Sensitive vs Unflappable Horses
At the moment I am breaking in two horses for a client. They are the same age and have had almost the same number of sessions with me. One is a really sensitive Arab gelding and other is a very determined, unflappable Anglo Arab mare.
Temperament wise they are on the opposite ends of the scale. The gelding is super worried and sensitive and will take flight from the sound of a mosquito burping in Kuala Lumpa. The mare is the exact opposite. Nothing worries her except if you try to change her thought. If you try to get in the way of her idea she will bury you, burn your house down and sell your children to white slavers. Well, this is the way they were when I started with them. Both are much improved now that I am close to handing them over to their owners. They have both move much closer to the middle ground.
But what has been glaringly obvious is the difference in the way these two horses have progressed.
The mare took only about 3 days before I could ride her and be safe. The saddle or rider did not bother her at all. I could probably have ridden her the first day – it wouldn’t have worried her. But what has been difficult for this horse is to get her to respond to the reins and the legs without a fight. Using the reins and legs caused her to have to change her thoughts and this has been cause for a lot of resistance on her part. She fought the reins and the legs like she was angry. Asking her politely had no effect for her. I found if I didn’t firm up quickly to meet her resistance, she would plough through the pressure as if it was not there. But this meant she would also firm up. I have not met a horse with such determination in a long while. We have had a couple of major arguments that left neither of us feeling good about the other. But she believed her manure had no odour and I had to get her to at least consider that my idea was just as worthy as her idea. She is doing really well now when you consider where we started. She has always been safe, but eradicating her resistance to every little request has always been the dilemma.
The gelding has been completely different. Being able to ride him safely has been a much longer process than it was for the mare. Everything scared him. If I raised my hand over the saddle he would scoot forward at lightning speed. Pulling out a handkerchief from my pocket or touching his legs with a rope or walking behind him was cause enough for him to go into a panic. But once this instantaneous melt down started to subside as his comfort and trust built, the level of try, focus, responsiveness exceeded anything I was getting from the mare.
The sensitivity of the gelding meant he had to protect himself from me by running away anytime something new or bothersome happened. But when he learned that going along with me was a better option than leaving me, the same sensitivity could be directed into working in my favour. His sensitivity now made giving to pressure a priority rather than running from it.
I guess my point is that when you have a stoic type of horse like the mare, it’s easy to get basic learning established quickly because they are not so worried about new and strange things. You can throw all sorts of pressure at them and they accept it without too much of a melt down. This means it is easy to bully them into stuff we want them to know. On the other hand, the sensitive type of horse needs to be handled carefully when introducing new things. They need to be convinced things will be okay, whereas the stoic horses will just shrug and say “whatever.” But building softness and refinement into the sensitive horse is much easier than it is for a stoic horse. The stoic horse will always be wondering why should he bother, but the sensitive horse will be looking for how he could get it done with even less input from the rider.
In the end both horses have turned out pretty well and the owner seems very happy. Their training has progressed from opposite directions. I was trying to add the unflappable nature of the mare to the gelding without killing his sensitivity. And I was trying to put some of the geldings sensitivity into the mare without making her a “scaredy cat.”
And even though I was able to ride the mare and take her out on rides much earlier than with the gelding, I know the gelding has more potential for developing a partnership with his rider than the mare.
Horse Recognition of People and Behaviours
A study was published recently by a group from the University of Renne, France to examine the importance of familiarity with both people and people’s behaviour in horses.
The study used 16 horses that had only been handled by 1 person since birth. At 2 years they were taught to stand still on a voice command. It took 5 days to ensure obedience to the voice command.
Two studies were conducted. The first was to have the person familiar to the horse appear and use the voice to command the horses to stand still. After that a person that was unfamiliar to the horses appeared and gave the command to stand still.
Although most of the horses obeyed the voice command irrespective of whether it came from the familiar person or the unfamiliar person, it was observed that the horses were much more focused in a wary manner on the unfamiliar person and less so on the familiar person.
The second part of the study was to repeat the first part, but the person was to offer different behaviours such as turning their back to the horses, looking at the ceiling, closing their eyes. The researchers observed that when the experimenter showed behaviours not familiar to the horses, the horses tended to fidget much more. This was particularly true when researchers closed their eyes.
In brief, the conclusions were that horses were more wary of strangers and even if the person was familiar to the horses the horses were less comfortable when the person exhibited unexpected behaviour such as closing their eyes. You can click here for the full study.
I think this confirms that horses are more comfortable with return and familiarity. I doubt this is a big surprise to anyone.
But I think it explains the concept that with horses it can be “darkest before the dawn” or “things will get worse before they get better” or whatever cliché you wish to use. It is often true that when a horse comes for training, all sorts of behaviours come out that owners had never seen before. I can’t tell you how many times a horse starts out difficult to catch and the owners tell me that Fluffy never does that at home.
When a horse goes for training it is taken to unfamiliar surroundings and put in a paddock with horses he doesn’t know and handled by a person he doesn’t know and exposed to all sorts of strange and unfamiliar rituals in an arena or round yard. It is not surprising that their life is turned upside down for a week or two. No wonder a horse can become reactive or harder to catch or off his feed or pace a fence line. It’s a terrible stress on a horse.
And people are no different. We are just as comfortable with horses we know well and in surroundings we know well. If we are asked to ride a new horse, our heart rate creeps up initially. When we take Fluffy to his first show, our palms can get a little sweaty and we don’t sleep well the night before.
I was once asked to ride a horse that was very reluctant to go forward. The horse had been broken in by the owner and had never been ridden out of the round yard in 3 years. The owner was too worried about losing control away from the safety of the round yard. In trying to satisfy his own need to familiarity and safety the owner had turned the horse into a shut down and confused animal. After about 3 weeks the horse was cantering all over the open spaces and even moving cattle around. Sadly, when the horse went home it went back to being ridden in the round yard again.
So people are as much a victim of the need for familiarity and predictability as horses. But it is important to break away from the comfort zone to be the best horse person riding the best horse than either of you can be. The more exposure to unfamiliar settings and the less predictable and routine life can be the better. Living life in a cocoon gets people and horses hurt. Sometimes, stretching a comfort zone can initially be difficult and cause trouble, but the long-term gains far outweigh the short-term comfort.
Run Horsey, Run.
Hello Ross Sorry to hear about the bank situation. It's frightening because you hear it on the news but when someone you know encounters theft of this nature it cements how real the situation is.
I have been playing with Merlin who is Whistlers brother. Merlin is nearly four and is dead to the leg. For the first week and a bit I have mainly done ground work because I noticed that he walks with no life. He just seems to plod along and be totally shut down, he even hangs his head so low it looks like he wished it was under the ground as he walks. I found it really hard to get some energy into Merlin so I introduced a flag as I felt like I was working hard and the more I tried the slower he got. The flag definitely brought out a different side of Merlin. I worked both sides and the flag is still a work in progress, each day had started the same as the day before but his nervousness about the flag shifts much quicker. I have progressed to riding him and found that he is the same plodder in saddle. He has no life in his walk and is just going through the motions. His owner said that he pins his ears when asked for a trot and I think this is because his walk is not there and when you ask for a trot it interrupts his thought and he pins his ears but he is so sweet that that is all you get. I tried to squeeze first and he goes but with no life so I asked again, no change so I asked by releasing the reins and doing lots of annoying kicks and the minute he went I would stop but this worked for a second. I then tried a squeeze, kick, big kick and this worked but is a lot of effort and I don't think was productive. I thought about it and realized that he goes with the flag so perhaps sound sets him off. I then squeezed, he walked on I raised my energy , squeezed again then made a funny sound which made him go with life. This works for a few steps then back to plod and the ritual starts again. I thought to then grab a branch with a few leaves and use that to make some noise. What I noticed though whether it be my voice or the branch which I use slightly not aggressively is that we go from plod to trot more than plod to active walk. I slow him by going in a circle to an active walk but then we go to plod. In try to stop before the walk becomes a plod but miss the mark. Can you please bless me with your wisdom of how I can get an active walk not a plod and what I should do if I go from plod straight to trot. Thanks Irena
You are on the right track. Don't worry so much about an active walk just at the moment. Work on getting the walk to trot transition smooth and an active trot. I said in my last post that a good walk is the hardest gait of all to achieve. This is especially true of a horse like Merlin. Use the natural energy that the trot creates to get him thinking a more forward response to the leg.
Squeeze with your legs, then if there is no response, use the branch, flag or crop to get him forward. Keep repeating this exercise until you can get a nice trot just from a squeeze of your leg (we'll worry about a response to your seat another time). Don't just accept any old trot. Insist of on a forward trot - not a plodding trot. Remember squeeze, then get busy with your flag or tree branch or whatever. Busy is more effective than firm. When I ride a horse that is unresponsive to my seat and legs, I apply the crop with a flurry of activity. I don't get forceful and beat on the horse. Instead, I whack my leg repeatedly until I get a response - it might be 10 whacks in 3 seconds - that's what I mean by a flurry. I keep being busy with the crop until I get the change I want. So don't stop just because he gives any old trot. Keep using the crop rapid fire until you get a good forward trot. Merlin understands what it is to go forward - it's just that somebody has trained him it's not important. Now you have to reprogram him into thinking forward is important.
So the first task is to have Merlin going from walk to trot with just a gentle squeeze from your leg. If he goes to a plodding walk when he comes down from the trot, immediately send him forward again into the good forward trot. I mean immediately, not 2 or 3 strides later. Get the good trot and allow him to transition to the walk again. If the walk is sleepy, instantly send him forward into the trot again. Keep repeating the process until he gives you a few good walk steps. Give him a break before repeating the process again.
It won't be long before he will offer a forward walk from your seat, a good trot from your leg and canter from a little more leg. You'll be able to leave the crop in the tack room. Remember to give him plenty of rein and no contact - don't hinder his forwardness in anyway with the reins.
Let me know how you get along.
Hi Ross, Was taking a look at the video of the 'waterhole ritual' - While I love hanging out with my horse, if only I could walk Rompy into a puddle and magically find inner peace for the both of us! I didnt feel much was happening for the horse, I dont think the horse felt more at peace standing under a tree with a human than without - it come across more like a meditation type, peace finding process for humans with use of horse, which is just fine and lovely so long as everyone feeling good I guess! .............was I missing something??!
I think the waterhole ritual thing is for people who need something to make them feel good. My instinct tells me it attracts troubled folk who need the companionship of something that makes no demands on them. I think they could probably substitute the horse for a puppy or bird or water buffalo and they'd get the same result. I doubt horses get much out it.
I have decided to commit my thoughts on this video. I thought it cute but “big deal” I can lie down with Archie too, though admittedly I have to lay him down. I haven’t had the luxury to hang around him til he lays down, though once I refused to leave the yard so he could roll and waited in the yard till he rolled with me in there. The horse didn’t follow her into the water, he/she followed the other horse. I didn’t see her ask the horse to do anything other than just hang out with it.
The laying down segment had the other horse in the scene again. Did she lay this one done and hope the difficult horse would follow suit?
Nice meditation tape, but light on any training. I hardly think a tiny touch on the nose as teaching the horse to like being handled, touched, brushed. How long do you wait for a horse to decide to accept you.
This video would not make me send my horse to her for training, but maybe I am just too cynical.
Thanks for your thoughts.
I agree with you in that I don't see the big deal with hanging out with your horse. It's a wonderful think to do, but I don't know that people need a trainer or a clinic to be able to enjoy that time. Plus I think you should see it for what it is - quiet time. It's the quiet time that many people need and find ways of having by different means.
I have seen video of Carolyn Resnick's ridden and ground work and I don't think it is very good. There does not seem to be a lot about her training that benefits the horse any more than average. The water ritual seems to be about people feeling good about themselves. I don't see how this benefits the horse when it comes to riding.
The whole water ritual thing confuses me. I'm sure those horses in the video would not have stayed for long with the lady if they were not on a lead rope or there was no fence around her pasture - they just weren't that into her.
I'm a tic upset and angry, which I'll get into in a bit, which might be coloring my opinions, but I spent a little time looking at Ms. Resnik's site, and I took her quiz, and I feel that she is a predator.
I've been to a few clinics by several clinicians, and by and large I love to do that. See things that I do and don't think will work for me, and I ALWAYS learn. One other thing I see is that horse clinics seems to attract troubled people and especially troubled fragile women. I mean abused scarred women that really need professional help. No doubt you know way more about this than I do. These people are very easy to take advantage of.
People like this Resnick prey on these women. Can horses help you feel better? YES!!! My own horses have prevented me from murdering several people. They do put things in perspective. But if you are truly troubled you need professional help, not a woo-woo wannabe expert. The other thing that really galls me is the financial aspect. You are quite right, hanging with your horses is something ANYONE can do, you don't need to be taught this skill, and in fact, I think someone teaching this kind of closeness would ruin it.
AND she is charging over $3000 a week!!! Sorry, that's a predator.
And now, why I'm upset. I feel stupid and inept. I'm especially kicking myself for not paying any amount of money to get myself and Tort to that clinic with Harry Whitney. But I didn't and here I am.
I've told you a bit about this very sweet TB/Connemara cross I bought last January. I bought him as I could cheerfully canter him around the greenie cross country jumps in the middle of winter. If a horse is going to be silly it will be out in the open on a 20F day. He was kind and perfect. He looked around, but that's all.
Well, it's been a roller coaster up and down since then, with things gradually getting worse., and Tort felt less and less confident, and more worried. I've complained to you a bit about my trainer focusing on his headset. I stopped taking lessons with her when she told me to ride him with drawreins. This is a little pumpkin of a horse that just wants to please. I don't need leverage I need to fix what I am doing.
The drawreins were the last straw. My current trainer has never liked this little horse, she was upset that I paid too much money for what she considers a school horse. Well I WANT a schoolhorse!! I KNOW he is a school horse that's why I bought him! I had her ride him a few time, and all she could say was how BAD he is and all the things that must be fixed. She is a very aggressive rider, and when a friend came and said the trainer had been very hard on him, I stopped asking her to ride him, although she did occasionally get on him during one of my lessons.
So... I called the trainer that I had bought him from, explained the problems. I asked if I could come take a lesson with her on one of her other horses so we could evaluate my skills and work on me. I did, and she did not see anything that should be causing the worry in Tort. She had me do some jumping, and she said I think too much, and when she had me discuss a recent news story while I went over the jumps my riding improved dramatically.
So Tort has been there a week or so. I talked to the trainer yesterday and she said I was quite correct, his confidence is shot, and he actually trembled when she got on him. This is horse she used to give lessons to five year old children. She said she needs a few more days to figure out what is so troubling for him.
So, it would be easy to blame my current trainer, but I KNOW I am the one who works with this horse the most. My trainer or her mother (who is recovering from a traumatic brain injury) do bring him in and out from pasture each day, but I am the one who is riding him, and I've stopped taking lessons. My trainer tells me she feels the horse is stressed, he runs for several minutes when she turns him out. I don't see this when I turn him out. Another factor might be the stalls. This is an old saddlebred farm, and the stalls are clastrophobic. But again, I don't see the same behavior she does.
I feel like a schmuck, as this is a very nice little horse, and I have managed to screw him up in only a few months. The new trainer is suggesting NO DRESSAGE lessons for at least six months or longer. My old trainer is not a monster. She does not wake up planning on how to ruin horses. She thinks she is doing the right things as well.
But things are quite messed up. What I need to figure out is why, and what I need to change to make them right again. The mirror is the first place I am looking but remember how I said it's possible to lie to yourself? I don't trust me either.
Any chance you have a psychic woo-woo hat that you can wear and magically see 8000 miles and figure this out?
Thanks for your thoughts re: the waterhole ritual. I know people who run therapeutic clinics for people who get to spend time sitting in a chair with a horse in a round yard. I remember one the ladies took her horse for a ride and after putting him back in his paddock with his friends, suddenly ran back to the paddock. She caught him again and lead him to a yard where she spent several minutes with him before returning him to his friends in the paddock. I asked her what that was all about. She said that after her ride she had forgotten to thank her horse for the ride, so she had to catch him again and tell him how thankful she was for the ride.
I was a little perplexed because I figured the best thank you would be to have left the horse alone with his friends. But I think that type of relationship is all about the people feeling good. Bringing the horse back to thank him made the owner feel good that she had expressed her appreciation to her horse. But that was how a human would think of it. I suspect a horse would see nothing good about being dragged out of his paddock again and have a human blabbering away with words of gratitude. So who was she trying to help feel good - the her or her horse?
I don't really know what to tell you about your horse. I think you are in a difficult position of being unsure if either your old trainer or your new trainer are really helping. Your horse won't lie to you and you can only take your cue from how Tort responds. The fact that you are now dealing with trouble that you believe was not there at the beginning means something is going wrong.
Despite the years of experience your instructors might have, in the end you carry the responsibility for the outcome. You have already shown concern regarding some things your new instructor has been advising. If, after discussing the why and wherefore of her advice, you continue to feel it's not what you want then you have no excuse for continuing to have lessons with this lady. You can't sacrifice your horse's well being for the sake of protecting your instructors sensibilities or upsetting a friendship. It's not fair to the horse.
It's also not fair to your horse to have instruction where you are working on one approach to the training and then using a different approach when you are on your own or going to your old instructor.
You have no choice here. If you accept the responsibility of owning a horse, you are then responsible for putting the horse's welfare first. You (or any of us) don't have the moral right to play Russian roulette with a horse's mental state. If you believe any type of instruction is not in your horse's best interest, then you are bound to do something about it. That may seem harsh, but your horse doesn't get a say in any of this and is the victim here. You have to stand up for him, since he can't do it himself.
Best of luck.
Evaluation of Horse Behaviour by Professionals
Last year there was a paper presented to the International Equitation Science Conference in Sweden by Dr Sara Nyman et al. They asked professional horse people such as vets, trainers and dressage judges to evaluate the behaviour of horses that were lunged while fitted with tight reins.
The professionals were told to look for signs of mental stress such as gaping mouth, head tossing, rearing, tongue movement and any form of resistance. Each of the observed behaviours was to be given a grading from 0 to 7 (7 being the most severe expression by a horse) by the professional.
The study revealed that there was a high degree of inconsistency among the participants. People within a group did not closely agree. There was a particularly wide variation among the trainers. Likewise, the dressage judges were inconsistent, as were the equine vets. Not surprising there was just as big a variation between each group of professional too.
Nyman and her colleagues observed that professionals in each category used jargon to describe a horse’s behaviour that was different from the jargon of the other groups when describing the same behaviour. She also noted that the more experienced horse trainers gave lower ranking of severity to unwanted behaviour than did either the dressage judges or the equine vets.
Nyman concluded that there was a distinct lack of consistency both between the groups and within the groups when recognizing and describing resistance behaviour in horses.
Why is this not surprising?
In a world where people take different sides whether or not rolkur or hyperflexion is abuse of a horse or can’t agree whether foam from a horse’s mouth is a sign of a soft mouth or a stressed mouth, why should we expect people to agree on what is or is not resistance – severe or not?
It is an impossible task to have consistency among horse professionals when describing stress behaviour. There is no way to objectively measure and define the parameters, so we are reliant on people’s perception and personal evaluation.
To me, this would appear to be a major roadblock to developing a consistency in the standard of training and performance. Most horse sports consider the “happy horse” to be a part of their sport. They talk about a relaxed and calm horse as being the best horse for their sport. In some sports, judges are meant to give marks for the “happy horse”. But how can we do that if we can’t agree what is an “unhappy horse?” According to the study I just cited, we have trainers who can’t agree on what is resistance in a horse, preparing horses for competition to be judged by judges who can’t agree what is resistance behaviour in a horse. Does this sound like a good system to you?
In the end it’s the horse that pays the price for our inability to agree. It means some of us can be fooled into believing we have “happy horses” while our horses live a life of misery.
Which one of these two horses shows the most resistance? Why? You can click on them to enlarge.
Nurturing The Worry
Hey Ross, Well the rain has stopped for a while and Jess and myself finally got our for a ride today.. We were riding in the pines and as usual people mistake our lovely forest for the tip and dump heaps or rubbish on the sides of the track and as usual the horses think this rubbish has eaten several horses previously and are not going anywhere near that stuff.
As per usual we started to walk the horses tentatively up to the scary things reassuring them and patting them and telling them that it is ok. I wondered if our behaviour was nurturing the worry they had in these things and confirming that they should be worried. So the next pile of crap came along and I felt her start to tense up shorten her stride and get all hollow, so I just worked on her walk, I wanted the nice walk I just had and kept working on that. So before we got to close to the scary things she didn't get as hollow and tense as the time before, and got a bit better the next pile. We spend a lot of time reassuring our horses, but are we inadvertently nurturing the worry?
Kind Regards Kerryn
You are right that we are sometimes guilty of enabling the type of behaviour you describe. It's easy for a horse to show a little concern over something new even though it maybe a minor thing. This is the point when we can either help a horse gain more confidence or reinforce the notion that he has good reason to be worried.
There are times when we need to reassure a horse that he will survive and take the time to get him less worried. And there are times when the best help you can give a horse is to tell him to get over it and move on to push past the worry spot.
The question most people struggle with is to know when to push a horse through the trouble and when to back off and let the horse sort it out. As a general rule (not a golden rule) I have found that if a horse is genuinely worried about something and truly feels his safety is in jeopardy, that is the time to let the horse work out the problem for himself. There is always a line where the horse will go no closer without losing the plot. Don't ask him to go past that line. Give him time to try it for himself. If you try to push a horse over that line before he is ready you risk triggering a dangerous behaviour such as rearing, bolting or bucking.
How do you know if your horse is truly scared or not? In the case of most horses, if they are genuinely frightened of an object, other things will not distract them. They will become focused on the scary object. But if the horse perceives the object is not life threatening, they tend to stare and snort at it for a little while and then look at something else that draws their attention for a few seconds. Then back to the scary object and then have their attention moved to something like a bird in a tree or another horse calling or whatever. You often find the horse gets more focused on the object when you try to push him forward and then lose that focus when you stop pushing.
In cases like this, I will often push a horse past the worry spot. I don't care if he scoots around the object in a wide arc. I just ride forward as if nothing was there and I didn't even notice the horse being crooked. You have to ride with confidence.
A really common example of where this happens a lot is in the arena. Almost every arena has a scary spot. Often it's in a corner where there are bushes or shed or something. No matter how many times a horse has been in the arena they will shy at that spot the first couple of laps of every ride. In this sort of case, just ride past it - push the horse on if he tries to stop or slow down.
But you have to be careful. There is always the possibility that a horse can flip from being only slightly worried to really scared in a flash and before you know it you're riding a horse with it's front feet off the ground.
I think the biggest thing is to exude confidence in what you are asking of your horse. If you ride timidly, it can only confirm to the horse that he can't trust you because your intent is not clear. When I've taught riders jumping and it was almost always the nervous ones who rode horses that stopped in front of the jumps.
The Quality Of Gaits Of A Horse
I was reading an article on a web site a few days ago by a well-known and highly acclaimed dressage trainer and rider.
The thing that caught my attention was the claim that the quality of a horse’s walk and canter were fixed at birth by genetics, but the quality of the trot could be improved with training.
I don’t mind stating emphatically that he was speaking utter rubbish. All gaits can be improved or ruined by training. Genetics plays a role in determining the limit of the quality of a horse’s gait. The potential for how far a walk, trot and canter can be improved is determined by a horse’s genetic conformation. But anything short of a horse’s full potential is largely determined by training (except in circumstances of injury).
The dressage “master” did not explain why there is so much room to play with the trot, but so little room with the walk or the canter. He just makes the bold statement without any clarification or explanation.
In my experience, training can modify all gaits. It is largely dependent on the degree of relaxation and straightness. I have seen horses that appeared dead lame at all gaits until they learned to relax; when the lameness magically disappeared.
I do think the hardest gait of all to achieve brilliance is the walk. The trot and canter have their own degree of innate impulsion that can be used to create expression. But often the walk is quite flat because of the relatively low energy a horse brings to the walk. Often times in order to create energy to a walk and bring engagement, a rider will put a rush in the horse and ruin both the rhythm and relaxation that is so important in a quality walk. I think if a rider can train a good walk in a horse that is not naturally inclined to it, the trot and canter are pretty easy in comparison.
My own horse, Riley had a terrible trot and walk, but a naturally great canter. The trot was stilted and short and quite jarring to the bones. And the walk was like a retired trail riding horse. But both improved dramatically as Riley learned to get off his forehand and carry himself better. It required more impulsion and softening through his topline. On the other hand, Six (my mare) had a brilliant soft walk, but struggled at the trot and canter. She naturally had a terrific level of energy at the walk, but at the trot and the canter that energy led to a hurry. By getting her to soften through her whole body she became much straighter and the trot and canter have both improved beyond recognition.
In short, I think the limitation on improving a horse’s walk; trot and canter come from their genetic potential at one end and our ability to train them at the other end. I believe all gaits are susceptible to change from our influence to train them. To buy a horse on the quality of just one or two of its gaits seems very short sighted to me.
The Waterhole Ritual
I’d like you guys to watch this video clip and write to me with your thoughts. You can do it anonymously if you want. I particularly would like to hear from students of Carolyn Resnick, but happy to get everyone’s thoughts. I have some thoughts too, but I will hold back until I can a few responses.
What People Don’t See
I went to look at a horse for somebody yesterday. They were having issues and were looking for help to re-train the horse for their child.
The owner rattled off a list of things that she had noticed and wanted fixed. To give just a couple of examples, she said that the horse was pushy and walked over her and didn’t like having it’s front feet touched and handled.
I asked her why she thought he did these things. She said he was afraid to have his feet touched because she had been told he had been caught in wire when he was a foal and his legs had become sensitive to the touch. In the meantime, the horse was tied to a hitching rail and was pawing madly. I pointed out that her horse was pawing and knocking his legs and hooves on the post as he pawed. Did she really think his legs were sensitive to touch? She had no answer.
Then I asked her about the pushiness. She said he would walk into and sometimes stepped on her toes. She had knocked her in the head a few times as he swung his head around to look at something. She had tried to make him keep his distance, but it didn’t work and she figured he had never been taught to give to pressure. I asked her where in the pecking order did he stand with her other horses? She said he was second from the bottom. I then asked her does he step on the other horses feet or knock their heads? I asked how often he walked into a tree or a gate? This question confused her.
I tried to make the point that a horse does not run into a tree or step on the feet of more dominant horses because he knows there is nothing by pain and discomfort to be gained if he does. It is so clear to a horse that a tree and more dominant horses are things you go around, not through. But walking into the owner is a different matter. I tried to point out that her horse does know how to give to pressure because the other horses had taught him. They did not have to raise a sweat to get him out of the way. A flick of the ear or a glance out of the corner of their eye from 20 feet away was enough to make him move.
In the end I think the lady found my observations too confronting for her because she just wanted the horse fixed. I doubt I will hear from her again. But on the way home I was thinking about why were such obvious concepts so elusive to her? Why did she think there was something wrong with her horse and he needed fixing. The other horses had already shown her he was trainable and could give to pressure just fine. Why did she think his legs were sensitive to touch when she stood there watching him bash his legs on the hitching post?
I came home so confused by the visit that I had to have 2 malt Scotches last night!