10/30/2006

Become a Natural Horseman

Most people are flabby!

.....I don't mean physically, I mean mentally and emotionally!

Have you ever had a house predator sitting on your knee, purring away, and then a dog walks in? "Choink!" In go the claws! But what happens just before the claws go in is the hole under the cat's tail gets tight!

I believe there is an anatomical connection between that hole under the cat's tail and his claws! The same applies to humans..... the biggest house predator in the world!

When a humans emotions get tense or scared, the hole under their tail gets tight and their hands slam shut. They grab onto the reins or the lead rope and affect the horse's emotions.

I've seen more rope burns and people go sand skiing because they can't control the hole under their tail. It is this same lack of emotional fitness that leads to the use of martingales, nose bands and tie downs. When the horse gets tight, his head goes up, his back hollows and he wants to escape. If you then hold him back, his attitude wants to go faster than you allow his feet and he will displace his behaviour into an open mouth, switching tail, prancing feet and high head - hollow back frame.

I call these artificial aids "poor excuses for bad hands and not enough knowledge". Most people don't know what is going on in the horse's mind and what they have or have not done that affects the behaviour.

We have to learn to become more emotionally fit for when our prey animal decides to act like one. When he gets emotionally bothered, we have to stay emotionally cool. If we can control our emotional reactions we can learn to have hands that close slowly and open quickly. These are the best hands around horse and it seems that innately, people know this. The only trouble is, they work at getting steadier hands when the real secret is steadier emotions.

The more you learn about the psychology of horses and about their behaviour, the more emotionally fit you become because of what the knowledge offers you. The more you develop your horsemanship skills naturally, the more safety you will enjoy around horses and the better you will handle and be able to ride them.

There are two kinds of people in this world: horse people and the other kind!

Then there are five kinds of horse people: naturals, normals, nuts, nuisances and nerds! I see them all over! Do you know who else categorizes people this way? Horses!

Horses know, from the moment they see you approach exactly which category you fall into . They will categorize you as dangerous or non-threatening. If you are perceived to be dangerous, the horse will react out of self preservation. He'll be unpredictable and in many ways dangerous to you. If youare perceived as the latter, then the horse is going to try to dominate you. He'll do this by pushing on you, pushing on your leg aids, pushing on the bit and resisting rather than cooperating with your wishes.

Horses make a living out-thinking people. Horses as prey animals are programmed to do the opposite of what predators want. Our biggest challenge is to prove to the horse that even though we look and smell like a predator we really are not. You see, when horses get scared, they don't think you are going to hurt them. They think you are going to kill them.

Don't be fooled into thinking that the horse is a domesticated animal because inside every gentle horse is a wild horse, and this is the horse that hurts people and can even kill in self defense.

Horses have three major instincts: they are perceptive to danger, fly from fear and are gregarious to the herd. If we want our horses to start acting more like partners instead of prey animals then we have to turn their wariness into perceptiveness for our communication, the flight tendencies into impulsion and the gregariousness into bonding with the human.

To become more emotionally fit is not just something you work on when you are around horses. You need to work on yourself continuously. It doesn't mean you stop reacting to things, but more that you have control over how you react, especially "the hole under your tail" and it's "anatomical connection" to your hands!

A Natural Horseman has to learn to think like a horse in order to be able to predict reactions. Understand that the horse usually reacts out of instinct and self preservation so punishment is out of the question. Their motivation comes out of a desire for comfort and the avoidance of discomfort, so we have to learn how to take away and give back comfort at the right times if we want the horse to respond.

We also have to help our horses become more emotionally fit... a gallon of horse sense for the human and an ounce of people sense for the horse. By gradually exposing your horse to more and more, helping him to live through his (to us) irrational fears is how we'll develop this fitness.

Most of us are conditioned to stop if we startle or disturb a horse...... "no running, don'tmake sudden moves or noises!" This is sound advice if your horse has not been helped to become braver around people because it will help prevent injuries. But, what you need to see is that a horse that reacts like this is dangerous in the human environment. He is unpredictable to most people, but if you know horses, you'd know it is entirely predictable. You would also know that you have to help him become more mentally and emotionally fit. This is not the job of a trainer, this is your responsibility as your horse's leader!

Another key that I can give you is to know about the process of desensitization through habituation.

This means that you continue the stimulus that is worrying the horse while he is worried and you quit when he quits. It is such a simple thing to do if you can make sure that you don't quit while he worries. Horses learn from comfort and discomfort. If you stop the stimulus while he continues to worry and dance around he will think that this is what he is supposed to do!

Think in terms of desensitizing your horse. Prove to him that there is really nothing to worry about and he will quickly learn to trust you on this especially if you remain emotionally calm throughout, and you can allow your horse to drift. This is where your emotions and hands must not get tight. The tighter you hold on and try to stop your horse from moving, the more claustrophobic and distressed he will become.

For example, start jumping up and down in front of your horse and keep on jumping until he stops being scared. If you think this is going to make your horse worse then you don't understand the psychology of horses! You need to prove to him that he will live through the experience. When he stops, you stop. You'll be amazed at how quickly your horse will learn to read that you are not threatening him. He'll start blinking, twitch his ears and lick his lips! This tells you he's learned something profound that will lead to a change in his behavior.

Horses can read people like a book. Become conscious of your body language, expression and intention so you can teach your horse to read your actions and intentions and to know whether or not he should be worried. A horse needs a leader - calm, controlled, focused. It is up to us to learn how to become this kind of leader for our horse and even more importantly, how to be his teacher. Then we can teach our horse to become our partner.

I want to see the age-old principles of horsemanship come back, not just riding, but a level of savvy that translates into everything we do with horses. This is why I travel so extensively teaching the principles that are so old they are new again, so simple that even adults can do it!

It is my dream to help people have more fun with horses, more safety and achieve more than just mediocre results, to become so good with horses that even their horses think they're good with horses.

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