To Treat or Not To Treat . . . . .

That is a HUGE question!!!!

In a previous installment of my blog ( I talked about how the horse will choose comfort & security over food when the leader provides that. Most people have a basic understanding of this fact. The one thing they seem to forget when they actually become involved is trying to get the horse to do something that is “scary” with the use of food. That MAY work for a very short time, in a specific instance.  But when that food is no longer offered, the horse will revert to being “scared”.

Why does this happen??? You may think “I was being a good leader by showing my horse that he shouldn’t be scared of something because he if he isn’t he gets goodies”.  In all reality, 90% of people resort to this method AFTER the horse refuses to do something (due to fear or another reason) and it becomes a REWARD FOR BEING SCARED/NAUGHTY/ETC.

Trailer loading is probably the best scenario to utilize as an example. I can’t count the number of horses I have seen that are hard to load, haul poorly and unload like a rocket. Most times what has happened is the horse wouldn’t initially load so the handler got a bucket of grain/handful of carrots/pocketful of treats and attempted to “chum” the horse in AFTER they have had trouble. Now the horse correlates their unwanted behavior with treats. Then, if they manage to get the horse in, they usually get the door closed as fast as possible to prevent the horse from escaping backwards. Now they have “trapped” the horse in a place he was scared of to begin with. Then the handler drives to their desired location, opens the door and the horse “escapes” from the scary place and the handler usually reprimands the horse for this unwanted behavior. So now the horse see the trailer as a place to act “naughty” & get treats then get trapped in it and anticipate the entire ride the reprimand for getting out.  Congratulations human, you have created a vicious circle that tends to get repeated time after time.

Another prime example is rewarding a good ride with treats while the horse is standing at hitch rail/cross ties/etc or, in some cases while people are still in the saddle. The horse starts to correlate getting the person either A) off their back or B) away from the work area with treats. All of a sudden (or so it may seem to the human) the horse begins to hang at the gate or rush to get home. Another symptom is pushing towards the human or “nuzzling” looking for more treats. The human innocently thinks the horse is “thanking” them or being affectionate. Then all of a sudden they get bit or stepped on and then the horse is punished for being naughty. Congratulations human, you have betrayed your horse.

Something to really ponder . . . . . .   how many times have you seen the leader of the herd step aside or offer that treat / bucket of grain / choicest spot of green grass to an underling in the herd??? They don’t, PERIOD.  If the leader of the herd asks an underling to do something, they NEVER direct that horse to a choice mouthful of food as a reward.

The horse really doesn’t care if a treat comes from your hand or they find it in their bucket/feeder in their stall/pen/pasture. They enjoy them just as much . Reward your horse for a job well done by releasing pressure (loosening the reins, taking your spur out of their belly, lowering the flag, stop moving their feet), rubbing, scratching. All of these can be done IN THE MOMENT, as the horse is  performing whatever action you wanted from them.

Can’t abandon your addiction to treats?? Fine, just take an extra few minutes to put them in the horse’s feeder/bucket after the horse is gone from the area. Then when you put the horse away, maybe spend an extra few minutes standing with them while they are munching with maybe a scratch or pet during. If your horse is in a pasture environment with other horses you might resort to putting these in a bucket and spontaneously “finding” them on the way back to pasture.

Be the leader your horse needs . . . . . . . .


Presence, pressure & “labeling” the horse

We so often times see & hear people that label a horse. Quite often its lazy, stubborn, pig-headed, etc. other times its crazy, hot, on the muscle. The ones that really irritate me are stupid, mean, bad tempered, etc.

I have to ask WHY do you think the horse is like that???? Watch the horse in their natural environment, interacting with other horses & see if they respond to their herd mates in the same manner they respond to you.

Most times when a horse is being labeled, it is because the human has made them that way, through the application of pressure & presence.

Many times a horse that is “dull, lazy, stubborn” has been nagged (ineffective, untimely presence & pressure) at until they have learned to tune out the human because the human rarely, if ever, follows up on the first initial request to do something with firmness. this has been going on so long that the horse (because they are creatures of habit) has learned that if they don’t comply immediately, they may not have to comply at all. Other times it’s because the horse didn’t understand what the request was to begin with, then the human started pounding away and the horse learned to associate the request with punishment & decided the best course of action was to avoid it altogether.  Often, these horses, much like people, have a a more “laid back” outlook on life. They can be brought up to a much lighter more responsive behavior with consistency & follow through.

The “hot, on the muscle, crazy” horse, similar to the previous horse, usually has a more “energetic” outlook on life. But most times the reason they are harder to get along with is due to the human inability to adjust their pressure & presence level. A lot of times, the human only understands one level of application. The more sensitive horse will over react with that level of presence & pressure. When that is consistently applied (it can take just ONE session of consistent error in application) the horse can be mentally “patterned” to over react/brace/resist to ANY request after that until they are put into a place where they can learn differently.

There are horses that are a combination of the 2 “types”. They might have been ultra sensitive in the beginning and, because of over (or under) application, they are “stubborn” in some things and “crazy” in others. They might be afraid to move because of something that happened, yet when they do move, it’s explosive, then they shut down again. Or they may be constantly ON the move, can’t get stopped because of what happened and mentally “check out” & won’t respond until you  have to up the presence/pressure to excessive limits.

Labeling a horse is no different then labeling humans. We may be ignorant of something so are slower to respond/react because we have to process on how to do something. But that doesn’t mean we are stubborn or lazy. We may be fearful of something and so we react quickly and with jerky motions because it is unfamiliar. It doesn’t mean we are crazy.

When interacting with horses, we need to REALLY pay attention to how we present ourselves and how we apply the pressure we use to obtain the results we desire. If we want to wipe off a speck of dirt from our face, not many of us will go right to 80 grit sandpaper on a power sander right off the bat . . . . . . . . . . gulliver11

It’s a brand new world, yet the presentation to the horse is as old as time

The internet, cell phones, smart phones, tablets, HDTV and all else that has become so prevalent in our world of communication has changed the way many of us think, function, react, etc. It has changed the way we advertise, the way we conduct ourselves and mostly the way we view the world & the people around us.

But the fundamental horse never changes. He doesn’t care if you have the latest iphone 6 or an outdated flip phone that can’t accept text messages. He doesn’t care if you drive a 2016 Toyota Prius with the ability to turn your iphone off the second you get in the car or if you drive a 1960’s pickup with rusted out floorboards that belches black smoke.

What he does care about is the way you present yourself to him & how you make him feel. Do you trigger fear & self preservation? Do you trigger security & a sense of well being? Do you exude a negative or a positive energy?

This is an instinctive response in the horse, one he will always instinctively turn/return to. Choosing this over food, water, etc. and it all boils down to whether you can control the feet of the horse. Because this is Horse Psychology 101. In a natural environment, the herd is controlled by the herd leader(s). Most of the time this is a lead mare and is assisted by the herd stallion (yep the WOMAN is in charge 😉 ) The herd looks to her to provide safety, security, food, water, etc. There are infinite levels of hierarchy within the herd, but the leader is the one that controls all the others feet. Is able to move those feet when, where, at what speed, in whatever direction they so choose. In return the herd is provided all those things that are so absolutely necessary for their survival.

So the next time you interact with your horse, consider what you are presenting to him/her. Leave your phone in your car (house/barn/etc). Push the modern world aside and offer your horse the same thing he wants to offer you.