Sunday, October 30, 2011

Horses: A Dangerous Prey, A Dangerous Passion

I love horses.
I love people who love horses.
I hate how dangerous horses can become when we don't understand them.

Horses have become pets, part of the family, loved ones. I know; I have quite a few hooved children! What I think sometimes people forget is that they are prey to many other animals including us. They are naturally flight or fight animals. Aren't we all to some degree?

We know our horses are flight animals and if they can't run away, they fight... So what do we do? We stick a halter on them. Put a hard piece of metal in their mouth. Slap a saddle on their back. Climb up. Then we expect them to carry us through the mountains, over the logs, into the cold river. We expect them to behave 100% of the time.

Behave 100% of the time??? Really? If there were no police officers sitting alongside of the road, would you really drive 35 mph?

I am definately not saying our horses have the right to misbehave. I'm saying that we need to teach them how to behave and enforce it every day with realistic expectations.

The hardest part about being a horse trainer is seeing the common mistakes that so many people make. The reason this is the hardest part for me is because it affects so many people and I know I can help, however I can only help those who come to me and ask for help.

The most common mistake I see is assuming that because a horse has recieved training, he is trained. I was trained to be a Geneticist. I was pretty darn good at it....7 years ago. Right now I can't remember how the bases bind together in DNA. I couldn't pass that part of a test right now. Because I knew it so well a long time ago I bet I'd just have to glance at a book and I'd say "oh ya!" Now, Organic Chemistry I was never very good at. I never truely understood what oxidized that or how to do those crazy equations. I'd pretty much have to study it all over again. So when we buy a horse that had 30 days as a 2 year old (he is now 8), we shouldn't expect that we can go galloping off into the sunset on the left lead, gracefully. We can't expect that when we point right, he longes right. This is the teach part. We have to teach them what correct behavior is and how to do the things we ask. We have to show them that there isn't anything to fear when we tie them up. We will direct them gently from the saddle. Compassion and understanding will help in this area.

Now for the enforcement. Your horse already knows what to do. He's been longed for 10 years every day. Ridden all over, done lead changes, trail rides, stops, sidepasses. So why is he running you over? Why did he just rip the lead rope out of your hands and is now running across the pasture toward the open gate? Because there is no officer waiting to pull him over! I had a client who had a horse who wouldn't load into a trailer one day. She called me upset and ready to sell her horse. When I asked her if her mare loaded perfectly yesterday, she said, "No, it took me about 10 minutes to get her in." Turns out the last time the mare loaded perfectly was about a week ago. This mare didn't suddenly not load, she tested her owner a few times and found out that her new owner was not a police officer. She refused to go in for 1 minute. There was no consequence. The next day, 2 minutes-no consequence. Eventually, why go in at all?? "If I don't show up for work, I still get paid," is what the mare is thinking.

One time I roundpenned a little girl. Actually, I've done this on quite a few occasions! So many people have a hard time using correct pressure with a horse. One little girl had a pony and she'd get so mad at him because he'd just run like crazy all over the roundpen; it didn't matter if she was in front of him or not. If she, or anyone else were in his way, they better run because he's going to plow them over! What she didn't realize is that it was her who was making him run. She'd just wait for him to blink wrong and then give him a consequence of running around the pen. He stopped associating the roundpen with roundpenning because everytime she'd take him to the roundpen she'd chase him with a whip until he couldn't go anymore. I guess he figured he better just get it over with! Of course I didn't chase this little girl around with whip until she couldn't run anymore! I asked her to run as fast as she could around the pen. When she stopped, out of breath I asked her if she could do it again. She wasn't keen on the idea so I hope she realized how her horse was feeling. The second little girl had the opposite problem- her horse wouldn't go. I pretended to roundpen her and I kept spanking the ground with the whip as she did. Eventually she stopped running and walked. She wouldn't run no matter what. Then she just stood there looking at me. I asked her why she stopped running because she knew that when I spanked the ground, it meant to go faster. I absolutely loved what she said to me. "If you are going to swing the whip if I run and you're going to swing it when I'm standing here, I'm just going to stand here. I don't want to run any more."

Horses can be a dangerous prey and a dangerous passion. Just because we are passionate about horses, doesn't mean that we understand them. When we scare, confuse, or fail to enforce, our horses resort to their natural instincts. Somethings are purely accidental and not preventable, however many of my clients who have suffered head injuries, collapsed lungs, broken bones, etc could have prevented these incidents. I applaud them for coming to me for help. These kind of incidents have the ability to change your passion into a fear. To prevent that from happening, please know that it is ok to ask for help, to say you don't understand. Consult a professional to evaluate your horses abilities and knowledge. If you do not possess the skills to teach your horse, please allow a professional trainer to do the teaching. If you do not possess the knowledge to enforce, please ask for help to do so. Don't let your horse become dangerous and let your passion stay a passion forever...

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