The Key To Stopping Undesirable Behavior
By Natural Horsemanship Trainer Katie Weagley
One of the first requests that I come across as a horse trainer is to ‘get my horse to stop doing _________’ fill in the blank with what you will; be that bucking, spooking, rearing, biting, getting heavy in the bridle, and so on and so forth. The problem is that no one can tell a horse to simply stop what he is doing to protect himself. Take a buck for example, a horse may go off bucking because his saddle hurts his back, his rider is out of rhythm and bouncing on his back, he’s scared of the dead animal hide strapped on him, or he’s feeling spunky. In any case simply telling him to ‘quit it’ is telling him not be himself. This is the difference between good horsemanship and not. The first step in trying to get a horse to ‘stop’ undesirable behavior is to realize horses always have a reason for their behavior and usually they are darn good ones! If I felt like someone was climbing on my back to attack me, well, I guess I’d have to kick him off too! This doesn’t mean that we are going to go along with the undesirable behavior and simply accept that’s the way it is and will always be. Contrary it also doesn’t mean that it’s time to start spurring the horse as hard as you can.
I meet both cases. Sometimes horses get their people so well trained that the owner will never ask the horse for anything that might set him off. It gets to the point that the owner shows up at feed time, the horse gives him a sideways glance, and the owner quickly drops the food and backs away. Other times I’ll see a horse who bends his nose to sniff at his saddle and gets whacked in the face because he was ‘thinking about biting.’ Either way, an injustice has happened. Horses are herd animals looking for leaders, GOOD leaders, to keep them alive. For all they know, a mountain lion could jump on their back at any second.
The key to ‘stopping’ a undesirable behavior is to be a leader your horse can respect. This means getting an education on why undesirable behaviors happen. Let’s go back to the buck. Let’s say a horse starts bucking every time other horses canter away from him. Well, horses are herd animals and if everyone else is running away from something why wouldn’t he? They canter, he canters faster to catch up, and his rider pulls on his bit to make him slow down. This in turn makes him uncomfortable and nervous because now he’s the slowest horse and going to get attacked by whatever everyone else is getting away from, so he bucks. He’s in pain and scared…it makes sense. So instead of simply pulling back on his mouth, what if, when the horse cantered off after the others’ his rider let him canter but instead of letting him just run away at break neck speed, the rider started to weave the horse as he went. This would be one way of allowing the horse to go forward as his instincts told him he needed but give the rider a chance to control the horse’s feet so as not to have the horse take off at a dangerous speed. This may not be the only way of solving this particular example but the point is that it’s not creating an argument with the horse nor is it allowing him to blindly follow his instincts without leadership.
The truth is that I’ve never respected anyone who has scared me to death or tried to bribe me into doing what he/she wanted. Respect is gained by showing a mastery of skills, quality leadership, control of emotions, patience, and the wisdom to know when to correct behavior and when to reward behavior. Horses respect riders who deserve it. Never stop learning, never stop trying to be a person deserving of your horse’s respect. That’s what Connection Horse Training is about, gaining an understanding of horses, gaining their respect, and continually trying to deserve the opportunities they give us.
Katie Weagley is from Ephrata Pennsylvania. She offers training and holds regular clinics. Visit her website Connection Horse Training to learn more. Her next clinic is in York Haven PA on February 11th. Come watch her for a chance to win a Training Stick from AllHorseStuff!