What was your attitude when you woke up and thought about training your horse today? Did you think about how excited you were? Or did it raise feelings of nervousness, fear, anxiety, intimidation, or anger.
Did you ever think that from THAT very moment you might have already started training your horse?
Imagine having those same feelings when you approached your horse’s stall. Your body language reveals your thoughts, feelings, and attitude, which affect how you present yourself to your horse. Horses are master interpreters of body language.
Now as you approach your horse’s stall, your horse will respond to your physical “presentation.” Are you weak, aggressive, distracted, enthusiastic? Are you dreading that a consistent problem will re-occur? If you seem small in presence, not stature, he may be pushy or completely ignore you, because he doesn’t see you as a leader. If you seem overly strong in presence not strength, he may avoid you and go to the back of his stall. He may even get fearful, defensive or aggressive. Does he look forward to coming out or see you as a walking feed cart? By your presence, he will know what kind of leader you plan to be, if at all. It all started with the attitude you projected when you approached his stall.
Next you start to lead him out of his stall. Do you ask him to pay attention to you or let his attention wander off elsewhere? Do you vary your pace or direction or stop and see if he is listening and respecting your actions? Will he move away from you when you ask or does he crowd you? Is he looking around distracted or spooking at things? Or maybe he is dragging you along?
Now you arrive at the place where you tack him up. Is he patient or does he paw impatiently and wish he were somewhere else? Untying him would answer that question. What do you think he would do? Does he bite at the saddle and get resentful and defensive? How could you get him to welcome you putting the saddle on him? Does he just zone out and surrender? How could you make him feel enthusiastic about coming out of his stall with you?
You’re now ready to warm him up. Can he focus with a full tank of energy (you might want to use that energy someday)? Did you just turn him loose or run him around until he was tired while letting his mind wander further away as his focus grew weaker? Did you filter out his pent up energy through various actions such as transitions and changes of direction? Did you have him respond to very specific cues that require him to get more in tune with you and become focused and thus self-regulate his energy level?
You now reach the point where you are ready to get on. Whatever you did or didn’t do with your horse is going to determine the kind of riding experience you have with your horse today. Any lack of attention, distractedness, spookiness, or resistance experienced under saddle may have started back when you entered your horse’s stall. Everything is cumulative, from your attitude toward working with your horse, which sets the tone for the relationship, to all your interactions up until just before you get on to ride. You were fostering his attitude toward you personally, and the process of training or interacting with you. You were establishing the kind of relationship you would have. Whether you realize it or not … you had ALREADY started training.
This tip was brought to you by David Jeffers (www.davidjeffers.net) and KAM Animal Service. KAM’s “Equine Learning Circle” FREE Webinars will be expanding on this topic and others twice a month. Go to www.kamanimalservices.com to sign up for the February 21st (“Oh Those Sweet Calories”) webinar, which will conclude with a question and answer session. So, be ready with your nutrition questions.