When a horse puts up figurative yellow caution tape around part of its body or resists a particular situation there is an obligation to resolve the problem and tear down the tape.
Some horses say, You can’t get on my left side, or Don’t even think of using spurs on me buddy, or Pick up my hind feet at your own risk, or Touch that girth and I’ll bite you.
Absent Leadership becomes a Crisis of Faith
If you do not correct a situation when your horse sets a boundary past which you may not go, it will become a crisis of faith. If you permit the horse to keep any place off-limits from you, his master, it proves that his fear is greater than your power. How much faith in God could you have if you could tell Him where He can and cannot go and He replied, “Yes, ma’am” or “Yes, sir”?
Some trainers discover a problem area and immediately call out the big guns to attack and destroy it. Unless a horse bites, strikes, or kicks me I will not attack anything, ever. Horses do not warn or threaten from a place of strength but from a place of weakness. One does not attack a friend where he is most vulnerable. Predators exploit weak spots; a worthy leader/master will not.
God knows where we place our Off Limit signs. He notes them and then proceeds to build a greater foundation of relationship. That is the way I approach horses. I will not fail the horse by letting it keep its place of insecurity; I simply work harder to earn the horse’s focus and trust.
Fear Disappears as Faith Increases
Over the years I have discovered that most issues resolve themselves once a horse has learned to believe my promises. If a horse’s body language tells me, don’t go there because I am afraid, I am not going to fight the horse’s fear by making it worse. I work to erase the fear by increasing the amount of faith the horse has in me.
The last place I focus my attention or actions with a horse that is cinchy is the girth. The last place I focus my attention on a horse that is head shy is his head. The last place I focus on a horse that refuses to pick up a foot is his feet. By the time I tighten a girth, mess around with ears, and pick up hooves the horse will have sufficient faith in me not to worry about girth, head, or feet.
Working with horses that block you
During one round pen program I worked with a horse with numerous issues. In fact, the horse’s reputation was well known to all in the audience. I didn’t have any problems with the horse –which proved that my message was true. During the program the gray mare made it clear that she did not want me on her off side. She was fine if I was on the near side but tried to block me from moving to her opposite side.
Rather than try to sneak or push my way to the off side I simply went back to the center of the round pen and asked her to move in a clockwise direction. As long as she went around me to the right she earned a 100% score. She went to the right. She walked. Sometimes she trotted. She rested. All the time her right eye was looking at me. The purpose of the exercise was to teach her right eye that it was perfectly normal for me to be on her off side and that nothing dangerous or emotional would happen. It was a real ho-hum.
After a few minutes of being the focus of her right eye I stopped her. The last time I tried to move from stroking her neck on the near side of her body and then step across to the other side she blocked me. This time she didn’t bat an eyelash. I didn’t try to make her accept me in that eye; I simply allowed her right eye and brain to get used to the idea while at liberty.
What to do when what you’re doing isn’t working
Sometimes you simply get stuck. It happens. When forward movement looks more like backwards movement you have four options to choose from:
- Keep doing what you’re doing. Of course, you’ll get the same results.
- Take a break. Gain some perspective. Talk to someone who might help you figure out what’s going on. One or both of you is unable or unwilling, but it can be difficult to diagnose your own situation once it’s gotten a bit too sticky.
- Change what you’re doing. Make a plan to slow down and go back to a place, schedule, or routine that worked. Depending on the nature of your relationship with the horse you will either go back and check each block in the foundation of skill training or revisit every block in the foundation of relationship until you find the one that is broken or went missing.
- Quit. The End.
The two major factors that determine which of these options you select is (1) your level of ability to be an effective leader by keeping every promise made, and (2) your level of commitment to the relationship itself.
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