Horses commonly disappoint owners, riders, trainers, and breeders because they were set up to fail. No person is a perfect match for every horse and no horse is the perfect partner for every person. Few horses have the opportunity to select their owners, so if your horse isn’t performing up to expectations, the fix is up to you.
If you’re not sure why your horse is failing, preparing a job description for him or her is an excellent first step. Job descriptions are familiar to most folks, whether writing, as a basis for hiring, or satisfying the requirements of their own positions.
Job descriptions state the function, responsibility, tasks, and relative position within an organization – who the worker reports to and who reports to them.
Jobs range from entry level to the place where the buck stops (no pun intended.)
Categories of Horse “Employment”
Horses in the real world are expected to combine the two main categories of employment, but every successful horse’s job is more one than the other.
Horse employment categories are based primarily on either:
- Skills, or
Job descriptions for horses may be an odd concept to you, so if you’re not sure what job you want your horse to master, here are examples of horse jobs listed by primary emphasis.
Horse Jobs based on Skills
- School horses
- Barrel horses
- Rope horses
- Race horses
- Jumping horses
- Show horses
- Endurance horses
- Mounted Shooting horses
- Polo horses
- Bucking horses
- Harness horses
- Rental trail horses
- Dude ranch horses
- Therapy horses
Horse Jobs based on Relationship
That’s it. Short, sweet, and simple. Horses whose main job is to hold up their end of a committed relationship might all be considered companions or members of the family.
Arena, Barrels, and the Horse you Rode in On
If you’re unsure about the skills vs relationship distinction, imagine an arena set for a barrel race and a horse and rider at the in-gate. The horse with the primary job of running barrels sees the cloverleaf and knows immediately what it is supposed to do and how to do it. The rider’s job is to get out of the horse’s way and let it go to work.
The horse whose primary job is relationship notices three barrels sitting in an arena and patiently waits until the rider tells it what to do. The horse will enter the arena and go where directed or turn away from the gate and do something totally different.
Barrel horses run barrels. They usually do other things as well, but point one at a barrel set-up and habit kicks in. The best barrel horses are specialists.
Horses with the habit of obedience listen and respond. It doesn’t matter what the request, they try their best to grant it. These horses are committed to relationship, not to any particular skill.
The source of your horse’s confidence and security is also determined by his primary focus – skills or relationship. His source of strength will either be in WHAT he does or WHO he does it with.
What’s most important, WHO or WHAT?
Horses with amazing skills can make great pets and great family horses often develop amazing skills. The important question is which is most important to you. Horses with great skills will perform for anyone who knows how to push their buttons and get out of their way. Skills based horses perform specific tasks or maneuvers consistently. They’re not invested in the rider as much as the riding conditions.
Horses who offer their skills based on relationship care about WHO asks, not WHAT is asked. Habits are reflexive. They direct behavior without conscious thought or debate. Under pressure, all sentient creatures, human and otherwise, default to the strongest habit. Competition and danger both pour on pressure.
When the moment comes, do you want your horse to do what it does or do what you ask?
Primary Habits and Focus
When your horse is in his default (habit) mode, do you want him to focus on his job or on you? There can only be ONE primary focus.
Two foundational concepts of horse training support the two categories of horse employment:
- Habit of Task – skills based
- Habit of Obedience – relationship based
Habit of Task – Skills
“Some horses learn their jobs so specifically that regardless of who is sitting in the saddle and how correct or incorrect the rider’s input might be, the team is successful. These horses have great self-confidence and perform … from a habit of task rather than a habit of obedience. There is some mixture of the two, but if you doubt which habit provides the greatest influence, leap up into that saddle and ask such a horse to perform outside its usual range of maneuvers. Chances are the horse will do as it always does and not what you ask.” – Amazing Grays, Amazing Grace, chapter titled, “You must have a horse to train a horse”
Habit of Obedience – Relationship
The most amazing relationships between horse and human begin with “yes.” I ask my horse, Bo, to do something simple and easy. He says “Yes” and a beginning is established. The process has to be win-win for both of us. Over time Bo and I build faith in and commit to one another as the habit of saying “Yes” becomes his dominant habit. WHAT Bo does isn’t of particular interest to him. WHO asks is the important question.
But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. – Matthew 6:3
“As you progress in a relationship you will begin to understand why concentration on anything other than the relationship itself is but a distraction. You will begin to understand Matthew 6:3, when your actions begin to be generated by the relationship you share with Jesus Christ and not by conscious thought, debate, or intent.
The doing of charitable deeds becomes so familiar that we don’t realize we have even done one. This automatic response begins by building habits of task and progresses until the mastery of tasks is replaced with the habit of obedience. When habit of obedience is reached, the limit of what is possible in a relationship expands to presently unknowable levels.” – Amazing Grays, Amazing Grace, chapter titled “It’s not the horse, it’s the relationship.”
Lynn and Bo
Preparing an Equine Job Description
The first order of business is stating the parameters of your horse’s job and being able to describe success. If you are still looking for the perfect horse, having a current job description will help you evaluate candidates.
Look for the next article that will help you identify what specific tasks and skills you would like your horse to master. In the meantime try to determine your horse’s primary job employment category, one based on skills or one built on relationship.
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Amazing Grays includes more than two dozen references to the habits of task and obedience. For more information click on the book cover or title above. The two amazing grays on the cover are Bo and Swizzle.
“I delight to do They will, O Lord.” – Psalm 46:10