Proactive Horse Skills & Communication
Do you work with your horse at the same time of day?
Catch him in the same manner?
Enter/exit the gate the same way?
Is your groundwork a routine or a pattern?
Tie/groom/tack up in the same place?
Mount from the same side, in the same location?
Begin always tracking in one direction?
Creating conditioned and patternized behaviors, or routines, while interacting with our horses can lead to the illusion that the horse is "fine." These “dishonest” interactions create mentally unavailable and resistant horses.
I dislike repetition as there becomes a familiarity and gray area vs. Quality in the communication, leading to mindless responses and a lack of adaptability. The day a person changes the routine, their “quiet” horse becomes a fire-breathing dragon because there was never any skill development teaching the equine of learning how to think through scenarios.
Mental presence allows you to honestly assess what your horse is offering in his behaviors. My approach is to first address the horse’s brain, and then ask for the desired movement.
Opportunities for assessment can begin in the pasture or stall; notice if your horse moves away as you approach?
If so, why? Is he distracted by new events at the barn? Wildlife that recently passed by? Does he prefer to stay with the herd rather than being ridden? Even if you don't initially have a clear understanding of why he is offering certain behavior, noticing initial resistance can help you recognize where and when you need to slow down and break down the communication. This allows you to see what aspects are triggering mental avoidance, defensiveness, or anticipation and address them, before continuing on.
As you lead, is the horse physically ahead and actually “leading you”? If he is anticipative from the start, he’s already "telling" you there's no mental directability and the chaos of the behaviors to come.
If he is pulling, hanging, or ignoring your communication with the lead rope, he’s already "telling" you he will be heavy on the bit and slow to respond to the rein. Why wait until you’re in the saddle to address his concept, or lack thereof, of following, softening, or yielding to pressure?
If he’s become fussy as you tack up as you ride more frequently, have you assessed if your saddle is fitting correctly? Perhaps pain issues from ill-fitting tack have begun, and you’ve assumed he’s just being difficult with his excessive movement.
Does the horse step away, back, or push forward as you attempt to mount? Keeping pressure on the rein to "make" him stand is masking the mental fleeing causing his unwanted movement.
He only has so many ways to convey his distress before he has to increase his behaviors until you can no longer ignore them.
By learning to recognize the signs leading up to potentially unwanted behavior, we can proactively influence a mental change, before the horse offers unwanted behaviors.
Focusing on small details in the horse's feedback, slowing down, and refining one's skillset aren’t the “fun” or emotionally fulfilling interactions many equine enthusiasts are interested in. This leaves far too many horses experiencing human chaos, critical human interactions teaching fearful responses, and equines left living in constant turmoil.
If how we are communicating has value to the horse, the horse's feedback is addressed in real-time, and he is offered the time to think through scenarios and let go of his counteroffers, then we can help build his trust, try, reasonableness, and adaptability...