The illusions of the "broke" or bombproof horse...

I recently had a mare arrive for training that had been used as a trail horse. Her job had been to take care of a handicapped rider.  She’d supposedly “gone everywhere” and had done everything.  When some folks tried her out, they put a novice rider who hadn’t ridden in many years on her and rode out.  She was “fine.”

The first issue that becomes apparent at her new home, was how pushy she was towards the other horses in the herd.  She wasn’t aggressive, but she always maneuvered herself to be in the “middle” of whatever was going on.  The next “surprise” was the extent of her herd bound-ness; when she first came to my facility she literally attempted to climb through my fencing to get to other horses that had been trailed onto the property for lessons.   She didn’t even know the other horses and yet felt she had to be near them.  Even after several days, irrelevant of which horses were coming and going, she literally could not standstill.
She was initially sent to me just for “fine-tuning,” but it became apparent within a few minutes, she had no concept of following, softening, or yielding to pressure, she had no concept of looking and moving at the same time. It was also clear that although a gorgeous mover in a straight line, her physical coordination was so far off that she literally couldn’t trot and turn at the same time. She was incredibly insecure about all human contact and although she’d let you catch her, it felt as if she were counting down the minutes until you would let her go.  She wasn’t mean, didn’t act overly dramatic, but could not let down her internal agitation.  She would hold her breath so strongly when you’d get near her, that if you asked her to turn her head, take a step back or draw her forward, she’d literally grunt.

The problem is horses like this are very common.  She’d do whatever you asked of her.  Even if it was new, she’d figure out within a few tries and seemed to comply.  She wouldn’t cause issues or fear in her rider.  She was an easy keeper.  And she was pretty, very pretty.  The problem is she’s the most dangerous kind of horse there is.  Not today, nor tomorrow or perhaps six months from now, but at some point, the level of stress she is stuffing internally is going to come to a peak. 
It isn’t a matter of “if” but rather “when” she can no longer handle what people have been asking of her. Because she seems “mild” in her current forms of resistance, which is based on her insecurity, worry and lack of confidence, she is the type of horse that will be unintentionally pushed, and pushed and pushed until the day something is asked that is overwhelming and is the catalyst that triggers all of her emotions to come to a head and her to physically act out dangerously.

Most humans don’t believe or want to consider what the horse is offering unless that horse creates enough dramatic and dangerous behaviors that the human can no longer ignore the horse’s mental and emotional state. But often, until then, the horse is never considered by the human.  It is usually the person’s riding goals or desires where the focus is directed, irrelevant of if the horse is ready or able to be a complementary partner for those particular goals.
Below is a video of us at a halt on day two.  If you watch her “backward” thinking while standing, and her constant swinging of her head attempting to look back at me as we stand, there is no forward or intentional thought.  Her ears are at a rear angle, thinking about what is behind her rather than what is in front.  Thinking about what is behind them, is a way for a horse to avoid addressing what is ahead of them.  This behavior is common in insecure, barn sour, herd bound horses. Watch how hard and fast she is breathing.  We had only taken a few steps and halted; the shallow breaths are a reflection of the tension in her ribcage from anticipation. 

Even within the first two sessions, which I started on the ground and at liberty with this horse, there were some huge changes.  Just for her to blow her nose eight or nine times in a row, lick her lips and drop her head while I was in her proximity, was a big change.  Although initially resistant and a bit mentally checked out, she started to realize I was there to help her, and clarify the “chaos” humans had thus far presented her with. 
With each tool I established, I then had a way to clearly communicate what worked and what didn't; this allowed her to soon be able to let go of her initial defensiveness. This led to her learning how to soften to pressure, follow mentally or physically, look before moving, think towards wherever I directed her brain, and remain emotionally relaxed throughout our sessions… The blowing and licking and chewing that came out, was years of pent up frustration finally being "let go" of. 

The clearest evidence of a lasting change was not actually when I was with or on her, but rather when she was left in the pasture alone and the other horses left.  There she stood, foot caulked, head dropped and eyes half-closed.

The following are some of the more common reasons I’ve encountered in what can contribute to “broke” horses becoming dangerous:
Most folks often don’t see the dramatic issues in their horses because they don’t ask the “right” (or wrong) questions; they  unintentionally create routines and patternized behaviors in how they interact with their horses, leading to the illusion that the horse is behaving.  Which he does, until the day the person attempts to change the pattern, and then they get a fire breathing dragon.

People tend to not recognize, nor do they understand and therefore tend to misinterpret what the horse is communicating, and so many patterns and behaviors of quiet resistance are created unintentionally.
Most people don’t realize without boundaries and definitive leadership towards their horse, the animal is going to feel the need to “take over” in the decision-making process. Which may be fine as long as the horse comes up with what you want, but what happens on the day he comes up with something you don't want?  Can you influence a change in his brain during a moment of chaos, stress, or unexpected events?

Most people don’t have any concept of what standard they can hold for both themselves and their horse.
So the next time you encounter that “quiet” or “bombproof” horse, perhaps watch the horse with a new perspective.  You’ll probably be surprised to see that the horse may not be as settled and “relaxed” or reliable as you once thought; typically the "calm" demeanor is really a reflection of being mentally and emotionally shut down, rather than confident and willing.

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