How Important is Trust?
How Important is Trust? avatar

By | 26/05/2024

How important is Trust?  Part 1

Do you have a horse that spooks, refuses to do what you ask or isn’t progressing in its training?

It could be because your horse doesn’t trust you, that’s hard to hear, isn’t it?

My first reaction to someone who says, “Trust me,” is the opposite; I suspect them, why should I trust?

Trust is earned. Trust changes a horse’s nature from reactive to responsive. Trust must be stronger than fear to earn your horse’s attention when something scary pops up. Trust is a gift you earn every day and it takes longer to regain trust than it does to build it. If you discover that a friend lied to you, will you trust them the next time?

Horses and Trust

Horses, through their lives, learn to trust and to mistrust, often it’s trust that underlies behavioural issues. It could be that you aren’t believable, or it was the last owner etc etc. This often causes us to be frustrated, to change techniques, to change trainers. But when we remember that horses are prey animals, hard wired to doubt in the first instance, to flee on instinct it makes so much sense. They calculate probabilities of disaster in the flick of a neuron. When trust fails, everyone loses.

How to Build trust with your Horse

The first time you lead your horse through a problem and he finds the correct solution, he’ll work with you a second time. Once your horse has a history of successful lessons, he will expect to master the next and the one after that.

No matter how small the win, make each lesson a victory for your horse. He will learn to trust your leadership and believe that you will always lead him to the right answer. When your horse doesn’t win, neither do you.

Your goal as a trainer is to tell your horse, “Well done!” and mean it. When that doesn’t happen, change something about you before the next lesson.

Training methods emphasizing relationship and horse sense over dominance strive to establish communication. Your goal is to earn your horse’s trust, obedience and participation in a hybrid of a leader-follower and partnership relationship. Horses will always commit just a little less than you do unless they give you their heart and soul. The possibilities of relationship with a horse are really unlimited.

Horses without significant trust issues progress as consistently as your plan, making small changes as you build a relationship and prove yourself worthy. Horses with history often respond by switching from NO to YES in a moment – keep every promise and one day, magic happens.

Positive change is impossible therefore without trust.

How do we sabotage trust with our horses?

In 6 main ways:

  1. Inconsistency
  2. Failure to Test
  3. Failure to Focus on Detail
  4. History
  5. Broken Promises
  6. Moving too Fast

Sabotaging Trust : Inconsistency

The usual reasons people behave inconsistently around horses is because although they love them, they don’t really understand how horses think and feel, and don’t set specific goals to allow the horse a win.

Unless a goal has a defined destination point, it’s impossible to develop a series of small, easy steps for the horse to get there. Break each goal down to enable your horse to learn easier. When horses don’t know what to expect or don’t understand what they are being asked, they react by falling back on instinctual behaviours like fight, flight or shut down.

Make obedience the easiest response, and insist that there is some response, regardless of whether it is the right one. Without movement or a response such as an ear twitch or a glance, there’s nothing to improve upon and where do you go from there?

First you have to get a response, then you work to refine it, by being consistent in your approach and expectations.

The only way to change unwillingness, turning a NO into a YES, is with motivation, what does the horse get out of being willing? A scratch, a treat or peace?

How are we inconsistent, how many can you tick off?

  • Inconsistent sessions. Working really hard one day then taking a week off.
  • Inconsistent cues. Each cue or ask should mean something and mean the same thing every time you use it.
  • Inconsistent lesson. Constantly changing skill sets, like jumping one day, dressage the next
  • Inconsistent personal appearance. Changes in your smell, wardrobe, and demeanour.

Inconsistent owners, leaders, or trainers create inconsistent horses. It’s hard to trust anyone when you never know how they’ll show up or act.

How Does This Apply to Me?

If your horse isn’t 100% consistent, make of list of where you see room for improvement. While you’re at it, make a list of where you’re inconsistent.

Do you see any correlation?

Credit to Lynn Baber for her inspiration

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