Is your horse an obedient and devoted pony at home but a total space cadet at shows or on the trail? Does your game-playing round pen partner morph into a strange monster when you saddle up to ride in the arena? Does your horse show up every day exactly the same as you left him the day before?
Do horses have multiple personality disorder? No.
Inconsistent horses have inconsistent humans. Inconsistency isn’t necessarily the result of too little love, intelligence, or a lack of concern. Inconsistency is a normal human condition. We are inconsistent for one of two reasons, (1) we don’t realize we’re being inconsistent, or (2) we aren’t committed enough to do the work required to be consistent. In the vernacular of those who have read any of my books or attended any clinic, that simplifies to being either Unable or Unwilling.
Two frequent causes of unpredictable behavior are distractions and emotional volatility. Any distraction big enough to draw your horse’s focus away from you affects his performance. Emotional volatility doesn’t mean that you or the horse is having a melt down or manic attack, it just means that inconsistent and changing emotions create inconsistent and changing performance.
A whole bunch of horse folks are willing to accept erratic behavior from their horse as long as they feel comfortable blaming the horse or they admit they are unwilling to put in the effort to offer the horse a better deal. If that’s the case then just accept it for what it is and quit dithering about it. Simple acceptance of even less-than-perfect plans still produces some positive results. Stress goes down leveling out emotional volatility (frustration, anxiety, embarrassment) resulting in a more predictable outcome.
Witnessing Grace on-the-Hoof
Have you ever been punished when you tried your best? Remember that time back in school when you just couldn’t understand what the teacher was asking you to do? Would you have learned faster if the teacher wore out your knuckles with a thick wooden ruler?
One of the most frustrating things I encountered judging horse shows was watching kids and pros alike spur, jam, or jerk on a horse for failing to do what the exhibitor wanted even though the horse did EXACTLY as the exhibitor ASKED. At other times horses were soundly punished for not successfully completing an obstacle or over-fences class even thought the horses did everything possible to be obedient.
Youth horses have always held a special place in my heart for their kind and gentle patience. Youth horses are the epitome of grace on the hoof. Those horses are far better people than I am. I would have reached around, pulled the kid off my back and stomped ’em on my way out for beating on me for what he or she did wrong. Many horses silently accept undeserved punishment on a daily basis.
Dominance is Bad. Correction is Good.
Inconsistent or improper use of correction is often the culprit causing erratic behavior. One thing horses and computers have in common is that entering inconsistent data produces inconsistent results.
Do you teach your horse, lead your horse, nag your horse, or punish your horse? You cannot punish a horse into learning and you can’t educate a horse into willingness.
There is a big difference between properly applied correction and a crutch. Building confidence in a horse or human depends on how well the principles and application of correction are understood and applied. Whether human, equine, or canine – the practice of employing frequent and unceasing correction to maintain proper direction, focus, or balance will eventually cease to be a tool for ‘making perfect’ and devolve into a crutch of dependency.
The only way to ride with loose reins is to ride with loose reins. The only way to teach a horse to go straight without constantly fixing him is to let him go without being fixed. [The step-by-step method to teach horses to work straight on a loose rein begins on page 257 in Discipleship with Horses.]
“Correction is not for the detection of faults, but in order to make perfect.” – Oswald Chambers
Teaching Process – Basics to Refinement
Constant supervision may be appropriate to introduce new concepts, to teach, or to communicate precision. What is important to note is how the process of learning deliberately and predictably moves from the macro to the micro. Early lessons teach broad concepts. Over time and practice lessons gear toward refinement and self-correction.
First teach a maneuver, then work to refine it. You can’t make something prettier or smoother if is doesn’t already exist.
Consistent behavior is a function of strong consistent foundations. Many horses act differently at home than they do at the show. Even at home some horses behave one way in the indoor arena and quite differently in the big pasture or riding through the woods.
Horses who appear to have multiple personality disorders are simply more confident in some places or situations than in others. That tells you that the horse’s confidence in the leader is not as great as it might be – faith and relationship is not as powerful as the circumstances and conditions. There is work to be done, but not to change the horse. What is needed is a change in relationship by offering more worthy leadership. The goal is to softly maintain correct connected focus even when the horse is tempted to distraction.
Erratic Christian Behavior
New Creations in Christ don’t bounce from the “old man” to the new and back again as a reaction to the circumstances of the moment. With few (or no) exceptions, there are no separations within a person. The person you are at home is the same person you are in public. The face you present to your spouse is the same you wear to church on Sunday. Your behavior may appear different but you are the same. The fact that your behavior is inconsistent is evidence that you need to spend a little more time with your own Master working to strengthen relationship foundations.
Discipleship with Horses – Practical Guide to Using Obstacles, Exercises, and Simple Cues to Get the Results You Wnat
4 Basic Commands – teaches the same commands with horses Jesus used with His disciples:
- Go (Send)
2 Reasons for Failure
4 Types of Questions
- Invitations are optional
- Questions seek information
- Requests expect a “yes”
- Commands are not optional