There is one thing that is absolutely required before you can successfully relate to or train a horse: leadership. As soon as any horse becomes aware of you they will assign you a status: predator, herd mate or no importance at all, like the pet rock of the ’70’s. As herd animals, horses are hard-wired to identify the power structure whenever they are in the company of another horse or human.
In the absence of proof to the contrary, the horse’s default opinion will be that you are a predator, and any big moves on your part will kick in nature’s fight-or-flight response. In the case of horses, unless they are confined, their choice will be to run. The other extreme is the horse who has effectively trained their owner to get out of their way to protect sore toes, to offer cookies whenever their participation is requested, and can communicate very clearly when a saddle or bridle comes out; “No.” Horses become bullies for the same reason children do; there is an absence of appropriate leadership.
Leaders must understand their followers. Horse owners must know how horses think, why they do what they do, and be able to prepare lesson plans that make sense to their horse. For a horse-human relationship to succeed, there must be an established leader. Rarely will relationships work if the horse is in control. There are exceptions, but don’t count on it with the pony out in your pasture.
Leaders must be able to communicate clearly and concisely with their followers. Communication with a horse begins with body language. Over time you can add verbal commands, but in early stages, body language is your only option. Horses learn from the release of pressure. The pressure can be physical or psychic, the pull of a neck rope, or anxiety from your intimidating physical position.
There are only two reasons why your horse doesn’t do what you want – they are either unable or unwilling. As the leader you must determine which is the case and establish the circumstances to make the horse able or make them willing. The folks who tell you how stupid horses are have just confessed that the horse in question got the best of them. Horses are much better people trainers than people are horse trainers.
Everything you ever learned about leadership can be useful when training your horse. You just need to learn how to communicate with the horse. As in every case, effective communication includes being a great listener. All great leaders and great trainers are clear, consistent and fair. Every lesson must offer your horse some benefit.
Leaders and horse trainers learn to use correction to help their followers improve, they do not use punishment that de-motivates or instills fear. There is great responsibility attached to being the leader of a horse-human relationship. Always give the horse the benefit of your doubt. We haven’t yet reached the height of what is possible for the horse-human partnership. However, every successful partnership begins at the beginning, and proceeds with little, orderly steps taken as fast or slow as the horse can master them.
There is no more accurate barometer of your leadership ability as a horse. Horses are direct – they do not dissemble, they “say” what they mean. Horses don’t care what you look like, who your daddy is, or how much money you make. One of the delights of relationship with a horse is that they judge you 100% on your actions. Once you learn to properly lead a horse into confident relationship, you will have mastered skills that will help you succeed in every part of your life.
Don’t make promises to your horse that you can’t keep. Love the process. Building a relationship with your horse is a gift that many only dream of, watching with awe and amazement as a horse and rider appear to move as one body and one spirit on the movie screen or in the show pen. If it was easy everyone could do it. It’s not. But the reward of your horse’s obedience and devotion is more than worth it.
Copyright 2009 Lynn Baber
Lynn Baber is a business coach, speaker, writer and retired equine professional. She shares the lessons learned in thirty-five years at the business table and round pen with her clients and readers. Highly credentialed in issues of leadership, customer relations and most things equine, Lynn has a unique perspective not found elsewhere. Whether the topic is customer service or training stallions, Lynn brings years of experience to presentations and articles. Lynn has a new book scheduled for release in early 2010 and is working on revising “The Art of Being Foolish Proof: the best kept customer service secret” originally published in 1989. Visit Lynn at http://baberresearch.com or http://AmazingGrays.us