You know the scene, where the horse and the person both end up sweaty and out of breath from running in circles, or running backwards, or wrestling over a leg or hoof… In the beginning I spent a lot of time fighting with horses. I was taught that when a horse isn’t giving you the response you want, “you can’t let them get away with it” so you are supposed to hang in there until you get it. This meant sometimes knock down drag out fights over silly things like walking through a mud puddle, standing to be clipped, etc. I won many fights, but I also lost more often than I care to admit, resulting in the horse learning a bad habit that I then had to correct.
I quickly realized that if I wanted to be a trainer I couldn’t lose these fights, so I devoted a lot of energy to learning how to make sure I won those fights. I learned a lot about timing, (I can slip a bridle on before the horse knows it’s coming!) rope handling, coordination (i.e. not getting my feet tangled in the ropes) body language, etc. I learned that some horses would rather work themselves into a lather than step foot into a trailer, and that some horses will hurt themselves before they give in. I learned that even a quiet, kid’s safe horse might kick you (and rightfully so) if you stand right next to it and whip it in the butt. (It took twice to learn that one unfortunately.)
I became pretty good at avoiding these mistakes, but I realized two things.
1.Fighting isn’t good. It isn’t good for the horse, and it isn’t good for the rider. Both are at risk of injury, the horse usually from exhaustion or being taken off balance, and the person from the flying horse limbs. The horse doesn’t enjoy it, the person doesn’t enjoy it, and it seems silly to go through all of that over a principle of “you can’t let them get away with it” or “you need to do what I say when I say”.
2.I can’t win every fight. Most of the horse owners I work with don’t have the same experience and won’t win the fights I win. If I don’t come up with a different solution eventually things are going to go badly, and there is a good chance someone will get hurt.
A horse doesn’t need to be taught that they can’t win in a fight, so they shouldn’t try. They need to be taught that they don’t need to fight. Horse and rider are a team.. Mark and I went to a marriage conference early on in our marriage, and I will never forget, they taught us that in an argument you have to remind yourself that your spouse is not your enemy. It is not I win/you lose. If one of you loses you both lose, because you are a team. They suggested tongue in cheek that if you really struggle with the idea to put a post it on your spouse’s forehead that says “you are not my enemy”. I think we need to do this with our horses. Don’t set out to conquer your horse, teach your horse.