Creating a willing horse by teaching them to search

The "search" is when we ask the horse to learn how to focus mentally and then physically offer a specific response, in other words, much of our Conversations with the horse is about them searching for what we are presenting.

The search could be a variety of scenarios, such as for them to find a specific location to stand in while they are loose in the pasture/stall/round pen, it could be for them to stand in their "box," (the imaginary, spatially respectful distance near us,) as we ask them to wait, it could be maintaining a soft feeling on the rein as we ride, it could be the horse tracking straight on an imaginary "line" we visualize. It doesn't matter what the search is, but what does matter is the way in which it is presented, the human's timing and specificity in their communication, and the release after the horse finds "it." To better help folks relate to the horse's experience of receiving clues from the human, I refer to the child's game of Hot and Cold. This involves one child having a designated "spot" in mind and offers clues through the words, "hot, warm, and cold," as a way for another child to narrow down and find the predetermined spot. Some things that can affect the child that is searching and their experience: *The energy the searching child has will affect their clarity; if it is slow, intentional movement, they can be specific, if they move too fast, they will be unclear as to the areas where the clues offered apply. *The timing of when the "guide" words from the clue giving child are spoken will affect the recognition in the searching child and help them narrow down their options. If a clue word is offered too soon, such as when the searching child is still moving, they will be unable to associate the specific location the clue was referring to, so the clue no longer has value. This affects how they perceive future clues. *The reactiveness in the searching child, (i.e. do they take a few extra steps before they respond to a clue, do they immediately "overreact" to a clue, etc.) *How long can the searching child stay focused and intentional or do they quit after a few tries? The designated location cannot be too easy or too difficult to find; if it is the searching child disengages mentally. It must be relative to the individual searching child's ability to focus. *The quality and effect of the "search" experience are often influenced by the level of difficulty and "reward" at the end. If the search was too difficult, caused frustration and stress, even when the child finds the spot, they don't appreciate their own success. The same goes for if the experience was too easy. The spot needs to be relative to engage the child's current mental and physical abilities for the experience to have value and meaning. Then the experience will contribute to their confidence and willingness to participate again in the future. And though I don't assign human emotions to horses, I do believe the interaction that occurs in the game of Hot and Cold is very similar to the Conversations that happens between humans and horses. Frequently the search is presented unintentionally without the human being clear on what exactly they want from the horse.
Most of what the searching horse "tries" during his search isn't addressed by the human or is critiqued rather than the person offering specific feedback in a timely manner.
The human offers too many "clues" at once towards the searching horse who is unable to associate what is being communicated.
The "search" is too difficult for either what the human can help the horse find or for the horse's mental focus whether due to his immaturity, stress, or fear. So take some time the next time you are with your horse and begin to imagine each segment of the interaction as a search. From your horse coming over to present himself to be haltered, to how he goes through a gate or stall door, to how he is lead, to how he stands when tied and groomed. Break down what "clues" did you offer in what you wanted, how did the horse respond to them, did he come up with when he tried something else, did you address it, and did he finally "find" what you wanted, or did you quit or accept "that's close enough" before the horse was mentally clear? Trying to be "nice" and leaving the horse in the gray area during their learning does not help him. In fact, it creates more issues and defensiveness in the future. So start to define clear boundaries of what is being asked, address how and when the horse tries, and be intentional when a release is offered. This helps the horse learn how to learn and sets up his future experiences as one that engages his mind rather than causing him to become overwhelmed.

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