Misconceptions of a Confident Horse

Just because a horse is going through the motions of "doing things" and is "learning" does not mean that he is gaining confidence and or more curiosity from his experiences.

The horse may "quietly" tolerate a situation a few or even many times before he starts to show more obvious signs of stress, insecurity, or fear about what is being presented if he is being pushed to physically comply with the task given.
A great example is the famous "wet saddle blankets" theory. Does a horse learn better through numerous physical repetitions?
If the person is solely focused on the physical movement/tolerance of the horse, without assessing the quality of his mental availability- or willingness- and the softness of his movement, they may not realize that repeating something is actually making things worse for the horse and teaching him to be defensive, carry tension, and resistant in the future.

I'll use an example presented in human terms. Let's say you were fearful of heights, and I brought you to a tall cliff, asking you to jump into the lake below.
If I kept verbally asking you, and you kept trying to tell me how scared or uncomfortable you were, and I ignored your words how would that make you feel? More prone to jump in the water or would you physically start to tighten your body, (think brace,) experience a shortness of breath due to anticipation, and perhaps your mind would be racing as to various potential dire outcomes.
If I realized my words didn't help, what if I stood behind you and started "prodding you" with a finger in your back trying to convince you to jump? Each time I pushed you towards the lake, you'd probably lean back into the pressure of my hand, and away from the lake. Would this help you change your emotional concerns or anticipation about heights or jumping in? No.

So then, if that didn't work. what if I started to get busier in pushing on you, using both hands and with a stronger force? At some point, you'd probably get irritated enough that your initial subtle "quiet" physical tension or resistance of just standing there locking up your body, would evolve into perhaps you lashing out physically, towards me, to get me to stop harassing you...
Would this approach ever help change how you felt about the scenario?
Even if I irritated you enough to get you to jump, what would you feel like the next time I brought up jumping in again? You'd perhaps come up with every reason to avoid or prevent it from happening because of how stressful the previous emotional experience was.

But what if initially when I realized you were scared of heights, I brought you down to stand three inches above the water. And we slowly practiced putting one foot in the water and then back out. And as you got more confident that you could take your foot out, and you felt better balance, and the water didn't seem so far, when I asked if could you hop in with both feet, you could do so pretty relaxed mentally, emotionally and physically.
Then if you said, "Well that wasn't so bad," what if I asked, "How about we try from six inches?"
What if each jump you made, you started feeling not so focused on the anticipation of the height, but rather the feeling of landing in the water that was cool and refreshing and actually felt kind of good?

Then what if we went and did something else, while you still had that positive mental and emotional feeling?
We may return to the lake on a different day, and what do you think you'd feel?
Perhaps not so anticipative, or concerned, and you might even be able to "offer" jumping from that six-inch spot or even foot height, without me having to ask you to do so.
So by me compromising, by me BELIEVING and addressing your fear, worry, and concern, by me presenting the "big" picture in small, specific segments, by me presenting supportive communication, and offering you a break (release), that was realistic and attainable for your current mental and emotional state, did I build your confidence or diminish it? Was I supportive or critical?
So even though I initially presented something outside of your comfort zone, were you better or more confident about the experience or not?

And this is exactly the same for our horses and our partnership with them.
Too many people are constantly and chaotically harassing, pressuring, and driving the horse into physical compliance without ever acknowledging his feedback. They are missing that despite the horse seemingly accomplishing the task, he has increasing anticipation, defensiveness, and rising tension.

So despite the seeming success, the reality is that human interaction is decreasing the horse's confidence and willingness to try. Instead, it heightens his anticipation of anything new and unfamiliar.

My approach is to first create tools to offer clear, specific, and supportive communication that has meaning to the horse without triggering his fear.
Then we can help the horse maintain his curiosity as we present new or unfamiliar scenarios, which influences his willingness, increases his try, and simultaneously builds his confidence.

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