Recently a couple of situations have come up that have caused me to reflect on how a horse feels about what we are asking him to do. Some horses we encounter make us look good by taking everything new in stride and never letting on that maybe they aren’t entirely OK with the process. Or maybe they do let on but they never do anything so dangerous that we can’t get away with letting those things slide. We can all attest to that sort of thing looking back, no?
Isn’t training hard enough as it is without having to be concerned about how the horse is feeling about it? Besides, one could reasonably ask, how on Earth can I know what a horse is thinking or feeling? The truth is, if we are willing to listen they will tell us. They don’t speak English, of course, so we have to watch their behavior. Lucky for us they wear their hearts on their sleeves.
Horses come in all varieties of horsey personalities. On one end is the mild mannered fellow who takes everything in stride. On the other end is the independent minded, smart, mouthy sort who pushes every boundary. It would be easy to think that the first fellow is as ‘fine’ with everything as he appears on the surface. It is equally easy to think that the second guy is indomitable and hardly the sensitive one.
Yet for both of these horses it is necessary to look deep, past the ‘calm’ behavior of the first and past the mouthy, pushy behavior of the other, and ask what do I really see? I’ve actually got one of each of these types at the farm right now.
Mack is sweet, low key and polite. He’s a real good egg and it is easy to figure that all is well with him. But I notice that there is a little wrinkle in his nose that comes up when he’s a little uncertain. Working in the round pen Mack is tight through his body. When he turns it is not in a soft supple manner but stiffly. He’s trying very hard to be ‘obedient’, insofar as he knows how, but it is clear that he’s not really feeling good about everything that is happening.
Junior is the polar opposite of Mack. He’s an extrovert to Mack’s introvert. Junior comes a-running when he sees you enter the pasture. He is such an eager beaver! As a baby Junior was full of life and ideas of his own. He was pushy and mouthy as many youngsters are. Of course Junior took to clicker training like a fish to water. Yet at five years old Junior remains pushy and mouthy even though he has shown himself to be an incredibly quick study.
After working with both boys I have reached a point of seeing that they both have similar problems they just deal with them differently. But the fact is they both are not feeling that good about this preparing to ride business. On the surface it appears all is well and good. Right up until it isn’t. Mack has an explosive spot that emerges when all the little things that are not feeling so good add up. Junior lets it all leak out by grabbing at whatever body part is closest (usually the hand that is holding the lead rope) rather than exploding down the line. Either way, sooner or later, it is in my best interest, health-wise if nothing else, to take care of these issues. I’m sure that both boys will ultimately end up as fine riding horses once they are able to let go of whatever they are worried about.