided that hands, hearts, minds and eyes usually seem to work better when they are wide open


Unknown said...

I feel the dominance mentality is far too common in horses as well as dog training. I had a friend up on Clifford awhile back. She was a new rider, and so to boost her confidence I was walking him on a longe. I said something like, "Now I'll ask him to step forward," and she interrupted me with, "You'll ASK him?"

Rising Rainbow said...

Some people just don't understand that you can have respect from the horse and still have the horse as your friend.

Heidi the Hick said...

There's such a difference between being the dominant leader (firm and fair) in the horse/human relationship, and being the dictator (quick to punish, unfairly demanding). I was one of those kids who got taught to "Show her who's boss!" Ha, with a Shetland? good luck, haha!

I have been known to put the boots to a horse when he absolutely needed it... if he's actively resisting me, I have to make him know that I really mean it. But it would be stupid to go straight to that as a cue. I want him to move off the lightest cues. I don't want to fight him every ride.

When we teach lessons, we never ever use the word KICK. We say bump instead. It's amazing the difference. The riders are decisive without being brutal.

I can't believe that girl claimed that she couldn't be affectionate because she was the horse's boss. She is missing out on one of the great rewards of working with horses!!!!! I wonder why people with that mentality even stay with horses.

Silk is clearly one happy horse now. What a relief!

billie said...

The kick them harder thing really sets me off too, Victoria. Sigh.

Salina will absolutely NOT do what is asked of her if it is asked rudely or the person asking is not calm and centered. The pony rebels against rude treatment as well. Between the two of them, I get a daily reminder that the reasonable request works.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully said.

whitehorsepilgrim said...

This need for dominance on human term seems to come from ego on one side and from fear and lack of confidence on the other.

It takes time to begin to understand how complex is one's relationship with a horse. The horse isn't an "equine motorcycle". One needs to be the leader in order to be safe. One needs the insight to understand each horse: to apply an over-used word, empathise. In a good relationship, one should ask and the horse gives. Occasionally, when he is rude or in emergency, one has to tell the horse what to do. One should learns all the time, and should train one's horse on every ride too (or refresh his knowledge) even in little things.

I feel sorry for riding school horses who are used whilst hopefully a proportion of riders work out how to relate and commuicate. Too often it must be a hard life that scars these horses and leaves them dull and jaded. Whilst riding is a "commodity", sadly this will happen.

Tamara Baysinger said...

There is great freedom in learning to dialogue with a horse, rather than monologue to him.

Anonymous said...

I love the last line! Communication is what it's all about.