Do you sabotage your horse’s trust?
Do you sabotage your horse’s trust? avatar

By | 13/06/2024

Do you sabotage your horse’s trust?

We’ve been discussing trust and how inconsistency is the primary reason why your horse doesn’t trust you. Consistency is wonderful as long as you consistently do the right things. Like any progressive learning process, testing will reveal the degree of mastery over the subject matter and the effectiveness of the teaching.

The next two ways you can sabotage trust: failing to test and failing to focus on detail

As a horse learns to trust you, his flight or fight response weakens until it seldom, surfaces. You can only deal or reason with the thinking side of his personality. The process involves creating trust, building foundation, proving your leadership, then maintenance, maintenance, maintenance.

Each lesson builds upon the last. When you have to choose between two outcomes in a lesson or challenge, always pick the one that proves you trustworthy, even if that means applying a correction or consequence.

Failing to Test

How many times has a friend said ‘Oh he’s testing you’ when your horse resists an instruction, or with a new horse? Horses sometimes seem to ‘forget’ how to do something, in reality they don’t forget, they are testing you.

When he tests you, his faith grows.

Over thirty years, and too many horses to count, I’ve learned that horses test their owners more than owners test their horses.

Horses are better people trainers than we are horse trainers. One valuable lesson is about testing. Trust results from challenges met and mastered. Horses test to discover if you’re believable and if it’s safe to yield control to you.

How does your horse know that will you keep him safe? What is his proof?

The question works both ways. Unless you give your horse the opportunity to prove he is trustworthy, you’ll never be able to trust him. Trust and faith are two sides of the same coin.

When your horse isn’t the same today as he was yesterday, have you ever thought, “What’s wrong with you? Yesterday you did this with no problem. Why won’t you do it today?”

Horses test you for a reason. They’re not just messing around.

When a horse isn’t consistent, the first place to look for a reason is in the mirror. Some of your frustration as a horse owner comes when your horse tests you and you fail. Only the most savvy folks recognize when that happens. If you’re not the reason for your horse’s inconsistent performance, rule out a physical cause before changing your training method or adding more pressure.

Sometimes all you have to do is wait and try again.

Horses are endlessly creative in the way they test their owners. Do any of these examples sound familiar?

  • The bucket in the corner of your yard hasn’t moved in three years, but today your steady Eddy thinks it’s a horse eater.
  • What is that scary thing? The saddle cloth you’ve used every day for the past two years terrifies your horse today.
  • Your horse forgets how to lead.
  • After six months of cleaning every hoof every day, your horse decides that his left hind is planted.
  • Bit? What’s a bit?, says your eleven-year-old.
  • Get in there? After six 25-mile endurance races and three years of competitive trail events, the trailer appears to be off limits today.

Maybe your horse responded to your lightest cue yesterday. Today he seems to have lost that file, your request returning nothing more than an irritating error code on an otherwise empty screen. He’s not upset, resistant, or naughty. He just isn’t doing what you ask.

Your horse is testing you to figure out what’s what. Leaps of faith are often preceded by a test–just to make sure. It’s normal.

But note: Unless your horse has experiences you know nothing about, your horse is testing you. It often happens when you’re teaching something new, right before a big break through, or when your trust account is running on fumes. Just as it’s darkest before the dawn, horses often take two steps backwards before leaping twelve strides forward.

Failing to Focus on Detail

Sometimes Stuff Just Happens. You are not alone. I’ve been there a hundred times, wondering what major upheaval happened to my wonderful horse since I put him away yesterday. He isn’t lame or sore. His disposition is as sunny as ever, eyes sparkling bright, he’s engaged and willing—but he just isn’t going where I want to go.

I have days when I feel fabulous, but certain body parts aren’t as mobile as they were yesterday. My mind is willing but my body isn’t on the same page. Horses also have off days. They feel great and are willing to do anything you ask, but can’t.

If yesterday’s lesson used extra muscles or tired out the normal ones, your horse may be stiff and sore today. He may be happy and content, but not as fluid or enthusiastic today…… Ask Your Horse How He Feels Today

I’ve learned to ask my horses, “How are you today” and wait for the answer before moving on. If your horse just can’t go there, do something else. If you’re having an off day, take it easy.

It is possible to pull a horse out of the field cold and get on with it, but whilst some of those rides are great, others end with an emergency call to the vet or worse. The best results come after a proper warmup, both physical and relational.

Build the habit of asking your horse how he feels and respect his answer. Amazing things happen when your mind, body, and spirit are ready to work with the mind, body, and spirit of your equine partner.

Even if today isn’t perfect, tomorrow may be. Pushing a horse to do what he can’t isn’t fair and erodes trust. Nothing zeroes out your trust bank account faster than punishing or reprimanding a horse who is making an honest effort.

Horses are only as precise as you are. Trainers who ignore the tiny details of frame, cadence, balance, and performance seldom win championships. Failing to concentrate on the nuances of your horse’s behaviour and body language damages trust and hampers your relationship.

Be a student of equine body language and behaviour. Unless you know how your horse is feeling, you can’t offer what he needs to make him more able to respond or more willing to respond as you want.

Horses who develop perfect movements are taught, and expected, to perform that way correctly EVERY time. When your horse doesn’t get it right, identify what you need to do to help and then do it. Don’t accept a wrong answer when your horse knows the right answer. The one who comes out looking foolish is you.

There are degrees of “good enough”, but every response less than 100% of what has already been mastered is the beginning of inconsistent behaviour ….. Which messes with your trust factor in a BIG way.

For example, once your horse learns his leads or a proper canter departure, never let him finish on the wrong lead, even if it’s the first right one of the day.

Many new horse owners dream of their first show. They’ve mastered the three gaits at home and their horse has given the requested lead more than once. So, trailer packed, visions of red rosettes dance in your daydream. Your horse is well behaved, but when asked for a left lead he either scurries into a fast unbalanced trot or takes a right lead. How do you feel? Stunned, embarrassed, and confused.

“But he does it at home!“

Horses pick up the most comfortable lead unless they are well-schooled in leads, even at counter canter. They luckily got into most of those “correct leads” at home. Or worse, the horse knew the difference but figured it didn’t really matter. Was your thought “I’m not working on leads, so getting the wrong lead isn’t an issue today.“

But here’s what your horse is thinking, She doesn’t care if I give the lead she asked for, so it must be my choice. Cool.

Which tells your horse that every previous lesson that required a correct response didn’t matter. Or that you’re being really unfair the NEXT time you insist on him giving a precise response.

Once your horse knows how to do something right, never accept the wrong answer, give him chance to find the right one. Sure, it’s takes commitment, but isn’t that what trust stands on?

Credit to Lynn Baber for her inspiration

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