Where Do You Find A Horse Like That?
By Linda Parelli
Calm, connected, responsive, supple… sounds like the perfect horse, doesn’t it?
Remember: The horse was fine until we showed up! This means if the horse is not calm, not connected, not responsive and not supple, either we have caused it or we have not been able to change it. Most people (natural or not) are dealing with horses that are emotional, disconnected, unresponsive and stiff and bracy to some degree. It’s not fun and it makes progress difficult, sometimes its dangerous… but even worse is when we get frustrated by it or numb to it, and the horse gets blamed for the behavior.
Let’s examine what each one means.
A calm horse is also a more confident horse, and we define five areas in which a horse needs to be confident:
- In itself
- In you
- As a learner
- In the environment
- In the company of other horses (and riders).
When the horse is not calm it is fearful, tense, anxious and stressed in some way. In order to help a horse be truly calm we have to influence its mind and emotions. You may be able to physically control a horse, but that does not necessarily mean it is calm or in the right frame of mind to learn, train or perform.
A horse that is not calm is easy to spot. It’s the more subtle signs of tension and frustration that we need to learn to see because if we don’t fix it, problems escalate. And just like people, a tense and frustrated horse is also more likely to have health issues.
What is the difference between tension and explosion? Less than a second!
When a horse is connected to you, it is paying attention to you and is not interested in being anywhere else. For example, most of us think a herd-bound horse wants to be with the other horses, when the truth is they’d rather not be with you. Ouch! That seems a bit harsh, but it is true. Here’s the good news, now that you know it’s a relationship thing, you can change that.
Foals are bonded, strongly connected to their mothers. Horses have an instinctive need to bond, even within a herd there are pair-bonds between two horses. The key is to get your horse to connect to you, to develop a bond that is stronger than any lead rope.
Most of us can tell when a horse is unresponsive, but can be totally unaware that we might be part of the problem.
Here are some common examples: Your horse drags behind or pulls against the halter when leading. When riding you have to hold your horse back, or constantly nudge and press with your heels (or spurs) to keep your horse going.
The first step is to become aware of it. Test yourself:
- Can you lead your horse with slack in the rope – at walk and trot?
- Can you ride safely on a loose rein – or does your horse get faster and go off course?
- Does your horse maintain gait and speed if you take your heels off him?
A horse can feel a fly land on him.
So, if a fly gets more response than you do… something has to change!
Something else to be aware of is that, consciously or unconsciously, you are always influencing your horse’s behavior. That means instead of training your horse to be lazy, dull, disinterested, negative and unresponsive, you can actually teach him or her to be responsive, interested, positive and enthusiastic about it.
Can you imagine a horse that responds to the use of your seat, a simple shift of your weight, turns when your shoulders turn and goes and slows according to how much energy you use? You can do that.
When we think of a horse being ‘supple’, we tend to see it as a physical thing, but a brace in the body is also a brace in the mind. A horse that is bracy is defensive or resistant to our ideas, which is why using more force does not work. We have to
convince a horse to trust us and earn his respect, and as a result he can turn loose to us and be more flexible in his attitude and his body.
Using behavior-based training is a very exciting concept because it is much more than just physically shaping a horse. It’s about getting to the mind and very soul of your equine partner.
There are two ways to think of “successful” when it comes to horses.
- You have a successful relationship: safe, fun, productive.
- Your horse feels successful and offers a higher level of effort and enthusiasm.