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Every horse is different in how it learns and reacts to outside
stimuli. Just because training can be accomplished using certain
methods for some horses, this doesn’t mean that those techniques
will work just as well on every horse. We don’t teach all
children the same way, and all horses don’t learn exactly the
same way either. In each case, there are issues past and present
that we need to bear in mind, as they may impact the
effectiveness of our training.

The first thing that we must take into account is that no animal
or human learns well when they are stressed. Take a test, or try
to meet the deadline at work while your teacher/boss stands over
you with a whip, yelling and screaming, and occasionally prodding
you with a sharp spur to get his point across, and I think you
will see the challenge. Your horse is different, you say. No, he
isn’t! The only difference between horses and humans is
the reaction we get when the teaching method breaks down.

Both human and horse will shut down under stress, both sometimes
leave the area to reduce the stress, both resist against stress,
and still others will fight if the stress is great enough. Humans
may yell at each other, but horses can’t talk and, therefore,
often resort to a more physical response. Sometimes they run away
hard and fast, dragging their owner with them, or just leaving
their owner behind. They may also whirl, kick, strike, pull back,
buck, dance sideways, rear and a host of other “fun” and
“exciting” reactions.

I have taught numerous clinics and given countless hours of
private lessons. And in every instance, when I purposefully begin
to push someone into that area known as the “stress zone,” they
begin to shut-down and become less effective. And invariably,
every time I bring out this response in a student, everyone
begins to laugh at the absurdity of trying to teach anyone under
those circumstances. If it seems so foreign and non-productive to
us as learners and teachers of our own kind, then why do we think
that it is the correct method for an animal? And most
particularly, why would we believe that it might be effective
with a horse, who is by nature designed to escape anything that
is stressful, dangerous, or scary by quickly fleeing the
situation with concerted energy and speed.

We need to change how we think horses learn and open our minds to
understand that we need to teach more and do less “training”. And
we need to provide an environment in which the horse can learn on
its own. By doing this, we will progress farther and faster and
enjoy the trip more. And so will the horse. Enjoying ourselves is
what owning and riding a horse is supposed to be about. None of
us enjoys being bucked off or having our horses run away with us.

Working with our horses shouldn’t be a struggle on a regular
basis, and it should never involve trying to force our will upon
our horses. It SHOULD involve teaching ourselves to understand
our horses, and allowing them to understand us. It should involve
teaching them that we can be a trusted and effective leader in
our relationship with them. Horses are a herd animal and learn
very well by imitating the leaders of the herd.

Can you be a leader for your horse instead of a follower?

You certainly can. Here are a few things to consider to help you
get there:

Horses are learning all the time. As their human partners, we are
teaching them good things as well as bad things. It isn't that we
WANT to teach them something bad, but since the horse has no
concept of good or bad, he assumes anything we teach him must be
the right thing. We don’t mean to teach those bad lessons, but we
sometimes do it out of not understanding how the horse learns.

There is no difference between a good lesson and a bad lesson to
the horse. As we work with our horses, they can’t discern between
the two. Only we know if it was wrong or right, the horse only
knows that he did something in response to what we asked of him.
If we discourage a particular behavior, the horse simply learns
to do something else. We as owners need to learn how to make that
“something else” the RIGHT thing - the RIGHT answer. We must make
the right thing ! easy and the wrong thing difficult.

Every horse knows more about being a horse than most people know
about being human. Unlike humans the horse has no motivation to
get ahead, think badly of another horse, gossip, or hold grudges
because of words said or deeds done. Many behavioral scientists
believe that all babies babble and cry in the same language at
birth. Their language and behaviors are altered later by their
cultural surroundings and the manner in which they are nurtured.
But all horses talk in the same language regardless of what
country they are from, and no amount of our training ever changes
that. They are horses and still speak horse -- they do not learn
to speak or believe differently than their cousins in Mexico,
Europe, South Africa or Brazil. And no matter how we influence
them, they will still speak “horse”.

When we learn how to “speak” to our horses in a way that the
horse comprehends, less with words and more with body language,
we get better results. Most important, understand that you are
always “speaking” to your horse. The messages you have conveyed,
however, may not have been what you intended, resulting in
confusion and perhaps negative behaviors in the horse and
frustration for you.

Taking the time to learn a better way to “speak” to your horse
will make your horse/human relationship a more rewarding one.
CopyRight Scot Hansen 2003

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