We’ve got a great question and answer about staying progressive with introverted horses with 3-Star Parelli Professional and Horse Development Specialist Mattie Cowherd. Read more from Mattie on her blog!
Question: How do I slow down for my introvert while still staying progressive?
Answer: Great question! Before I discuss strategies for being progressive, let’s first re-frame our question with some structure and understanding about introverts.
Firstly, introverts are usually very smart and sensitive – sometimes more than their extroverted companions! – but when pressure is applied or they perceive that there is pressure being applied, their natural tendency is to slow down and analyze what is going on. In other words, their brains start to move (or in some cases freeze) and so their feet stop moving. This can cause frustration for you if you think that your horse should be snappy and respond immediately. Since they “go inside themselves” to think, you may be missing the signs that show they are trying to process the information.
Introverts usually “go internal” for one of two reasons: fear or lack of motivation/resentment. The more afraid of pressure the horse is, the more their brain shuts down. This is classic right brain introvert behavior. The fear can be of what is being asked, afraid of being wrong, or even the fear of WHO is asking! Fear can look very similar to dominance if you don’t know the signs. Fear based responses are usually accompanied by a horse’s head coming up so the eye is above the withers (adrenaline is coming on). The horse stares without blinking, starts to hold its breath, and becomes tense in its body. Its ears may be half back in uncertainty. It is preparing to fight, fright, or run in its mind. The more confident and unmotivated horse will often “balk” at demands to move. This horse should remind you of how you feel if someone badgers you for an answer that you are reluctant to give them. Just as you would, the horse is bristling inside and gets a very unhappy dialog going in its head. This horse is often sulky looking, with ears back in a more “angry” or annoyed look. Their eyes are still blinking, though unimpressed, and their whole body exudes an aura of “you can’t make me do anything you want” – that is if they aren’t ignoring you entirely, like a teenager texting on their phone while you are trying to talk to them!
So how do we stay progressive with either of the above horses?
Let’s start with the fearful introvert. This kind of horse often wants to please if it knows what the correct answer is, but if it doesn’t know what the answer is, it will freeze inside and its mind goes blank with fear. The same also happens if it is truly afraid for its life. For this horse, the less pressure you use to get a response, the better! The horse can often hear you at very soft, low phases but simply doesn’t have the ability or the confidence to follow through. Keep your requests very simple, clear and concise so you can reward quickly and smoothly. Feeling pleased regardless of the answer also helps the horse start to trust you. Once you have built some trust, you can start to ask the horse for things that it finds challenging. Always remember to reward often – very often! – so the horse knows he/she is on the right track. If this horse gets scared or confused, simply reward and release. If the horse starts to get stuck, go back to something the horse finds simple and easy. Also, don’t trap yourself in being too passive. Be very clear and direct. These horses need predictable communication always!
For the unmotivated, bored, and dominant introvert, you need to slow down but be very precise. For example, you may have trouble backing this horse. Be very particular with him that he needs to back up for just ONE STEP. Release immediately and smile. Almost always, these kinds of horses will immediately try to take too many steps backwards or start to walk back towards you. Repeat the question until you have clearly won one step of back up and then stand. If the horse is moving, it is actually running away at the walk! This is also a huge game for them because it means you are working a lot and they are working a little. The less you do for a clear result, the more their brain turns on and they start to wonder how to “win” the game. Don’t stick with one step for too long, though! If you have “won” the step once, immediately work for two steps. Win two steps and get three. Again, focus a lot more on the “halt” of the task rather than the actual amount of movement. As this horse starts to engage in the task, you can ask for more movement. To make it more interesting for them, see how little you can move your feet and arms during an exercise. Don’t pick up your stick unless you have clearly used your leading hand for a cue for longer than three seconds. When you do use the stick, be very deliberate and purposely “touch” your horse in the exact part of their body you wanted them to move. Release very quickly. And keep your feet still! These horses count!
As you start to be more conscious of how engaged you have your horse’s mind, the more the introvert will move. For the fearful introvert, the calmer and more trusting they are, the more they will confidently give you. For the unmotivated, dominant introvert, the more you engage their mind on the puzzle, the more they will work with you rather than against you.
I would love to hear your success stories as you start to play with the “mind game” that you need to play with introverts. Let me know how releasing more often and sooner helps. I can’t wait to hear what’s up! Leave you stories in the comments below!